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UN Lawyer O'Brien Refuses Questions on Cambodia Tribunal, Ignores Logo Misuse

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 3 -- The UN's new top lawyer, asking Tuesday about the funding and corruption crisis at the UN-affiliated genocide tribunal in Cambodia, refused to answer any questions about it.

  At a press conference at UN headquarters in New York, Patricia O'Brien purported to respond to twenty minutes of questions about the so-called Hariri Tribunal, concerning the deaths of some two dozen people in Lebanon. The Cambodia tribunal, already plagued by allegations that local Cambodian staff paid bribes to get their jobs, is threatened with closure according to its top judge due to a lack of funds.

  As Inner City Press asked what the UN is going to do, Ms. O'Brien said she would not answer any questions on that or any other non-Hariri Tribunal topic.  Inner City Press followed up, will there be another opportunity to ask these questions? I am not undertaking any further commitment of availability, Ms. O'Brien said.

   Several comparisons came to mind. The Cambodia tribunal deals with more than a million deaths, while the Hariri Tribunal deals with two dozen. On the latter, however, the UN has good news, or thinks it does. Its corruption-plagued tribunal, the UN would apparently prefer just went away.

UN's Patricia O'Brien make pledge to UN's Ban, transparency and accountability not shown 

Of this UN-assisted tribunal, "a report surfaced last week on the German legislature's Web site alleging that a top U.N. tribunal official had acknowledged the kickbacks and accused a senior Cambodian administrator of corruption. The head of public affairs for the tribunal refused to comment on the report."

Ms. O'Brien's predecessor Nicolas Michel, while more focused on Lebanon than Cambodia, nevertheless answered questions about Cambodia. Ms. O'Brien, since being awarded the UN's top legal job, has rarely if ever been available to the media. She came to one press conference and left before taking any questions.

   Two weeks ago, Inner City Press approached Ms. O'Brien in the hallway of the UN, after a ceremony in which she and two dozen other Under Secretaries-General signed "accountability" compacts with Ban Ki-moon. Inner City Press told Ms. O'Brien of recent instances of corporations publicly using and misusing the UN logo and name to promote their business. Previously, when Inner City Press had raised such cases to the UN Office of Legal Affairs, which Ms. O'Brien now heads, some actions had been taken. Ms. O'Brien instructed Inner City Press to proceed as it had in the past.

  Inner City Press e-mailed to Ms. O'Brien, at her UN-listed address, a half-dozen examples of corporate use of the UN logo. Having no response, Inner City Press sent the examples again, on the eve of Tuesday's press conference. Still no response, until the terse statement that only Hariri Tribunal questions about be entertained, and no other Q&A opportunity was envisioned.

  The UN is ostensibly a public organization; in any event, Ms. O'Brien's salary is paid by taxpayers all over the world. While Ban's UN talks about accountability and transparency, even its top lawyer appears to resist or oppose both.  We will have more on this.

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

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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