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UN's Ban Questioned on Record, on Sri Lanka, Half Time Pep Talk

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 11 -- Half way into the five year term as UN Secretary General he was awarded in 2006, Ban Ki-moon on June11 tried to defend low grades he has received for his management of the UN and not "speaking truth to power."

  At Mr. Ban's press conference for June, his spokesperson Michele Montas pointedly did not call on Inner City Press. Only a week before she had said the UN should be able to regulate the Press, after a memo revealed her attendance at a May 8 meeting at which legal threats and "complaining to Google News" about Inner City Press was discussed. On June 11, she looked elsewhere to award the right to question.

   But CNN's longtime correspondent, characteristically classy, yielded his question to Inner City Press. Video here, from Minute 42:41. To inquire into Ban's views on his Spokesperson's and top officials' seeming underlying of freedom of the press, while necessary and to later be asked, had to take a back seat to a bigger picture question. From the UN's transcript, the question and then Ban's annotated answer:

Inner City Press: There is an article in today's Economist, called “Ban Ki-moon - the score at half time”. It reviews half of your first term. I want to ask you to respond to it. Under the rubric “truth to power” they give you a three out of ten, and they use the example of Sri Lanka - they say that Mr. Ban denied that the UN had leaked grim civilian casualty figures. On management they give two out of ten. There are some better grades, I acknowledge. On management, they say there is a problem with communicating with senior staff, that you have to show more leadership in drumming up peacekeepers.

I might add to that, protection of whistle-blowers and free press. I just wanted to know, do you agree with any of this critique, are there things you intend to do better in a second term? What do you make of this piece in the Economist assigning those two grades?

SG: I would regard it as the judgment of the Economist. There may be a different judgment on my performance. First of all, during the last two and a half years, I had three priorities. First of all, to catalyze a global response to critical global issues – like climate change, managing the consequences of the international economic crisis, global health and global terrorism. On climate change, you may agree with me that from almost dead - if not dead, a dormant status - this issue has risen to the level of leaders of the world. It has become a top priority issue of this world. I am going to really work hard to seal the deal in Copenhagen in December. I am working for all humanity, for the future of Planet Earth.

Note: Ban is clearly passionate about climate change, but some might also mention Al Gore in this role. Ban appointed a mentor and former boss in South Korea as a UN climate change envoy, then added the past General Assembly president Srgjan Kerim to his climate roster. These are patronage appointments, many feel, that do no credit to the environment and provide support for the grades the Economist gave.

SG: To deliver results to those most in need, you should know that I have been working very hard to represent the well-being of the most vulnerable people. I have been working as the voice of the voiceless people, and defend those people who are defenseless. You see my performance on the record.

Note: Most recently Ban went to Sri Lanka, and saw Tamils locked up in internment camps. Since returning to New York, Ban's Spokespeople have resisted commenting on the plight of these defenseless people, who are being locked up with UN funds.

UN's Ban, a world of worry, officials' anti-Press moves don't help

  Inner City Press asked, what about the outgoing Sri Lankan chief justice's comment that the people in the camps have no legal protection, cannot get the jurisdiction of Sri Lankan court? Ban's Associate Spokesperson dryly called this a "national issue." So much for voice for the voiceless. Some say, apologist for governments.

SG: On reform, you should understand that this has been accumulating over the last sixty years. During the last two and a half years, I can proudly say that I have made significant changes in the working culture of the United Nations, to make this most transparent, accountable, efficient and mobile and effective. I don't claim that I have finished the job. There are much more things to be done in the reform process of the United Nations. Look at these accumulated, very cumbersome, bureaucratic systems of the United Nations. I am also in a very difficult position to move these reform processes ahead. Have you ever seen somebody who has been, as passionately as I have been doing, to change this working culture of the United Nations? There will be some complaints. People just love business as usual. They simply don't want to change. This is what I really wanted to change.

Note: Ban could have made his top officials file public financial disclosure, or face non reappointment. He didn't. He is viewed, perhaps because of those around him, as unapproachable by many. His top management official, Angela Kane, barely speaks with the Staff Union. Therefore few things have been reformed.

SG: You should look very closely and follow me, what I have been doing, what I have in my mind. I have never left climate change [or] reform of the United Nations. I will continue to do that, whatever somebody may say. But be sympathetic, and just try to closely follow what I have been doing, not just based on conventional wisdom. Fix your eyesight and vision on the 21st [century]. Don't look at the 1950s, 1960s., where the United Nations was the only universal body. Now you have so many international actors – the European Union, the African Union, the OAS, ASEAN – the United Nations must work together in close coordination with all these organizations. And we need the full support of the Member States.

Note: Ban appointed former peacekeeping chief Jean Marie Guehenno as his Under Secretary General for Regional Cooperation, that is on all these grounps. Then, Ban did not assign Guehenno a single piece of work. It was a patronage appointment, apparently designed to keep Guehenno's visa status. This is not a new way of doing busines.

SG: Without the political support, without resources provided by the Member States, it is difficult, however capable a person may be the Secretary-General. It is just impossible. I need more political support. I need more resources by the Member States. Then judge my support on the basis of that. The mandate should be supported and accompanied by the resources and political support. Don't just look at my performance on the basis of just vague or conventional perceptions of the United Nations.

  Note: Is it too conventional to think that the UN Secretary General should speak up for members of a minority group interned by a majoritarian government using UN money? Is it vague to think that a CEO who has he wants those whom he appointed to make public financial disclosure could easily bring it about, by conditioning appointment or re-appointment on disclosure? We could go on and on. The point is, what improvements will there be? Watch this site.

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At UN, Ban Bones Up on Safety and Swing Space, Sri Lanka Pushed into Past

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 11, updated -- In the lead up to today's Ban Ki-moon press conference, Mr. Ban's staff prepared him on the non foreign policy topics of the UN's Capital Master Plan, safety and the so-called swing space which will be used for the four years Headquarters is under repair. While many UN staff members are unhappy with where they are being moved and what they'll come back to, if they come back, the press corps has become increasingly vocal.

  Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas was given advance notice that Ban will be asked about the attempt by his officials, led by Under Secretary General for Management Angela Kane and CMP chief Michael Adlerstein, to charge media organizations $23,000 for office space similar to that they now have for free. Inner City Press reported exclusively on these attempted charges, linking it with the exodus of several media organizations including the Washington Post from the UN.

  Subsequently, the money demand was dropped, and only "open office" cubicles offered. [But see below - on June 10, the UN renewed its proposal to charge the press money for space to report on the UN, which no previous Secretary General has done.] The UN press corps remains strongly opposed and urges ratcheting things up, as is done here.

  The UN's rationale is that the UN is moving to a culture of transparency. We've yet to see it. At a supposed Town Hall meeting led by Angela Kane on June 5 about UN justice, security officers checked all attendees' identification cards at the entrance doors. Can't have any reporting on justice at the UN, apparently.

  More substantively, Ban or his Spokesperson's Office seem to have decided to try to cut off questions about the year's bloodiest conflict, Sri Lanka. On May 23, the UN's Ban Ki-moon signed a Joint Statement with Sri Lanka's Mahinda Rajapaksa. Ban has since said that he is closely monitoring compliance.

  But only this week, his Spokespeople have refused to comment on the deporting of Canadian MP Bob Rae, the extension of state of emergency anti-terror laws, and the country's outgoing chief justice's statement that those in the UN-funded internment camps have no protection from Sri Lanka's courts. That's a national issue, was the answer of Ban's spokespeople.

 What does Mr. Ban himself think? One hopes to get an answer.

UN's Mr. Ban and Ms. Kane in basement, many things not shown

  Back in Headquarters, an incoming USG who is seeking answers is Gregory Starr, the replacement of David Veness. He is slated, sources say, to meet later this week with DSG Asha Rose Migiro. The delayed Security Risk Assessments are said to finally be completed, but their recommendations are not known, particularly with regard to safeguards needed at the Madison Avenue and 47th Street swing space.

In the run up to his June 11 "monthly" press conference, Ban was said to be angry at the mounting concerns about the safety of the way the CMP is being implemented. Asbestos removal has been performed, for example, right next to the UN library, still in use.

   Adlerstein insists that the work is being done on weekends, by "men in spacesuits... using negative pressure." But the Staff Union has questioned the process, and has also now in writing, they say, questioned what they call Angela Kane's grab of space on the library building's third floor, causing a unit of the Department of Public Information to move twice.

  At a recent meeting, Adlerstein insisted that such double moves are common, and blamed Inner City Press making it an issue. If he only knew -- the issue was raised first by the Staff Union. Inner City Press spoke briefly with Adlerstein on June 10, asking the status of the white PVC piping, otherwise illegal in New York, and the septic tank installed in the third sub-basement next to the garage for Mr. Ban's car.

  After first declining to answer -- Adlerstein, as well as Ms. Montas, say they are opposed to "getting quotes in the hallway," which is routinely done by the UN press corps, particularly on the Security Council beat -- Adlerstein said that the PVC is legal, and the septic tanks will stay. Staff Union sources wonder if Ban has smelled his car. "That's not a new car wax," one joked on Thursday morning.  He added that such close Press coverage of the UN is a mark of respect, not disrespect, for "the Organization."

  These sources insist that the USG for Management post is "in play," as they put it. The initial impetus, they say, came from the United States, but others have now joined in. Inner City Press asked, but where does one shift a USG? The sources pointed to the lateral move of Ms. Kane's predecessor Alicia Barcena to ECLAC in Santiago, and joked that the UN now like "giving Germans high UN posts in Africa," referring to Ban's (or Kane's) replacement of Anna Tibaijuka as head of the UN office in Nairobi by UNEP's Aichim Steiner.

  As we've noted before, most recently in connection with what is described as Ms. Kane's memo to Ban about a May 8 meeting with other USGs about legal action against three media organizations, one of which interviewed Ban on June 10, and proposal to complain to Google News about Inner City Press, click here for that -- we'd like to get direct responses on these issues from Ms. Angela Kane, but she has indicated in writing and never changed a statement that she has not time to answer questions, to just ask in the briefing room. Watch this space.

Update of 10:59 a.m. -- Ban's press conference, scheduled for 11 a.m., has been pushed back to 1 p.m.. It is the only thing on this public schedule for the day (he flies to St. Louis later in the day). Reportedly, the UN is again proposing to charge the press money for space to report on the UN, which no previous Secretary General has done.

  With Angela Kane not in the meetings -- reportedly out of town -- Ban's deputy chief of staff has taken the lead. Some say his focus is on newly arriving South Korean media, if they must work in the non-enclosed bullpen, then everyone should. Ostensibly to allay concerns about journalists' expensive equipment being stolen from open office space, the UN has offered to install additional, multiple angle security cameras. There's talk, satirical or absurd, about a designated "UN Whistleblower Zone," perhaps like the so-called "No Fire" Zone in Sri Lanka. To be continued.

Update of 12:56 p.m. -- the press corps is settling in for Ban's presser, putting their names on the list maintained by his Spokesperon's Office. Inner City Press was here early, after the stakeout of top humanitarian John Holmes, immediately entered into the list and took a spot in the front row, so we'll see.

Update of 1:01 p.m. -- Ban has begun, stating that he waited until 1 p.m. in light of WHO raising its Swine Flu / H1N1 level to six. There is whispering about how or even if the swing space issue will be raised.

Update of 2:12 p.m. -- while Ban's Spokesperson did not call on Inner City Press, despite the right to ask follow ups to a question if Ban thinks he will be a two term Secretary General, when she called on CNN, their long time correspondent with characteristic class said he would give the question right to Inner City Press. It was the last question of the press conference; Inner City Press asked for Ban's response to the Economist rating him 3 / 10 on Speaking Truth to Power, and even lower, 2 / 10, on Management Skills.
   Ban gave a long and unscripted answer, which we will analyze and report on later today. For now, various observers called it his only passionate answer, or to be more charitable as he requested, the most passionate of his answers.

  As Ban left for St. Louis, his deputy chief of staff approached the first questioner, about the swing space, and audibly said, let's continue the dialogue, but you broke our agreement. Another journalist replied, We are not sorry, Mr. Kim. It all took place in the briefing room, with recorders running. Only at the UN... Watch this site.

 Channel 4 in the UK with allegations of rape and disappearance

  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

Feedback: Editorial [at]

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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