the UN: The Silence of the Congo and Naomi Watts; Between Bolivia and the World
Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.
UNITED NATIONS, May
15 -- The Democratic Republic of Congo and its ongoing wars hit the top three of
list of "Stories the World Should Hear More About." At the UN's noon
briefing, Inner City Press asked about
the weekend, of 500 rebels attacking the 800 Congolese soldiers stationed at
Nioka in the Ituri region. The spokesman answered the UN's Congo mission, MONUC,
has been focused on "controlling the militias." But
other reports have
Peter Karim's band smuggling wood into Uganda to exchange for yet more weapons.
Note to UN: the world needs to hear more...
response to a follow-up question requesting comment on the fact that the UN's
call for $682 million in assistance to the DRC has yielded less than 14% of the
figure, the spokesman noted that the list of countries which gave is public, so
by implication so are the non-givers. "What does the Secretary General say to
those countries which haven't given?" "Give," was the answer.
filled the UN's briefing room, to capture each phrase Naomi Watts read about her
visit to Zambia for UNAIDS. Asked why the
UNAIDS website has a country listing but
no information about Afghanistan,
Deborah Landey said it was hard, but that a global survey will soon come out
with such information. After the briefing, UNAIDS director of advocacy (and
noted novelist) Achmat Dangor told Inner City Press that 125 of 191 countries
responded to UNAIDS' survey. Asked if information on Afghanistan will be in the
forthcoming global study, Mr. Dangor said no.
question unrelated to AIDS, Inner City Press asked Naomi Watts about the
criticism, including by UNHCR, of
Australia's new anti-refugee proposal, to outsource those seeking asylum to
the scorched island of Nauru.
Inner City Press
question: "Have you heard of this? Would you like to say anything about it?"
Response by Naomi
Watts: "I am not an authority on that." But that wasn't the question.
for the press conference in Real).
Naomi "I am not an authority on that"
foreign minister David Choquehanca Cespedes fielded most of the questions at a
half-hour briefing on the kick-off of the meeting of the Permanent Forum on
Indigenous Issues. One of the questioners asked "if there will be further
restrictions on gas operations in Bolivia." The answer addressed unfair bargains
of the past and included reference to 500 years of oppression. Near the end, a
person attending the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues complained that all
most "Occidental" questioners cared about was gas and timber and money. "What
are we, objects?" he asked. For the record, Inner City Press directed questions
to the Forum's chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and to Jose Antonio Ocampo,
Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, about the progress if
any of the draft International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People
and about the World Bank's requirement on its projects for
consultation with, but not consent by,
indigenous people. Ms. Tauli-Corpus
responded that the draft Declaration should be on the agenda of the new UN Human
Rights Council, with an eye toward adoption by the end of the year. And, she
said, it is hoped that the Declaration will use the term consent and not
consultation, in pointed reference to the World Bank. Left unanswered -- and
unasked, due to the abrupt end of the briefing -- was whether Bolivia under Evo
Morales might run for a seat on the Human Rights Council next year. Time will
Human Rights Council Has Its Own Hanging Chads; Cocky U.S. State Department
Spins from SUVs
Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.
UNITED NATIONS, May 9
-- For the new Human Rights Council, the
went to a second then third run-off ballot. Denied a spot in the final run-off
was Slovenia, whose president has spoken to near-empty rooms at the UN about
his Darfur peace plan.
Edging the Slovenes were Romania and Ukraine, despite its recent deportation of
asylum-seeking from Uzbekistan. In better-known rights abuse news, many in the
media focused on records of some of those elected -- Cuba, Russia, China, et
al. -- while the UN true-believers pointed out that Sudan and Zimbabwe
City Press, which spent much of the day in a fruitless stake-out in front of the
General Assembly entrance, focused on a more marginal storyline, literally at
the bottom of the page like a footnote. In the Office of the Spokesman for the
Secretary General -- which did not hold a noon press conference, apparently to
prepare for the Condi-fest reported on below -- there was a hand out listing by
region the countries elected and those which got less than the 96 votes required
for inclusion. Several countries were listed as receiving a single vote: Spain
and Colombia, Malvides and Qatar, Serbia-and-Montenegro, Tanzania, Madagascar
and Egypt. What was the explanation? Would headlines ensue, Qatar excluded due
to human rights abuse? In the alternative, were these stray votes a signal of
protest? Or merely of negligence and inattention?
betting on the latter. As pointed out to Inner City Press by Spain's Information
Counselor Faustino Diaz, "Spain was not a candidate in today's vote. Therefore
it must have been a mistake of a delegation to write its name in the ballot."
Spain's Mr. Diaz added, "We are considering our candidacy for 2008." Bonne
Human Rights Council vote
In the driveway of
UN Headquarters, a fleet of black SUVs announced the visit of Condoleezza Rice.
She came to confer with the so-called Quartet, on how and if to allow any
funding to the West Bank and Gaza. There followed a five p.m. press conference,
from which the Russian foreign minister left early. In the aftermath Javier
Solana was surrounded by reporter, and the
UN's Alvaro de Soto,
channeling not his economist brother Hernando but rather ex-NYSE Dick Grasso,
briefed reporters by the doorway. Further inside, a self-described senior U.S.
State Department official (henceforth the "SUSSDO") talked cocky about the
effect of barring all dealings with the Palestinian Authority.
Inner City Press whether the new funding mechanism sketched by the press release
read out by Kofi Annan would involve or require any amendment to the
U.S. Treasury Department's block-order,
SUSSDO smirked and acknowledged that there are some "overseas" concerned that is
they touch any funds to or from the Palestinian Authority, they'll run afoul of
U.S. banking laws. "But you have to remember," said SUSSDO. "We have these
sanctions for a reason." SUSSDO continue on to estimate that only 20 to 30
percent of the employees of the Palestinian Authority actually show up to work,
"especially among those added on in the last month." Alvaro de Soto estimated
that the Palestinian authority has from 140,000 to 170,000 employees, security
making up 70,000 of these. Mr. de Soto declined to answer Inner City Press'
questions about U.S. Treasury Department regulations, saying "I'd have to check
with my lawyer." Famous last words...
Footnote, 9 p.m. --
an unscientific poll of United Nations late-night cleaning workers elicited
frustration that the day's Condi-hoopla centered not on Darfur. An articulate
5-to-12 cleaner who is from the Sudan opined that UN blue helmets are neither
wanted nor needed in Darfur; "they'll only lead to more problems," he said.
There were tales of the freight elevator which carried up and down Ms. Condi
Rice's paraphenalia from her meeting with Annan. The SUVs and armed guards gone,
the UN building's graveyard shift proceeded...
Child Labor and Cargill and Nestle; Iran, Darfur and WHO's on First with Bird
Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.
UNITED NATIONS, May 4
-- As the level of threats regarding Iran continues to rise, at UN Headquarters
many issues fall to the side. Child labor, for example. At a ten a.m. press
conference attended by precisely one journalist [full disclosure deemed
unnecessary], Maria Arteta of the International Labor Organization released a
documenting among other things that the raw number of child laborers in Africa
rose in the past four years. In sub-Saharan Africa, over 26% of children ages
five to 14 are at work.
attending reporter inquired into an African specific: the use of child labor in
cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast and Ghana, and the alleged involvement of
Archer Daniels Midland, Nestle and Cargill. Teenagers from Mali have sued the
three companies, asserting that they were trafficked to harvest cocoa for or to
the benefit of the three named companies (the last two of which are members of
United Nations Global Compact).
Arteta responded among other things that these companies
"need to think about how do they establish
controls of their supply chain...
They do need to respond to this accusation
They do need to investigate
They do need to find out
And they do need to have steps to put
these controls in place... [so that their] supply chain is free from child labor
and other exploitation."
Immediately following the ILO briefing, Inner City Press posed written questions
to two officials at the Global Compact, asking for a response by mid-afternoon:
"what comment does
the Global Compact have on the allegations and lawsuit against Global Compact
members Cargill and Nestle and the idea that these companies, and other Global
Compact members facing child labor-related allegations, need to address the
issues and that the Global Compact should provide guidance, and provide
transparency into what both it and its members are doing in this regard?"
Ms. Arteta answers on
also raised by Inner City Press at the OSSG noon briefing. At 4 p.m. the Global
Compact's always-polite media relations officer said "we're still working on
some answers." Inner City Press asked for some by five or even six o'clock, but
no response from the Global Compact was forthcoming by six-fifteen. An inquiry
thereafter by the OSSG was followed, at 6:35, by the following response, which
in fairness we quote here in full:
"All Global Compact
participants are expected, within their sphere of influence, to work towards the
implementation of GC principle five, namely the effective elimination of child
labour. The ILO and UNICEF, among others, are very active in this field and have
guidance materials and other efforts aimed at achieving this goal. Some
information about what companies can do is also available on the Global
website.The Global Compact advocates use of a performance model, which is
designed to provide practical guidance to companies on how to improve their
performance with respect to all ten principles. As a voluntary initiative, it is
neither our practice nor within our power to express opinions about the
situation of individual companies, including with respect to lawsuits that they
may be facing. Nevertheless,transparency is a core value of the Global Compact,
and we use the means available to us in order to increase the quantity and
quality of information for stakeholders on companies' progress in implementing
the Global Compact principles. To this end, the Global Compact requires that
participants communicate annually to their stakeholders on progress made in
implementing all ten principles, including principle five on child labour. Links
to these communications can be found on the Global Compact website. Moreover, in
the spirit of the Global Compact's emphasis on dialogue and learning, we
encourage and promote dialogue between Global Compact participants and those who
raise matters relating to their implementation of the Compact's principles. We
therefore hope that the parties concerned will engage in constructive dialogue
to resolve this matter as early as possible."
While that's a
bit much to unpack at press time, the raising of these matters has been not only
in litigation, and in a shareholders' resolution this Spring at the chocolate
company Hershey's, but now (full circle) at the ILO's briefing on May 4 (here
in UN summary;
in Real Media) -- this is an ongoing beat.
* * *
While a promised
briefing about Sierra Leone was postponed, Doctor David Nabarro returned from
the field, to report that the H5N1 strain of avian flu is now in 45 countries.
When asked if the countries castigated this week for censorship would allow the
reporting of bird flu outbreaks, Dr. Nabarro said diplomatically that all are
reporting to the UN. Asked if this includes North Korea and Burma / Myanmar, for
example, Dr. Nabarro suggested the question be asked to the UN's people there.
This was subsequently clarified to mean staffers of the WHO, without specifying
who. There are virologists meeting in Singapore; there's a meeting in Denang.
Still the focus at the UN and its press corps remained on Iran. At a less formal
podium in the early afternoon, the UK's Permanent Representative Sir Emyr Jones
Parry spoke at length about Iran and nuclear weapons, including a draft Security
Council resolution that "calls upon all States to exercise vigilance in
preventing the transfer of items, materials, goods and technology that could
contribute to Iran's enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and missile
programs." In the briefing's final question, Inner City Press asked about the
enacted sanctions on Darfur, specifically in light of the Security Council
president's statement Tuesday that some of the sanctioned may have no desire to
travel abroad, and may have their assets in livestock, not subject to "deposit
in Citibank" and thus not to seizure. Amb. Jones Parry answered at length,
including that such sanctions "send a message" against impunity and that he will
lead the Security Council's mission to Darfur in the week of June 4. He said
that the Council would consider sanctions regarding south Sudan as well, "if
according to the World Health Organization, over 95% of people in Sudan use
solid fuels for cooking, leading to respiratory ailments and even death by fire.
The WHO's Eva Rehfuess stated, "we are technology neutral" -- any purported
improvement in cooking hardware must work for, and be embraced by, those who
will use it. Asked about UNHCR's move for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal from
kerosene to solar cookers, Ms. Rehfuess acknowledged the problems with this
seeming green solution: it will not work at night nor early in the morning. When
it works, it can easily burn children. Ms. Rehfuess related a failed program in
India in the 1980s, to distribute 35 million stoves that were quickly
disassembled and rejected. If it doesn't work with the people, it doesn't work,
she concluded. Which is true of UN spokespeople too.
Press Freedom? Editor Arrested by Congo-Brazzaville, As It Presides Over
Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.
UNITED NATIONS, May 2
-- On the eve of world press freedom day, the arrest of an inconvenient magazine
editor in Congo-Brazzaville arose twice at UN Headquarters, with answers both
tangential. The envoy of the Republic of Congo, Basile Ikouebe, who this month
heads the Security Council, was asked to explain the April 21 arrest of Fortune
Bemba, the editor of Thalassa, for having insulted the honor of President Denis
Sassou Nguesso by publishing an article entitled "Were General Casimir Bouissa
Matoko and Lekoudzou poisoned by Denis Sassou Nguesso?" Click here for sample
At his press
briefing, Ambassador Ikouebe began by saying, there aren't any taboo questions.
His answer was another an entirely different case, in which as he described it
infighting in the human rights NGO FedH led to charges of embezzlement of $3000
(mistranslated into English in the briefing as "three million dollars" -- click
for streaming video of the briefing in Real Media, the exchange is around
minutes 37-39 of 46). While that case, too, might warrant inquiry, the matter
of Fortune Bemba remains. Ambassador Ikouebe said that his country has signed
many treaties and that he would be surprised if an individual journalist was
arrested, as there are not prisoners-because-of-opinion in his country. Among
many other things, Ambassador Ikouebe expressed some skepticism about the
Security Council's recent Darfur sanctions. You can say they can't travel and
that you can seize their assets, he said. But what if their assets consist of
cows? "You can't put cows in Citibank," Ambassador Ikouebe concluded.
the briefing, three hours before deadline, Inner City Press posed written
questions to the official who ran Ambassador Ikouebe's press conference, "premier
conseiller" Lazare Makayat Safouesse, providing "articles, including one in
French, identifying what [Inner City Press] was asking about, the arrest on
April 21 of Fortune Bemba, editor of Thalassa, reportedly for insulting the
honor of the President. Will much appreciate an explanation of your Government's
thinking on this arrest [before] 5 p.m. today, three hours and five minutes from
now." As of that time, no response was received. But Ambassador Ikouebe will be
taking questions throughout the month, and so the matter of Fortune Bembe,
slated for trial on May 17, may well arise again.
Ikouebe w/ S-G, 4/27/06
head Ann Veneman presented a "Report
Card on Nutrition" earlier on Tuesday, focusing on those countries in which
women are not valued. When asked about Iraq, Ms. Veneman's colleague (including
at USDA) Catherine Bertini emphasized that the problems existed also in 1997,
when Carol Bellamy led UNICEF. The report's
statistical final page states that, in the U.S., two percent of under-fives
are under-weight, while "data were not available" for any other industrialized
country, from Scandinavia to old and new Europe. While an aide replied that no
household surveys were conducted in these countries, some questioned if some
zeroes weren't withheld. The questions grew when Ms. Veneman's aide stress that
2% might well be "only genetic." There are many under-weight babies, even in New
York, for example in the maternity wards of Montefiore and Lincoln Hospitals in
The Bronx. Promised response about the European (non) reporting arrived
"I am responding to your question on why
most developed countries do not have data in the Progress for Children report.
Many developed countries do collect data on child nutritional status but the
data are analyzed using different methods which are not comparable to the
methods used for developing countries. For example, industrialized countries
may report mean weights or heights for a study population, whereas for most
developing countries we report on the percentage which falls below minus two
standard deviations of the median weight or height of the international
A follow-up was
posed: "it seems strange that a far higher percentage of 'Industrialized
Countries' than those in the developing worlds are reported as 'data
not available,' as least as to under-weight under-fives. Do you have the
underlying data for some of the other industrialized countries?" While
this wasn't responded to by press time, the report states that "the lowest
incidence of low birthweight in the industrialized world (4 per cent) is
registered in Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Lithuania and Sweden." The full text
here in PDF) also states, not making clear what it means by comparable, that
"the only industrialized country that has figures comparable to those of the
developing world is the United States"...
above-reported matter of Fortune Bemba was also raised during CPJ's briefing
releasing that organization's listing of the
10 Most Censured Countries
-- but Congo-Brazzaville was mistaken for the Democratic Republic of the Congo;
Web site also does not list Republic of Congo (Brazzaville)...
by the basement correspondent of Inner City Press: As sustainable developers
smoked in the Vienna cafe, SRSG for Darfur Jan Pronk slipped in with a handler,
sidling up to the deli counter to order some petit restauration. And then
by six p.m. he was gone...
Place of the Cost-Cut UN in Europe's Torn-Up Heart;
Deafness to Consumers, Even by the Greens
Matthew Russell Lee, in Brussels
BRUSSELS, April 28 --
Ears ringing with the talk of waste within the UN system, an Inner City Press
reporter yesterday visited the consolidated, scaled back and renamed UN Regional
Information Center (UNRIC) in Brussels, to see how an early attempt at
cost-saving is working out.
narrow, car-filled Rue de la Loi, just passed the European Commission, the UNRIC
is tucked in on the 7th and 8th floors of a stately building in the Residence
Palace compound. Outside are construction zones, the city literally torn-up to
build office space for the ten new EU members. Inside UNRIC it is spacious, with
hardwood floors and uncaptioned photos of each Secretary-General. The UNRIC's
deputy director is an engaging Dane who is among other things the answer to the
UN system Jeopardy question: who was the spokesman for the president of the
General Assembly when the World Trade Towers were demolished by hijacked plane?
Who is... Jan Fischer. Mr. Fischer also served the UN in Iraq in 1993, along
with a stint in Australia. He knows the System, and the context of the
cost-cutting he's witnessed at the UNRIC.
travel budget the more than half-dozen country desk officers based in Brussels
is $16,000 for six months. This has resulted in fewer trips to the countries
covered by each desk officer, and even to them staying with family and friend on
such trips. There's a striking correlation between surname and country covered:
Carlos Jimenez for Spain, Fabio Graziosi for Italy, Dimitrios Fatouros for
Greece and so forth. The desk officers were once "national information
officers," which required this consonance. Now that they've had to move to
Brussels, they've been "professionalized," in the parlance of the UN civil
service. Still some stay with friends and family on their UN trips back home.
Brussels some 15,000 journalists cover the doings of the European Union and to
some degree NATO. It is hard, Jan Fischer says, for UN news to break through.
They hold press conferences, and briefings by visiting UN envoys, from conflict
diamonds to the rights of the child. Across from the well-guarded United States
embassy, there's a storefront for UNICEF, with its tell-tale blue sign. The UN's
refugee agency, it appears from a list, has a dozen Brussels employees, seeking
EU funding for their far-flung operations. UNRIC tries to get their stories
told. Mr. Fischer says he'd rather say too much than too little; he suggests
that the media not abandoned UN staffers who go off script and speak their
minds. It's a plan that makes much sense, and one that we will follow. This
series of occasional visits with continue from Inner City Press, consonant with
the cost-cuts as they come.
Footnote: in a
third-floor room in the European Parliament on April 27, Green party delegate
Heide Ruhle listened while nodding to consumer advocates despairing of non-bank
input into the pending Consumer Credit Directive. When asked, with an
administrative colleague, about merger review in the Euro zone, the Green
response was that review by particular nations is outmoded. Will Brussels'
review consider predatory lending? That remains unclear.
Other Inner City Press
reports are archived on
Mirage: Beyond French Bombs, Is Exxon In the Cast? Asylum and the
Uzbeks, Shadows of Stories to Come
Through the UN's
One-Way Mirror, Sustainable Development To Be Discussed by Corporations,
Even Nuclear Areva
Disparities Grew Worse in 2005 at Citigroup, HSBC and Other Large Banks
Mine Your Own
Business: Explosive Remnants of War and the Great Powers, Amid the
Human Rights Are
Lost in the Mail: DR Congo Got the Letter, But the Process is Still
Iraq's Oil to be
Metered by Shell, While Basrah Project Remains Less than Clear
At the UN, Dues
Threats and Presidents-Elect, Unanswered Greek Mission Questions
Kagame and Coltan: This Moment in the Congo and Kampala
Swarmer Begins, UN's Qazi Denies It's Civil War and Has No Answers if
Iraq's Oil is Being Metered
Cash Crop: In
Nepal, Bhutanese Refugees Prohibited from Income Generation Even in
The Shorted and
Shorting in Humanitarian Aid: From Davos to Darfur, the Numbers Don't
Transparency Later, Not Now -- At Least Not for AXA - WFP Insurance
Chaos, Shots Fired at U.N. Helicopter Gunship
In the Sudanese
Crisis, Oil Revenue Goes Missing, UN Says
Empty Words on
Money Laundering and Narcotics, from the UN and Georgia
What is the Sound
of Eleven Uzbeks Disappearing? A Lack of Seats in Tashkent, a Turf War
Collective Punishment and Electricity; Lights Out on Privatization of
Cleansing and (Money) Laundering, Says Georgia
Human Rights Abuses, including by UNDP in the Maldives
Who Pays for the
Global Bird Flu Fight? Not the Corporations, So Far - UN
Dissembles at United Nations Environmental Conference
Other Inner City Press
reports are archived on
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