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At UN, Clooney Claims Peacekeeping Abuses Are All in the Past, Sports Obama Bracelet

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

UNITED NATIONS, January 31 -- In the run-up to George Clooney's press conference at the UN on Thursday morning, the hallway beside the Security Council was full of interns and staff members, straining to catch a glimpse of the actor. They might have done better to wait, as Clooney spent the remainder of the day in UN headquarters, being shepherded from one interview to the next by a phalanx of handlers, including UN peacekeeping department staff. Some of the handling left much to be desired. Due to a surprising lack of advance diplomacy, Clooney's scheduled appearance before Troop Contributing Countries was cancelled. Yesterday Inner City Press reported exclusively that Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin had questioned Clooney's presence at a TCC experts meeting, calling it a circus.

   Today we can add that France, too, questioned the proposed format, and insisted that no TV cameras be allowed. Finally Clooney's presentation was cancelled. Inner City Press asked UN associate spokesman Farhan Haq about it at the day's noon briefing, and Haq said diplomatically that "due to procedural issues, Mr. Clooney did not attend." When Inner City Press asked what the procedural issues were, and if a member state had opposed Clooney's participation, Haq said that an outside person "can only speak once the consultation stage with Member States has been carried out."  Clearly, these pre-Clooney consultations with member states were not effectively carried out, not unlike the Secretariat's stealth announcement in October 2007 that U.S.-based military contractor Lockheed Martin had been given a $250 million no-bid contract for Darfur, click here for Clooney's comments Thursday that "mistakes were made." By contrast, Ban Ki-moon consulted so much with the Algerian government about who should be appointed by the UN to investigate the bombing that killed UN staffers in Algiers that now Ban has reportedly selected, who else, a former Algerian Foreign Minister, Lakhdar Brahimi.

            Following Clooney's press conference, he was whisked to the CNN office facing the flags of First Avenue, then up to the 32nd floor to couple with one mainstream media outlet after another. A non-invited but enterprising reporter, Rima Abdelkader, managed to squeeze onto the elevator to 32, and asked for Clooney's view on the Security Council's inaction on the blockage of Gaza. "Sometimes you have to nudge them," Clooney said. Okay then.

            Back in the UN basement, Clooney was interviewed by Fox News, about his support for Barack Obama. How is this support known? Well on Thursday, Clooney wore an Obama 08 bracelet, observed up-close by a journalist granted an interview. During the press conference, Clooney declined to comment on his support. No one asked about the letter Obama wrote to U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, saying that for the U.S. to agree to any text about Gaza, it should condemn by name Hamas. When asked about Afghanistan, Clooney also declined to comment.

Clooneys and UN DSG Migiro, Obama bracelet covered

            One decidedly false note in Clooney's presentation was his response to questions about peacekeepers' sexual abuse and exploitation. He said, "It was a black eye, certainly, for the UN... of course, it hasn't been an issue for a while." Video here, from Minute 28:30. But in recent months, peacekeepers have been repatriated to Sri Lanka from Haiti, and to Morocco from Cote d'Ivoire. Perhaps his travel companion Jane Holl Lute told Clooney that the problem was a thing of the past, but that is not the case. Right before Clooney's press conference, the director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, Marianne Mollmann, told Inner City Press of growing concerns about impunity for peacekeepers engaged in such abuse. Perhaps Clooney should consult HRW, and not only Jane Holl Lute, on this topic.

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These reports are 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

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540