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As UN Security Council Counsels More Secrecy, Transparency & Reform Needed

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 19 -- Is the UN Security Council getting more transparent or less? It seems some members would like it to become even more of an insiders' club, excluding not only the press and public but even other UN member states which are not among the Permanent Five members or those ten elected to two year temporary terms.

The Council met behind closed doors on Monday morning about its "working methods." Just outside the Council chamber, Inner City Press asked a number of diplomats including from the UK and Portugal which co-authored the "concept paper" which was being consider, if the paper could be made public. One country said no, the other said perhaps a summary could be given.

And so when the Council President for March, UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, came out to the stakeout, Inner City Press asked him three questions, about working methods, Syria and Sri Lanka:

Inner City Press: On working methods, was there any discussion of issues that would deal with transparency? Greater transparency by the Council with the press and the public. In terms of transparency, is Mr. Guehenno a Deputy to Kofi Annan or not? And if you could, I wanted to ask you one thing, if you could just say for the record, there’s the reports that this Commonwealth event that you deemed inappropriate, the presence of the DPR of Sri Lanka, given his record in the UN’s own report. Is that the case and could you say your reason for it?”

Amb. Lyall Grant: I'm not going to comment on the last two issues. On the Mr Guehenno point, I mean, if there’s an announcement, no doubt the Secretary-General will make that announcement. But on working methods, which we did discuss this morning, yes, there was discussion of transparency. A number of members raised that. And in particular, around the annual report of the Security Council’s work in November. There were some suggestions that there should be an ability of the Council to pick up some of the ideas that are raised in that open debate in November from other members of the United Nations and to react to that, to have some follow-up to that open debate on the working methods in November. And certainly that was one of the areas of transparency. Equally, I have to say, there was quite strong support for the idea that consultations should be confidential and leakage from the consultations room should be contained and that if the Security Council is to do its business efficiently when there are confidential discussions, negotiations, going on in the consultations room, they should remain confidential and not be leaked out.

  After this answer, a number of diplomats came to Inner City Press to emphasis the anger of some in the Council about leaks, including information Inner City Press has published in the spirit of transparency.

  Further description was provided of a meeting last week which was abnormally closed and at which the directive against leaks to the Press was strongly emphasized.

  The Security Council's topic last Thursday morning was Haiti -- the president has eight passports, and UN peacekeepers found guilty of raping a 14 year old boy were sentenced to only one year.

  Sources tell Inner City Press that US Ambassador Susan Rice declared that only the 15 top ambassadors and their Haiti experts (with a few exceptions) should stay in the consultations room, and nothing would be in writing. The sources say Rice expressed anger at leaks to Inner City Press, and warned against them.

  It is ironic, because as exclusively reported by Inner City Press at the beginning of the month Lyall Grant proposed a session of "Permanent Representatives only." Not only Russia but also the US opposed the idea.

   It now seems the US is not against the one country, on representative idea, only the requirement that it be the top Ambassador, since Rice is often out of town.

  Monday, too, Rice was said to be in Washington. One would like to ask her directly, but on this it has not been possible prior to the Council's discussion of working methods and (less) transparency.

  Last week when Inner City Press sought a comment from the US Mission's Ambassador for Management Joseph Torsella, the answer was to see Joe's tweets. Other questions asked were not answered, including on Syria, Sri Lanka and, ironically, Security Council reform:

I've received the below as a summary of what the US asked in yesterday's GA session on Security Council reform, from a participant. If you don't mind, is it accurate? United States Q

- How many of the 25/26 seats will be permanent/non-permanent?

- How does the L69 propose to allocate non-permanent seats?

- L69 proposal on development status as a factor of consideration, will this status be made independently? Or via a group?

- Will seats for small island nations be rotating? Will it differ from other non-permanent seats?

- Do all L69 members attend SC meetings and do they find them useful?

Would USUN want to add anything?

 The questions were not answered or even acknowledged. As others have also said, of late the US has a weak record on international governance reform, including opposing reforms at the IMF, maintaining it can appoint anyone to head the World Bank, even Larry Summers, and declining to answer questions.

  The Council's closed door discussion Monday morning would impact not only the press and public but also other UN member states. Until now, countries not serving on the Council come and get private briefings, for example by the European Union for its members. Is that supposed to stop?

  Monday afternoon an elected member of the Council told Inner City Press that it is the Permanent Five who have "no responsibility to others... the rest of us, we report back to our Groups."

  This is similar to the issue of the funding of Special Political Mission, which while designed and pushed through by the Permanent Five, are left in the regular UN budget rather than the Peacekeeping budget, essentially shifting the costs of the P5's decision onto other states.

  Among the other topics in the working methods meeting Monday morning was shifting the Council's translation and administrative support to its "subsidiary bodies" on Friday, and not having Council meetings of Permanent Representatives on that day.

 The UK pushed for greater interactivity -- in closed door "horizon" consultations -- and for spreading mandate renewals out across the year. The Secretariat is proposing producing a calendar for the whole year: but would it be public?

  A defender of Monday's discussion tried to distinguish between "leaking" and "briefing." By this argument, draft documents should never be given out, and summaries of consultations should only give "a sense of the mood of the whole Council," not specify who said what. Talk about accountability.

  Inner City Press' editorial line and project, as should be clear, is that more transparency is better than less, and that regular people, including because they pay the taxes that support the UN and the Council's missions, have a right to know what is taking place.

  Currently, the UN won't even say who is getting paid, with global taxpayers' $900,000 allocated in the General Assembly resolution on Syria. Are former UN officials Nicholas Michel and Alan Doss getting paid? Is Jean-Marie Guehenno a deputy to Kofi Annan? Who is in Syria today for Kofi Annan's mission?

 The French Mission to the UN drafted a Presidential Statement about the Annan mission, which Inner City Press obtained and put on line: in the spirit of transparency. Watch this site.

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Click here for Sept 23, '11 about UN General Assembly

Click for Mar 1, '11 re Libya, Sri Lanka, UN Corruption

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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