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At UN, Targeting of Civilians Decried, Cluster Munitions Defended, NGO List Clarified

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

UNITED NATIONS, November 20 -- In the UN Security Council on Tuesday, there was unanimity that targeting of civilians in armed conflict should be limited. Speaker after speaker decried it, although some, such as Nepal, did not favor additional reporting on the topic. The UN's humanitarian coordinator, Sir John Holmes, told Inner City Press after the session that he disagreed, that given the importance of the issue, at least all UN missions should report on it. He said that consideration should be given to referring to the International Criminal Court those who use rape as a tool of war. Asked if sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has become more or less prevalent since he spoke strongly about it to the Council and reporters in September, Holmes said there has been no improvement on the ground, but that as more people talk about it, perhaps it will get better. Here's hoping. Inner City Press asked if he or OCHA has taken a position on last week's resolution in the General Assembly to condemn rape as a instrument of government policy. Holmes said no. The American representative Jackie Wolcott, meanwhile, told the Council that "the U.S. believes that cluster munitions continue to be legitimate weapons when employed properly and in accordance with existing international humanitarian law."

            In his concluding remarks to the Council, Holmes said that the actions in Chad of French NGO L'Arche de Zoe, accused of kidnapping 103 or more children, were not representative of the work of humanitarians. He said that national laws and customers should not be used against humanitarians. When asked afterwards what he meant, Holmes said he was responding to the statements of China's representative, that humanitarians should respect local customs. Video here. Inner City Press asked if he was saying that L'Arche de Zoe was unfairly charged with child trafficking. No, Holmes said, reiterating previous condemnation of the group, including by UNICEF.

John Holmes on Tuesday, beside elusive UK Amb. Sawers

            UNICEF has said that its assistance to L'Arche de Zoe is to be blamed on a junior international staffer in Chad who neglected to check the group's two names against an OCHA list or database of groups.  Holmes subsequently told Inner City Press he was not aware of any such list, and that it would be controversial to maintain one. Tuesday OCHA's spokesperson provided a follow-up answer. There are lists of group who have for example signed up to be part of the OCHA's Consolidated Appeal Process, and "Triple W" lists of who does what, where. But the OCHA spokesperson emphasized that these are not lists of "approved" groups, that it is not OCHA's role to approve groups, that is up to national governments, which whom agencies like UNICEF should check. And so what safeguards are in place to try to make sure that this doesn't happen again, UN agencies like UNICEF or the refugee agency UNHCR helping an NGO to kidnap and traffic children? The question remains, and we will continue to explore it.

Footlocker footnote: following the Security Council's daylong gabfest about civilians and armed conflict, spiced by the U.S.'s defense of the use of cluster bombs, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad took the Council members to the New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden. It was Ban Ki-moon's first trip to MSG, and he was greeted by boos -- at Knicks guard Stephon Marbury, of course. Jackie Wolcott (no more Sanders) was there as well, along with Clyde the Glide Drexler and pundit Bill Walton. Owner Jim Dolan, booed by cooled by his vanity rock band, told the Council members if the Knicks won, they'd have season tickets. The Knicks lost. Who has the veto, of Marbury as starter? Who can impose targeted sanctions? Who can score more than 82 points against a Golden State team that doesn't even feign defense? It was all a temporary respite from the storm gathering around the UN's no-bid $250 million contract with Lockheed Martin - click here for more on that, and watch this site.

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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