Woman's Death on UN Lawn Leaves Questions Unanswered,
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
the UN: News Analysis
UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 17, abridged Feb.
20 -- Following
the discovery of the dead body of a woman in her 40s on the South Lawn behind
the UN Headquarters on Sunday morning, what appeared to be attempts to downplay
the incident occurred throughout the day. Police tape which had surrounded where
her body fell was taken down before the UN Security Council's 1 p.m.
meeting about Kosovo.
By early afternoon, the noticeable imprint on the lawn where she landed had been
filled in with sand. UN Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe was
the UN would not be disclosing the identify of the deceased, even after her next
of kin were notified. Ms. Okabe issued a written statement that "a UN agency
staff member died after falling from the 19th-floor of the UN Secretariat
While the term "UN agency" would tend to
mean one of the funds or programs of the UN system, such as the UN Development
Program or UNICEF, both of these agencies have their offices across the street
from the UN Headquarters, not beside the East River where the body was found. An
Inner City Press source who ventured to the 19th-floor found there rather dreary
computer units entitled Systems Management Section and Service Co-ordination
Section. Two staffers, there on a Sunday, confirmed that the deceased was a
co-worker, but referred all other questions to a man they called their boss, who
A photograph which Inner City Press
published, and has now excised, showed the body of the deceased with what appear to be bags
taped over her hands.
on February 20, after direct requests from two UN officials, and indirect
communications from another at the Under Secretary General level -- and more
importantly, after the news purpose of reporting that the decedent's hands were
covered in bags to preserve evidence has been served, Inner City Press removed
the photograph from this page. At the time this was breaking news, and to ensure
that important information was not lost, the initial publication made sense, as
does this subsequent removal and apology to any family member or friend of the
deceased who may have sincerely been offended. The USG at issue sought but did
not receive from the UN Staff Union support to undermine freedom of the press,
using a news judgment as a pretext to act against
the evening of February 20, UN Staff Union leadership told Inner City Press they
had received a grand total of two complaints about the photograph: from the USG
and one other professional UN official. Despite this USG's claims to people who
never saw the photograph, it did not show the decedent's face. Significantly,
this USG never sought to complain to or communicate directly with Inner City
Press on this issue, but rather only to use it. Nonetheless, this subsequent
removal and apology to any family member or friend of the deceased who may
have sincerely been offended.
An earlier photograph, in which her body
is covered by a blanket, shows a hand, clenched into a fist, not bagged. See,
www.innercitypress.com/IMG_4457.JPG, and see below, similar to other
photographs in the public domain:
A police source consulted by Inner City
Press noted that sometimes hands are bagged to preserve any evidence of a
struggle. When Inner City Press called the New York Police Department's DCPI at
1 p.m. on Sunday, the response was that a 44-year old white female was found at
8:09 a.m., and "no criminality is suspected at this time." The UN's statement,
issued later, says that "at this time there is no suspicion of foul play."
all accounts this lack of suspicious continues and will continues, it seems fair
to ask not only about the bagging of the hands, shown in the photo, but also
what time the deceased arrives at the UN, and how this is known. There are
public-record statements that she arrived early for work. The UN has an
electronic pass system, whereby staff members, correspondents and diplomats
swipe in and the information is recorded. As first
reported by Inner City
Press last April, in paragraph 27 of a
little noticed resolution on the "security management system," the General
Assembly "decide[d] that data related to representatives of Member States...
shall automatically be deleted from the standardized access control system
after... 24 hours." For anyone other than members of countries' missions to the
UN, they can keep the data as long as they want, and apparently use it for any
purpose whatsoever. But is it being used in this case?
In fact, one close observer consulted by
Inner City Press wondered out loud about the lack of public information about
this staff member and death in the UN's important computer unit. While
consciously seeking to remain with the bounds of good taste and decorousness,
silence from the UN, including as projected even after next of kin is notified,
should and will be contested. Watch this site.
Inner City Press 2008, All rights reserved.
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here for a
AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army.
for an earlier
piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's
$200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.
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