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On Gaza, Ban Shifts Down to 12 Hour Pause, UN Won't Say How Travels

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 24, more here -- When UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon finally spoke in Cairo on July 25, it was about a mere 12 hour humanitarian pause.

  US Secretary John Kerry, to whom nearly all of the media questions were directed, denied that Israel's cabinet had voted down the larger proposal; Kerry is heading to Paris to meet with the foreign ministers including those of Turkey and Qatar.

  While the UN has yet to say Ban will go to Paris, at the July 25 noon briefing Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq refused to tell Inner City Press on what kind of plane, paid by whom, Ban traveled to Cairo.

  After belatedly telling Inner City Press Ban took a Qatar-funded private jet to Doha, and later a Saudi plane, now the UN won't answer basic questions about Ban's most recent outside-funded trips.

   Ban's announcement was a shift down from remarks the UN had sent out, then retracted. At 7:22 AM Eastern Time in the US, Ban's Office of the Spokesperson emailed out Ban's remarks.  Seven minutes later at 7:29 AM they e-mailed again: "PLEASE RETRACT - Secretary-General's remarks to press in Cairo have not been delivered."

  While not required, Inner City Press decided to hold off reporting any of this, expecting Ban to speak with US Secretary of State John Kerry soon thereafter.

    Two hours later, the Wall Street Journal's Jay Solomon published a story quoting what Ban was "expected to say" --

"'On this, the last Friday of Ramadan, I call for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian pause in the fighting in Gaza and Israel,' Mr. Ban is expected to say Friday, according to a draft of his prepared comments. 'We can build on this initiative by supporting international efforts to put in place the elements of a longer-term cease-fire plan.' A spokesperson for Mr. Ban said the transcript was mistakenly released by the U.N. on Friday.

   While still awaiting Ban's expected -- changed? -- remarks with John Kerry (a reporter on the scene says the UN flag has been placed and replaced at the site of the press availability), it's worth asking, how does the UN get "its" press corp to sit on Ban's remarks released, with no embargo, and then "retracted"?

   Inner City Press has reported on, and the Free UN Coalition for Access seek to counteract, this dynamic, for example here when the UN's Correspondents Assocation - known for more than one reason as the UN's Censorship Alliance -- provided Ban with a soccer photo op.

  Significantly in these pre-released remarks, Ban once again cites the bombing of the UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun without saying anything about who did it - despite for example the widely reported series of IDF tweets. So again: why was Ban's pre-released statement sat on?

   The Free UN Coalition for Access also asks: how can it be that the UN does not disclose when Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accepts free travel on a private jet, and on July 24 would not tell Inner City Press how and on whose plane Ban flew to Iraq? Video here.

 We note that, along with a Newsweek piece that credited Inner City Press' exclusive, Solomon is one of two reporters trailing Kerry who've asked / tweeted about Ban using the Qatar funded private jet.

   Agence France Presse reported Ban's later retracted remarks, so for without correction. But AFP did not mention Ban's silence on who bombed the UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun.

  When Inner City Press asked UN spokesperson Haq about the AFP report, Haq said AFP had been spoken to. But the report(s) remained online.

   This follows the UN's only belated acknowledgement, after Inner City Press asked several times, that Ban began his Gaza-related tour by flying on a Qatar-funded jet to Qatar, then Cairo.

 Bigger picture, does the UN, while claiming to abide by its own stated ethics rules, simply not have time for them and waive them?  When Inner City Press asked on July 23, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said, if you are here as a lawyer, "You're not entitled to be at the noon briefing." Video here from Minute 4:26.

 Haq has denied that there is any conflict of interest in accepting the Qatar-funded travel, but has still not said when or how an opinion was sought from the UN's Ethics Office. Video here and embedded below. Inner City Press on July 23 asked, in writing:

"This is a request for the the entire audio file of the Secretary General's press availability in Jerusalem at which the US State Department transcribed the question, Mr. Secretary-General, do you think its appropriate for Qatar to be paying for your flight here and this answer:

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN: No ladies and gentlemen, this is the 15th day since the crisis began. We do not have much time to weigh the rules.

[since changed on State Department website from this archived version, here]

"This is also a request to be informed if, when and how the UN Ethics Office was asked about the Secretary General accepting the gift of travel on the Qatar-funded, and the UN's estimate of the value of the gift; a statement of all rules applicable to receipt of this gift, and how much has been spent on Secretary General travel in the past two years. On deadline."

  Here was the UN's "response," with neither the audio file, nor the budget or financial information:

To: Matthew.Lee [at]
From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply [at]
Date: Wed, Jul 23, 2014 at 4:59 PM

The State Department has acknowledged that its transcription was in error and has corrected the record, please see link below.

The Ethics Office has agreed on the need to use the chartered plane because of the Secretary-General's need to travel to a number of locations in the Middle East at short notice, The Ethics Office notes that the Secretary-General interacts with all 193 Member States, and he is scrupulous at maintaining the independence of the UN when engaged in his political and diplomatic undertakings.

   This did not answer "when and how the UN Ethics Office was asked about the Secretary General accepting the gift of travel on the Qatar-funded, and the UN's estimate of the value of the gift; a statement of all rules applicable to receipt of this gift."

  And so at the July 24 noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Haq to provide information about the last ten free trips provided to Ban or his senior staff by states or others. Haq cut the question off, belatedly providing a UN budget Secretary General travel figure -- $2,190,300 for 2014 / 2015 -- but not explaining why he hadn't simply emailed this to Inner City Press.

  Haq claimed the deadline was unclear. So that's why he held the information back? Here's the July 24, 2014, video:

  On the audio file, Haq referred to UN Radio. Here it is, for download at mp3 - but it cuts off the question asked of Ban about the Qatar-funded plane, that the State Department transcribed.

The UN has previously censored its transcripts to omit the Free UN Coalition for Access and what was said to Ban; when Haq answered Inner City Press that Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir was dead, he "corrected" this in the transcript without ever telling Inner City Press that his answer was wrong, or had been "disappeared" in the transcript.

  On July 24 after Inner City Press asked for basic UN financial information -- last ten free trips -- Haq said, "You are not a prosecutor." Video here.
And here's the July 23, 2014 video:

On July 21, the UN belatedly answered Inner City Press' July 19 inquiry about Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accepting a free Qatar-funded, British registered private jet for his current travel about Gaza. Video here and embedded below.

  On July 23 in Jerusalem, Ban Ki-moon was asked,"do you think its appropriate for Qatar to be paying for your flight here?"
  And Ban Ki-moon responded, "No ladies and gentlemen, this is the 15th day since the crisis began.  We do not have much time to weigh the rules."

   Inner City Press, and now the Free UN Coalition for Access, have been pursuing this question, including with Transparency International which answered "it would seem that the Secretary General would have had to have been previous clearance to undertake such a paid trip by the Qatari government. This question should be posed to the Office of Ethics."

  And so on July 22, Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq if the UN Ethics Office was asked about accepting the free Qatar-funded private jet flights.

  Haq replied:

I'm aware that as a standard policy, we inform the Ethics Office of all such offers...I don't know about this particular case. I know it for past cases, every time I have asked the Ethics Office about this, they have talked about being informed about this... They do approve these on the case of exceptional circumstances.

Inner City Press asked Haq to get an answer from the Ethics Office, if they were asked before Ban began his current trip in the Qatar-funded jet.

Haq said, I can do this... This is what has happened several times in the past.

  But apparently not this time. Ban said, "We do not have much time to weigh the rules." We'll stay on this.

   We'll have more on this.



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