Investigative Journalist Assaulted by Security and Banned from UN for Covering Closed-Session $6-Billion Budget Meeting

By Stefan M. Kløvning

During a closed-session peacekeeping budget meeting in the United Nations early in July, investigative journalist Matthew Lee had his shirt ripped by security guards as he was demanded to leave the building after filming outside the meeting room discussing the budget and potential corruption.

Mr. Lee, the founder of Inner City Press and Fair Finance Watch, covers “the UN & UNSC, IMF, banks being bad” according to his Twitter bio. He has long been critical to the UN, reporting cases of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in Africa, their role in bringing cholera to Haiti, war crimes in Sri Lanka, Burundi, and Sudan, and corruption, and has therefore been referred to as a “thorn in the side of the UN” by the Independent.

He caught the ousting on camera, revealing the way he was treated by the authorities.

At the beginning of the video, he casually walks around the hall outside the meeting room and talks about the meeting, the diplomats, and the budget, with text added to the video describing what happened to him:

As Inner City Press was typing up this interview of UN budget committee chair Tommo Monthe of Cameroon, UN Security Lt Dobbins and another grabbed its laptop and broke it, tore its shirt and UN pass of its neck and SG #AntonioGuterres’ ASG Christian Saunders said it was fine.

After a while, the video cut off, and it turned back on when he was being assaulted by the security guards, making it difficult to assess what sort of provocation could’ve led up to the conflict. When it had paused being physical, Mr. Lee was visibly upset about being treated like this, and asked questions such as “do you see what you’re doing?” “is this your UN?” “is this ok with you? (to ASG),” and tried to reason with them on the absurdity of the situation, only in vain, as they both stepped up on their authority and just demanded that he leave, without justifying his acquittal. “I’m a journalist. I cover the budget committee. I’ve covered it for a decade,” he asserted. “Now that I write about UN corruption these guys tear my shirt off and you sit around saying it’s fine?” As he was being taken outside by the officer, he told him that the officer would’ve been fired if he was an NYPD officer as he wasn’t resisting, and rhetorically asked, “if this is what they do in New York, imagine what they do in Sudan!”

Two days after, 5. July, he was banned from the UN and asking any questions. The spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Stephane Dujarric, disregarded all wrong done by the officers, and placed all the blame on Mr. Lee, saying he became “loud and belligerent, and resisted instructions of UN security officers,” as if he responded wholly inadequately and that the officers acted wholly adequately.

“Based on his unacceptable behaviour, and the fact that he was a repeat offender, having been similarly removed from the building on 22 June 2018, Matthew Lee has been temporarily barred from the premises pending a full review of this incident.”

Mr. Dujarric also claimed that it was “ridiculous” to suggest that the officers’ treatment of Mr. Lee’s had been influenced by his coverage of the UN.

There’s a lot to be criticized in the UN, as in most powerful institutions, and in a free, democratic society, we should be able to ask such questions and hold them accountable like Mr. Lee does. What is our money going to? Are they being misused somehow? After a decade of coverage of the UN budget, he is no longer able to ask them these questions, at least temporarily. Is that the sort of supranational entity we desire? One that only lets its authority determine its conduct? As Lord Acton said in the 19th century, “Power has a tendency to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”