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UN "Acknowledges Failure" in Rwanda, 13 Years and Three Weeks Late, French Soldier Is Identified

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 30 -- At a ceremony Monday evening marking the delayed opening of the UN's exhibition commemorating the Rwanda genocide, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon referred to the Turkish - Armenian controversy only obliquely. With a speechwriter looking on, Mr. Ban read out:

"This exhibition is about lessons learnt from the Rwanda genocide, and does not attempt to make historical judgments on other issues.  The United Nations has taken no position on events that took place before the World War that led to the birth of the Organization."

   But in precisely the same location, Ban Ki-moon earlier this year opened an exhibition commemorating, and taking a position and making historical judgments on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, prior to the UN's founding. Faced with criticism three weeks ago of the exhibition's reference to "one million Armenians killed in Turkey," the UN postponed the exhibition and came up with this position of taking no position on pre-1930s events. The exhibition's organizer, the Aegis Trust, and its printer, Edwards, produced the edited version and flew it to New York where it was assembled throughout the day Monday.

            Aegis spokesman David Brown pointed out to Inner City Press not only the change to the "mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman empire," but also what he called a new two-paragraph sticker about Rwanda and the UN, entitled "Acknowledging Failure." A UN official, on the other hand, told Inner City Press that the section had always been in the exhibition, that only the headline was new. Aegis's Stephen Twigg declined to resolve the issue.

            Aegis's David Brown first told Inner City Press that a photo caption has also been changed, then confirmed that it was the reference to a "French soldier in Cyangugu, Rwanda on 27 June, 1994." Behind the now-identified French soldier are marauders with sticks and other weapons. This, then, is what Under Secretary General Akasaka meant when on April 19 he said that among the issues being reviewed was "the role of the French." Click here for that story.

On the UN's website, he's still a "French peacekeeping solider." In the exhibition, the middle word is gone.

  At Monday's noon briefing, Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson had statements ready when Inner City Press asked

ICP: On the Rwanda exhibit.  Now that it's opening today, is it possible to say what the process was?  We know that it was postponed, and then reconsideration of the language was given.  Was the reconsideration totally in-house of the UN?  Were any Member States consulted?  If you can say something about this for stories about the exhibit, what the process between postponement and opening was about?  

Spokesperson: As you know, when the exhibit was assembled, DPI had noticed problems with some of the references in the text and it realized that it has not been sufficiently reviewed by the relevant experts in the Secretariat.  So the process was that it be reviewed by a group of experts in the Secretariat, legal experts as well as political ones.  No Member State was involved in the review.  The exhibit is part of DPI's -- as you know -- one of their outreach programs.  The review process included contributions from, as I said, the Legal Office, the Department of Political Affairs, the Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for the Prevention of Genocide, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Department of Public Information.  And they also consulted DPI's partner in this exhibit, which is the AEGIS, as you now.

Inner City Press: Does the reopening of the exhibit make any reference to Turkey and Armenia, or not?

Spokesperson: It does make a reference to the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I and other events in history.  Iím quoting.

            And before the postponement, it referred to the "murder of one million Armenians in Turkey." Oh, the word-smithing....

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UN's Rwanda Genocide Exhibit Shifts "Turkey" to "Ottoman Empire" and "Murders" to "Mass Killings"

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 30 -- On Monday, the UN opened the exhibition commemorating the Rwandan genocide, which it postponed three weeks ago by the UN after complaints about its reference to "one million Armenians murdered in Turkey." 

            Now the one of the four panels of the exhibition, on view Monday afternoon, refers instead to "mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I and other events in history." Another of the panels shows a picture of Romeo Dallaire, who led the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.

            On April 20 Mr. Dallaire, in response to questions from Inner City Press, called the UN's postponement of a commemorating exhibition "absolutely scandalous."

            "I cannot believe the UN backed down on that," he said. "If you want to demonstrate no spine, you've started in that fashion." As Dallaire recounted it, the exhibition was initially postponed due to an objection from Turkey to the inclusion of the phrase "one million Armenians murdered in Turkey" in the text of the exhibit.

            Inner City Press asked Mr. Dallaire about the statement on April 19 by the new head of the UN's Department of Public Information Kiyotaka Akasaka that the contested issues came to include the "role of France, whether you can blame one hundred percent on the Hutu, the role of the Church and other issues we have to look into closely."

Gen. Dallaire in Rwanda: blue beret not helmet

            Mr. Dallaire noted that the Pope visited Rwanda in 1992, two years before the genocide, and that both the Church and France were unequivocal in their support of the Habyarimana government and even harder-line Hutu factions. He went on to say that the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front also engaged in what are now called non-judicial executions. But on the UN's postponement of the exhibit, he said "I need my pills, really I need a scotch, please get me some water," before calling it "scandalous" and "spineless."

            Slated to be present at Monday's evenings opening ceremony are Secretary-Gneral Ban Ki-moon, the Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the UN, Joseph Nsengimana, the Aegis Trust's Stephen Twigg, and USG Akasaka. According to the UN's "Highlights of the noon briefing," Inner City Press

"Asked whether Member States had been consulted during the review process for the exhibition, [Ms.] Montas said they had not. She said that DPI had noticed problems with the text of the exhibition earlier his month and had realized that it had not been sufficiently reviewed. Consequently, a number of experts were consulted, including from DPI, the Department of Political Affairs, the Office for Legal Affairs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Office of the Secretary-Generalís Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.

"Asked whether there is any reference to the Armenians in the exhibition, the Spokeswoman said that one panel refers to 'the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War One.'"

            Three weeks to change "murders" to "mass killings" and "Turkey" to "Ottoman Empire"? Only at the UN... This will be updated.

At the UN, Ban on the Move, Khalilzad Defers, Sahara Words, Rwanda Exhibit Still Not Visible

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

UNTIED NATIONS, April 30, updated 11:54 a.m. -- Ban Ki-moon, walking fast with a half dozen guars and his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, headed into the Trusteeship Chamber at 10:05 to make a speech about sanctions. On the way in, reporters from Inner City Press and Voice of America shook his hand and then fired off questions. The one response Ban gave concerned Iraq, or rather, he departure on May 1 for the conference at Sharm el-Sheik to launch the still ill-defined International Compact with Iraq.

            Most Security Council stakeout action concerns only timing. New U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad, asked about the Council's trip to Kosovo, called it "productive," and said he'd come out and speak with reporters after the Council's meetings. Later the U.S. spokesman said whatever Khalilzad says, it will be fast, as the U.S. takes over the presidency of the Council tomorrow.

Enter Amb. Khalilzad, stage right

            The representative of Western Sahara's Polisario Front, who asked to not be taped, took issue the draft resolution "welcoming serious and credible Moroccan efforts" while merely "taking note" of the Polisario's proposal. "It is not balanced," he said. China's position remains, in a word, inscrutable.

[Update of 11:54 a.m. -- Amb. Khalilzad emerged and said agreement has been reached on the Western Sahara resolution. He took one question, and then on the fly a second. The Polisario representative emerged somewhat chastened, saying that "many" countries had asked why only the Morocco efforts were praised in the resolution. Inner City Pres asked him, "But will the vote be 15-0 for it?" He answered, "Yes, that's what I expect"...]

            While the postponed Rwanda genocide exhibit is supposed to finally open this evening at 6 p.m. in the UN General Assembly's south lobby, as of 9:20 a.m., nothing was being prepared in the space. Rather, there were two white boards for visitors to write what they think the UN should work on. Darfur was a theme, and the environmental, and stopping wars. Yes, that would be nice...

Somali Diplomat Questions UN's Warlord Payments, Blackhawk Down - TFG Connection Confirmed

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 28 -- The UN Security Council on Friday heard a closed-door briefing from Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin about his country's continued military presence in Somalia. Afterwards, Inner City Press asked Mr. Mesfin about reports and letters showing that UN humanitarian aid has been hindered by the Transitional Federal Government, which Ethiopia installed atop the country in December.

            Surrounded by guards, Mr. Mesfin denied that the TFG or "our troops" had created obstacles, and noted that TFG Prime Minister Gedi had "the day before yesterday said that humanitarian aid is welcome."

            In an interview appearing in the Times of London on April 27, Gedi is quoted accusing UN agencies "of corruption; of using private airstrips to ship in contraband, weapons and insurgents; of striking cozy deals with warlords and the ousted Islamic Courts regime and pocketing the proceeds. He said the United Nations' World Food Program and other agencies were upset because they had lost power after effectively governing Somalia during its 15 years of civil war and anarchy. 'They want to operate in this country without any control,' he declared. 'They know they can't do that any more . . . Now there's a Prime Minister who knows them too well.'"

            Inner City Press at Friday's noon briefing asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson for a response:

Inner City Press: In Somalia, the Prime Minister in an interview had said that the UN aid agencies are used to running the country like itís their own fiefdom and that theyíre basically disagreeing with Mr. [John] Holmes in terms of humanitarian access.  So I'm wondering if anyone in the UN system has some response to those statements or what the status is of humanitarian access in Somalia. 

Spokesperson:  Well, according to what I got today, the discussions were good and they were given access.  And the tone was positive on the part of WFP.  

            After some other Inner City Press questions, a statement was handed to Spokesperson:

Spokesperson:  "We can find an answer for you.  And about Somalia, as far as I know, and I see the information I got there, there was a meeting about the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia.  The meeting was positive.  WFP was given the green light to begin deliveries, which was done.  And basically everything is working now between WFP and TFG.  According to OCHA, the UN has some 200 national and international staff in south central Somalia whose sole aim is to assist the people of that country, including in delivering urgently needed life-saving assistance.  So, the UN humanitarian agencies, which are non-political, do not aspire to enjoy power in Somalia or elsewhere, as was said in an article today."

            Later on Friday, Inner City Press interviewed Idd Beddel Mohamed, the Somali TFG's Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, who said:

"The UN agencies used to serve Somalia when there was no government. Now instead of adapting, they still want to dictate terms. The UN hired warlords, paid them in dollars to protect and deliver. The warlords bought more technicals and militias. The UN agencies should not try to address the difference by talking to the media."

            Inner City Press asked him to confirm that the TFG has appointed as Police Chief one of the individuals whom the U.S. was seeking during the incident memorialized in "Blackhawk Down." Yes, he said, it is Col. Aideed (a/k/a Abdi Qaybdiid).

            The worm, as they say, has turned...

Idd Beddel Mohamed at the UN

           While the UN had earlier on Friday announced the re-appointment of Francois Lonseny Fall for another year as the UN's envoy to Somalia, Idd Beddel Mohamed said he hadn't been aware, and said: "Why isn't he in Mogadishu? Let him enjoy Nairobi, and even the beaches of Mombassa." Inner City Press asked whether minorities like the Mushinguli were included in the TFG as required by the "4.5" plan previously alluded to by Lonseny Fall. "They have the ministry of sports!" Idd Beddel Mohamed exclaimed.

 [Under "4.5," each of Somalia's four main clans are supposed to get slightly less than 25% of the posts, with 1/9th for other minorities, such as the ultimate underdogs, the Mushinguli, brought to Somalia from further South in Africa, and long denied their rights, a topic to which we will return.]

   Idd Beddel Mohamed chided Inner City Press for asking Under Secretary General John Holmes about quotes from the TFG President and deputy defense minister, saying that the quotes are just "internet propaganda." When Inner City Press pointed out that the audio source was Voice of America, Idd Beddel Mohamed replied that Voice of America's "affiliate in Mogadishu is owned by a supporter of these insurgents."

            Before he left the UN, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin pronounced that "the backbone of the terrorists has been completely shattered"  but that a different message gets out, because they have "a wide network globally."

            Who are you going to believe? For now, the UN and Security Council appear to continue to cast their lot with the TFG, despite warnings. Or is the European Commission's warning about war crimes and complicity just "internet propaganda"? We will continue to cover this.

UN's Holmes "Condemns" Reported Somali TFG Statements, While Withholding Documents

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 24 -- The Somali Transitional Federal Government, which relies for its legitimacy on the UN, yesterday told the UN that aid workers will have "unimpeded access" to serve those people fleeing the TFG's shelling of Mogadishu.

            In New York, Inner City Press asked UN humanitarian chief John Holmes what the UN's response has been to two sample statements, by TFG president Yusuf that civilian neighborhoods can be shelled, and by TFG defense official Salad Ali Jeele, that certain clans and sub-clans in Mogadishu need to be exterminated (click here for that).

            Mr. Holmes responded that "the statements you've quoted, I would condemn them utterly." Video here, from minute 35:13.

            Inner City Press asked about the letter which it obtained and reported on April 20 in which TFG Minister for Interior Mohamed Mohamoud Guled wrote to the UN World Food Program that

"It's TFG decision that there will be no food distribution can take place anywhere in Somalia without being inspected and approved by the government. Hence UN agencies and any other organization that is planning to bring any relief to Somalia should submit the documents for the goods before shipment for checkup."

            This letter from the Transitional Federal Government to the WFP was cc-ed to the Somali National Refugee Commission, through which Inner City Press is told the TFG had been saying all aid must flow. Asked about this on Tuesday, Mr. Holmes said, "I have no information on that particular organization." That might be a problem.

Mr. Ban and Mr. Yusuf

            Prior to Mr. Holmes' briefing, WFP told Inner City Press the following:

Subject: Somalia

From: [WFP Spokesperson]

To: Matthew Russell Lee

Sent: Mon, 23 Apr 2007 6:09 PM

Hi Matthew,  there were talks between the UN and TFG today. Here's a short update, from Peter Goossens, WFP Country director Somalia:

"The talk between the UN and a TFG commission led by the Heath Minister were positive. The TFG will issue a statement on the outcome. We hope that we will from now on be allowed to use any airstrip in Somalia to bring in humanitarian assistance. We also need to see on the ground that we are now allowed to bring that assistance urgently to those most in need, particularly those displaced by the fighting in Mogadishu."

            Tuesday Mr. Holmes said essentially the same thing. However, when asked if any documents could be provided -- the letter from UN Humanitarian Coordinator Eric Laroche, or the above-referenced TFG statement -- Mr. Holmes said only that "I'll look into that, if we can provide you chapter and verse." Ten hours later, no documents had been provided. It's not "chapter and verse" -- it's basic documents about what Mr. Holmes is calling the world's most dangerous for aid workers. Silence doesn't help; silence is consent. Developing...

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