Inner City Press


In Other Media-e.g. Somalia, Ghana, Azerbaijan, The Gambia   For further information, click here to contact us          .

Home -

Search is just below this first article

How to Contact Us


Support this work by buying this book

Click on cover for secure site orders

also includes "Toxic Credit in the Global Inner City"

Inner City Press Podcast --

UN Envoys Hide and Seek While Narcotics Are Decried, the UN Parties On

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 7 -- On a UN day of press conferences denouncing drug injection rooms, Ban Ki-moon's envoy to the Western Sahara played hide and week with reporters including Inner City Press while incoming head of the UN Department of Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe sought their advice. As evening fell, a string quartet played in the UN checkerboard lobby as a Swiss-sponsored movie about Mary Magdalene was screened. Only at the UN, said one wag through another chicken skewer.

            First the drugs, then the munchies. In a 10:15 press conference that began with a mere handful of journalists in the briefing room -- but some handful they were -- the president and secretary of the International Narcotics Control Board denounced those countries which provide what the INCB calls "drug injection rooms." While dismissed by the INCB, these involve the provision of clean syringes, to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, and other forms of what is called harm reduction. INCB's president Philip O. Emafo insisted that the best form of harm reduction is... not taking drugs. It was reminiscent of the proponents of abstinence. But in this case it comes directly from a UN-affiliated agency. From Mr. Emafo, the argument had undertones of, the decadent developed world should not be allowed to loudly undermine anti-drug work in the developing world.

            One issue on which the INCB is "on message" with much of the UN is in muting or eliminating any criticism of dictatorships. INCB's 2006 report incongruously praises North Korea. After the briefing, Inner City Press asked INCB secretary Koli Kouame about his visit, with one INCB board member, to North Korea in June 2006. Mr. Kouame acknowledged having to pre-screen the UN / INCB board member's c.v. with the North Korean government. (Elsewhere, Inner City Press has learned that North Korea is seeking to pre-screen and block the auditors which Ban Ki-moon has said he is sending to Pyongyang, click here for that story.)

            Something of a rebellion broke out among the press corps earlier on Wednesday, when the spokesperson announced that Peter van Walsum, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Western Sahara, declined to take a single question from the press before or after his 4 p.m. meeting with Ban Ki-moon.

Mr. Openness? Peter van Walsun and Ban Ki-moon

From the transcript of the noon briefing:

Question:  I want to raise an issue that I’m really upset about.  The Secretary-General has a 4 p.m. meeting with Peter van Walsum, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Western Sahara.  And this is a very crucial time because there is going to be an autonomy plan introduced.  And I would really like to interview him and I know a number of my colleagues would.  I’ve been asking for this interview for over a year.  I know what he looks like, but I mean, he doesn't want to talk to the press and I really think that he needs to either give a press conference or be accessible to journalists.

Spokesperson:  Okay, well, we have talked to him and you have the answer.  He doesn't want to talk about what he’s (inaudible).  We tried today after you spoke to the people in my office, we tried.  Mr. van Walsum has informed us that he doesn't want to give any interviews.  But as you know, the Moroccans have not officially presented us with their plan.  We have only seen media reports, and as you know, we don't comment on press reports.  The meeting between the Secretary-General and van Walsum today will be on Western Sahara, and really I have nothing more to say on this.

Question:  Can I get a readout after the meeting?

Spokesperson:  Yes, we’ll try to get you something.

Question:  Just a follow-up on that.  Does the Secretary-General have the authority to tell a Special Representative of the Secretary-General to speak to the press?

Spokesperson:  No.  He will not.

Question:  So, the Secretary-General does not have the authority to tell a Special Representative of the Secretary-General to do something?

Spokesperson:  Not to do something, but he respects --

Question:  So they're independent actors?

Spokesperson:  He respects the fact that he doesn't want to give interviews.  I don't think the Secretary-General would get involved with this.  We can do our best to get the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to give an interview, but this is the best we can do.

Question:  (Inaudible) at the UN, if it's a senior official, who is charged with a very sensitive and important area is not even willing to face the press, let alone…

Spokesperson:  But it might have to do…

Question:  …say something substantive.  I mean, if he comes in and says something that’s totally unsubstantive, fine.  If he avoids us altogether, that's outrageous.

            In the face of such an outrage, it is best to take some action, any action. Therefore Inner City Press and the initiating reporter waited by the "Night Car" elevators to the 38th floor, ready to ask questions. The opportunity did not arise. Later, it emerged that Peter van Walsum had cancelled a press availability last year due to the involvement of the Maghreb Arab Presse. This year, it is said that the Department of Political Affairs communications team is urging Peter van Walsum to hold an on the record briefing.

            This was the advice delivered to incoming DPA chief B. Lynn Pascoe. (The B stands for Burton, just for the record, before he went off the record.) Amid semi-substantive comments that he asked  to not be reported, Mr. Pascoe asked reports for advice on how to briefing. "Early and often," came the answer. One test will be whether he stops at the stakeout microphone after briefing the Security Council. While Mr. Pascoe spoke, there was cheese and even wine. The previous evening the spread was fancier, up in the 4th floor dining room where Ghana's independence day was celebrated. With a liquor-less reception by the General Assembly president petering out on the second floor, a ravenous crowd headed upstairs. Just leaving was Under Secretary General Alicia Barcena (who told Inner City Press, "I have your email" message, a reply to which is still awaited). Inside the dining room, with the landmark Pepsi sign and Roosevelt Island out the window, liquor was flowing and the fritters fast and furious. One pure-hearted reporter expressed angst over noshing on money meant for Ghanaian children, tomorrow's future. Another argued that Ghana creating a positive buzz might one day help those children. The debate was not resolved.

Feedback: Editorial [at]

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

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

Search WWW Search

At the UN, Belarus Blames Victims of Trafficking, OAS Head for Extraditing Posada Carriles

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 5 --  That the UN Conference on Trafficking in Women and Girls was sponsored by Belarus was found ironic by some. Other were more angry, and tried to invoke the U.S. and European Union travel ban on Vladimir Naumov, Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Belarus, to prevent him from coming to New York for the conference. Inner City Press on Monday asked Mr. Naumov about this, and he responded by thanking the UN system for its cooperation with Belarus. Video here, from Minute 16:09.

            The content of Belarus' press conference was also controversial. Speaker Natalya Petkevich, Deputy Head of Administration of the President of the Republic of Belarus, blamed many women's "negligence" for the problem, and urged the "mass media" to be "objective" to "make sure they know such negligence."  Video here, from Minute 21:36. Ms. Petkevich referred to girls trying to make their way by "dancing and singing," and falling into trafficking. Still, negligence seems to many like blaming the victims.

Natalya Petkevich, on the lookout for negligence; Vladimir Naumov, on the lookout, period.

            Two new Under Secretaries General briefed the media on Monday. OCHA's John Holmes focused, as forgotten disasters, on Somalia, Northern Uganda and Iraq (for which he said OCHA is opening an office in Amman, Jordan). Inner City Press asked for his views on the interplay of humanitarian and political impulses, following up on Eric Laroche's briefing on Somalia last week, and on previous comments by Mr. Holmes. This time Mr. Holmes was cautious, saying that his predecessor Jan Egeland met with the Lord's Resistance Army "not as a political mediator as such." Still, Mr. Holmes urged that lines between humanitarian and political impulses be kept clear. Click here for a story on his answers about UNDP and North Korea.

            Alicia Barcena also appeared, leaving less than 15 minutes for questions. Inner City Press asked about the Pension Fund and OIOS, click here for that story. In response to another question, Ms. Barcena referred to a staff member "suspending, on paid leave." This was interpreted to mean staffer Andrew Toh, and Singapore's mission, which has supported Mr. Toh, was reporting hopping mad.

            In other surreal UN action on Monday, the deputy Ambassador of Georgia Irakli Chikovani conducted a record-shortest press conference -- six minutes -- to denounce the weekend's elections in Abkhazia as illegal. Click here for video, including Inner City Press' three question (in six minute, also a record).

            By late afternoon, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, took questions from four reporters in the half-light outside the Security Council. Inner City Press asked about Haiti -- Mr. Insulza blamed China for the eight rather than 12 month mandate -- and about Venezuela refusing to sign on to the OAS anti-terrorism convention. This is reportedly in protest of the U.S.'s failure to extradite Luis Posada Carriles, who bombed a Cuban jetliner in 1976.  Surprisingly, Ms. Insulza said "I have been in favor of the extradition of Posada Carriles." But he disagreed that it was any reason to abstain from a terrorism convention.

            On the stories from the UN's nether-regions, there was feedback on Friday's round-up on Monday from the spokesman for the Capital Master Plan. He confirmed that eels and fish, and even once a police diver, who was able to escape, accumulate on the screens of the intake machines in the UN's third sub-basement. As to the existence of a subway station under the UN, he confirmed the ability to descend to the tracks directly from the UN, but denied it was a station. Inner City Press has asked him for a tour. We'll see.

From the UN to JFK, It's Kim Jong Eel and Labor Relations Snafus

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 2 -- Most of the stories written from the UN are read by very few here. This week's tale of rats and eels in the UN was different. It appeared on Page Six of the New York Post, and was talked about not only in the briefing room and at Wednesday evening's reception at the Slovakian Ambassador's 67th Street townhouse, but also by security guards in UNICEF, and cleaning staff in the Secretariat's garage.

   Guards said that yes, there are eels, and that in the past some ate them. The spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon, who was known in Korea as the Slippery Eel, made light of the story and implied there are no eels, only rodents.

            And so Inner City Press, on its own turf on this story, went in search of the eels. This quest, as so many here, led to the third sub-basement. There one finds machines that screen and filter the water that comes in from the East River. Inner City Press is told that eels, or fish of any kind, would only be visible when they stop the machine and open them to clean out the screens. Whether the New York Post actually saw the eels before running its piece is not known. Some years ago, U.S. Navy SEALS explored the UN - East River interplay for potential security issues.

            Another urban legend was plumbed: whether there is or was a subway station under the UN, a stop between Grand Central and Long Island City on the 7 train. The answer appears to be yes. There is a tunnel, metal fencing, security cameras. Wonders never cease.

North Korea: keep on walking

            Friday evening as most UN staff poured out of the building, Peacekeeping head Jean-Marie Guehenno was coming in. To Inner City Press he explained, "Night shift." He said he was coming back from Washington, would soon be leaving for Pakistan. Inner City Press asked about the comment earlier on Friday from Ambassador Kumalo of South Africa, that even a civilian force in Chad would need security.

   "That's true," Mr. Guehenno said. Speaking of protection, Mr. Guehenno is known to be lobbying to get additional spokespersons' posts in his Department. There are, he says, three functions: speaking for the Department, providing back-up to the missions in the field, and creating an overall communications strategy. It sounds like UNDP...

            Meanwhile a portion of the UN press corps has been in a frenzy tracking the foreign minister of the Kim Jong Il government of North Korea, from San Francisco to New York, where he's slated to meet with Christopher Hill at the U.S. Mission. In San Francisco, Japan's NHK television is said to have rented five motorcycles to try to find Minister Kim.  In New York, reporters flocked out to the airport, awaiting a certain (or uncertain) United Airlines flight, and then camped out in front of the Millennium Plaza hotel, in the same structure at UNDP, and awaited him. They got a wave, and not much more.

            Back in the UN, the day ended as it so often Friday does in the Delegates' Lounge. This time a high-ranking UN official twice graced the scene -- hint: one who will hold a press conference on Monday, which narrows it down to two -- and first conveyed the 38th floor's anger at the Staff Union's letter to the editor of the New York Times. This letter looks critically both at Mr. Ban's reforms to date, calling them cosmetic, and at the Times' Feb. 28 article making much of these reforms. The letter focuses on three "fundamental reforms" it calls necessary: staff selection, the culture of fear and the "unfair system of justice at the United Nations."

            An example of the first of these was within spitting and drinking distance of the UN high official Friday night. The culture of fear, so often described on this site, was attempted to be spread to the Press this week by the Pension Fund's complaint to UN Security about Inner City Press' attempt to observe and ask questions outside the February 15 Audit Committee meeting. On Friday, a UN spokesperson said not to worry about this complaint, that the OSSG is angry about it too, and that no written statement is necessary. The system of justice at the UN is called into question by the same UN Pension Fund's lack of action on a March 2006 OIOS report, and failure to be fair to many of its employees.

            Still the week and evening came to a pleasant close in the Delegates' Lounge, with its door into the ECOSOC Chamber, its six-dollar screwdrivers and bowls of free potato chips, its views of the East River reflecting an empty insane asylum, in the middle of the river or here on its west bank, it is not quite certain...

Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service.

            Copyright 2006 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] -

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

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