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In Ban's UN, Praise of Human Rights in Artic but Not in North Korea, Over UNDP's Filet Mignon

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, June 20 -- After a day in Washington on Capitol Hill, Ban Ki-moon returned to New York Wednesday evening to present an award to an advocate working to save the Artic from global warming, Sheila Watt-Cloutier. Mr. Ban congratulated her for a filing with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which "alleges that unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases from the United States have violated Inuit cultural and environmental human rights."

            After the award ceremony, Inner City Press managed to ask Mr. Ban how things had gone in Washington. "It was good," he said. More substantively, Inner City Press asked Sheila Watt-Cloutier if she would consider also filing a global warming complaint with the UN's Human Rights Council, where Mr. Ban's praise of her IACHR suit might carry some weight. She said she'll consider it, but first she is writing a book, to be entitled "The Right to be Cold."

            The award ceremony was somewhat surreal. The event was hosted by the UN Development Program, the agency which is under fire for its payments in hard currency to the Kim Jong Il regime in North Korea. Several of the U.S. Senators with whom Mr. Ban met Wednesday are on record with critiques of UNDP, and their General Accounting Office earlier in the week released a report critiquing UNDP's audit and accountability mechanisms.

            Most of the awards given out Wednesday night went from UNDP, to UNDP, for UNDP reports written up by UNDP three years ago. Hey, all love begins with self-love. Still...  There was filet mignon -- in which, in proud full disclosure, Inner City Press did not partake -- and chocolate cake during the final speeches (mea culpa on that one). MC-ing the evening was Femi Oke of CNN; present were Ban's formal chief of staff Vijay Nambiar and his ostensible deputy, Kim Won-soo. From UNDP, not only Kemal "No Comment" Dervish, but also Hafiz Pasha, as a circular UNDP award was presented to his Asia and Pacific unit, which also oversaw, such as it was, the North Korea operation.

Inuit ice fishing -- for how much longer?

            The thread from this surreal dinner to the questions of the day at the UN follows the theme of human rights. Following the UN Human Rights Council's vote Monday to stop reporting on Belarus and Cuba, some celebrated and others fulminated. Ban Ki-moon, two days after Inner City Press asked his spokesperson about the decision, issued this bland admonition:

"The Secretary-General notes that the Human Rights Council has now completed the first phase of its institution-building work... As regards to the removal of mandates relating to two Member States, he wishes to emphasize the need to consider all situations of possible human rights violations equally and he notes that not having a Special Rapporteur assigned to a particular country does not absolve that country from its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and every other Human Rights treaty."

            The statement issued pointedly did not address another request Inner City Press formally made on Monday, for comment on North Korea's statement that it will never allow UN rapporteurs in. Even Wednesday, Ban Ki-moon said nothing. Meanwhile, Wednesday at noon two new questions were raised, about North Korea and about the UN's own compliance with human rights treaties:

Inner City Press: In a debate in the Republic of Korea for, I guess, the Grand National Party, a candidate called Hong Joon-pyo said: 'Let us use the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as special envoy to the Korean peninsula.'  So I'm wondering, one, if thereís any response from the Secretariat to that, whether thatís even on the table, and what status there is, if any, to the proposal of having an envoy to the Korean peninsula.

Spokesperson:  It's a personal view.  The Secretary-General has not ruled on it, and he hasn't been in any way asked by anyone.

Inner City Press:  And also, there was a letter that the Committee to Protect Journalists says it submitted to Ban Ki-moon raising concerns about the practice of only accrediting journalists from States recognized by the General Assembly, saying that violates some human rights conventions.  Has that letter been received and what is his response to that complaint?

Spokesperson:  The letter was received last night.  I transmitted it to him.  He was, of course, traveling, so he's not yet aware of the letter.

            So perhaps two days from now we'll get an answer, from the Office of Spokesperson? Speaking of which, and full circle to Wednesday night's award, it was named for Mahbub ul Haq (1934-1998), founded of the Human Development Report and father of Associate Spokesman Farhan Haq. Full circle at the UN, where Wednesday night Kemal Dervis referred to Mr. Ban as the "father of our family"... note to patriarch: for UNDP, it's time not for dinner but for discipline, even some necessary housecleaning...

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Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540