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At UN, Mexico's Month Marked by Margaritas and a S.Korean Ship, From Flotilla to Tortillas

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 30 -- It began with the flotilla and ended with tortillas. It was June's Mexican presidency of the UN Security Council, celebrated Tuesday night by Ambassadors and diplomats and Asha Rose Migiro, the Deputy Secretary General. She chatted with July's president, Nigeria's Joy Ogwu, and told Inner City Press that moves are afoot to reconsider the UN's sudden closing of its after school program. Then she was gone.

   Amid margaritas and ceviche, the talk was diplomatic. Why was there no action on the sinking of the South Korean ship? Why can UN Missions not share information on the Lord's Resistance Army? This last, admittedly, was a bee in the bonnet of Inner City Press.

But it was a matter that Claude Heller, the month's president, took more seriously than others, perhaps due to his role on Children and Armed Conflict. He and Mexico have six more months on the Council. Will the LRA be committing more or fewer massacres by the changing of the guard?

   Mexico's tireless spokesman Marco Morales greeted all and sundry. Reporters without exception praised his detailed updates replete with World Cup jokes. Soon to complete a PhD, he will return to Mexico.

  His Austrian counterpart Verena Nowotny, her country cursed by the alphabet to have only one Presidency, seemed to agree that the two should pass their knowledge to incoming spokespersons. Who will be the next five Council members? Germany, it was said, will be among them, and may not be open to advice from the Transient Ten.

  It was agreed: beyond the Permanent Five members of the Council, some countries feeling they are close or should have permanent status don't take the damn the torpedoes -- pardon the Cheonan reference -- approach of an Austria or Mexico, which know they only have two years and so try to raise their issues. Japan has long had this semi-permanent status. Now Germany approaches, and Brazil it moving that way.

  At Tuesday night's reception, the Permanent Representatives of four of the Permanent Five made an appearance. China's Li Baodong spoke with Rugunda of Uganda. Gerard Araud appeared, glad handing Heller. The UK's Lyall Grant spoke of his time in Pakistan.

Vitaly Churkin of Russia, Inner City Press was told, appeared and left early. “They're running from the spy case,” one margaritaed wag opined. The Russian Mission's spokesman Ruslan left suddenly mid month, between a wag and margarita, making Tolstoy invitations. He will be missed.

  The missing Permanent Five, as the wags say is so often the case, was Susan Rice of the US.

Heller and Marco Morales: dynamic duo with nearly everything shown

  In her stead was Alex Wolff, soon to leave the Mission. Inner City Press asked him, when will he shift over to become US Ambassador to Chile? As soon as the Senate confirms me. Also there was Brooke Anderson, right to the end of the reception. Unlike Wolff on the night of the flotilla -- again with Rice not there -- she has had to do a stakeout, taking questions on the record. That day must be approaching.

  Also strangely absent was the Office of the Spokesman. Ever since the Council moved to its new basement home, the Spokesman has been barred from attending consultations. It was said that he is trying; he has said he needs to hear from the Council on its reason. Tuesday night with guacamole was a chance to heal this rift.

Footnote: The Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe is saying farewell to New York, heading south to DC for a similar deputy post at the UN office there. Wednesday this transition will be marked from 4 to 6 pm. While to some readers of Tolstoy afternoon celebrations may be as good as any, this time it overlaps with Council meetings and a staged TV debate including the heads of UNESCO and of UNFPA. Insiders say the latter has tried to plant friendly questions. We'll see: watch this site.

* * *

UN Hides Behind Russian After Failing to Speak Up for Ethnic Uzbeks on Kyrgyz Constitutional Cleansing

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 29 -- With the UN slavishly supporting a Kyrgyz Constitutional referendum from which the Uzbek minority was disproportionately excluded due to ethnic cleansing, it has chosen to hide behind Russian. Not the Russian government, which like the US backed the flawed referendum to defend its Kyrgyz base, but the Russian language.

Last week, Inner City Press twice asked the UN to confirm that the constitution would outlaw the formation of ethnicity based parties: that is, any Uzbek party. Only after a third request on June 28 did the UN respond, with this:

Further to your exchange with Martin at the Noon Briefing, just wanted to help point you to the relevant part of what you'd asked about...

The reference you seek is under Article 4., point 4.3:

4. В Кыргызской Республике запрещается:
3) создание политических партий на религиозной, этнической основе, преследование религиозными объединениями политических целей;

I realize this is in Russian but am sending in case it's of any help to you.

Now it seems strange that the UN, sometimes called translation central, could or would not provide an English version of this single line of Russian, requested three times in a week. In fact, the UN provided Inner City Press with a translation of other material it had not requested. But when Inner City Press sought among its network a translation of what the UN provided only in Russian, this was the result:

4. In the Kyrgyz Republic it is forbidden:

3) to create political parties on the basis of religion or ethnicity, or on any attempt to, by religious gatherings or parties, achieve political goals.

So the answer was and is yes, the UN backed a referendum from which the Uzbek minority was disproportionately excluded on a constitution which will now bar the Uzbeks from organizing to defend themselves.

UN's Ban on April 8, ethnic and Constitutional cleansing not shown

On June 28 Inner City Press also asked:

Inner City Press: I heard the statement both by Mr. [Miroslav] Jenca and then reiterated by the Secretary-General this morning about the referendum in Kyrgyzstan. I was wanting to ask: what is the UN’s estimate of the turnout of ethnic Uzbeks? There are some reports that, for example in the border town of Suretash, only a hundred to 4,000 people were able to vote. So, I’m just wondering, what does the UN statement mean when compared to such low turnout numbers reported for ethnic Uzbeks?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, reported by whom?

Inner City Press: Associated Press.

Spokesperson: Right. Well, there are a number of things here. First of all, the UN is not observing, and the UN is not counting votes or voters.

Inner City Press: Then why are they praising?

Spokesperson: Let me finish, first of all, to try to answer your question. First of all, there is the Central Election Commission. That’s the body which is compiling the figures. So, the figures on turnout will be coming from the Central Election Commission. And I checked their website before I came here; it’s in Kyrgyz and Russian, and there are very detailed figures by each province or district showing the turnout and absolute figures in each case. And of course, overall figures. And that’s the first thing. So I would encourage you to take a look at that. And the second thing is, perhaps more helpfully for you in English, as well as Kyrgyz and Russian; the OSCE’s [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s] office for democratic institutions and human rights has put out a fairly detailed overview in a statement of its preliminary findings and conclusions. This is, as I said, this is preliminary findings, as you might expect, given this is less than 24 hours after the vote itself. But they are quite detailed, and as Mr. Jenca and the Secretary-General have said, they have taken note, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General has taken note of this preliminary assessment by the OSCE and others where it’s clear that there were some shortcomings. That’s clear. That’s obvious. But what they believe is, and this is the assessment that this was largely transparent. And the turnout; again, it’s for the Central Election Commission, firstly, to give those figures. The turnout that seems to be evident, not only from the Central Election Commission in concrete numbers, but also from the more anecdotal evidence, if you like, of the international observer, that there were long-term observers that would tend to suggest that this was a sizeable turnout. And most importantly, that it was peaceful. There weren’t any violent incidents.

Inner City Press: Just a quick follow-up. If these were the two bases for the UN’s praise of the election, does the Central Election Commission — apparently you’ve read them in Russian — are these turnout numbers done by ethnicity or simply by geography?

Spokesperson: Not by ethnicity. It’s done by geography; by the region. Yeah.

Inner City Press: Does the UN have a particular concern or, I don’t know, maybe “duty” is the wrong word, to the ethnic Uzbeks who were being targeted by violence, left the country, many of them had their ID cards ripped up — is that something, does this statement today mean that they feel, that the UN feels, that the turnout and the ability to vote of the ethnic Uzbeks of southern Kyrgyzstan was sufficient, from the UN’s point of view?

Spokesperson: What we’ve said is that it really does demonstrate the aspiration of the people of Kyrgyzstan for peace and stability and democracy. That’s what we’ve said. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that we’re not suggesting that this is the end of the story, and that somehow this is perfect. It was not. There is work to be done, and the United Nations will continue to provide the technical support that’s required, not least by the Central Election Commission, so that they can improve further and not least so that when we get to the parliamentary elections at the end of this year, they will be in better shape to ensure that it’s as inclusive as possible.

Inner City Press: One last one on this, and thanks a lot. I think I had asked last week whether you could confirm what a UN official had told me — which is that the Constitution that was voted on and approved over the weekend on Sunday outlaws political parties based on ethnicity. And if so, that’s why I guess I’d be concerned, I’m wondering if the UN sees any connection between a group being targeted by violence, probably if the Associated Press can be believed, having a lower turnout than other groups and, therefore, in the future being prohibited from organizing around, I guess to protect their rights on the basis of their minority status. Were you able to confirm that that is in the Constitution?

Spokesperson: Not personally. But I am sure that my colleagues in DPA [Department for Political Affairs] can help me with that, and also my colleagues in Bishkek.

And then they gave it only in Russian...

* * *

At UN, Ban Praises Kyrgyz Vote But Takes No Question on Low Uzbek Turn Out

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 28 -- Capping a month of weak UN action on ethnic cleansing in Kyrgystan, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday morning read out a statement to the Press lauding a high voter turn out over the weekend on the Constitution, which outlaws ethnicity based political parties.

Inner City Press began to ask Ban a question, for Ban's and the UN's estimate of turn out for the targeted ethnic Uzbek group. We can give you information at the noon briefing, Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky cut in. Ban smiled.

In the Kyrgyz border town of Suratash, to which ethnic Uzbeks fled to escape violence and targeted rape, only 100 of 4000 people were able to vote on the constitution, according to the Associated Press. How can the Ban and the UN be praising such a turn out, and then refusing to take questions? To some it smacks of propaganda.

Ethnic Uzbeks on the move, right to vote and UN answers not shown

Nesirky chose only three questions for Ban to take, doing so in such a way that Kyrgystan was unlikely to come up. The first question was on Israel and Palestine; the next was on Iran. The last question was on Haiti. All three were high diplomacy questions, none implicating the UN and the decisions it makes.

Now Ban flies off to the Congo, saying he will express the world's solidarity with the Congolese people on the 50th anniversary of the DRC's independence. What about the pending nepotism report against Ban's envoy to the Congo, Alan Doss? Watch this site.

* * *

With Uzbeks Disenfranchised, UN Still Supports June 27 Kyrgyz Referendum: Security 1, Legitimacy 0

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 23 -- In the run up to the Kyrgyz constitutional referendum still scheduled for June 27, the intentional disenfranchisement of ethnic Uzbeks becomes ever more clear.

 Not only will those who fled the country not be able to vote -- many of those remaining have had their passports and other identity documents burned or otherwise destroyed.

 They will not be allowed to vote, on a constitution which would outlaw any ethnic Uzbek based political party.

Nevertheless, the UN has not retracted its envoy Miroslav Jenca's statement that the referendum “must” go forward on June 27.

  That the US and Russia, both of which have bases in Kyrgyzstan, would want to push through anything to make the de facto government there appear more legitimate is not surprising.

  But isn't the UN supposed to stand against ethnic cleansing, and disenfranchisement based on ethnic cleansing?

Uzbeks flee Osh on bus, ability to vote June 27 not shown

On June 22, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Martin Nesirky:

Inner City Press: you said in one of your readouts about the difficulty of delivering humanitarian aid because of the barricades. But some are saying that in fact, I mean, the Uzbek community put up barricades because people were coming into the community and burning their houses and killing them, and committing other atrocities. What’s been the UN’s position on the involuntary dismantling of the barricades, particularly in light of a report today that troops, Kyrgyz troops, beat and arrested ethnic Uzbek men in a neighbourhood of Osh. Is that something the UN is concerned about — the removal of barricades and increased violence?

Spokesperson Nesirky: We remain concerned about the tensions that there are in Osh, particularly in Osh, and elsewhere in the south of Kyrgyzstan. And we’re obviously concerned, and the Secretary-General himself is following closely the reports of some renewed violence and bloodshed. On the barricades, Miroslav Jenc(a, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, has been in Osh, and has been speaking to security officials and other local officials and also to local people. And he’s fully aware of the sensitivities that there are amongst the ethnic Uzbek population, and about the concerns that they have. And I know that he’s been speaking to the authorities there precisely because of those concerns.

Inner City Press: Also on Kyrgyzstan, yesterday I was informed by a well-placed person that the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, has informed the UN and Kyrgyz authorities that there can be no polling in the refugee camps that have been established for people that fled across the border. I wonder, one, if you can just, I mean, I think this is true, but whether you can either now, or later today, confirm the UN’s understanding. And then if you do confirm it, explain how the UN can support an election that will, will you know, absolutely, or formally disenfranchise at least 80,000 people based on what many people see as ethnic cleansing.

Spokesperson: First of all, Mr. Jenc(a made clear in that audio briefing on Friday that the question of holding the referendum is one for the authorities of Kyrgyzstan. That’s the first thing. The second is that there are obvious concerns about people who are not in a position to vote. And I know that UN officials and others, including from the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] and the European Union, are talking to the authorities of the interim government of Kyrgyzstan about how one handles that. I will come back to you with some more details particularly on that, the part of the question about the Uzbek President having communicated with the UN about polling on his territory.

Inner City Press: And just one follow up on that, because I think there is a Bloomberg or Business Week story in which Mr. Jenc(a is quoted as saying the referendum must go forward. Has there been a change in his position since he said that, or was he misquoted when he said that?

Spokesperson: Well, you heard what Mr. Jenc(a said here, or in this, by audio here on Friday. It’s for the Kyrgyz authorities to decide on that. There are many factors that are involved; the balance of legitimacy versus security.

   For now, Security 1, Legitimacy 0...

* * *

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

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

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

* * *

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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