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At UN on CSW, Kenyan Activist Denounces Harmful Traditions- UNCA 1st Questions?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 6 -- With the UN nearly full with delegates to the Commission on the Status of Women, a showdown is brewing on the question of the place of “tradition and culture” in the proposed outcome document.

  In that context, the UN held a press conference Wednesday morning top heavy with references to indigenous traditions and culture and violence against indigenous women and girls.

  As the second questioner, Inner City Press put queries to, after offering welcome from the Free UN Coalition for Access, Agnes Leina, the Executive Director of Il’laramak Community Concerns in Kenya and Shimreichon Luithui-Erni, Program Coordinator of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact in India. Video here, from Minute 40:40.

  The question was, since tradition is being cited against the proposed outcome document, was it the speakers' intent to say that at least indigenous tradition should not be used in that way?

  Shimreichon Luithui-Erni of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact in India distinguished between “supporting the positive aspects” of tradition and the negative, that should be left behind. But who decides which is which?

  Agnes Leina of Il’laramak Community Concerns in Kenya said that the UN is full of talk about “HTP,” or “Harmful Traditional Practices,” giving as examples under-age marriage and female genital mutilation.

  She said that the way to proceed is to ask “strategic questions” about traditions that are not helpful. People says, it's always been this way, and you should ask both why and what benefit comes from it now?

  It brought to mind the supposed tradition of given the first question at (some) UN press conferences to the UN Correspondents Association, as was demanded and given on Wednesday morning (video here, from Minute 24), but caused a fiasco at the February 20 press conference of Evo Morales who did not accede to this “tradition.”

  Not only does this monopolization of the first question, now by UNCA members who were not elected but only pay dues, not provide any benefits -- it is, in the phrase used by Agnes Leina, a “Harmful Traditional Practice.”

  It is harmful because it props up the legitimacy of UNCA after its leaders devoted most of their meetings in 2012 to trying to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN. Since then these UNCA leaders have sought to hold back a new, necessary journalist-defense organization, the Free UN Coalition for Access.

  They did this by tearing down flyers. FUNCA fought for a bulletin board separate from UNCA's glassed in exclusive board, which UNCA's Executive Committee used for months in 2012 to post a letter denouncing Inner City Press.

  They did it by opening at least four counterfeit social media accounts to anonymously attack people joining FUNCA and to send false message to UN Mission to undermine Inner City Press and FUNCA.

  Most recently, their ally in the UN Department of Public Information a week ago sent a formal letter of complaint or threat to Inner City Press for having quoted and run audio of UNCA President Pamela Falk of CBS and her first vice president Louis Charbonneau of Reuters from a meeting which Inner City Press said loudly was on the record, and of which Falk said “he's going to write this up.”

  The false complaint by the UN, which was immediately challenged including by another attendee of the meeting, has not for one week and counting been withdrawn or explained. These are traditions that the UN or at least its Department of “Public” Information must leave behind. Watch this site.

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