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French Mission Asserts Diplomatic Impunity, Araud Shouts of Arrest Record

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 14 -- When does diplomatic immunity become diplomatic impunity?

  Last week Inner City Press compared the high profile case of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade who was indicted in connection with allegedly underpaying a domestic worker with an earlier case of a French diplomat Romain Serman who was taken into police custody while attempting to buy cocaine, according to NYPD records.

  Inner City Press had asked the French mission to comment on the NYPD record and Serman's case but was told only that it was a "hostile act" if the records, also including leaked documents showing France's domination of the UN with regard to former colonies in Africa, remained online. Inner City Press rejected that French censorship bid.

  On January 13, after the comparison to the Indian diplomat, things escalated. Both on his way into the Security Council and again on his way out, French Ambassador Gerard Araud stopped to shout at Inner City Press about the story.

  When Inner City Press began pointing out that his Mission had been asked for comment but had only responded with the "hostile act" threat, Araud shouted over the point, and made another threat, to sue.

Click here for video / audio by UNTV taken at the stakeout. And embedded below: "flag shot" with UNTV ambient audio.

  Perhaps Araud or the French Mission to the UN do not understand press freedom as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. This is what investigative journalism is: ferreting out such documents, seeking comment on that, analyzing and comparing them, publishing.

  The French mission should have commented, if it disputed the document or thought it should be amplified with some explanation -- for example, that citing diplomatic immunity made the arrest, but not this record, go away:

"for attempting to purchase cocaine and marijuana from a known drug dealer...106th Street and Park Ave...claimed to be a diplomat from the country of France and displayed a ID which proved such. When...Miranda rights he refused to cooperate...was taken into custody"

  That is the story: that for attempting to buy cocaine, for which many are in prison in the US and New York State, a French diplomat not only was not treated similarly, but was allowed to leave the country and then return, now, as French consul in San Francisco.

  That is the comparison to the Indian case, in which it is said that Ms. Khobragade is on a "watch list" and would be arrested if she tried to re-enter the US where her two children, 4 and 7, live.

  The Indian case was widely reported and it does not seem that the Indian foreign service or Ms. Khobragade threatened to sue any media for reporting it.

   That is Araud's French Mission's tactic, deployed in lesser ways against others covering the UN who in turn were so cowed, or so needed access to the French Mission, that they resisted any reporting of the French Mission's censorship and conditioning of access on positive coverage.

  Araud's threat to sue notwithstanding, the UN is so lawless that it allows its Media Accreditation unit and process to be open for bids at censorship or outright exclusion. After facing such from some atop the United Nations Correspondents Association (now the UN's Censorship Alliance), not unrelated to ces jeux francais, the new Free UN Coalition for Access asserts journalists' right to due process and, even regarding the French mission and French foreign policy, freedom of the press. Watch this site.

Footnote: ironically the day after Araud's threat, French president Francois Hollande said he would not try to sue, since he has immunity and it would be a double standard. But is France engaged, through Araud, in triple standards? Or is Araud on his own on this one and soon, as he foreshadowed, leaving the UN?


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