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As UN Re-opens 38th Floor, Banning Press & Elections Allowed by UNCA

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 16 -- With UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon now scheduled to move back into the 38th floor office in the glass skyscraper on December 17, the lack of focus on access and even space for the press has become clear.

   Under the UN's Capital Master Plan, Ban moved to the temporary North Lawn building, and the press corps was moved into smaller space in cubicles above the Dag Hammarskjold Library.

  As Inner City Press exclusively reported, and opposed, the UN had installed monitoring cameras over reporters' cubicles. (These were then taken down.)

  There have been other Capital Master Plan issues, ranging from Hurrican Sandy back to "fixed" but broken elevators to undrinkable water. But that's another story, or 40 stories.

  Now as Ban moves back to the 38th floor, the press corps will remain in the cubicles over the library at least until February.

  And after a December 10 meeting, not announced in advance to other reporters or even all UN Correspondents Association members of the Executive Committee, between a handful of UNCA insiders and the UN, it emerged (only to UNCA members) that media space will be reduced by more than forty percent.

  To the insiders, this seems not to matter. Reuters, for example, is sure to get it own enclosed office, as is Agence France-Presse.

   Both of these, along with Voice of America, urged in 2012 the UN to dis-accredit investigative and critical press. See VOA letter to the UN, here.

  Now they prepare a $250 a plate reception with Ban Ki-moon on December 19, giving prizes to their own Executive Committee members and even an award to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

  Even just on space, while it might be one thing for Western wire services to be guaranteed the largest offices and other privileges, why should their personnel who rarely report on the UN have easier "Resident" access than developing world journalists who have covered the UN for years?

   On December 7, to combat all this and to push for UN Under Secretaries-General like Ban's lawyer Patricia O'Brien and Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous to have to hold briefings and answer questions, the Free UN Coalition for Access or FUNCA was launched.

  Ladsous has refused to answer questions for example about working with units of the Congolese Army accused of rape in Minova, video here, and of UN Peacekeeping's dealings with General Shavendra Silva of the Sri Lankan Army, depicted by a UN report as engaged in war crimes.

  Silva was sponsored by the UNCA Executive Committee to deny these charges inside the UN Dag Hammarskhold Library Auditorium, click here for fall-out.

   On December 14, the UNCA Executive Committee announced that it was putting off the elections that its own Constitution requires it to hold by December 15, before leaving office and power on December 31.

Here's from UNCA's Constitution, Article 3, Section 3:

"The members of the Executive Committee shall assume their duties on the first day of January following the election and shall hold office until the last day of December of the year. Elections of the Executive committee shall be held between November 15 and December 15."

    Despite this, they say they intend to hold over. But legally, they have no powers, including to run elections, after December 31.

  The question has been put to UNCA's president, who has not provided any answer, as also happened when the evidence of the dis-acceditation push by three Executive Committee members and UNCA itself was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (a version of which FUNCA asks the UN to adopt.)

  Will this blatant UNConstitutional violation of election rules be brought up on or before December 19 by Ban Ki-moon or UN Ambassadors, particularly those like France which talk so much about democracy in other countries like Cote d'Ivoire, before they party with UNCA?

  Earlier on December 19, Ban has scheduled his "end of the year" press conference. At such events, his spokesman tightly controls questions, and until now has always given the first question to UNCA. Should that continue on December 19? Can it? The questions have been raised to the UN. Watch this site.

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