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At UN, As Arms Trade Treaty Is Taken Behind Closed Doors, NGOs Protest the Private Club of Member States

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 18 -- Who's against an Arms Trade Treaty? Morocco, for example, is for it: it is against the transfer of weapons to the Polisario Front in Western Sahara. Algeria, it is said, is against the ATT. It is not always easy to know.
  Last week the non governmental organizations following the negotiations were thrown out of the meetings by the Chairman of the First Preparatory Committee for the UN Conference on the ATT, Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan of Argentina.

Inner City Press, which had asked Moritan questions about the ATT as it began on July 12, asked UN Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq about the expulsion of the NGOs. Haq answered after the briefing:

"We are not aware of any exclusions from the Arms Trade Treaty meetings in New York. On its first day, the Preparatory Committee agreed on the modalities for participation in the ATT and agreed that NGOs could attend open sessions. NGOs were admitted immediately after the decision was taken on Monday."

After checking with NGO representatives, who protested that what Haq said wasn't true, Inner City Press asked again. This time, the answer came from Ewen Buchanan of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs:

Dear Matthew, The modalities for the participation of NGOs in the ATT process were agreed on Monday. As you will see from this (which although called draft) was adopted on Monday, it states that 'may attend open meetings.' In accordance with their rules, the Member States declared the afternoon session today (and a number of others in the future) to be closed and NGOs and others were (and will be) accordingly asked to leave.”

   This of course is a tautology. The moment NGOs are thrown out, it is no longer an “open” meeting. The NGOs say that without notice, and by his own decision, Moritan threw them out on July 15 from what they say are the most substantive sessions. When they asked why, he canceled a meeting with them, calling them “unhelpful.”

  This stands in contrast to public face that Moritan showed the Press at his July 9 press conference. His answer were sometime inane, but always delivered with a smile. Inner City Press asked if the ATT might only benefit governments, including those seeking to cut off weapons flows to rebel or insurgent groups. Video here.

  That will be discussed by member states, Moritan answered. But that's just the point.

Moritan, front and center, NGOs not shown

 If the ATT is just another way to monopolize force in the hands of states, might it not have less than progressive impacts in such places as Karamoja in Uganda, where the Museveni government has used UN and UNDP funds for the forcible disarmament of the pastoralists who oppose him?

  Moritan claimed that “of course” the ATT would prohibit arms transfers to, for example, Rwanda during the genocide. But would it? Who would decide? Inner City Press asked Morigan, what about Sudan? Video here.

These are the questions on which some of the NGOs wish to be heard. But now they've been excluded, and say the UN and Moritan have lied about it. If the means are the ends, these problems are getting worse. We aim to have more on this -- watch this site.

* * *

Probe of Afghan Murder of UN Staffer Maxwell Stalled by “Cultural Sensitivity,” Starr Says, Glitch of Karzai Firing

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 18 -- The murder by Afghan National Forces of UN Security officer Louis Maxwell last October is supposed to now be investigated by the Hamid Karzai government.

Inner City Press has learned that the Karzai administration has yet to do anything, and now that the UN is only half heartedly following up, for reasons of “cultural sensitivity,” as UN Security chief Gregory Starr told Inner City Press -- or cynical political accommodation, as diplomats close to the case put it.

Asked about the Maxwell case on July 14, Starr told Inner City Press, “The problem is, in many cases you're asking the Afghans to really follow up on one person. How many thousands of Afghans have died? So you've got to be sensitive culturally.”

Other UN Security personnel since interviewed by Inner City Press have expressed concern. “He's supposed to represent us,” as one put it, asking that his name not be used for fear of retaliation. “He's not supposed to accept the cover up of the murder of a UN staff, to suck up to the Afghans - or to the Americans.”

A UN Board of Inquiry report, still be withheld from the public and Mr. Maxwell's family, calls on the Afghans to identify the individuals who killed Maxwell long after an attack on a UN guesthouse, which Maxwell fought off.

When Inner City Press asked UN peacekeeping official Susana Malcorra for any progress, she said that the head of the UN Department of Safety and Security Gregory Starr had traveled to Kabul, and to ask him. But Mr. Starr has yet during his tenure to hold a press conference.

On July 14, Inner City Press waited outside the UN's ECOSOC chamber to ask Starr about the case. After six o'clock he emerged, and to his credit agreed to answer some questions from the Press. He said:

There's a joint investigation by the American FBI and the Afghans. We know Louis was killed after the attack. The circumstances of that are still under investigation. I spoke to the minister of the interior of Iraq [sic] myself and they are looking into it. I hope ultimately to find all the circumstances. There is the video. The problem is interpreting what really happened in that video. We're not an investigative agency. We've turned it over to the proper investigative authority.”

Significantly, Starr added as a concession, “I think there is a momentary glitch. The Minister of Interior was dismissed.”

UN's Ban swearing Starr in, Maxwell murder follow through not shown

After a pause, Inner City Press asked Starr about (non) answers it got on June 30 from UN envoy to Afghanistan Staffan de Mistura (video here) and from then Security Council president Claude Heller of Mexico, who'd led the Council's trip to Kabul (video here). Inner City Press concluded, it seems like the issue is falling off the map.

Staff considered it, then said, verbatim: “The problem is, in many cases you're asking the Afghans to really follow up on one person. How many thousands of Afghans have died? So you've got to be sensitive culturally.”

Not only other UN Security officers but also diplomats and non UN military personnel since interviewed by Inner City Press have expressed deep concerns. “They are covering up the death of this guy, because the UN and US want good relations with Karzai,” one said. “So if they go to Somalia, if the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] or Ugandan peacekeepers kill a UN staff, they'd cover that up too?”

  Perhaps Mr. Starr, and Ms. Malcorra's deputy Tony Banbury who asserted there was no cover up, but then ducked questions, will now provide more answers, including to the Maxwell and UN family. Watch this site.

And see cell phone video, here, esp. at Minute 1:01 to 1:04

 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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