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UN Censors Criticism of its Officials, Uses But Seeks Exclusion of New Media

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 10 -- While the UN is supposed to stand for free speech and freedom of the press, in its operations even in its headquarters it has engaged in censorship and remains resistant to new media.

When for example a letter was recently posted on the UN's i-Seek website which criticized among others the Under Secretary General for Management, and spoke of filing a UN Dispute Tribunal complaint against Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the UN official in charge of i-Seek unceremoniously had the letter removed. He wrote to the Union president on June 8:

Subject: Iseek
Eric Falt/NY/UNO
08/06/2010 12:48 PM
cc Kiyotaka Akasaka/NY/UNO@UNHQ, Angela Kane/NY/UNO@UNHQ, Catherine Pollard/NY/UNO@UNHQ

Dear colleagues,

I am writing to you in my capacity as Chair of the Editorial Board of Iseek.

I wish to inform you that "A Letter from the President United Nations Staff Union", No. 5 (dated 27 May 2010 and posted on iSeek under "Global Announcements" by the Staff Union and under "Staff Unions" by the iSeek Editorial team) has now been removed from the website on the basis of the "iSeek Guidelines", Section V. Guiding Principles, where the following is stipulated:

"While iSeek may be a forum for presenting differing views on issues of concern to staff, it should not be used to denigrate any staff member".

iSeek seeks to be vigilant in making sure that content does adhere strictly to these Principles, and an oversight was made in this case.

Thanks for your kind attention and regards.

  If the UN feels free to remove or censor, as the Staff Union sees it, anything that arguably denigrates a UN official, the UN in this case is practice a form of lese majeste, as in countries which it is a crime to criticize the monarch.

As UN "celebrates World Press Freedom," bloggers and criticism not shown

  Inner City Press approached Under Secretary General Kiyo Akasaka the same day the above directive was sent, and asked both about the apparent censorship, and about the exclusion of bloggers from the UN's Media Accreditation guidelines. Mr. Akasaka said that a subordinate, soon to leave to UNESCO, is in charge of i-Seek, and is enforcing the non-denigration policy that the UN has, apparently without considering freedom of expression. He told Inner City Press about his own blog.

  While the UN talks about, and even haltingly uses, new media like blogs, its Media Accreditation guidelines remain outmoded, speaking of "bona fide" and "registered media organizations." Who decides what's bona fide? Registered with whom, in a country with a free press?

  While, after advocacy, Inner City Press expects soon to finally see bloggers explicitly included in the UN's Media Accreditation guidelines which the UN is revising, it is 2010. Censorship and outmoded exclusions show yet another gap between what the UN says, and what it does. Watch this site.

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As Rwanda Arrests Defense Lawyer Erlinder, UN Silent, ICTR Writes Cautious Letter to Kagame

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 5 -- When Peter Erlinder, a defense lawyer before the UN affiliated International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, was arrested in Kigali for things he's said that are related to the defense he is currently putting up for opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire, one expected the UN to protest the arrest.

  Inner City Press asked, at the UN's June 3 noon briefing in New York, if there was any response by the Secretary General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, or at least the ICTR. UN Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe said "I have no information on that, but I’ll take your question."

  Subsequently a response came in from the ICTR, attributable to ICTR spokesperson Roland Amoussouga:

"We are not yet certain that the arrest has anything to do with Professor Peter Erlinder's work in ICTR as his travel to Kigali was not connected to his mandate with ICTR. When we learnt about the arrest we have immediately sent a correspondence in the form of an Official Note Verbale to the Rwandan authorities to get clarification as to whether the arrest may have had any relationship with the stance Professor Erlinder has taken in the context of the Defence of his client. We have yet to receive a formal reply. Normally, lawyers do enjoy immunity for the stance they take in legal proceedings."

  Erlinger has been charged for genocide denial, which is what his client is charged with. The role of Kagame's RPF is central to the defenses defendants must put up in the ICTR. But if one can be arrested for this, no defense or due process is possible.

UN's Ban at ICTR, defense of defense lawyer Erlinder not shown

   Erlinder's family thinks the Rwandan government is seeking to physically harm or even kill Erlinder. And the UN affiliated ICTR says, "We are not yet certain that the arrest has anything to do with Professor Peter Erlinder's work in ICTR." Watch this site.

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At UN, As Heller to Meet S.Korea, No Questions on Africa, 70% of Council Work

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 2, updated -- South Korea will meet with this month's UN Security Council president Claude Heller on the afternoon of June 2, about the sinking of the ship Cheonan. This was the news that emerged from Heller's 45 minute press conference earlier on June 2, describing the Council's program of work for June.

While Africa accounts for 70% of the items of the Council's agenda, no a single question about Africa was posed or taken at Wednesday's press conference. Afterward, two of Heller's aides put the onus on the press corps. "Africa is not news," a mainstream reporter told Inner City Press, when asked.

  But Heller, too, has his role. As chairman of the Somalia Sanctions Committee, he traveled to Yemen, Eritrea and other African nations recently. But he never briefed the Press upon his return. Inner City Press sought to ask about Somalia -- after, to be fair, asking two other questions -- but could not get the question in.

  After the press conference, Heller told Inner City Press he will belatedly brief the Council about his Somalia related trip "in July." By then, though, the news is stale. And what about getting food aid back into Somalia?

Claude Heller and his able spokesman, Somalia not shown

  The Council plans to travel to Afghanistan this month, but Heller wouldn't give the date, presumably for safety reasons. One assumes that Taliban will know about the trip if it happens.

 On June 14, all of the UN system's heavy hitters on Sudan will come to the Council: Ibrahim Gambari, Haile Menkerios, Djibril Bassole and Thabo Mbeki. What will they say, including about Sudanese president Omar al Bashir turning himself in to the International Criminal Court in The Hague?

 We'll have more on that topic, after clarification(s) from the Office of the Spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon-- who will, it is now confirmed since the first Inner City Press report this morning, be speaking to the media at 5 p.m. on June 2, after meeting with the Permanent Five members of the Security Council. Watch this site.

Update of 3:42 p.m. -- And 40 minutes after the Press set up at stakeout, Heller and two aides walked into the Council suite of rooms. But where are the South Koreas?

Update of 3:52 p.m. -- As S.Korean minister enters with two aides, he's asked, "do you have a message" for the Council? We have "nothing yet," he replies as enters. Hmm.

Update of 3:58 p.m. -- Choi Young-jin, who among other things is Ban Ki-moon's representative to Cote d'Ivoire, rushes into the Council. It seems doubtful that Laurent Gbagbo is his topic. So who is Choi representing? Watch this site.

Update of 4:22 p.m. -- for the record Choi Young-jin, who among other things is Ban Ki-moon's representative to Cote d'Ivoire, tells the Press that he his business in the Council WAS Ivorian. "Tomorrow," he says. "The letter?" one reporter asks. Another says, "What a coincidence." Maybe it is.

Update of 4:31 p.m. -- Choi Young-jin has come back, and back into the Council. Is THIS trip about Cote d'Ivoire?

Update of 4:40 p.m. -- Vice minister Chun Yung-woo emerges from Council. He tells the Press South Korea is trying to find the right time for the Council members to begin deliberations. "That is not true!" one reporter yells. "You can bring your letter any time you want! Why don't you have your letter in your hand?"

Chun Yung-woo cracks a smile. South Korea's Deputy Permanent Representative leads him away. We have other appointments, he says. And just after, Choi Young-jin emerges from the Council. It's a wrap -- onward to Ban Ki-moon's 5 p.m. presser. Watch this site.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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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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