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At UN, Buck Passed on Somali Child Soldiers and Cheonan, UNESCO Bars Press

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 30 -- Mexico's month atop the UN Security Council ended Wednesday with a whimper not a bang. There was a debate in the morning on Afghanistan, with few mentions of McCrystal. Apparently no Council member even raised the matter of murdered UN staff member Louis Maxwell while in Kabul.

In the afternoon, the UNDOF mandate was extended. But it was only for six months, not twelve, due to a failure to consult. Still outgoing Council president Claude Heller put a brave face on it, saying that six months was “normal.”

Throughout Wednesday afternoon, Japan media swarmed around the stakeout, hungry for any action on the sunken Cheonan ship. But all that happened was the hand over from Mexico to Nigeria. Some worried about a North Korean surprise for the US July 4 holiday.

Inner City Press asked Heller one last question:

Inner City Press: I wanna ask a non Cheonan question. This issue that came up that the UN supported the TFG of Somalia using child soldiers. Where does it go from here? I know that it didn’t seem to come up on [inaudible]. In your role as chair of the CAAC, when will that be …

Claude Heller: This issue is in the agenda of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, and it should be considered in the next two months. I don’t have the date, but it’s in the agenda. We have to consider this and make recommendations on the cases, of course depending on the information that we get. But its in the agenda of the Working Group. Well, thank you very much.

   And then some journalists applauded.

UNDOF 1970s, plus ca change

 They headed through the UN garage to the farewell party for Marie Okabe of the spokesperson's office. Some reporters had been lined up to ask planted questions, where Marie is going (the UN in DC) and who will fill her shoes (no one can, Martin Nesirky answered; the recruitment process is unclear.)

At least the reporters were invited. Down the hall in the UN's press room, most journalists were excluded from the staged TV debate of UNFPA and UNESCO. Inner City Press, which was on record as wanting an answer on UNESCO's dalliance with Equatorial Guinea, was barred from entering the room. UNESCO, then, barring journalists.

Footnote: to update a previous Inner City Press UN footnote, while the journalists have proposed including bloggers in the UN accreditation guidelines, it now emerges that the UN is opposed. This is ironic, given the Department of Public Information's involvement in "blogging," to the highest levels. Watch this site.

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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.

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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...

 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.

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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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