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Gucci Event Bent and Broke UN Rules, UNICEF's Veneman's Venom Toward the Press

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 7 -- As the dust settles on Gucci's night of glitzy on the UN's North Lawn, it emerged Thursday that the event violated not only UN precedent of not allowing itself to be used as advertisement, as Gucci did, but also violated the UN's own rules -- although one rule was changed just prior to the event to try to accommodate Gucci. An amendment to the rule on the Use of the UN emblem" quietly issued on January 23, effective February 1, includes a new paragraph providing that "when the Un participates in organizing" an event "the emblem may be used" with others. ST/AI/189/Add.21/Amend.1, signed by Alicia Barcena of the Department of Management. Ms. Barcena did not mention this new rule when Inner City Press questioned her about the event on February 4, although she did say that Gucci's statement that the event celebrated the opening of their flagship store on Fifth Avenue was inappropriate.

            But another UN rule was broken. Madonna, co-founder of Raising Malawi with the Kabbalah Center of Los Angeles' Michael Berg in 2006, said at the event that "I want to put Raising Malawi on the map. I want credibility as a philanthropic organization." But the UN's Administrative Instruction ST/AI/416, "Use of UN Premises," provides that "outside entities, including non-governmental organizations, may not hold meeting or events on UN premises to conduct their own organizational business or to advance their purposes or aims."

            Given these rules, why did UNICEF's Ann Veneman push for the event, and why did Alicia Barcena, in charge of UN grounds, give the land for this use?  Thursday, a day after her spokesman said she would not stop to answer Inner City Press' questions on her way in or out of the event, Veneman was still lying low, even as a formal request for her presence was made at the UN's noon briefing. Video here, from Minute 11:37.

    It emerged that this is a pattern with Ms. Veneman. Inner City Press' Washington sources recount that when Veneman became the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the practice was that journalists could ask questions of officials, stakeout-style, at the USDA. One day returning from questioning on Capitol Hill, Ms. Veneman saw the reporters doing their jobs, and something snapped. Hours later, the reporters were told they could no longer ask questions. The Senate Committee overseeing USDA expressed opposition to Veneman's press ban. Now in the UN system, Veneman dodges the press, particularly any critical coverage.

            While it had been said that space was so tight at Wednesday's event, Veneman brought her executive officer and long-time George W. Bush supporter Blake Nabors with her, along with US Fund for UNICEF uber-fundraiser Jeffrey Towers. The "uber" is consciously used, as UNICEF faces a scandal in Germany, that was asked about at Thursday UN noon briefing. Click here for video, click here for Deutsche Welle's article entitled "Donors Flee, Criticisms Mount Amid Germany's UNICEF Crisis." Among the charges is that a UNICEF worker was being paid $1,244 a day. What does Veneman have to say about it? While amid the excess on Wednesday night, $300,000 a year at UNICEF might not seem like much, we still don't know Veneman's views.

Trick or treat box - under Veneman, to be redesigned by Gucci? To collect $1000 a day salaries?

            UNICEF insiders, more and more of whom are coming forward to speak to Inner City Press, paint a picture in which Veneman appears most concerned with what she will do after leaving UNICEF. She is said to not want to offend her Republican base, and for that reason to demand to personally approve any UNICEF utterance that concerns Iraq or Cuba. Perhaps it is playing to her Republican base that explains her answer during the process of being placed at UNICEF by President Bush in 2005, when "asked if she would continue to emphasize primary and secondary education for girls. 'I don't come with any broad agenda with regard to those or any other social issue,' she said. 'I don't believe these issues are relevant to the mission of UNICEF.'" But a paparazzi red carpet auction "celebrating" the opening of a Gucci store on Fifth Avenue is "relevant to the mission of UNICEF"?

            Of the event, while UNICEF has refused to provide previously-promised information, we can report that the wait-staff was recruited from a modeling -- actually, an escort -- service, and were done up in brown Gucci suits. A $500 Gucci swag bag was given to attendees at the end. Perhaps that's why they pushed to do it on the UN's international territory, suggested one wag -- to make it all tax free.

  As noted in The Guardian, "Gucci's creative director, Frida Giannini, admitted that she was surprised the UN had allowed them to hold the event there. 'When our PR team proposed it I didn't think it would be possible,' she said. 'I mean, why would they let some stupid fashion party inside the United Nations?'" Why indeed. We'll have more on all this.

* * *

These reports are 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

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540