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Freedom of Information

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At UN, Talk of FOIA by Latin Countries But Not By UN, Indigenous Rights

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 22 -- The UN's lack of accountability, from bringing cholera to Haiti to using as “peacekeepers” armies under investigation for war crimes like those of the DR Congo and Sri Lanka, is enabled by the lack of even a basic Freedom of Information Act covering the UN.

   UN official Alicia Barcena, who held a press conference as head of ECLAC on September 22, previously indicated the UN would work toward a FOIA, as recently reported in the Columbia Journalism Review, here.

  On September 22, after thanking Barcena on behalf of the new Free UN Coalition for Access, Inner City Press asked what ever happened to the proposal for a right to information from the UN. The ECLAC report Barcena was launching has a whole section on "Right to Information."

  Barcena replied about trends in Latin America -- Rio Principle 10, ILO 169, open data -- but not about the UN. We'll continue to pursue this.

  Inner City Press also asked the recent murder of indigenous people in Peru for logging and asked if that industry is as deadly as mining and hydrocarbons, listed in the report. Barcena said no. But see this article:

The Sept. 1 murders of outspoken anti-logging activist, Edwin Chota and three other Ashaninka members, underscore the void now filled by criminal groups who export endangered hardwoods.

The jungle has been abandoned by the state, and so local mafias and corruption have taken over,” said Julia Urranaga, Peru’s director of the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), during a Wednesday press conference in Lima

    We'll have more on indigenous issues today and this week.

  Inner City Press, which has litigated FOIA cases all the way to the US Supreme Court and submitted FOI request to dozens of countries, has long pushed for a UN Freedom of Information Act.

   As reported on September 15 by the Columbia Journalism Review, “Inner City Press... reported that Burnham’s successor, Alicia Barcena, said it would be in place by the end of 2007. But the General Assembly never agreed on the scheme, and it was quietly shelved. “There were differing views among Member States about what constituted openness,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, in an email.”

  (Inner City Press asked Dujarric about the quote at the September 15, 2014, noon briefing, video here and embedded below.)

  What leadership -- citing “differing views,” the UN Secretariat gave up before it even began. CJR also quotes a rights group which won't disclose what issues it raises to Ban, and correspondents happy to get leaks and text from their Western sources. This same organization, beyond its Executive Committee trying to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN, withheld its Q&A with Ban Ki-moon even from its own members, here.

  In order to pursue more access to information -- and the protection of the rights of investigative journalists against such insider approaches -- Inner City Press co-founded the new Free UN Coalition for Access.

  FUNCA says it is absurd for the UN Secretariat to blame member states for its own refusal to be transparent with its own financial information. Furthermore, how can Ban's UN make claims about “we the peoples” while blaming unnamed governments for banning accountability to the peoples?

  CJR concluded, as we will for now, with this: “Inner City Press continues to advocate for a systematic freedom of information policy, but admits that there is little binding pressure journalists can put on the UN legally. 'Ultimately you end up making a moral argument, which is that more so than most governments, the UN is always pontificating about good governance and transparency,' he said. 'That’s what I find so ironic.'”

Ironic is a diplomatic way to put it. Watch this site -- and this (FUNCA) one.


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