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Amos Answers On Syria Report UNtransparently Released by UN, Reforms?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 30 -- When UN Humanitarian chief Valerie Amos took media questions on April 30, Inner City Press asked her about two paragraphs of her report on Syria, the advance copy of which was released on April 23 as analyzed below.

   Paragraph 47 disclosed 25 UN staff members detained. Inner City Press asked, by whom? Amos said by both the government and the armed groups.

  Paragraph 45 described what seemed to be slight improvements in visa-granting by Syria, as well as requests "canceled" by the UN Department of Safety and Security. Amos said there are slight improvements but there is a need for more.

   The processing of the slaughter in Syria like in South Sudan, the Central African Republic and elsewhere has become routinized and ideological. Take again, how with further analysis, the example the UN's release on the evening of April 23 of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's second report under UNSC Resolution 2139.

   Along with criticism of the government, this report for example cites armed groups injuring and displacing civilians in Al-Zahraa (Paragraph 5), displacing 7500 in Kassab (by al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and Ansar al-Sham paragraph 6), blowing off car bombs in Alawite neighborhoods in Homs (Paragraph 9), and so forth.  But what part gets reported?

   Ban's Spokesperson's Office, run by Stephane Dujarric, at the end of the Security Council's meeting on South Sudan (video here) announced over the UN intercom that the report had been transmitted to the Security Council. This was code to say, correspondents can come pick up a copy of the "advance version."

  But, we now specify, Dujarric's Office of Ban's Spokesperson does not similarly squawk ALL reports. Also, by only squawking rather than e-mailing, sedentary or big media with two correspondents are favored, as they have someone sitting in an office to hear the squawk.  This should and must be reformed.

   The Free UN Coalition for Access has repeatedly asked, including at UN noon briefings, why these reports don't just go online for all to see. The response, off-camera, has been to allow translation into the UN's official six languages. Really?

  The result is that stories are written, for example here by Reuters, that focus on the Syrian government while the report has whole sections about Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, ISIS, et al. Is this retyping really "reporting" by the Reuters bureau chief, who himself is engaged in censorship, here?

   Voice of America breathlessly tweeted -- apparently their story if there is one will be re-typed in Washington -- from the report. All of this is only allowed to masquerade as journalist because of the UN's archaic withholding from the public of information.

 Despite the lack of any stated rule in this regard,  FUNCA and Inner City Press have been criticized for even questioning or reporting on this anti-public process. A previous UN spokesperson told Inner City Press the reason for stealth is that "the member states" would like pre-release before translation. But doesn't the Secretariat WORK for member states? Or is this how they buy the fealty of the scribes?

   But if an affiliate of US Voice of America immediately scans and puts the advance copy online, where is the mystery? Where is the double standard? Wouldn't it be better for the UN itself to put the report online when available?

 And then not, as it did on Western Sahara this month, change the report after getting pushed around? FUNCA is and will remain for UN transparency and fair treatment. And FUNCA maintains there should be answers -- including from UN Under Secretaries General -- and written rules. For days, the UN has refused to explain why for example the Turkish Cypriot leader Eroglu was allowed to speak on UNTV but Polisario is not. The lack of rules only benefits the powerful: media, countries, corporations.

   After the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons told the UN Security Council on April 23 that Syria has removed or destroyed 88% of supplies, the questions were mostly about new reports of chlorine gas use.

  Inner City Press asked April's Security Council president Joy Ogwu of Nigeria about any investigation by the OPCW. She said, they could play a role. Inner City Press asked, But will they?

   Next, Syria's Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari came out, denied that his government used the "mundane" chemical chlorine but said the timing of the allegation was too convenient.

    Inner City Press asked him of the Syria Coalition's statement it would not resume Geneva talks in the foreseeable future given the announcement of elections in June. Ja'afari replied that his government is still waiting to hear back from mediator Brahimi, who he added has "made many mistakes."

   There was more interest than usual in asking Ja'afari questions. Some grabbed the boom microphone; Reuters bureau chief barged into the roped off area of the UN Television cameraman, according to the cameraman himself. Instead of apologizing, the Reuters bureau chief demanded, What are you looking at.

  We note this because we are against a two or three tier UN and it's the same character who who filed "for the record" but "private" anti-Press complaints with the UN he-- one of them saying he couldn't do his job with the Press around -- then got one of them censored from Google's Search claiming it was copyrighted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Click here for that. This is how the UN works, or doesn't.

  Back on April 17, Homs in Syria was the topic when the UN Security Council met at 5:30 pm. France called the meeting but most who left called it a failure.

 What was agreed to were vague "elements to the press" about supporting Brahimi's call for local ceasefire talks in Homs. 

  Inner City Press asked April's Council president Joy Ogwu of Nigeria why no reference to wider "Geneva 3" talks was included. It is not in there, she indicated. Video here.

  Then Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'fari came to speak. Inner City Press asked him about US-made BGM-71 TOW missiles now in Syria, of the group Harakat Hazm. They are with Al Nusra, Ja'afari said.

  Inner City Press asked on what basis Ja'afari said the US approved their transfer to Syria, if they could have come through Turkey. Ja'afari said there is no way they could come in without approval from Washington. Video here -- this is Inner City Press YouTube video.

  Unlike other stakeouts, the UN did not put on its UN Webcast archive Ja'afari's long April 17 stakeout including on TOW missiles. Inner City Press asked about it on April 22 at the noon briefing, and later another UN individual acknowledged it had not gone up. But why?  Now, only after asking, it is up. Click here (TOW question and answer from Minute 15:17.) This is how the UN works, or doesn't.

  Ja'afari was asked by Voice of America, on whose Broadcast Board of Governor's US Secretary of State John Kerry serves, why Syria doesn't use Russia or China to get a meeting about Kassab. Ja'afari responded to the question; he did not say as France Ambassador Gerard Araud did on April 15 to Al Mayadeen, "You are not a journalist, you are an agent."
  By Araud's logic, is not Voice of America an agent? Is not France 24, also called on by Ja'afari? Ah, freedom of the press. Here is what the Free UN Coalition for Access has done so far.

   When outgoing French Ambassador Araud scheduled a press conference on human rights for April 15, he began to receive many questions, here, about blocking human rights monitoring in Western Sahara.

  It is a policy Araud is particularly associated with, since Javier Barden quoted him calling Morocco France's "mistress." Araud spoke of suing, but hasn't.

   But when during the April 15 press conference, in which Inner City Press and the Free UN Coalition for Access were not called on, Araud was asked about France having killed people in Algeria, Araud told the questioner, You are not a journalist, you are an agent. Video here.

  The French run press conference gave the first question to Al Arabiya, for UNCA (now known as the UN's Censorship Alliance), then France 24.  By Araud's spokesperson Frederic Jung, a  Voice of America affiliate was given a question.

  Syria "Caesar" report panelist David Crane was asked who funded it and answered on camera merely that he was paid. (The photographs, Inner City Press noted and notes, are extremely troubling - all the more reason that taking Qatar's funding and denouncing the only critical question were unwise.)

  Afterward, Inner City Press asked Crane to confirm the payment was from Qatar. He confirmed it. Inner City Press asked, did you seek any other, less compromised funding? The answer was no. In fact, Crane said he gave his recommendations to the Syrian National Council. Afterward Inner City Press asked him if he meant the Turkey based group headed by Ahmed Al Jarba, and Crane said yes, than added, "The resistance" writ large.

     When Qatar sponsored an event at the UN in New York on March 21 featuring the Syrian Coalition headed by Ahmad al Jarba, a group calling its the Syrian Grassroots Movement held protests seeking to oust Jarba.

   By March 22, the group stated that some 40,000 people in 58 cities inside Syria had participated in demonstrations to get Jarba out of his post, saying "it is time to put an end to political corruption."

  Back in September 2013, France sponsored an event in the UN and called Jarba the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. French Ambassador Gerard Araud was the first questioning at Qatar's March 21 Syrian Coalition event. What is France's position now? Who chooses the leaders?

  Likewise, back in July 2013 and earlier this month, the Jarba-led Syrian Coalition held faux "UN" events in the clubhouse Ban Ki-moon's Secretariat gives to the largely Gulf and Western UN Correspondents Association. How does that now appear, in light of the anti-Jarba protests?

   Qatar's March 21 event was not listed in the UN Journal nor in the UN Media Alert. It was not on the UN's publicly available webcast.

  Select media outlets were there, when Inner City Press came in at the end to ask a question: Al Jazeera on the podium in Qatar's event, Al Arabiya like a Saudi diplomat -- not the Permanent Representative -- in the audience along with Al Hayat, even Al Hurra, on whose Broadcasting Board of Governors US Secretary of State John Kerry serves.

   The new Free UN Coalition for Access is against faux UN events, in the clubhouse the Secretariat gives to what's become its UN Censorship Alliance or elsewhere.

   On March 21 Inner City Press put these questions, also on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, to the UN's top two spokespeople:

"there is an event in Conference Room 4 right now, sponsored by Qatar, which is no listed in today's UN Journal, nor is it on UN Webcast but it appears to be being filmed. Please explain the legal status of this meeting, if there are any sponsored beyond Qatar, how it was publicized and if any request to have it webcast was made. Thanks, on deadline."

  But no answer was provided. Inner City Press ran to the event and from the back of a three quarters empty Conference Room 4 asked why the event was so stealth: not in the UN Journal, not webcast.

  The Permanent Representative of Qatar answered, saying it was a "special event" to which Qatar had invited (some) member states and groups, and (some) media. There is a UN Media Alert, but this event was not put in it.

  Perhaps it was publicized by the Gulf & Western United Nations Correspondents Association, which has twice hosted faux "UN" events by the Syrian National Coalition or Syrian Coalition. (In both cases, the Free UN Coalition for Access suggested that the SNC hold its events in the UN briefing room, accessible to all journalists.)

  Since French Ambassador Gerard Araud, the first questioner flanked by representatives of Saudi Arabia and of Turkey which earlier in the day banned Twitter, has spoken about "fakes" and others about accountability, Inner City Press asked if the groups Al Nusra and ISIS, and those who fund them such as private individuals in Qatar alluded to at the US State Department briefing earlier in the day, could or would be held accountable.

  The SNC representative emphasized what he called links between the Assad regime and ISIS, saying it was too easy to blame the Gulf countries.

Here's from the March 21 US State Department briefing transcript:

Question: you have concerns about the withdrawal of the ambassadors. Do you also have concerns about the reasons that these countries said that they withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar? In other words, do you – if you have concerns about the withdrawal of the ambassadors, do you also have concerns about Qatar’s behavior, which – alleged behavior, let’s say – which led to these countries withdrawing their ambassadors?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I know one of the issues that has been mentioned is the issue of private donations to extremists – and that’s something that some have mentioned – operating in Syria and elsewhere. It remains an important priority in our high-level discussions, and one that we also certainly raise with all states in the region, including Qatar, including the Government of Kuwait, wherever we have concerns.

After Inner City Press asked about the sponsorship of the event, a one-page "Joint Statement by the Co-Organizers" was passed out, listing among the co-organizers France, the UK, US, Belgium, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Inner City Press tweeted it.

   Even 24 hours later, the UN's top two spokespeople had not answered the simple questions put to them, above. Watch this site.


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