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UN Skips Darfur Debate, Reuters Poll Shows NGO Fear, Let the Grassroots Blogging Begin

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 24 -- The conflict in Darfur, says Sudan's Permanent Representative to the UN, is one of resources and climate change, not genocide. Abdalhameed Abdalmahmood Mohamad, ever the environmentalist, recycled this Jeffrey Sachs argument at the New York  Historical Society, in a Reuters event at which the UN's Jean-Marie Guehenno had been slated to appear.

            During the debate, the Sudanese Ambassador said "your questions are for Mr. Guehenno" and asserted that the UN has never issued an estimate of the number of deaths in Darfur. There was no one there from the UN to offer a rebuttal, or an estimate. "The UN isn't here today," said one panelist, exasperated.

            In fact, half an hour before the event was to beginning, Inner City Press greeted Mr. Guehenno leaving the UN building, and asked, "Are you going to the Darfur debate at the New York Historical Society?" Mr. Guehenno appeared to say "yes."

            Then listed as a fill-in was Guehenno's second in command, Hedi Annabi, whose contract was not renewed by Ban Ki-moon. Mr. Annabi recently spent ten days on the thankless task of assessing the UN's role in Ivory Coast, from which president Gbagbo is seeking to oust the UN or at least its election envoy, Gerard Stoudmann.

            Perhaps still smarting from that (un) welcome, Mr. Annabi was not present at Thursday's Darfur debate either. The UN went unrepresented, except by UNICEF goodwill ambassador Mia Farrow, of whom

"UNICEF spokeswoman Lisa Szarkowski [said that] celebrities are often a vital, invaluable part of raising public awareness. And she concedes that the hierarchy of humanitarianism can be just as ruthless as that of any casting director or nightclub doorman. For years, she has been trying to book longtime activist/UNICEF ambassador Mia Farrow on various talk shows to discuss Darfur - but no one wanted to book her, because she lacks pop cultural currency." (NY Post of February 6, 2007)

         At Thursday's debate, Mia Farrow decried China's provision of weapons and a presidential palace to Sudan. As Inner City Press reported earlier in the week, Ms. Farrow's view of the Beijing Olympics as the "genocide games" has not been backed up by the UN's sports for development Envoy, Djibril Diallo, click here for that story. And now UN Peacekeeping's Number One and Number Two blow off a much-publicized debate in New York. "Great public relations," one reported muttered. "Only at the UN."

Annabi and Eliasson speak at UN - but no UN at West Side debate

 Audio of Thursday's Darfur event, a bit jumpy, is available here.

   Among other things, Abdalhameed Abdalmahmood Mohamad attacked the International Crisis Group, as if it were a country, for its its "intimidation" and its claim to have a "monopoly on knowledge." ICG shot back at Khartoum's "creative use of global warming." Meanwhile cross-town at the UN, Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson confirmed that when a member state wants an NGOs exhibition or documentary thrown out of the building, the UN will oblige, in the case granting Vietnam's request to toss out a film about the Hmong, click here for that.

            Reuters also on Thursday released the results of a poll over of 50 humanitarian workers in Darfur, many of whom said they fear to speak out on rape and other human rights abuses. This includes when they themselves are victims: last week the Washington Post reported on the arrest of humanitarians, and the rape of one UN staffer, in Darfur. The staffer does not want to be named -- because she wants to continue working in Sudan. That's a level of commitment rarely seen in UN headquarters. 

            Inner City Press has suggested that Reuters AlertNet, which was demonstrated to UN correspondents on Thursday, being to include blogs including from anonymous sources, including those working for the UN. We hope to have more on this.

            To AlertNet's credit, while it currently does not list northeast Uganda's Karamoja region among its 80 global crises, according to staffer Megan Rowling, a section on the Karimojong is soon to go online.  There are other services under consideration, on which Ms. Rowling did not (yet) wish to be quoted. Humanitarian crisis, meet the Internet. Check. UN Peacekeeping officials, debate Sudan's UN Ambassador -- that did not happen on Thursday. While the crisis in Darfur won't be solved by talking alone, it's clear that to not talk is not helping either...

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

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