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Amid Murky UNHCR Selection, ICP Asks UN About Use of PGA Lykketoft's Office

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive series

UNITED NATIONS, September 30 -- When new UN President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft of Denmark held a press conference on September 21, Inner City Press asked him of  Denmark's policies on refugees, and of who pays the people working in his office. Video here.

  On September 29, Inner City Press asked about its exclusive report on the PGA's office being used to campaign for former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt to replace Antonio Guterres atop the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR.

  Lykketoft said more than half of the 30 people in his cabinet are "seconded" from countries, with slightly more than a handful from Denmark. To Inner City Press' question about Denmark for example publishing an advertisement in the Lebanese press trying to discourage asylum-seekers, Lykketoft distanced himself, and Thorning-Schmidt, the candidate he "recommends," from the recent ad. Transcript below. But the policies go back longer.

Lykketoft said for the second time that despite "favoring" Thorning-Schmidt he has no role in the process.

On September 28 Inner City Press exclusively reported on complaints that Lykketoft's PGA office is being used to promote Thorning-Schmidt. Countries' delegations and officials are invited to the PGA's office where they are met by Thorning-Schmidt.

  It is a full court press; one sources questioned that UN resources are being used, and positions in a prospective Thorning-Schmidt "administration" at UNHCR being traded. It is not an auspicious beginning.

 On September 29, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Dujarric:

Inner City Press: This has to do with UNHCR, this post that I asked you about repeatedly.  And the President of the General Assembly had said he may have a favourite candidate, but he’s not involved, it’s the Secretary-General’s.  But I became aware from a number of people that were invited to meetings in the PGA’s [President of the General Assembly] office with Ms. Helle Thorning-Schmidt convened by the PGA in what appears to be an orchestrated sort of lobbying campaign for her candidacy.  So I wanted to know, would that be appropriate?  Two, has Ban Ki-moon met with her about this candidacy?  And is it appropriate for the PGA’s office to be involved in inviting in…

Spokesman:  I think that’s a question — what meetings may or may not happen is a question for the PGA.  We have, we have a process.  I think as in any process, people campaign or whatever you want to say.  There’s a process outline of how these things are done.  It’s through the document I shared with you — and we’ll go through the process in a fair manner.  When we’re ready to announce it, we will.

Inner City Press:  But is it done on merit?  I guess… because of the way this thing looks in terms of… it’s actually exchange of…


Inner City Press:  You can look at it through whichever prism.  The best possible person will be hired for the job of High Commissioner.

Here's how Lykketoft's office transcribed on September 21 - omitting or censoring a clear request from the Free UN Coalition for Access:

Inner City Press: Thanks a lot.  Matthew Lee, Inner City Press. [Omitted by Lykketoft's office: "On behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access] Thanks a lot for the briefing and hoping you'll do stakeouts and other things after GA meetings so we can ask you more questions. 

What I wanted to ask you about is I've seen your opening remarks on the refugee crisis and I asked you about the candidacy for the next refugee Commissioner process and there's obviously a Danish candidate so some people in looking at that have said Denmark's own policies have been subject to criticism by the UN system.  They published an advertisement in Lebanon telling people that they won't get certain benefits if they get to the country.  Prior to that there were some switches in policy.  You may disagree but it seems like it's not viewed as among the most welcoming of European countries.  How does that square with what you said?  And perhaps relatedly I've looked at the team on your website.  I wanted to know this is a problem that, not a problem, an issue for all PGAs.  How many of the positions in your office are funded by the UN?  And how many are funded by countries I.E. secunded staff?  And it seems like there may be 6 or 7 that are from Denmark.  Are they all funded by the Danish Government?  Do all the staff in your office work during this year entirely for the UN System?  Thanks.

MOGENS LYKKETOFT:  I can say for sure for myself, and that means also for the staff, we are all working for the UN System.  I come from Denmark.  I'm proud of that.  But I'm not representing as President of the General Assembly, in specific the Kingdom of Denmark.  That's one thing.

And how the staff is composed, I have not the exact figures, but I think that more than half of the members of the staff are secunded from member countries outside Denmark, a few from the UN, and more than a handful from Denmark.

That's the composition of the 30 men and women we have in the Cabinet.  And about the Danish candidate for UN HGR, I can only recommend her.  I'm not part of the decision who is brought forward to the General Assembly.  It's a procedure of the Secretary-General.  But I can only add one thing to your comments on Danish policies:  It was certainly not the candidate that was leader of the Government that put the advertisement in the Lebanon... Lebanese papers.

 When Lykketoft spoke to the press on September 15, Inner City Press asked him how the General Assembly under his leadership will select a new head of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, from among candidates that include fellow Dane Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Video here.

  Lykketoft replied, “I discuss that with the Secretary General. Don't ask for my preference, because that's obvious, where I come from. There will be a proposal by the Secretary General to the General Assembly. How that will evolve, I'm not sure. We'll discuss it in the near future.”

  Earlier on September 15, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric for transparency:

Inner City Press: On refugees, the notice put out by the Secretary-General for nominations for… to replace… to succeed Mr. [Antonio] Guterres, top UNHCR, said to apply by 14 September.  Can you say how many people have applied?  Can you confirm Filippo Grandi is an applicant?  Given now that the GA has asked for greater transparency in the selection of the SG, what's the process here?  Is there going to be a panel to interview people?  How does it work?

Spokesman Dujarric:  The process is being guided by direct… by… excuse me… by direct… by… excuse me, by a directive from the General Assembly.  I can make that public.  We will not be releasing a short list or any other details.

Inner City Press:  Is there a panel to interview people?

Spokesman Dujarric:  There's always a panel.

Inner City Press:  Who's on the panel?

Spokesman Dujarric:  I have no other details to share with you.

  Ah, transparency. For PGA Lykketoft's first stakeout, it became clear that the old UN Correspondents Association had arranged for the first question to be set aside for it. For the record, even Dujarric when asked by the Free UN Coalition for Access acknowledged there is NO tradition of this UNCA, become the UN's Censorship Alliance, getting the first question at stakeouts. We'll have more on this.

Three months earlier on June 15, after Lykketoft was elected (by acclamation, without opposition) as the next President of the UN General Assembly, Inner City Press asked him how he would run the upcoming process to select the next Secretary General.

   Lykkotoft replied that he had heard from the heads of all five UN regional groups a desire for a more open process, with multiple candidates making presentations. One wonders if Lykketoft believes the position is reserved for the Eastern European Group (he was the candidate of the Western European and Other Group, and got the post by regional rotation), but there was not yet time to ask.

  Inner City Press also asked Lykketoft for his view on the scandal of the UN's cover up of sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic by French “peacekeepers,” and then retaliation against fellow Scandinavian Anders Kompass of Sweden.

  Lykketoft said he is aware of the case but thought it better not to comment for now. He said the same in response to most other questions, for example on Palestine. (Periscope video here).

Footnote: The first question was set aside for UNCA, become the UN's Censorship Alliance, which used it to say that SDGs is the most boring name. Takes one to know one.  If Lykketoft can run a more transparent process to select the next SG, he will have done well. Inner City Press and the new Free UN Coalition for Access will stay on this. Watch this site.


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