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On UN Reform, NYC's Liaison Tells ICP There's Nothing UN Could Improve, Even on Cholera in Haiti

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 12 – When New York City's Bill de Blasio administration's liaison to the UN Penny Abeywardena came again to the UN on April 11, about an upcoming Oceans Conference, Inner City Press asked her about de Blasio's talk about banning plastic bags, and to name a single thing the UN could reform or do better at. She declined to name a single thing. Video here. There are those who love the UN so much they leave it weak. Shouldn't a New York City administration speak up for the UN's ongoing evasion of responsibility for negligently spreading cholera and killing Haitians, many of whom live in NYC? Ban Ki-moon's 11th hour promise has not been fulfilled; Ban's now-gone head censor Cristina Gallach, whose no due process eviction of Inner City Press leaves it still restricted in covering the UN's second floor, falsely claimed that all was going well. Ironically, Penny Abeywardena cited what Gallach had said. Has she not done the most basic research into the UN's failing response to having brought cholera to Haiti? We will stay on this.

 Back in December 2016 Abeywardena took questions about the United Nations' impact on New York City, she answered Inner City Press' question about Legionaires disease by saying the UN works with the City to comply with applicable local laws.

On December 7, Inner City Press asked the UN's deputy spokesman if this compliance extends to the US First Amendment and due process guarantes, both of which Abeywardena's co-panelist Cristina Gallach of the UN appears ot have violated. From the UN transcript:

Deputy Spokesman: I would refer you back to what Penny Abeywardena said yesterday in her role as the New York City Commissioner for International Affairs about the more than $3.3 billion, I believe it was…

Inner City Press: I asked her whether the UN is subject to New York City health rules like on Legionnaires' disease and on self-inspection, and she sort of said, oh, we work very closely, the UN basically kind of philosophically accepts all of these things even if it's not legally required.

So I'd wanted to know, one, things like the First Amendment, as to the freedom of the press or due process, is there… can you say that the UN is… is… is accepting, in the same way she described as Legionnaires' disease and health regulations, of freedom of the press and due process provisions of its host country? 

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not about the laws of the host country.  Of course, the UN also upholds the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and as you know, that includes the freedom of the media, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and many other key rights.

  Then how could the UN's Gallach order Inner City Press out of the UN, for seeking to cover an event in the UN Press Briefing Room, without once speaking to it - i.e. providing any due process at the time, with no right to appeal in the nine months since?

Gallach was written to by the UN's own Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and Human Rights Defenders and, after a three month day, misled them about a non-existent "altercation." The UN and its DPI do not comply with locally-applicable laws.

  On December 6, there was an initial joke about parking tickets, as if that would be the extent of issues New Yorkers might care about.

But while the City's study enumerates people directly employed by the UN Community, their lack of labor and other rights due to immunity was not acknowledged in the study.

   Inner City Press covers both the UN and its headquarters city, New York, and routinely receives complaints from diplomats' domestic workers and drivers about work place abuse and lack of benefits, and the lack of any recourse. Due to immunity, not only defrauded workers but those subject to physical abuse are left without rights.

  Inner City Press asked Abeywardena what the de Blasio administration proposes to do about that - for example, diplomat Joachim Haubrichs punched his wife Henna Johnson, 35, in the face and was not subject to arrest at all. Abeywardena said, in essence, that Johnson could get counseling. Video here.

   What about the UN having brought cholera to Haiti and killed 10,000 people, leaving sorrow and economic harm in many New York City communities - does the de Blasio administration have a position on that? Abeywardena did not answer, leaving the question for the UN moderator Cristina Gallach.

    But Gallach, as mentioned even in the New York Times, is responsible for the ouster and eviction of the investigative Press from the UN, and its confinement to minders to cover events on the UN's second floor for the past nine months and for the foreseeable future.

Gallach purported to give Inner City Press' longtime shared UN office to an Egyptian state media, Akhbar al Yom, which rarely comes into the UN and never asks any questions.

    Abeywardena answered Inner City Press' second round of questions by saying the City works with the UN on such issues as testing for Legionnaires Disease - something legally required for (other) buildings in New York.  

We question whether the City administration is doing or should do anything to ensure that the UN lives up to the basic principles, applicable right outside the UN's gates, of press freedom and due process.

Gallach's pretext for throwing Inner City Press out and restricting it since was Inner City Press' attempt to cover an event in the same UN Press Briefing Room on January 29, as part of its coverage of the ongoing Ng Lap Seng UN bribery case set for trial in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in January 2017.

Inner City Press left the briefing room - which had no “closed” sign on it - as soon as a single UN Security officer said to, at the request of UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric. But three weeks later, without once speaking with Inner City Press, Gallach ordered it out on two hours notice.

  When Inner City Press was physically thrown out onto First Avenue on Gallach's orders on February 19, 2016 (audio here) and its laptop thrown onto the sidewalk, it called the New York Police Department, which said it had no recourse at all, the UN controls even the sidewalk in front of it.

While the UN certain does some good work, is this censorship and impunity something New Yorkers should be represented as supporting? We'll have more on this.


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