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At UN, Exclusion of Press Still Unaddressed, Nepal and Impunity Questions Unanswered

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Muse

UNITED NATIONS, May 4 -- While cleaning up BAN Ki-moon's Austria-over-Iceland mess, the UN Spokesperson’s Office this week dodged questions on Nepal, impunity, visas, staff health plans, Somalia and Afghanistan, among others. While we'll review it day-by day, we'll begin with a failure to follow-up, on the exclusion of the press from the General Assembly's Committee on Relations with the Host Country. Back on April 24, the spokesman for the President of the GA was asked of the Chairman of that committee, "Could he be a guest at noon?  Is there some formal way we could actually have an answer to these questions?"

   To which the Spokesman said, "I'll certainly convey that, and we'll see where it goes."

   But on May 1 he was asked "Have you invited the Ambassador of Cyprus to come? I spoke to their Mission and they said, if they're invited by you, they'll come."

Despite the April 24 certainty, on May 1 he said, "I have not talked to them because I left it up to you to approach the Chair (of the Committee). But if you insist, I will convey this message."

     Yes. Especially on World Press Freedom Day, we do insist.

On Tuesday, April 29, Inner City Press asked "there’s a report of a petition given to the UN's Human Rights Office in Kathmandu... Are you aware of that? And what’s the UN going to do about it?

      Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe answered, "I'm not aware of the petition, but we can look into that for you as well." But five days later, no response at all was received.

BAN in Vienna with Austrian officials, Iceland not shown

   Nepal is far away, but UN Headquarters’ attempts like many U.S. corporations to cut back on employees' health benefits is an issue on which the Spokesperson’s Office could presumably get an answer easily. But the question was dodged two days in a row. On Headquarters' award of visa status and immunity, Inner City Press asked, "Is there a list -- I know I've asked this before -- a list of the dollar-a-year and the individuals that still have G-4 visa status and immunity? There seems that there's kind of a murky world of people that seem to be gone from the system but are still benefiting from those things."

   Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe answered, "I don't know if it's available, but I'll look into it for you."

    But days later, there was no response. And so it goes at the UN.

    On May 1, Canadian minister Chuck Strahl gave a briefing about how much his country is doing for indigenous people, despite what attendees at the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues were saying. "No one can question our commitment," Strahl said.  Oh but they do, Inner City Press began in the briefing's first question, asking for an explanation of Canada's opposition to the Declaration and to similar moves in the Organization of American States. Video here. Strahl's answer was not easy to understand, and when it was pointed out that several Canadian chiefs were confined to watching Strahl's claims from outside the briefing room, Inner City Press headed out to join them. A day later in the basement, the Forum ended with some grumbling about those who had wanted to but not be permitted to speak.

* * *

   Beyond the daily sturm und drang, we note with sadness the passing of the point-man on the UN Declaration of the Rights of People with Disabilities, Thomas Schindlmayr. When last we reported on his needed work, he was "taking the high road" and promoting implementation of the Declaration. Article and photo here, video here. He will be missed.

* * *

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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