Note: This official statement below, from Kevin Buckland, was sent to the UN today regarding Orin Langelle’s Formal Complaint Against UN Security and the response Langelle received from the UN’s John Hay, UN Media Relations Officer. [See the response from the UN that Climate Connections posted last Friday: UN denies security used undue force when smashing camera into photographer’s face] Langelle was on assignment for Z Magazine and he is also the board chair for Global Justice Ecology Project. We will continue to keep you posted as things develop.-The GJEP Team
To Whom it May Concern,
I am writing to submit an official statement regarding an act of violence that occurred inside the ICC on December 8th, 2011 in Durban, South Africa by a member of the UNFCCC Security. As mentioned in the official complaint filed by Orin Langelle, I was being escorted by security after giving an interview wearing a traditional clown costume (at this moment, I will not raise question as to the legitimacy of this expulsion). Upon descending a staircase, a reporter, Orin Langelle, began to loudly question the security officer asking (I do not recall the exact wording): “Is this man being expelled from the conference? What rules have been broken? Are you arresting him?” At which point the security officer very quickly approached Mr. Langelle and grabbed the front of the lens of his camera covering it so he could not photograph. The officer did not attempt to remove the camera from Mr. Langelle, but instead decided to very aggressively physically pushed the camera into his face. Mr. Langelle was notably distraught after such an unwarranted act of violence. In the next 30 meters, from the bottom of the stairs to the security office, the same officer aggressively but nonviolently confiscated two more cameras of two other conference attendants who began to photograph the incident. The officer did give a warning to one of the photographers who was photographing immediately before taking his camera, but no warning was given to Mr. Langelle or the other photographer. The officer arrived to the security office with no less than 3 cameras he had confiscated (these were shortly returned).
As I was being informed of my expulsion from the conference. I commented to UNFCCC official Warren Waetford on the surprisingly aggressive attitude of the officer – considering there was absolutely no aggression besides his own. (I had been walking calmly behind him as I am sure he will acknowledge.) I recommended to Mr. Waetford that this unprovoked act of aggression be addressed, and would like to reiterate that recommendation now to the UNFCCC secretariat, and formally.
I also asked why any security officer had the right to confiscate cameras at will, and was informed that UNFCCC Security Officers have the right not to be photographed, but are required to ask photographers to stop photographing, and only if the photographer refused could the officer confiscate their cameras. In the case of Mr. Langelle and another unnamed photographer, no warning was given.
Finally, I would like to comment on the official response issued by the UN regarding this incident. It stated: “Our investigations indicate that it was necessary to clear a passage within the conference center that was being obstructed, in the interest of the safety of all participants and in the interest of the smooth operation of the conference. At no time was undue force applied in the exercise.” I would like to attest, as a witness to the incident, that this official statement is not true. If this statement derives from testaments by the arresting officer, then he has then both committed an act of violence and lied. No passage was blocked. It was the Security Guard who first approached Mr. Langelle because of his loud questioning, straying from the most direct path to the security office, and without any verbal warnings violently and aggressively took his camera. Undue force was very clearly applied.
I believe this incident should call into question the UNFCCC’s prohibition on documentation of its own security forces. As this case demonstrates – a clear violation both of the policy of giving warnings before confiscation of cameras, as well as an unwarranted act of violence, occurred. If we are denied even the freedom of press to protect ourselves against violence by armed officials inside a space under the jurisdiction of the United Nations, then the UN itself is complicit in the tyranny it was founded to confront.