In an interview with El Portal Diplomático, the journalist specialized in United Nations affairs, Matthew Russel Lee, addresses the pressure exerted by the Moroccan lobby in New York to prevent the issue of Western Sahara from being addressed; the complicity of certain circles within the United Nations to facilitate the operation of pro-Moroccan journalists; as well as the alleged corruption of Guterres that has prevented the application of the law in Western Sahara.
Matthew Russell Lee is a journalist and editor for various media outlets. Throughout his journalistic career he has covered institutions such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, Wall Street, the Federal Reserve.
El Portal Diplomático: What role did the Moroccan lobby in New York play in intimidating specialized journalists in Western Sahara conflict?
Matthew Russell Lee: Well, I was covering the United Nations for Inner City Press as a resident correspondent, reporting in detail from the UN Security Council stakeout on Western Sahara, Cameroon, Haiti (where the UN brough cholera), Yemen and other conflicts when, during one Security Council meeting, I filmed a video with my phone, which is is supposedly allowed.
The Moroccan mission to the UN filed a complaint with the UN’s Media and Accreditation Unit, run by Under Secretary General Melissa Fleming and ultimately Secretary General Antonio Guterres, and instead of MALU telling the Moroccans they had not basis to complain, a formal complaint was sent to me and into my UN “file,” which I was never allowed to see.
This was used against me to justifying banning me and Inner City Press from entering the UN or its briefings, even by WebEx, a platform on which I can and do ask questions of, for example, the International Monetary Fund. The UN under Antonio Guterres is corrupt, and against free press.
El Portal Diplomático: Can you explain us the modus operandi of the Moroccan lobby in the United Nations building in New York?
Matthew Russell Lee: As noted above, they attack any media which asks about the situation in Western Sahara other than in a pro-Morocco way. They also ingratiate themselves with UNSG Antonio Guterres by, for example, hosting environmental conference(s) and they use UNSG Permanent Member France to lobby for them (for example, to keep there from being any human rights monitoring component to MINURSO, the UN mission that was supposed to hold a referendum in Western Sahara but never has).
El Portal Diplomático: Do you think there is complicity of the United Nations that allowed the activity of the Moroccan lobby?
Matthew Russell Lee: Absolutely, and worse under Antonio Guterres than before. For example, under Ban Ki-moon, and the tail end of Kofi Annan’s time when I first arrived, I could ask questions about Western Sahara in the UN noon briefing, and at the UNSC stakeout. Under Guterres, this was blocked but he and Melissa Fleming have allowed numerous Morocco state media full access and office space in the UN. There’s even been a pro-Morocco correspondent, board members of the equally state media dominated United Nations Correspondents Association, who doubled as a paid UN staff member and as a supposedly independent journalist, asking pro-Morocco questions of Guterres’ spokesmen Stephane Dujarric and Farhan Haq. This is totally corrupt.
El Portal Diplomático: Do you think there are relationships between the absence of a special envoy for Western Sahara and the alleged corruption of UNSG Antonio Guterres?
Matthew Russell Lee: Yes. It is unprecedented to leave that position empty so long. Guterres is both incompetent and corrupt. He sells out groups like those in Western Sahara, and for example the Anglophones in Cameroon, for favors from colonial powers like France and Morocco – and bans the Press which asks about it.
El Portal Diplomático: What role does the Moroccan ambassador Omar Hilale play in bribery of United Nations officials?
Matthew Russell Lee: In Geneva, on which I also report, there was an improperly sponsored book event by a UN official. Hilale got UN officials to turn off the microphone at the UN Security Council stakeout, and asked that Inner City Press be banned (it has been, under Guterres, for 923 days). Guterres should not get a second term, and Inner City Press and others should be be re-admitted, immediately or at latest on the day that Guterres is a lame duck.
El Portal Diplomático: Finally, we would like to ask if you have any information regarding the Security Council’s response to Trump’s proclamation on Western Sahara?
Matthew Russell Lee: While it is more difficult for now-banned Inner City Press to report in detail on the UNSC (as we do these days about US Federal courts and other institutions that should be closely covered), I will say that the response of a supposed to be champion of Western Sahara, South Africa under Ambassador Jerry Matjila, was disappointing. As president of the Security Council for December, Matjila and his team refused questions about Western Sahara, and even praised Antonio Guterres and his (colonial) work. Again, Guterres should not get a second term, and Inner City Press and others should be re-admitted, immediately or at latest on the day that Guterres is a lame duck.