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At UN, As Nikki Haley Hails NGO Committee Webcast, Due Process for Journalists Needed

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 19  – In one step for UN reform and transparency, a resolution was adopted on April 19 to henceforth webcast to the public the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, which Inner City Press has covered and critiqued for some time. Inner City Press notes that a similar, even more basic reform is needed: due process rules for journalists at the UN, where currently there are none. As to the NGO webcasting, US Ambassador Nikki Haley on April 19 said, “Today's vote will bring increased transparency and accountability to the United Nations. Now all of these meetings and votes will be open for the world to see. This major win at that will greatly assist organizations that stand up to oppressive governments around the world.” We agree: see below. But when will the needed reforms - any reforms - for content neutral accreditation of media at the UN, and due process of some sort before UN censors can throw the Press, happen? After the UN Department of Public Information gave Inner City Press two hours to leave, for having covered an event in the UN Press Briefing Room related to the Ng Lap Seng UN corruption case, there has been no appeals process. Pro-UN media only recently arrived have been given office space; Inner City Press' long time shared office is being given to an Egyptian state media Akhbar al Yom whose correspondent Sanaa Youssef rarely comes in and never asks questions. For fourteen months and for now ongoing, Inner City Press is required to have UN minders to cover events on the Conference Building's second floor, unlike other media. It is lawless censorship and must be addressed.

Back on July 20, 2015 two non-governmental organizations were accredited in the UN Economic and Social Council on July 20, with very different votes.  Freedom Now, with the support of the United Statees and 28 other counties, was accredited after losing 11-4 in the UN NGO Committee (see below). The speeches before the vote emphasized how the UN should accept even NGOs it agrees with.

 But on the NGO Committee's recommendation to accredit the Palestinian Return Centre, many of these same countries voted to disregard the recommendation and to exclude PRC. They said that one year was not enough time to get questions answered; PRC was accuse of links with Hamas, for which it has threatened to sue. 13 countries voted to exclude PRC, including France, Germany, the US and UK, Colombia, Burkina Faso and Greece.

  Sweden and 17 other countries abstained; 16 voted to uphold the recommendation and let PRC in, which occurred. Popularity contest or principle?

Back on May 29 in the UN's Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, the application of Freedom Now was pushed to a vote by the United States; it was badly defeated, with eleven votes against and only four votes for, with one abstention (India) and three NGO Committee members absent: Guinea, Mauritania and, tellingly, Turkey.

  The “No” voters included Sudan, on which outgoing UN aid coordinator Valerie Amos refused to comment on May 28, here, and Burundi amid its crackdown and simultaneous submission of abusive police officers for service in Herve Ladsous' mission in Mali, MINUSMA, here.

  Freedom Now speaks up for (some) political prisoners, and usually effectively (that the Zone 9 Bloggers are still in jail is telling.) Freedom NOw can and will continue their work without the dubious “legitimacy” this Committee can confer. But the question arose, why did the US push it to a vote that it knew it would lose, and badly?  Why didn't the US work to “turn” some of the votes, at least from “No” to abstention or absent?

    But the “No” camp had their points on May 29. The chair of the Committee repeatedly refused to explain why for example the vote on Freedom Now could be pushed for, while another item in the morning, similarly pushed, was deferred. South Africa raised this, and later the Chair made a point of admonishing them, “for the record,” he said.  He did not appear impartial, whatever that means in the UN. Inner City Press live-tweeted it, here and here.


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