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In UN Censorship, Staff Reprimanded For Twitter Reply to Helen Clark

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 6 -- The UN system is very proud of its social media presence, recently declaring Helen Clark of UNDP its Number One tweeter.  But what happens when an actual UN staff member tweets a substantive reply to Helen Clark?

 From a UN Dispute Tribunal ruling, online here:

On 7 September 2013, Ms. Helen Clark, Administrator of UNDP tweeted that Governance is an important driver of success of the next global development agenda.

6. In response the Applicant tweeted to Ms. Clark that “UNDP is shutting down governance in RBEC which will impact our work hugely in Central Asia”.

7. On 11 September 2013, the Applicant received an e-mail from Mr. Patrick Keuleers, Officer in Charge of the Democratic Governance Group and Mr. Olivier Adam, Director, Regional Centre, RBEC. The e-mail subject was titled “Note to file –Your message on a public internet platform in response to a twitter message from UNDP Administrator Helen Clerk.”

In the e-mail, the Applicant was informed that both Mr. Keuleers and Mr. Adam were aware of the twitter message that she had posted on 7 September 2013. It cited that:

Response on a public internet platform is very unfortunate; it lacks professional judgment and seriously questions your ability to continue representing the organisation at a professional level. As stipulated in the UN Staff Rules and Regulations, as international civil servants, we do not criticise senior managers’ decisions publicly and certainly do not launch unfounded statements that the organisation would withdraw its governance support to one region...

It concluded that: Given the seriousness of this incident, we have jointly decided, in consultation with senior management in the organisation to... Communicate to you this note that will be recorded in your personnel file, indicating the corporate disapproval of the statements you have made publicly, while acting in a UNDP Policy Advisor/Team Leader position...

Your reaction to it will be included in this NTF [Note to File]

   This is akin to the UN's crackdown on whistleblowers - see Inner City Press' coverage earlier today of UN Peacekeeping boss Herve Ladsous urging the resignation of a staffer who made public reports of child rapes in Central African Republic by troops from Ladsous' native France.

  But it is censorship, too, and impinges on the ability of the independent Press to cover the UN. The new Free UN Coalition for Access is opposed to this, and believes that accessibility to the media -- not just one way Tweeting - should be a criterion in the selection of the next UN Secretary General, a position Inner City Press has reported, based on UNDP sources, Helen Clark wants.

  Back on April 27 the question was, how should the next UN Secretary General be selected, to improve the Organization? First in a 10 am press conference by the campaign called "1 for 7 Billion: Find the Best UN Leader."

  Inner City Press asked the panel if, as happened last time, increase trade and aid funding by a candidates' country should at least be disclosed, if not prohibited. William Pace of WFM replied not only about countries spending hundreds of million of Euros, but also about the heads of international agencies using their posts to campaign.

  Since UNDP's Helen Clark is known to have told associates and underlings she would like to be the next SG, Inner City Press asked the panel for comment. They were diplomatic, including on the UK, said to be a reformer on the SG post, having insisted it retain the Emergency Relief Coordinator position, albeit in the person of Stephen O'Brien and not Cameron's first nominee (and National Health Service destroyer) Andrew Lansley.

  Natalie Samarasinghe of UNA-UK said the campaign around (well, against) Lansley was a positive step forward; she said that social media makes secret processes less possible. (But see the replacement at Yemen envoy of Jamal Benomar by a Mauritanian official who has not made public financial disclosure).

  Yvonne Terlingen, now Senior Policy Adviser at WFM,  also cited the OCHA process or campaign. WFM's Pace seemed to conflate the entire UN press corps with the UN Correspondents Association, a group that for example tried to censor Press coverage of how Under Secretary General Herve Ladsous got the job, then tried to get the Press thrown out.

  The new Free UN Coalition for Access seeks to open the UN and these processes - watch this site.

  Back on April 24 across the street from the UN at the International Peace Institution there was a panel about #NextSecGen moderated by former Indian Ambassador to the UN, and former Security Council member, Hardeep Singh Puri.

   The post is said to be slated for the Eastern European Group, and the question and answer (or comment) portion was top-heavy with the Permanent Representatives of Croatia and Slovakia (also the chair of the Budget Committee) and the Deputy Permanent Representative of Estonia laying out of the positions of the ACT group, echoed by Costa Rica.

   Inner City Press asked what about improving the transparency and place of merit in the selection of Under Secretaries General? Recently UK Prime Minister David Cameron's attempt to put Andrew Lansley of National Health Service infany atop the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was defeated as reported in detail by Inner City Press, see credits in the Telegraph and UK Channel 4.

  But, the position has stayed with the UK in the person of Stephen O'Brien (deemed better than the initial candidate by panelist Edward Mortimer).  Should USG positions be “owned” by P3 countries, like France has owned UN Peacekeeping four times in a row (following a horse-trade for Kofi Annan becoming Secretary General) and the US has held Political Affairs twice in a row?

   While Political Affairs USG Jeffrey Feltman came directly from the US State Department with the baggage that may carry, particularly in the Middle East, the most extreme example is Herve Ladsous of UN Peacekeeping, video here, Vine here.

  When asked by Inner City Press about his history and qualification adopted the position of refusing all questions from Inner City Press and having his spokespeople, at least one of whom was present at IPI on April 24, go so far as to grab the UNTV microphone to avoid questions.  Ladsous went so far as to say "I don't answer you Mister" at IPI itself, video here.

  On the overall USG question Jean Krasno of the City College of New York favored “selecting candidates for these positions on merit rather than geographical. We want the highest quality people, serving in an impartial matter.”
Natalie Samarasinghe of the UN Association of the UK said, On the USG issue, we want an SG who has the freedom to make merit based appoints. At the moment as you have seen it is very unevenly applied. We need to condemn it. That pressure is very positive.”

  Mortimer said he was among those who wrote to Ban Ki-moon (selected by the US and China, more than one attendee said, some citing John Bolton's book) about Cameron's first nominee for OCHA. He said that Press oversight is important.  Puri said a good SG would pick good USGs. We'll have more on all this.

Background: When Ban Ki-moon was selected as UN Secretary General in 2006 it was an untransparent process, with secret ballots in the Security Council. 

   On February 7, 2015, both processes were criticized by "The Elders." Appearing at the Munich Munich Security Conference, four Elders including Ban's predecessor Kofi Annan along with Gro Harlem Brundtland, Martti Ahtisaari and Graça Machel unveiled a UN reform plan.

  Beyond Security Council reform, they specifically criticized Secretary General selection process for lack of transparency and choice, and suggested a single seven year term to avoid simply trying to get re-elected.

  To replace Ban, the Elders say "we call on the General Assembly to insist that the Security Council recommend more than one candidate for appointment as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, after a timely, equitable and transparent search for the best qualified candidates, irrespective of gender or regional origin. We suggest that the next Secretary-General be appointed for a single, non-renewable term of seven years, in order to strengthen his or her independence and avoid the perception that he or she is guided by electoral concerns."

 Inner City Press and the Free UN Coalition for Access, fighting for transparency including a Freedom of Information Act at the UN, agree and believe the Elders should have gone one level down, more timely, and criticized the ownership of Under Secretary General positions by P3 Security Council members like Peacekeeping and France's Herve Ladsous, and the process to replace Valerie Amos as OCHA, here (and above).

  Even further down, 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. These forms of decay are not UNrelated.

  On November 14, 2014 this organization in decline formally announced a slate of six officers -- all without any competition at all. It was a pure rubber stamp, "yes," with the only question being turn-out. The top post was 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 2015 Pioli has returned. Reuters has 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, wanted to return but did not make it; it was handed a seat on another board announced by UNCA.

 Only News Agency of Nigeria, which ran in 2013, did not run 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, then opens for events that could and should have occurred in the UN's Press Briefing Room, open and on UNTV. This is the UN's Censorship Alliance.

 As to the Secretary General's race, an earlier reform letter's signatories included 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. We'll have more on this.

  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; but there are moves afoot to stem the tide of decay. Watch this site.


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