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Liberia's Debt Remains Crushing, While UN's Ban Ki-moon Criticizes DRC Diamond Sanctions

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 16 -- Liberia has a debt of $3.7 billion dollars. At this week's "Partners' Forum" in Washington, much was made of the $35 million from the U.S. to help Liberia reduce its arrears on the debt. But what about the burden of the (two-plus) billions still owed?

            The UN's envoy to Liberia, Alan Doss, briefed reporters in New York on Friday. Inner City Press asked about the debt, and also the Security Council diamond sanctions that remain in place on Liberia. Ban Ki-moon's report this week on the topic of sanctions and the Democratic Republic of Congo said, expansively, that "while sanctions may inconvenience their targets, the general effect will be to diminish only marginally the general practices they are designed to curtail."

   Since this seems quite different from the statements of Kofi Annan, Inner City Press on Friday asked the UN spokesperson if Mr. Ban's statement on DRC sanctions applied in any way to other UN sanctions regimes, for example the diamond sanctions on Liberia and Cote D'Ivoire. The spokeswoman said no, but it is still not clear why the above-quoted critique of sanctions would apply only to the DRC. As with Ban Ki-moon's positions on other issues, for example whether he will release the short list of candidates he is considering to replace Juan Mendez as his Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, time will tell -- and soon.

            Mr. Doss' view of sanctions appears to differ from Mr. Ban's.  Doss stated that diamonds had fuel conflict and bloodshed, in Liberia and in Sierra Leone. While Doss Friday reiterated his hope that Liberia might "meet the conditions" to become "Kimberly [Process] compliant" by April, when the sanctions will be reviewed by the Council. Close observers -- or, of course, readers of Inner City Press -- will remember that China raised issues about the last extension of the Liberia diamond sanctions, on reasons having to do with a junior Kimberly Process staffer in Europe having floated the idea of Taiwan joining the process.

Hu Jintao inspects China's 600 peacekeeper in Monrovia, per UNMIL

            Mr. Doss noted that until 2003, Liberia recognized Taiwan, then switched over to China. Now Liberia can't accept low-interest rate loans from China, because taking new loans is prohibited in the debt clearance process. Doss also alluded to the IMF's gymnastics to forgive or reduce debt, requiring "a device to reprovision," he said.

            While Mr. Doss praised Mittal Steel by name, others have criticized the record in Liberia of such corporations as the Japan-based, U.S.-soundingly-named tire company Bridgestone.

   Mr. Doss described concerns that armed gangs may take over more rubber plantations, and that former combatants in Liberia are being recruited to fight in neighboring Guinea. Using a increasingly-rare word "hagiography," he was brief in his praise of Liberia's president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, then noted that the country's Finance Minister is also a woman "from the World Bank." Video here. It could make you wonder...

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At the UN, Ban Ki-moon Wants Access to Darfur, Has Genocide Office Shortlist

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 15 -- After forty five days as Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon on Thursday twice said he is "very much disappointed" by Omar al-Bashir's refusing to allow a UN human mission into Sudan, and called preventing genocide a "very important issue." In response to questions from Inner City Press, Mr. Ban said that if al-Bashir "believe that there is no problem, then he should be able to receive the human rights fact-finding mission."

            Al-Bashir's rationale is that one member of the mission, Bertrand Ramcharan, had already stated publicly that genocide is occurring in Darfur. (The UN has studiously declined to confirm the reason for visa denial, despite Inner City Press' direct requests for confirmation or denial at two of the noon briefings this week.) On the use of what's come to be called the "G word," one sees the tide is turning.

   U.S. envoy Andrew Natsios now eschews the term. And a UN official Thursday told Inner City Press on background that the Office of the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide may have to be renamed, "because who would want to let into their country an office with genocide in its title?" One wag made suggested putting a positive spin on the mandate: Office of Systemic Protection of Human Rights. But what's in a name?

Ban & Bashir: What's shaking?

            Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban about the charges by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that the genocide office, whatever it is called, might be merged or downsized. Mr. Ban called the claim unsubstantiated and "wrong" and said he is "looking at a shortlist of nominating a successor to Mr. Mendez." Mr. Ban did not answer Inner City Press' question if this shortlist will be public.

            From the transcript:

Inner City Press: On Darfur -- do you have any comments on the Sudan not allowing visas for the high level human rights visiting group? And also, on the office of your Special Adviser on [the Prevention of] Genocide, are you thinking of merging that into any other department, or releasing a shortlist when you propose a successor to Mr. [Juan] Mendez?

SG Ban Ki-moon: First of all on this, I read a report suggesting that this is again an unsubstantiated report on the organization of genocide. I have not taken any action on either downgrading -- this was a wrong report -- and I am looking at the shortlist of nominating a successor to Mr. Mendez on this matter. I have a high priority on this very important issue, to prevent genocide...

On the visa problem on the human rights fact-finding mission --  it was very much disappointing for me. This is the issue I discussed with President [Omar al-] Bashir duing my meeting with him in Addis Ababa. He said he would issue visas to the fact-finding mission. He said he would have no problem. I am very much disappointed by the decision of the Sudanese Government. I urge again that the Sudanese Government fully cooperates with the unanimous decision of the Human Rights Council. If he believes that there is no problem, then he should be able to receive the human rights fact-finding mission.

            News analysis: these answers to Inner City Press' questions appeared among other places in the Associated Press and in the New York Times, which while quoting Andrew Natsios did not mention his recently backing away from the word genocide. While reporting to date of Natsios' views and statement is equivocal, the pushing of genocide from the present to the past is apparently not contested by Natsios or the Bush administration. So when will the paper of record chime in? Developing.

At the UN, Calls for Transparency and Short-Lists for Genocide Prevention Post, Russian Sporting, Salad Days

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 14 -- The place of human rights in Ban Ki-moon's UN was questioned on Wednesday. Acting on reports that the Kofi Annan-created Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide might be downgraded or merged out of existence, three non-governmental organization held a press conference at which they urged transparency and that short-lists be released of any possible successor to the current advisor, Juan E. Mendez. The NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, the Institute for Global Policy and Amnesty International, urged Ban Ki-moon to make public the report and recommendations of the Advisory Committee to the S-G on the Prevention of Genocide.

            Afterwards, Amnesty International's Yvonne Terlingen was asked if she had a copy of the report. She at first indicated that she did have a copy, then declined to provide a copy to requesting journalists, one of whom scoffed, "So the NGOs want transparency for everyone but themselves."

            At the subsequent UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokeswoman if that report, and another one by Mr. Mendez about the Ivory Coast, could be released. Video here, from Minute 14:53.  Four hours later, the spokesperson's office responded:

"regarding your question about NGOs urging the SG to consider making public the report and recommendations of the advisory committee to the SG on prevention of genocide: The SG has received the report and is considering its recommendations -- it is not presently public."

            As the report on the Ivory Coast, dated back to December 2005, nothing was said. The spokesperson did say, however, that Mr. Mendez won't be reappointed, because he has asked not to be. So will a short-list be released in this test case? We'll see.

Ms. Terlinger, 2d from left, 2006

            So who wants transparency at the UN? Inner City Press asked the spokesperson for a comment on the controversial settlement of the toxic waste dumping scandal between the Gbagbo government in Ivory Coast and Trafigura, the European dumper which, as Inner City Press first reported, was part of the UN Oil for Food scandal. It is a settlement between a private corporation and a member state, the spokesperson said, declining comment. Kofi Annan speechified on the topic, but the new Administration apparently views it as a "private" matter.

            Another request made on Wednesday was for a list of all UN Goodwill Ambassadors and "Dollar a Year" dignitaries. The latter requests dated back to the prior Administration, and has yet to be filled. At a press conference with UNDP -- click here for that article -- tennis player Maria Sharapova was named a Goodwill Ambassador. UNDP's Ad Melkert declined to provide a simple number on the volume of UNDP's payments in North Korea in 2005, a year for which the books are presumably closed. Afterwards, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was seen exiting the protocol room containing Ms. Sharapova with a broad smile on his face. In the hallway he told of his "sketchy" sporting career, including speed skating.  Inner City Press asked him for his favorite length. 1,500 meters was the answer.  There followed a story of breaking his leg in St. Tropez. Ms. Sharapova left with an entourage including UNDP's Communications Office staff.  At the UN these days it is all spin, all the time.  As one wag put it, commenting on recent fix-ups of the staff cafeteria, the only thing that's gotten more transparent at the UN is the salad bar, which is now under less opaque plastic.

            Wednesday also marked the first snow of the season in New York. The UN closed down its main walkway, shunting pedestrian entrants into the basement corridor by the library. Dignitaries arriving by car, denied access to the tent by the General Assembly, parked by the front door and entered along a thin and quivering path like on suburban yards everywhere. Many senior officials left at 3 p.m.. One long-time correspondent remembered back in anger at when, when the Rodney King verdict was read out in Los Angeles, the UN closed down and sent everyone home early. What was that again, about a human rights culture?

At the UN, Questions of Jobs Given Predetermined, Nepotism Admitted in Schori's Parting Shot

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 9 -- Jobs were the focus at UN Headquarters on Friday. At the two highest levels, there were comings and going, a few unexpected. Lower down the food chain, a question arose about 12 particular jobs which Ban Ki-moon said were open for application -- called "mobility" -- from anywhere within the UN system. More than five hundred have applied for the 12 jobs, but a rumor in the hall is that the winner were already selected, in some cases before the window to apply had even closed, on February 2.

            Chief of staff Vijay Nambiar took questions on Friday at noon.  Inner City Press asked him a senior official not mentioned -- Jan Beagle of the Office of Human Resource Management -- and about the status of the 12 "mobility" jobs. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: You already had a question I think that deals with ASG Jan Beagle, of whom the Staff Council passed a vote of no confidence, and I think was communicated -- she wasn’t on the list of acceptances, nor on the list of that you read out of approvals.  So, one, if you could somehow say what your thinking is on that, and two, on the mobility posts that were posted on I-seek back on January 19th for people to apply.  How many people applied, and we’ve heard -- there seems to be a sense among staff that some of those posts were already sort of given out -- what’s the status of the people seeking mobility at the staff level of the people who applied for those positions from D2 down to --

Chef de Cabinet:  I think there were in excess of 500 applicants, and I think they have been short-listed, and we are in the process of selecting the people for the 12 positions in the Executive Office.  And, I think this is unprecedented in many ways, so we hope that -- the selection process is following the normal procedure -- so I don’t think, we hope to be able to come to a kind of a closure in terms of appointments soon.

The other one that you said -- I wouldn’t want to deal with individual cases, but I would say that there we have laid out certain policy guidelines, and we’ve been following them as scrupulously as can be done in these circumstances.

            Since Mr. Nambiar mentioned "short-lists" for the 12 jobs at issue, Inner City Press asked the Office of the Spokesperson for a copy of the short-lists. The response was laughter: if we don't give lists out for Under Secretaries-General, we sure don't for these positions.

            One of the position is that of speechwriter. It is entirely understandable that a Secretary-General would want to choose his own speechwriter without the formalities of the UN's job recruitment rules. But to pretend one is following those rules to pick a speechwriter casts doubts on the claim of fairness for the other eleven positions.

Mr. Nambiar

            There is also the rumor of officials from South Korea, still parked in neutral in DC-1 and DC-2, gunning for positions. Most seem to feel that they will not land in this high-profile 12 jobs, but rather elsewhere. We shall see.

            Other questions arose about which of the officials whose resignations were accepted will actually stay on at the UN. Mr. Nambiar responded that Ban Ki-moon will certainly want to keep some experience. But behind the question are the rules, that staff members can return to their jobs after services as political appointees. Or, as is said of Carlos Lopes, can seek jobs back in UNDP, playing the card of the former Administrator.

            Among those whose resignations were accepted were two of the putative bosses of scandal-plagued Guido Bertucci: USG Jose Antonio Ocampo and ASG Patrizio Civili. Inner City Press interviewed Mr. Ocampo in mid-December outside the South Korean mission -- click here for that story -- and Mr. Ocampo said he saw no substance to the charges against Bertucci. Now it is rumored that Bertucci might get Civili's post. Along with Beagle staying, that would set a certain tone.

            Mervat Tallawy, who fought tooth and nail to keep her post, including in conversation and lobbying of Inner City Press, lost it. Click here for the story on Tallawy More damning information had come in, but now is rendered moot, except as indication of how the UN works. But for that, see Inner City Press' four part (so far) series about the UN Pension Fund. Next week we are told that the Pension Board's audit committee will meet. The meeting should be public. Thirty-six billion dollars should not be doled out in secret. We will be returning to that topic next week.

            In a sparsely-attended press conference on Friday, outgoing UN envoy to the Ivory Coast Pierre Schori went off, denouncing the Gbagbo government and troublingly, some things more. Inner City Press asked Schori to confirm that his predecessor, Albert Tevodedjre of Benin, had shown nepotism in hiring, and tarnished the name of the UN and its mission. Video here. Schori did not disagree, noting that when he started he received no transitions memo, and noticed "many strange people" working in the mission, who took a long time to get rid of. We aim to have more on this.

            After Schori's briefing, four Ivorian mission representatives made their case to Inner City Press that the next UN envoy should be more attuned to Ivorian-ness. But how will that be accomplished? Through the votes on the Council of the U.S. and of China. It is a process we will cover, after the weekend is over.

            In an end-of-week burst of unexplained secrecy, a meeting on Children and Armed Conflict held at 3 p.m. on Friday in basement Conference Room 5 was deemed closed. The sign outside did not say so, and Inner City Press entered the room. Immediately the order to leave was issued, and the sign was changed. Inside, French Ambassador de la Sabliere was bragging about the achievements at the recent Paris conference. Why close this to the press? And so it goes at the UN.

Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service.

            Copyright 2006 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] -

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

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