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In 2017 UN's Guterres Failed in Myanmar, Yemen & Cameroon, Amid Corruption, Censors

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 30 – Antonio Guterres' year as UN Secretary General began by telling UN staff how much he respected them, but ended with Guterres on vacation while the UN budget was cut and staff ousted from their work-spaces, demoralized and disrespected.

In between Guterres delayed for months in responding to the slaughter of the Rohingya in Myanmar, out of too much deference to Aung San Suu Kyi. Guterres continued in Yemen with a Saudi-biased envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed as ports were closed, children starved and cholera spread. Pressured to respond to the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon, his response was a brief stop-over in Yaounde where he accepted a golden statue from 35-year president Paul Biya.

 In November alone, Guterres ignored evidence that his Deputy Amina J. Mohammed undermined environmental protection, at a minimum, in signing 4000 certificates for endangered rosewood exported from Nigeria and Cameroon to China, then ignored a UN bribery indictment in the courts of Lower Manhattan. Guterres' UN used $1 million from the China Energy Fund Committee of indicted Patrick Ho even after the Press asked his spokesman about the indictment - and still no audit.

But little coverage either: Guterres eschewed press conference, holding none at the end of the year, but allowed himself to be sold for $1200 a pop at a fundraiser on Wall Street in mid-December. Inner City Press, which covered the event, is launching a series on Guterres' performance as UN Secretary General, even as he and his head of “Global Communications” Alison Smale keep Inner City Press more restricted than no-show no-question state media like Egypt's Akhbar al Yom, assigned the work-space it long shared along with the alternative Free UN Coalition for Access, pushing for a UN Freedom of Information Act.

A spotlight must be shined on this UN. Here a review of 2017, month by month.

January - February: In Antonio Guterres' first two months as UN Secretary General, the longstanding Cyprus talks began to fall apart, and Guterres stood silent as Burundi, for example, banned access by UN officials. Guterres ignored a protest by whistleblowers against Francis Gurry of the UN World Intellectual Property Organization, and that UN agency's work on North Korea's cyanide patents.

He did nothing about a UN waste dump exposed by Inner City Press in the Central African Republic, despite his predecessor Ban Ki-moon's record with waste in Haiti and elsewhere. While he announced that Kenyan troops would head back to South Sudan to join UN Peacekeeping, he appointed the fifth Frenchman in a row to head this DPKO, Jean-Pierre Lacroix.

Meanwhile he was rebuffed in his attempt to appoint Fayyad to head the UN's Libya mission, perhaps explaining his refusal later in the year to take a single press question after reading out his canned statement on Jerusalem. In a harbinger of his approach to UN corruption and (non) reform, his UN was named as not providing requested documents in the first UN bribery case, of Ng Lap Seng. (In the second case, of Patrick Ho and Cheikh Gadio, Guterres has yet to even launch an audit).

February 2017 ended with a seeming second wind, the belated arrival of Guterres deputy Amina J. Mohammed. Inner City Press was throughout constructive; it would later emerge that during the delay Mohammed signed 4000 certificates for endangered Nigerian and Cameroonian rosewood already exported to China, something Guterres has refused to investigate despite a petition with 92,000 requests.  Guterres' first interaction with UN staff was a Town Hall meeting on January 9. Even though it was on the UN's public website, when Inner City Press live-streamed it on Periscope for the impacted public to see it received a threat that this violated unspecified UN's guidelines.

This has been a pattern in Guterres' first year: threats to Press for unspecified violations, such as that of Maher Nasser on October 20, and a total failure to respond or reform by Nasser's boss, Alison Smale. Ultimately, Guterres is responsible.

March - April: The spring thaw in Antonio Guterres' first year as UN Secretary General, in March and April, began to reveal hypocrisy. A small but telling example was when, after Guterres called on people all over the world to turn off their lights for Earth Hour, Inner City Press found the lights on at the UN-owned mansion on Sutton Place where Guterres lives.

At first the UN refused to answer Inner City Press where Guterres was - Lisbon - then accused it of “monitoring the residence.” It's called journalism: with the UN refusing to disclose even what country Guterres is in, checking the residence is the only way. The UN also refuses to disclose how much these Lisbon trips cost the global taxpayers, for example how many UN Security officials are taken, where they stay and for how much.

Likewise Guterres' 2016 financial disclosure differed significantly from what he filed as head of UNHCR in 2013. This has yet to be explained. In April Guterres was petitioned to replace the UN's pro-Saudi Yemen envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. But when Inner City Press asked, Guterres' spokespeople refused to even confirm receipt of the letter.

This happened on a petition by staff too, about retaliation by Francis Gurry the head of the UN World Intellectual Property Organization, whose assistance to North Korea's cyanide patents Guterres did not act on.

In late April, Guterres did nothing as Tanzania expelled his resident coordinator, a far cry from his knee-jerk defense later in the year - continuing on December 27 - of the 4000 rosewood signatures by his Deputy SG Amina J. Mohammed. Sustainable development? Try hypocrisy, and censorship and restriction of the Press which covers it - and Cameroon, here. We'll have more on this.

May - June: As Antonio Guterres entered his fifth month as UN Secretary General in May 2017, there were still no reforms, and even his budget and reform speech was withheld when Inner City Press asked for a copy of it.

Rather than propose anything but deck-chair moving changes in UN bureaucracy - new acronyms, new Departments - Guterres seemed to believe his private meetings and canned speeches could do the trick. He met with 11 Congressmembers in May - all Democrats, Inner City Press' inquiry found - and gave a speech in South Carolina. But to what effect?

By year's end the UN budget would be cut by over $200 million with Guterres nowhere in sight, already on vacation in Lisbon, not even a comment for two days. In the real world, in South Sudan for example, leaked documents published by Inner City Press showed inaction as the SPLA moved toward a violent reclaiming of Pagak.

Amid the ongoing crackdown in Burundi, the best Guterres could do was a Burkina Faso based envoy, Michel Kafando, who would be only part-time Inner City Press learned though Guterres didn't tell the Security Council members that. He never had a comment on Morocco's crackdown in the Rif, despite dozens of questions from Inner City Press, perhaps thinking that silence might help on Western Sahara (it didn't).

On nuclear North Korea, Guterres did nothing as the UN Federal Credit Union did business with the mission and UN WIPO helped with cyanide patents.

In continuing Cameroon failure, Guterres' Deputy SG Amina J. Mohammed appeared at the ghoulish “National Day” in a townhouse on Manhattan's Upper East Side; the Ambassador told Inner City Press due to her position on Biafra in “her” Nigeria, she would never support the Anglophones in his. She has yet to answer questions, initially surprising but after the rosewood scandal was revealed, more problematic. Scandals were coming...

July - August: Antonio Guterres first summer as Secretary General had a 14 day black hole in it, in which not only did he disappear but his spokespeople refused at first to confirm to Inner City Press even were he was: the Dalmatian coast.

He had failed on Cyprus, descending from the 38th floor for a mere three minute stakeout. He delegated the Cameroon conflict, unwisely, to his Deputy SG Amina J. Mohammed, who was said by Paul Biya's Ambassador to be in the bag, firmly against any secession.

She had worked for Ban Ki-moon, whose era at the UN was indicted, and in essence convicted, along with Macau-based businessman Ng Lap Seng at the end of July. But Guterres doubled down in impunity, claiming that the UN was the victim of the scheme, even as its accomplices continued on the payroll. Guterres' UN was accused of racial discrimination in a Town Hall meeting he closed to the press - but what did he care?

He dodged questions about the crackdowns in Togo and Gabon and left, even at year's end, the UN Special Adviser on Africa position empty. In Kenya he called electoral official Msango's murder an “untimely demise,” alternately deferring to Ban Ki-moon's pro-Kenyatta son in law and then to his opposite, Roslyn Akombe. Apparently, Africa didn't and doesn't interest him.

In Europe, he supposed his group by ignoring Catalonia, even as he let sell-out Catalan Cristina “The Evicter” Gallach stay on too long as a representative to the UN's school. Her replacement Alison Smale was late in coming, and surrounded by the same staff like Guterres, would continue the same abuses and worse. The Fall was approaching...

September - October: Antonio Guterres' first UN General Assembly “high level” week as Secretary General featured a grip and grin with Egypt's Sisi witnessed only by Sisi's state media to whom Inner City Press' office is assigned under Guterres, a praise-fest with Cameroon's Paul Biya even as his forces killed Anglophone civilians and a total refusal to answer questions on UN corruption.

During the week, Haiti called on Guterres to belatedly do something about the 10,000 people the UN killed with cholera; Guterres has raised very little money and his envoy on the topic has yet to take Press questions.

Even when Guterres did, on September 13, he answered only on peacekeeper sexual abuse, entirely evading Inner City Press' question about the six UN bribery guilty verdicts in the case of Ng Lap Seng, for coverage of which Inner City Press was evicted and is still restricted under Guterres. Other corrupt events and bribery cases proceeded; Guterres' Secretariat took on a Junior Professional Officer from Kim Jong-Un's North Korea, while refusing to confirm the name.

By October, with his head of Global Communications vowing to spin the trip, Guterres took off for Central African Republic, refusing to answer why one of the only three officials criticized in the UN report on sexual abuse there, Renner Onana, remained in place, with promotion. On the way back, most tellingly, Guterres stopped in Younde and took a golden statue from Paul “The Killer” Biya, smiling. This is the symbol of Guterre's Secretary Generalship....

November - December 2017: As 2017 drew to a close UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres closed in on himself, like a small star collapsing, speaking only to friendly or paid media, accepting money from an already-indicted NGO then fleeing to Portugal, where he ended the year as the UN budget was cut. Was this what he was elected or selected for?

In early November Inner City Press had already just been threatened for covering his photo ops noticed after one a two-person lunch set-up on the 38th floor with the name plate, Gillian Tett. But Guterres' spokesman - and Ban K-moon's before that, who does that - refused to say what it was about.

It was an interview, with Guterres criticizing even the food at the UN and showing up. It left many UN staff and contractors disgusted. But with the threat of retaliation and many guards, Guterres was unaware.

What did he care, when 98,000 environmentalists asked him to investigate his Deputy Amina J. Mohammed for signing CITES certificates for endangered rosewood from Nigeria and Cameroon already in China? Rather than investigate, Guterres lashed out at a rare on the record Ambassador critic, from Kenya, calling him “unfair.”

This as Guterres and his head of Communications Alison Smale kept the critical Press restricted, refusing even to offer any explanation, using three time loser Maher Nasser to issue new threats. Even when the budget was cut and Inner City Press alone covered it, with one of Smale's minders to 2 am on Christmas Eve, Guterres was gone, in Portugal, an absentee UN slowly collapsing in on itself like a small star, refusing even on the last work day of the year to answer any Press questions, here. To be continued...


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