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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 the UN

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 said there 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.

            "I was 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 this "miscommunication."

            "At the 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."

            Inner 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.

            Mr. 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."

Mr. Akasaka takes oath of office on April 2, as DSG Migiro and Vijay Nambiar look on

            It 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.

            Mr. 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 statement that

1. The 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.

            The 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.

            On 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 video, 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 -- complain?

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 afterwards, then?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I will have to ask them.

            Whether 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 here 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."

            "But you don't think that countries should block each other's exhibition," Inner City Press asked.

            "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."

            But how 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.

            To his 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.

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Plight of Sudan's Children, Like Accountability for their Abuse, Runs Up Against Sovereignty

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 18 -- As Ban Ki-moon announced another 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 here, 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 here, 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.

Water 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 has reported 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 so-called "heavy support package" the agreement for which was announced on Monday.

   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 sabotaged 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, see below.)

            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 the report:

"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.

In Sudan, transportation can be slow. At DPKO, some answers are slow or never come at all

     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 accommodating.

            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 here 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 checked?

   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 on Kazana.

 Please provide an update on the investigation of allegations of sexual abuse of children in UNMIS, a topic in the 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 this article 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] un.org

To: Matthew Russell Lee

Date: 4/18/2007 3:05:05 PM Eastern Standard Time

Regarding the 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.

    The 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.]

    Amb. 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.

   There 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, referring to 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 here for that story.

    Some 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 proceeding.

  Some 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 responsibility"?

UN 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.

   The 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 here 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. Zurab Nogaideli 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 here to view; click here 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 government's web site still called the breakaways' meeting "ongoing." We'll see.

Other Inner City Press reports are available in the ProQuest service and some are archived on www.InnerCityPress.com --

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