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UN Resists Reform, Conceals on Due Process, FUNCA Pushes Forward

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 23 -- As the UN has become less and less transparent, since last month the new Free UN Coalition for Access has raised transparency issues to the top of the UN Department of Political Affairs.

  Some examples of reduced transparency include Under Secretaries General like top lawyer Patricia O'Brien refusing to do press conferences and USG for Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous even directing his spokesman to seize the UN Television microphone to avoid Press questions. Video here.

At January 17 meeting with the chief of DPI and two other officials, FUNCA raised 16 questions. Later that day, Inner City Press published a short summary, saying that more would be reported once DPI provided the promised written answers.

   But no written answers were provided for five days. After an inquiry Wednesday with one of the officials, it was another official who answered with an e-mail which did not offer any answer to more than half of the questions -- this after six days.

   The question of press availability by current and prospective USGs, on which the chief of DPI has appeared open, was entirely ignored in his subordinate's written response.

   At the January 17 meeting, this official, Stephane Dujarric, said that he told Ladsous spokesman Andre-Michel Essoungou back in December that grabbing the UNTV microphone was inappropriate.

   But until January 17, Dujarric never told FUNCA, Inner City Press or UNTV staff, some of whom urged FUNCA to raise the issue as it impacts their ability to do their jobs. This is UN mismanagement.

   FUNCA has asked for written explanations of withdrawal of long-held UN telephones (which can call UN Peacekeeping missions) and UN phone numbers. But Dujarric's written answers do not mention the issue.

   On January 17, Dujarric's colleague told an interested FUNCA member that in the future photo opportunities in Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's office will be open to all UN photographers. But Dujarric does not include this in his written answers.

   In the run-up to the January 17 meeting, which the chief of DPI had requested, FUNCA raised in detail its concerns about Dujarric's role in receiving -- apparently encouraging -- Voice of America's June 20, 2012 request that the UN "review" the accreditation of Inner City Press.

   Voice of America documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act say that the UN Correspondents Association "met with UN officials (very quietly)" to try to get Inner City Press dis-accredited.

  After VOA's June 20 request, which VOA said was supported by the Reuters and AFP bureau chiefs on the UNCA Executive Committee, Dujarric thanked VOA's Steve Redisch and said he would call him later int he week. FOIA document here.

   But Dujarric never told Inner City Press about the complaint, nor about one he previously received from Reuters' Louis Charbonneau. After the VOA complaint was exposed, the New York Civil Liberties Union wrote to the UN to demand to know its process for reviewing accreditation, to ensure content neutral fairness and due process.

   NYCLU's letter was not addressed to Dujarric, but rather the chief of DPI (who had not yet arrived) and his charge d'affaires Maher Nasser.

   On January 17 Dujarric said he was the one who answered the NYCLU -- despite his involvement in the process the NYCLU was questioning. This is a worst practice, of the type not allowed in financial institutions.

  Why didn't the addressee Nasser reply? Or the chief when he arrived? (Relatedly, why is Dujarric the one issuing (non) answers to question asked by FUNCA in a meeting that the DPI chief requested with FUNCA?)

  Dujarric on January 17 said he responded to the NYCLU in writing and in a cell phone call from Citi Field which he said took place June 29, although the NYCLU letter did not exist until July 5.

   Dujarric was asked for a copy and summary of his responses -- and Dujarric refused. This is unacceptable: if the UN has policies about journalists, it must disclose them to journalists. UNCA never pushed for this, and cannot, given that it was the entity filing stealth complaints.

   Dujarric at the January 17 meeting openly urged FUNCA to just merge into UNCA, a position since taken in anonymous UNCA fliers. The answer was and will remain no. UNCA never worked on these issues, and can't.

   In fact, on January 23 UNCA's response to these issues was to tape on top of FUNCA's flier summarizing the January 17 meeting with DPI a blurry copy of the UN Media Access Guidelines - which the UN inappropriate has UNCA as a party to -- warning that accreditation can be withdrawn.

  That's what UNCA tried in 2012 and shows willingness to try again. This will be opposed.

   Other FUNCA questions unanswered by Dujarric's written response include but are not limited to the denial of office space to some long time correspondents, double standards, and the need for a UN Freedom of Information Act. Watch this site.

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