As UN Rewrites Rwanda Genocide Exhibit, Role of
France, the Church and Hutu Are In Play, Top Official Says
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
UNITED NATIONS, April 19 -- The exhibition to
commemorate the 1994 Rwanda genocide, which the UN postponed on April 9, was
deemed too controversial in its treatment of parties in Rwanda at the time, from
France through the church to the UN system itself, according to
Undersecretary for Public Information Kiyotaka Akasaka.
While reporting on April 9 and in
subsequent editorials has focused on the postponed exhibition's reference to
"one million Armenians murdered in Turkey" around 1915, UN associates spokesman
Farhan Haq on April 9
were other concerns which he refused to disclose.
At the UN
on Thursday, Inner City Press asked Mr. Akasaka to
explain the postponement of the exhibition,
and whether any UN member state -- whether Turkey, Armenia, Rwanda or France --
will be shown the amended text before the exhibition opens.
involved from the beginning," said Mr. Akasaka, who assumed office on April 2,
one week before the postponement. He described a process by which an exhibition
committee, including the UN Department of Political Affairs, reviewed and
approved text for the commemoration. "The text that appeared did not correspond
to the one the exhibit committee looked at," Mr. Akasaka said, twice calling
last moment, we needed more careful wording of the text," said Mr. Akasaka. "Not
because of some demarche by the Turkish Ambassador to me, but because of
inaccurate wording and other issues related to the Rwandan genocide.... You
cannot blame one party against... I don't want to go into details."
City Press asked for details, whether for example one issue was the role of
France. Rwandan president Paul Kagame has recently
sued France in the UN-affiliated
International Court of Justice,
alleging that a French judge has violated Rwanda's sovereignty by issuing
warrants for nine Rwandan officials.
Akasaka to his credit answered this question, and later confirmed that his
answer was on the record. He said that the contested issues included 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."
Akasaka takes oath of office on April 2, as DSG Migiro and Vijay Nambiar look on
remains unclear if France or the Rwandan government complained to the UN. A
comment from the Rwandan mission was requested; the mission's counselor Nicholas Shalita has indicated a willingness to discuss the issue, but not before
deadline. (The Aegis Trust did not respond Thursday afternoon to a request for
comment.) Inner City Press' previous, April 9 request to the Rwandan mission
garnered the following quote from Rwandan Ambassador Nsengimana's letter to
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon:
"I write to you to express the Rwanda
Government's profound regret that the exhibit entitled 'Lessons from the Rwanda
Genocide,' organized on the occasion of the 13th commemoration of the Rwanda
Genocide, has been postponed. It will be recalled that in its resolution 60/225,
the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General 'to establish a program of
outreach entitled "The Rwanda Genocide and the United Nations" as well as
measures to mobilize civil society for Rwanda genocide victim remembrance and
education, in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide.' The exhibit
would contribute significantly to the implementation of the resolution, and
would send a strong message about the commitment of the United Nations to
preventing genocide. The postponement of the event for reasons unrelated to
resolution 60/225 is therefore deeply regrettable."
Inner City Press asked Japan's Deputy Permanent Representative Takahiro Shinyo
on Thursday afternoon if Mr. Akasaka has been treated fairly, in being held
responsible for the postponement. "Mr. Akasaka came after everything was
planned," Mr. Shinyo said. "He is not in a timely situation. But he has to be
responsible, he should be accountable" to the press.
Akasaka has been a spokesman to, and traveled with, the press corps which covers
Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On February 9, when Mr. Akasaka was
announced as Ban Ki-moon's choice as Under Secretary General for Public
Information, Japan's Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Aso issued a three-point
Government of Japan welcomes the fact that on February 9 (Fri) (US Eastern
time), UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Mr. Kiyotaka Akasaka as UN
Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information (Chief of the
Department of Public Information).
2. In order for
the UN to be reformed into an organization that responds to the modern
international community, it is necessary to strengthen constructive coordination
with the civilian society, and the task of the DPI is therefore becoming
increasingly important. The Government of Japan hopes that Mr. Akasaka will make
use of his experience and endeavor toward expanding activities of the DPI.
3. We would also
like to pay tribute to the proactive contribution made in the field of
disarmament by Mr. Nobuaki Tanaka, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament
Affairs, whose resignation was announced simultaneously.
simultaneity of the two Japan-related announcements was widely viewed as
confirming that at the UN, the top spots are divided up among the most powerful
countries, with Japan as the UN's second largest funder (but without a permanent
seat on the UN Security Council) being assured of a post at the Under Secretary
General level. While the outgoing USG for Public Information is Indian national
Shashi Tharoor, historically at the UN, this post has more often than not gone
to a Japanese citizen.
Friday, April 13, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's Deputy Spokesperson Marie
Okabe (who for what it's worth is also Japanese) about the postponement of the
exhibit and the process the UN would follow. Click
here for the transcript --
Inner City Press: About this Rwandan
exhibit that got canceled... Iíve seen a story that itís going very soon to be
reopened. Can you provide an update as to when it is going to reopen? And
also, there is some talk that... Will the language of the new exhibit be shown
to the Turkish Mission prior to being put up? The Turkish Mission says that
they are not the only country that complained, and I understand that they have
complained, I guess, to the Office of the Spokesperson. Could you explain
better, why it got cancelled and what steps will be taken before it's redone?
Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: First of all,
it was not cancelled -- it was postponed. And at the time that we mentioned
that had happened, we said that it was because the review process had not been
properly followed. That review is ongoing, which I mentioned to you, and I was
hoping that I would be able to announce to you today, when the exhibit would
open. I don't have that date today, but I am hoping I will have something in
the next couple of days, and our aim is to have the exhibit opened by the end of
next week. So while the review process in ongoing, I don't think I can comment
further right now.
Inner City Press: In terms of what
triggered the postponement, did Turkey or other countries -- and if so, which --
Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: I work in the
Spokesmanís Office and I was not in receipt of any complaints.
Inner City Press: Will DPI show the new
exhibit to Turkey or any otherÖ
Deputy Spokesperson Okabe: The review
process is under way, Matthew. I don't know right now.
Inner City Press: You will tell us
Deputy Spokesperson: I will have to ask
UN member states have implicit veto power over exhibitions in the UN's public
spaces also arose earlier this month in connection with an exhibition in the
UN's lower level sponsored by the mission of Georgia, concerning bloodshed in
the Abkhazia region in the early 1990s. This exhibition used the words genocide
and ethnic cleansing, attributing the latter to the current de facto government
of Abkhazia, for whose officials Russia has recently advocated. (Click
for that story.) On April 10, the day after the postponement of the Rwandan
exhibition, Inner City Press asked Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin is he had
seen Georgia's Abkhazia presentation."Yes," Amb. Churkin replied. "It's
one-sided. It's unhelpful... One side is engaged in a massive campaign. But they
chose to do it."
don't think that countries should block each other's exhibition," Inner City
want to generalize," Amb. Churkin said. He again called the Georgian exhibit
"unhelpful" and "bad propaganda," but said Russia had "decided it was not the
situation we should shake the tree."
and when can the UN tree be shaken? Inner City Press has been told that while
displays in the General Assembly lobby are subject to review by, at least, the
Exhibition Committee to which Mr. Akasaka referred, this committee does not
review displays in the basement area by the Vienna Cafe, where Georgia's
Abkhazia photographs and texts were shown. For that reason, journalists were
told that at Georgia's opening of its display, no one from the UN Department of
Public Information would be present.
credit, still-new DPI chief Akasaka on Thursday answered detailed questions from
Inner City Press about the postponement of the Rwanda exhibition. In his
nine-minute response, Mr. Akasaka several times referred to the "mass killing of
Armenians." He emphasized that the postponement of the exhibition pained him,
personally, since he visited Rwanda shortly after what he called "the massacre."
At that time, he worked for the UN-affiliated World Health Organization. "We
knew something was going on," Mr. Akasaka said. Later in 1994, he stayed at the
Milles Collines Hotel. "It still smelled of blood, I feel strongly about this,"
Mr. Akasaka said, adding that he now expects the genocide exhibition to open not
Friday, but "early next week," along with its re-written text.
UN Office: S-453A,
UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439
(and weekends): 718-716-3540
Plight of Sudan's Children, Like Accountability for
their Abuse, Runs Up Against Sovereignty
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
UNITED NATIONS, April 18 -- As Ban Ki-moon
agreement with the Sudanese government on
Monday, Sudan's mission to the
UN was being presented with a 66-page report about the "Urgent Need for
Protection" of children in Sudan. Wednesday the report was presented to the
press, in Nairobi and New York. Strategically, the report was issued by a
network of groups called the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict. Presenter
Kate Hunt said the report "does not represent the views of any one
organization." This makes sense because several participant groups, as providers
of on-the-ground services, would prefer not to directly take on the Sudanese
government. (Rather like the UN, one couldn't help noting.)
The report, available online
focuses not only on Darfur, but also on South Sudan. Another of the three
presenters in New York, Doctor Francis Deng of Johns Hopkins University, praises
this dual focus. He spoke of the responsibility to protect. When asked by Inner
City Press how the UN could proceed if Sudan declines to consent to protection
of civilians, Doctor Deng replied that "nobody would want to go into Darfur
without the consent of the government... We do have examples elsewhere to tell
us" this doesn't work. One assumes the reference was to Iraq, but also wonders
what the responsibility to protect means, if sovereignty always trumps it.
The third panelist,
Jenny Robinson of the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children,
spoke movingly about the plight of young students in Sudan: long walks to
schools, if they exist, exclusion by expensive school fees, lack of teachers and
lack of money to pay those who are willing and able to teach. Former UN envoy to
Sudan Jan Pronk, before he was
thrown out of the country ostensibly for
blogging, alleged that the oil
money promised by Khartoum for use in South Sudan has not arrived. The World
Food Program provides in some schools two meals a day. But if children can't
afford to attend the schools, there's a problem.
After the presentation, Inner
City Press asked three questions to the speakers. Video
Minute 30:40 to 40:08. The first involved the UN's investigation into sexual
abuse of children by UN peacekeepers in South Sudan. The issue hit the news in
April 2006 and January 2007, and is mentioned in the Watchlist report. In
response to a request for an update on the investigation, Ms. Hunt said the
cut-off date for the report was January 5, 2007 and that "we did pursue
follow-up and did not come up with any." Wednesday afternoon Inner City Press
asked the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations for an update; eight hours
later no update had been provided.
must be carried
The Watchlist report recites that "four
peacekeepers were repatriated as a result of findings from an investigation
conducted by the UN's Office for Internal Oversight Services." Inner City Press
asked the speakers for their views on the efficacy of the UN's policy of "zero
tolerance" for sexual abuse and exploitation, if the only ramification of abuse
is being sent back to one's home country. Ms. Hunt was cautious, saying that
since the Watchlist is "a vast coalition... it's hard to make a statement."
Doctor Deng asked, do we know what happens to the soldiers who are sent back?
Very little, two separate reporters answered.
Turning with a final question
to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on which Watchlist
and where militia leader
Peter Karim recently turned in over 100
child soldiers, according to UNICEF's count,
Inner City Press asked if the Watchlist groups believe that child soldier
recruiters like Mr. Karim should be prosecuted, or
should be given positions in the national
army, as Mr. Karim has. Ms.
Hunt was again cautious, perhaps understandably. Her colleague Julie Freedson
answered by saying that Watchlist, where she is staff director, has fought to
make the UN be more careful to weed out potential peacekeepers who have violated
human rights in their own countries.
Later Inner City Press asked
about the UN's
chameleon-like position on accepting
peacekeepers from post-coup Fiji.
A case was pointed out where three prospective peacekeepers from Nepal were
turned away. These are topics to which we will return.
UN-Marked Plane in Darfur Triggers Briefing on
Peacekeeping Delays, Silence on Old Ammo in Kosovo
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
the UN: News Analysis
UNITED NATIONS, April 18 -- On Darfur at
the UN on Wednesday, first there was a paragraph in a
report leaked to The Times,
then there was a briefing, for nearly the whole press corps. At the end of it
what did we know? For one thing, that it will take "months" to put in place the
support package" the agreement
for which was
In a damage-control briefing Wednesday
afternoon, a "senior UN official" said the package would cost $290 million, and
that assurances would have to be obtained from the al-Bashir government for
land, access to water, and easier passage of equipment through customer and
ports. Previously it was reported that helicopters sent to the African Union
force in Darfur were
upon entry to Port Sudan. Will things be different now?
Two African countries have
offered battalions: Rwanda and Nigeria. (That the Nigerian elections have
descended into not only chaos but violence was not mentioned. Then again, the
UN continues using and rotating
peacekeepers from post-coup Fiji,
For the projected heavy support package,
the senior UN official said beyond the UN's "traditional troop contributors in
Asia," two Nordic countries have offered an innovative hybrid force (to coin a
phrase) including engineers. The backdrop to all this happy talk, however, was
the leaked report's disclosure of what the UN knew for more than a month. From
"96. The Panel
observed a white Antonov AN-26 aircraft parked on the military apron at El
Fasher airport on 7 March 2007, next to what is believed, on the basis of
photographic and expert analysis and comparison to field evidence from earlier
bombings, to be rows of bombs guarded by SAF soldiers. This is the same aircraft
reported by the Panel to the Committee on 10 March 2007 (reference:
1591P/M4-3/0307) as having 'UN' stenciled/painted on the upper port side wing.
The number 26563 with the country prefix deleted is believed to have originated
in Eastern Europe. The number 7705 located on the forward fuselage and tail is
the Government of the Sudan registration number."
Since the United Nations was informed
about the use of its initials to disguise this plane in Darfur, Ban Ki-moon's
spokesman was asked if he had raised the issue in his discussion with Sudan's
president al-Bashir. "No," the spokesperson said. Some now wonder about the
timing of the leak, just as the Bush administration prepares to beat the drum
for sanctions on Sudan.
Sudan, transportation can be slow. At DPKO, some answers are slow or never come
A background briefing was announced, at the 37th
floor office of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, by an individual who,
it was said, could only be identified as "a senior UN official." He said the
plane at issue is from Kazakhstan, then said repeatedly, "I don't know, it may
be." In terms of defense of the UN's name and logo, he offered the example for
the "Nations Diner" on 49th Street and Second Avenue -- "it used to be called
the 'United Nations Diner,'" he said. If only al-Basher were so
This same individual offered a
briefing last year, on this same basis, about the UN's Mission to the Congo. At
that time, the person discussed an less-high-profile scandal in Eastern Congo,
involving the UN: the burning of the village of Kazana and reported killing of
civilians. DPKO issued a report claiming that no civilians died, and
specifically denying that troop contributing countries, like the South African
battalion at Kazana, are allowed to bring old and defective ammunition on UN
missions. Wednesday it was reported that just this happened, by Romanian
peacekeepers in the UN's Mission in Kosovo, click
for that story. The senior official had no time to give a Kazana update; his
spokespeople have been asked, in writing:
Given that the
Romanian peacekeepers came with and used rubber bullets that were 13-years out
of date, see below, has the UN system raised the old-ammo issue to Romanian
authorities? If so, to whom, and what has been the response? Does the UN
reimburse troop contributing countries for ammo as if it were new / serviceable,
even if it is not, and is not checked?
Who in the
Romanian forces made the decision to use the out of date ammo? Why was DPKO /
UNMIK unaware that the ammo brought by Romanian forces was out of date? Is it
It is noted
that a similar issue arose in the DRC, the burning of the village of Kazana,
alleged use by South African peacekeepers of old / out of date ordnance. Please
state whether the ammo used in Kazana was new, if it was checked, and any update
Please provide an update on the
investigation of allegations of sexual abuse of children in UNMIS, a topic in
Watchlist.org report presented
in room 226 earlier today, when
the topic came up
(the January 2007 as well as April 2006 British press reports).
In the use of Fijian peacekeepers, on
which I've previously send you questions, in light of
please answer: is the entire Fijian contingent being rotated? Or is the Fijian
force size growing? What is, today, the Fijian force size, what was it on
November 1, 2006?
As of press time, only this last question
has been answered, by the office of Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson, and not by
peacekeeping's flacks. The answer:
Subj: Re: Qs re
old rubber bullets in Kosovo, re Kazana/DRC, re Fijians & for UNMIS update
From: [OSSG at]
3:05:05 PM Eastern Standard Time
Fijians: Fiji currently contributes with 223 guards (UNAMI), and 37 police
officers and 8 military observers (in UNMIL, UNMIS and UNMIT). There has been no
increase in Fijian troops or police numbers since December 2006, nor has Fiji
contributed to any new missions since then. Three Fijian contingent members were
being rotated into Iraq as part of the normal troop rotation between April and
May. Any new contribution will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Press reports from Asia
speak of a rotation larger than three. But at least it's an answer. On the
rest, we'll just keep waiting, like the UN's Heavy Support Package.
With Abkhazia at the UN, Breakaway Republics' Club is
Waiting, Disputes on Visas, Kosovo and Exhibitions
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
the UN: News Analysis
UNITED NATIONS, April 10, updated 8 pm -- As the UN
Security Council on Tuesday
discussed the breakaway republic of
Abkhazia, Georgia, the U.S. and
Russian Ambassadors traded diplomatic barbs about a man who wasn't there.
Abkhaz foreign minister Sergei Shamba, it having been made clear that no U.S.
visa would be granted, appeared by written text and, it was said, a compact disk
that would be given to all Council members. Inner City Press asked U.S.
Ambassador Alejandro Wolff if he had the c.d. and would watch it. [It is in
Russian with English subtitles; its final line is that "the recognition of
independence of Abkhazia and other republics such as South Ossetia and
Transdniestria would be a logical conclusion of this process." Click
here to see
Mr. Shamba himself.]
Wolff said that Russian Ambassador Churkin was being "mischievous" and making
"theater," by ignoring speakers in chamber and walking out of the Council.
Amb. Churkin laughed when told of this
characterization. "I have to be very careful walking around this building," he
said, recounting that he left to deliver a speech in the First Committee of the
General Assembly, about disarmament, pursuant to Russia's "important political
and intellectual role" on the issue.
was a momentary opening to bring several UN issues together, and Inner City
Press took it, asking Amb. Churkin if he had seen a photo exhibition about
Abkhazia that is up on the walls in the UN's basement by the Vienna Cafe. The
exhibit includes photos of Georgians being shot and killed in the streets of the
Abkhaz capital of Sukhumi in 1993, and
includes not-entirely-clear quotes about genocide and ethnic cleansing.
"Yes," Amb. Churkin replied. "It's
one-sided. It's unhelpful... One side is engaged in a massive campaign. But they
chose to do it."
"But you don't think that
countries should block each other's exhibition," asked Inner City Press,
Turkey's blocking earlier in the week of a
memorial to the Rwandan genocide,
due to a reference to "one million Armenians murdered in Turkey."
"I don't want to generalize," Amb.
Churkin said. He again called the Georgian exhibit "unhelpful" and "bad
propaganda," but said Russia had "decided it was not the situation we should
shake the tree."
One observer noted that Russia
should be given credit for not trying to have the exhibition cancelled. China,
for example, did try to cancel an exhibition sponsored by a non-governmental
organization from Taiwan, and more recently got a Taiwanese presentation removed
from a UN web cast, click
analogize between China's position on Taiwan and Turkey's activism in opposing
any characterization of Armenians' deaths just before and during World War I as
a genocide. The same word, applied in Georgia's exhibition about Abkhazia, does
not draw the same vehemence from Russia. Perhaps it is because Russia has a
handful of such issues, from Chechnya (which it wants to keep) to Kosovo (which
it wants Serbia to be able to keep) to South Ossentia (which, like Abkhazia,
Russia would like to see break away from Georgia).
U.S. Ambassador Wolff disputed Russia's
analogy between Abkhazia and Kosovo. Amb. Churkin had said, Imagine the Security
Council considering Kosovo while only hearing from the Serbian side. Last week
the Council heard the Kosovar position, albeit in a non-formal Arria style
wonder: what is the distinction in barring the Abkhaz side, other than
the foreign policy of the host country? And what is the difference between
Georgia's Abkhazia exhibition's use of graphic photos, for example of a dozen
men shot dead and bleeding on the ground in September 1993, and of the word
genocide and the unceremoniously postponed Rwanda exhibit, with its inclusion of
"one million Armenians murdered in Turkey" on a display headed, "Genocide: whose
doctors try to heal in Gali (more graphic photos on display in UN hallway)
For the record, the mandate of
the UN's Mission to Georgia is set to expire on April 15, so a vote to extend it
is expected on Friday, April 13. In town to do Russia's heavy lifting is their
specialist on Abkhazia,
Vladislav Chernov. In New York on Tuesday, Mr. Chernov told reporters to
expect the investigative report on the Kodori Gorge military incidents -- which
include alleged Russian use of helicopter gunships -- in two weeks.
thumbnail background is that Abkhazia de facto broke away from Georgia in
September 1993. The Georgian exhibition currently on display at the UN states
that "under threat of death the local inhabitants were expelled from the
territory of Abkhazia," and puts the number of expellees at 250,000 Georgians
and 100,000 others, listing "Russians, Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Ukrainians and
Estonians." With the mixing of territories and religions, one wag wonders if
there is not some double-counting. One exhibit mis-spells the word "seazure"
(for seizure), calling into question the statement that all such exhibition are
reviewed by the UN Department of Public Information, click
for video of that statement.
[Update 8 p.m. -- subsequent to the statement(s) that DPI had reviewed Georgia's
exhibition about Abkhazia, the statement was amended that the exhibition had not
be reviewed. The event took place, wine glassed clinked; a "read out" has been
promised of Georgia's Prime Minister's meeting with the Secretary General.]
The Georgian exhibition includes a 1993 quote
attributed to Russia's then-foreign minister, that "Everything, that is
happening in Sukhumi is ethnic cleansing." Given that it is Georgia, and not
Russia, which states that votes held in Abkhazia are illegitimate because of the
ethnic cleansing of ethnic Georgians, the quote seems strange, purportedly
having come for a Russian foreign minister.
Inner City Press asked the Russian mission's spokeswoman, who in turn asked
rhetorically, ethnic cleansing of whom, by whom? "That's what you should ask
him," she said. But Georgian Prime Minister Mr.
spoke only very briefing to reporters outside the Security Council. Inner City
Press asked about
Georgia's lawsuit against Russia in the
European Court of Human Rights.
The Georgia Prime Minister refused to comment on the case. Click
for the Court's Registrar's
release on the "Inter-state
application brought by Georgia against the Russian Federation."
While the Security Council was meeting on
Tuesday, the foreign ministers of South Ossentia, Abkhazia and Transdniestria --
Murad Dzhioyev, Sergei Shamba and Valeri Litskai, respectively -- were
slated to meet in Sukhumi, forming their Association For Democracy and Peoples
Rights, a/k/a Club of Breakaway Republics. Some wonder why Nagorno-Karabakh is
not included. In any event for now the meeting was reportedly
postponed, due both to the hospitalization of Abkhaz president Sergei
Bagapsh and to a decision to wait for the Security Council slated Friday vote on
its extension of the UN's Mission to Georgia. At deadline, the Abkhaz
called the breakaways' meeting "ongoing." We'll see.
Other Inner City Press
reports are available in the ProQuest service and some are archived on
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