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In UN's One-Candidate Elections, ICJ's Last Day, UN Censorship Alliance's First

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 18 -- When the UN Security Council and General Assembly voted to select a fifth and final judge for the International Court of Justice on November 17, there was only one candidate on the ballot.

  After two days of contested ballots between candidates from Jamaica and Argentina, with the Jamaican Patrick Lipton Robinson pulling ahead in the General Assembly, on November 12 Argentina withdrew its candidate. Hence the resulting formality of an election with only one candidate. 

  But at least there was competition to begin with: in the voting on November 6, elected were Kirill Gevorgian of Russia, with 15 votes in the Security Council, Joan E. Donoghue of the US and Mohamed Bennouna of Morocco, both with 14, and James Richard Crawford of Australia with 12.

  There was also a debate including about different systems of jurisprudence. In the process for picking the UN Secretary General, there's less philosophical debate. But even for Secretary General, including when Ban Ki-moon was selected, there were other candidates.

  The Permanent Five members used a different color, but their vetoes were not even attributable to them. In this way, the least controversial -- or most servile -- candidate emerged.

  Two weeks ago a group of civil society organizations wrote a letter to the UN member states in the General Assembly, urging that the process to replace Ban in 2016 be more transparent, be at least to some degree based on merit - which of course involves competition.

  The under-performance of Team Ban, including for example UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, has been enabled and concealed by what has become the UN's Censorship Alliance, formally the United Nations Correspondents Association.

  On November 14 this organization in decline formally announced a slate of six officers -- all without any competition at all. It is a pure rubber stamp, "yes," with the only question being turn-out. The top post is set to be handed (back) to Giampaolo Pioli, who engaged in outright censorship while last using the position.

  Pioli, who had rented one of his Manhattan apartments to Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka's ambassador, unilaterally granted Kohona's request to use UNCA to screen inside the UN a government film denying war crimes.

  Then Pioli demanded that reporting of these facts must be removed from the Internet (compilation of audio here) or he would use UNCA to try to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN. 

 Voice of America, then on the UNCA Executive Board, wrote a letter to the UN asking that Inner City Press' accreditation be reviewed; a Freedom of Information Act request showed that VOA said it had the support of Agence France Presse and Reuters (which they tried to censor its anti-Press complaint to the UN by claiming it is copyrighted, here.)

  Now in 2014 Pioli wants to return. Reuters would have on the board its current correspondent as well as its retired UN bureau chief. Agence France Presse, which had been off the UNCA Executive Committee after having used it to complain about Press reporting on Herve Ladsous, wants to return.

 Only News Agency of Nigeria, which ran in 2013, is not running this time: its UN office space was taken away in 2014, ostensibly due to scarcity when UNCA is given a big room that sits empty and locked most of the time. This is the UN's Censorship Alliance. We'll have more on this.

 As to the Secretary General's race, the reform letter's signatories include Avaaz, Amnesty International, CIVICUS, Equality Now, FEMNET, Forum-Asia, Global Policy Forum, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, Social Watch, Third World Network, Women’s Environment and Development Organization, the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy and the World Federation of United Nations Associations.

The new Free UN Coalition for Access, formed in response to the decline in media access and transparency generally under Ban Ki-moon, heartily agrees with the need to reform and improve the Secretary General selection process.

 Candidates so far including Helen Clark of UNDP, who virtually never takes press questions while in New York, the headquarters of UNDP, amid untransparent layoffs, and Irina Bokova, the Director General of UNESCO, an agency which on November 3 led an event about journalists at which not a single question from a journalist was taken. There's also among others, in this SG race we will closely cover, a Latina trio, Kristalina Georgieva, Miroslav Lajcak, Kevin Rudd, Dalia Grybauskaite, Vuk Jeremic, Danilo Turk, Jan Kubis - that is, unlike the UN's Censorship Alliance, at least there is some competition.

Tellingly, after September's General Assembly debate week, UNCA's “complaints” to Ban's Secretariat are to ask for fewer events, for a private wi-fi network for in-house UN journalist and not those who cover to cover the week, and a booklet co-signed with Ban.

UN Censorship Alliance lunch, Feb 11, 2014 including Pam Falk and continuing Kahraman Haliscelik, Sylviane Zehil, Erol Avdovic, Bouchra Benyoussef, Seana Magee, Nabil Abi Saab, Evelyn Leopold, Talal Al-Haj, Melissa Kent, Michelle Nichols, Sangwon Yoon, Valeria Robecco, Sherwin Bryce-Pease, Zhenqiu Gu UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Meanwhile, UNCA makes no mention of restrictions of access that week such as the French mission ordering all non-French journalists out of the UN's Press Briefing Room, and UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous physically blocking the Press' camera, Vine here.

  The new Free UN Coalition for Access has raised these issues, publicly, in fliers and in the UN's Press Briefing Room. Tellingly, the UN Secretariat appears ready to limit its "interlocutors" on media access to the very insiders at UNCA who have overseen and promoted the decline in access. It's the UN Censorship Alliance.

  An analogy that some have now made: it's one thing that Kurt Waldheim was UN Secretary General once. But what would it say about the UN if he were to return, after a haitus, for more time atop the organization?

  Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, is appearing in polls as running for president of his native South Korea in 2017. Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson about it, who said Ban is “currently” focused on his current job. This has been repeated in South Korea, here. The UN is being used; the UN is in further decline; there are moves afoot to stem the tide of decay. Watch this site.


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