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In UN Turf Wars, Delegates Help Cubicle Closed so High Officials Can Hide

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 6 -- The UN has shrunken so much that now there are turf wars even for ten foot cubicles, where the needs of high UN officials are given precedence over those of the member states which ostensibly own and run the organization.

  One example iss the closure this week of the Information and Communications Technology Delegates Helpdesk in the UN's new North Lawn building. There, until this week, Ambassadors have been able to borrow and use laptops, to print documents, to get tech help.

  Back in March, Inner City Press reported and asked about what it learned might be the closure. From the March 26 UN noon briefing transcript

Inner City Press: over in the new North Lawn building there is something called the ICT Computer Technology Resource Centre, in which diplomats of Member States can use the computers or they can borrow a laptop. It used to be in this building but now it has moved over there. I was told yesterday that it is going to be closed on Wednesday and it is sort of a cost-cutting move. And I spoke to some permanent representatives who thought it sort of seems like a strange cost cut, given that it actually helps the diplomats of the Member States. Is there some way to find out what the basis of this cost-cutting move is and whether Member States were consulted before it took place?

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: I am not aware of that. I will need to find out precisely whether indeed what you are saying is actually happening or not. And if it is, then I am sure we will have something to say.

  But the closure was never confirmed; in fact, Inner City Press is told, it was delayed following the asking of the question. But then came rumblings of a turf war between two units of the UN for the space, a offer rebuffed offer by one unit to continue to run it, and a power play.

  This week the unit was closed, a sign taped to it door listing the responsible UN official as Franz Baumann. As he has previously requested, Inner City Press wrote to him for his explanation, having received none in response to its March 26 question to UN spokesperson Nesirky:

"What are the plans for the ICT Resource Center space so unceremoniously closed on May 4? Who has jurisdiction over the space?"

  Franz Baumann to his credit some nine hours later, near midnight, offered the following:

"It was not closed unceremoneously but after detailed internal review and discussions between DGACM and OICT. DGACM is liaising with OICT to enhance services by, for example, making PCs in public areas capable to access personal eMail, to use memory sticks and to print documents. Such services do not require a cubicle but can be provided even more effectively in a public space. Also, the North Lawn Space is rather tight and it was found necessary to assign the scarce space resource for higher priority uses, namely for visiting secretariat officials who, otherwise, would have had to work from hallways, which is not a sensible proposition."

  As an aside, we say "to his credit" because other UN officials refuse to answer even simple questions put to them by e-mail. Most recently, Assistant Secretary General Tony Banbury refused to answer a single one of some 20 questions put to him, about a Board of Inquiry report he chose to spin to two media organizations by not answer questions on.

  In Baumann's answer, the line that jumped out to Inner City Press was "higher priority uses, namely for visiting secretariat officials who, otherwise, would have had to work from hallways." So the tech help desk for member states was closed so that high UN officials could sit in the cubicle.

Baumann and UN's Ban & officials, which to use states' cubicle?

  Inner City Press immediately, minutes after Baumann sent his answer, posed these follow ups:

"Which Secretariat officials will have access to that small room / cubicle? How will they get the key? Will they schedule use of the space in advance? How senior must the officials be?"

  After answers are provided, we will report them. Will the elusive Tony Banbury, who refuses to answer questions, now be hiding in a cubicle seized from member states? Watch this space.

Footnotes: speaking of space and member states, on Wednesday evening Senegal celebrated its national day with a blow out party in the new Delegates Dining Room also known as the cafeteria. There was Senegalese food and music, and even dancing, which is rare. While are least two Under Secretaries General worked the crowd -- one answered substantive questions from Inner City Press -- Ban Ki-moon was not seen, at least by this reporter.

  Senegal's Babakar Gaye is still said to be in line to leave the MONUC force commander job in the Congo, which was offered to Canada's Andrew Leslie but rejected, and to move to New York to become UN Peacekeeping's military advisor. Will he too then hide in the North Lawn cubicle?

  Finally, for now, it remains unclear if Ban's Spokesman Martin Nesirky has regained the access his Office has always had to Security Council consultations but which was lost in April. A miffed Nesirky told Inner City Press to "ask the Security Council," which Inner City Press did on May 4. This month's Council President, Ambassador Salam of Lebanon, said that officials of the Executive Office of the Secretary General can enter. Inner City Press on May 5:

Inner City Press: You'd said in response to previous questions about the access of your office to Security Council consultations, to ask the Security Council. So, yesterday, Ambassador [Nawaf] Salam, President for this month, was asked. And his answer seemed to be that the agreement reached is that representatives of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General can come in. Some people take this to mean people from the 3rd floor of the North Lawn Building. Is that incorrect? Does that also include your Office? I have asked him, so now there is no one else to ask but you. What’s your understanding of your access to Security Council consultations?

Spokesperson Nesirky: I have read with interest and listened with interest to the question you posed and the answer you got. And I would like to know exactly what it means myself. That has not been communicated directly to me. So, I would like to know myself exactly what it means, and I will try to find out.

 Inner City Press said, but the UN did not transcript, "we'll keep banging away, then." Watch this site.

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At UN, Lebanon Dodges on Iran and Congo Trip, Says Ban's Staff Is Invited

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 4 -- This month's Security Council president, Nawaf Salam of Lebanon, is in a tough position. While the Western permanent powers on the Council have been beating the drums for sanctions on Iran to pass this month, Lebanon's coalition government contains the pro- Iranian Hezbollah. Salam was asked if he would prefer Iran not come up this month. No one has ask that it come up, he replied.

  Inner City Press asked about the Congo, the Council's whirlwind trip only to Kinshasa. Video here, from Minute 21:33. In previous years, when the Council has gone to Africa it has included four or more countries. This time it was going to be three, with Uganda and Rwanda, but is not whittled down to one.

  Several African Ambassadors-- and one African American Ambassador -- have complained to Inner City Press for different reasons about the limitations on the trip. Sudan's Ambassador said, on the record, that it should be called the Council's DRC trip, not an Africa trip. Another, off the record, questioned not at least going to the East.

  Salam replied that the Council has gone to the East in the past, that this is to negotiate with Joseph Kabila the terms of renewal of mandate of the MONUC mission. He said, "I haven't heard from any African state on the Council that it is a disrespect." But African states are not limited to those on the Council.

Lebanon's Salam on May 4, apples and oranges not shown

Inner City Press also asked about the Council's decision last month to bar the UN Office of the Spokesperson from its consultations. Salam said yes, this has been an issue, but said that now the Executive Office of the Secretary General can come inside.

To some, this means only the identifiable denizens of the third floor of the UN's North Lawn building. Spokesman Martin Nesirky has declined to answer this question, saying to ask the Council. Now, as Ban Ki-moon himself said this week, the ball is back on the other side of the court. Watch this site.

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At UN, Ahmadinejad Defends Iran's Treatment of Women, Mocks Obama & Ban Ki-moon

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 4 -- When Iran dropped its candidacy for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council last month, some described it as restoring at least some credibility to the UN, as when Bosnia stepped in and beat out Belarus for a seat two years ago.

But when Inner City Press asked President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about Iran's successful replacement candidacy, for a seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, despite gender discrimination and repression, Ahmadinejad had a different and lengthy answer.

  He said the switch was procedural, that Iran had always wanted the CSW seat more than the Human Rights Council, which within the Asia Group Pakistan was supposed to run for. Due to a misunderstanding, Ahmadinejad said, Iran temporarily made a grab for the HRC, before returning to the seat promised to it, on the Commission on the Status of Women.

  But how does Iran intend to use the seat, Inner City Press asked, since it has refused to sign the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women? We will never sign that, Ahmadinejad vowed. He went to on paint of picture of "love and complementariness" in Iran.

Women won't do menial jobs in Iran, he said, nothing "like you and me, cleaning the street or driving a truck." He said he had read that 70% of married women in Europe suffer physical abuse, but refuse to complain for fear of losing their families. Women are better off, he concluded, in Iran than in Europe.

UN's Ban and Ahmadinejad, human rights not shown

Ahmadinejad's answers came during a more than one hour long press conference held Tuesday across the street from the UN. The room in the Millennium Hotel was full, with journalists from the Daily News, Washington Post and wires, and even Christiane Amanpour (who was not called on).

The moderator had taken a list of reporters who wanted to ask question, which Inner City Press arrive too late to sign. But having covered Iran's Nowruz receptions -- "be more positive next time," the Iranian mission admonished, leading Inner City Press to ask "or what?" -- the moderator nodded and allowed the question.

In fact, many journalists remarked that Ahmadinejad's press conference was more open and democratic than those of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, or the pre-screened stakeout by Hillary Clinton the previous day. There, the US State Department decided in advance which questions to take. At Iran's event, alongside some very pro Tehran question, questions were taken about for example the reports of North Korean weapons intercepted on their way to Iran.

We don't need weapons from them, Ahmadinejad answered. If America finds and seizes such weapons they can keep them. Regarding Ban Ki-moon, Ahmadinejad said that if the UN were in Tehran and Iran had a Security Council veto, Ban would never have spoken as he did on Monday. Asked repeatedly about sanctions, he said that if they go through, it will mean that US President Obama has "submitted" and been taken control of by a gang. This order, he said, will soon collapse.

But what of those arrested and disappeared after the contested elections? Ahmadinejad did not answer that question, fastening instead on the women's rights part of the question. Whether the Iranian mission will in the future allow such questions to be asked, and even answered, remains to be seen.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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