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At UN, Return to 38th Floor Presented as Almost Religious, Media Silence

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 17 -- It was an almost religious experience, or treated like one, when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon moved back into the 38th floor of The Organization's skyscraper Monday morning. Video here and below.

   Inner City Press and a dozen other media arrived at 8 am and waited, first in the checker board floored lobby then up in the renovated 38th floor. There, wood paneled walls were now white, and the conference table had retractable microphones. All this for $2 billion and counting. Photo here.

   Workmen wiped the doorknobs clean; UN cameramen set up. Finally at 8:45 am Ban Ki-moon and his team came in. Photo here.

  There was chief of staff Susana Malcorra, a hard worker recently seen defending the blacking out of portions of Ban's second report on the UN's actions and inaction in Sri Lanka while 40,000 people were killed in 2009.

  Malcorra also met with the M23 rebels in Eastern Congo, a region Ban's chief of Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous refuses to answer Press questions about, video here.

   There was Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, a long time humanitarian now in charge of Ban's third study of failure in Sri Lanka, due in the second quarter of 2013.

  There was chief of management Yukio Takasu, who sources tell Inner City Press stopped the naming of a technical expert to the Chief Information Technology Officer post in favor of "a politician," after member states' outrage at the UN's failure to even e-mail them during Hurricane Sandy.

   In his office-opening remarks, Ban said all the right things: he thanked Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg and other member states; he thanked the recipient of the $2 billion dollars, Skanska. (Afterward some reporters asked if he hadn't called them Skanka, and what it might mean.)

  No questions were taken, in the conference room or when Ban Occupied his big new desk. (Photo here; old office shown in this Inner City Press video, also embedded below.) 

   One might have asked, was it worth $2 billion and the suspension if not snuffing out of the UN's culture? What lessons have been learned, and what changes will be made, after Hurricane Sandy?

   But in the past year, the UN press corps has in a sense been reduced to repeating UN statements, and covering outside events like Sandy and the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

  Meanwhile the UN Correspondents Association executive committee, after spending a year trying to expel the investigative Press and allowing the UN to reduce media space by over 40%, now intends to violate its own Constitution and not hold elections in 2012, and not leave office as required on December 31, 2012.

   Ban, through his spokesman Martin Nesirky, has been asked about this.

   Ban will hold his end of the year press conference on December 19. If the past is any kind, Nesirky will give the first question automatically to the UNCA executive committee. He and therefore Ban have been asked about this as well.

  But since later on December 19 he will celebrate UNCA and their awardee Arnold Schwarzenegger, it may seem easier just to go along. It usually does.

  On December 7, to combat all this and to push for UN Under Secretaries-General like Ban's lawyer Patricia O'Brien and Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous to have to hold briefings and answer questions, the Free UN Coalition for Access or FUNCA was launched. Watch that site.

Ladsous has refused to answer questions for example about working with units of the Congolese Army accused of rape in Minova, video here, and of UN Peacekeeping's dealings with General Shavendra Silva of the Sri Lankan Army, depicted by a UN report as engaged in war crimes.

  Silva was sponsored by the UNCA Executive Committee to deny these charges inside the UN Dag Hammarskhold Library Auditorium, click here for fall-out.

   On December 14, the UNCA Executive Committee announced that it was putting off the elections that its own Constitution requires it to hold by December 15, before leaving office and power on December 31.

Here's from UNCA's Constitution, Article 3, Section 3:

"The members of the Executive Committee shall assume their duties on the first day of January following the election and shall hold office until the last day of December of the year. Elections of the Executive committee shall be held between November 15 and December 15."

    Despite this, they say they intend to hold over. But legally, they have no powers, including to run elections, after December 31.

  The question has been put to UNCA's president, who has not provided any answer, as also happened when the evidence of the dis-acceditation push by three Executive Committee members and UNCA itself was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (a version of which FUNCA asks the UN to adopt.)

  Will this blatant UNConstitutional violation of election rules be brought up on or before December 19 by Ban Ki-moon or UN Ambassadors, particularly those like France which talk so much about democracy in other countries like Cote d'Ivoire, before they party with UNCA?

  Earlier on December 19, Ban has scheduled his "end of the year" press conference. At such events, his spokesman tightly controls questions, and until now has always given the first question to UNCA. Should that continue on December 19? Can it? The questions have been raised to the UN. Watch this site.

Bonus: here is August 1, 2008 video of Ban's "old" office:

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