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UNGA First Committee Ends with South Africa Trashing Belize & DGACM

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 8 -- The UN General Assembly's processing of its committees' draft resolutions in December is usually pro forma, most approved without a vote, or with vote counts mirroring what happened at the committee level.

 But the December 7 General Assembly session to approve the resolutions of the First Committee ended with a spat between the delegates of South Africa and Belize, then the South African telling the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM) official on the podium that his country would take “advice but not instruction from you.” Video here at end, from 2:09:00.
  The Belize delegate took issue with South Africa saying that as Committee Rapporteur, she had rarely been present. She said as a member of a small delegation, she took DGACM's advice that she could sit behind her country's flag rather than in the front. The South African replied, I never saw you.

  The First Committee can be depressing. But some delegate said this went too far, and highlighted it to Inner City Press.

 Back on October 3 on the final day of the UN General Assembly Debate on October 3, 13 UN member states were scheduled to speak, followed by statements in the right to reply.

 Inner City Press came to find the UN's 42nd Street gate locked, and no lights in the hallways to the media and photo booths over the GA Hall, and no chairs in the booths. It stood and shot Periscope video, here and here, and live-tweeted the proceedings.

   Eritrea's speaker said “in the UN, the overwhelming majority of member states are marginalized” and that hit the nail on the head. The UN's media floor was empty, as was the clubhouse it gives its UN Censorship Alliance or UNCA (used just this week to serve the Syrian Coalition opposition, previously used to try to throw the investigative Press out of the UN). An African journalist asked the new Free UN Coalition for Access, “Where is the MALU desk?” It was gone. The UN Secretariat, too, didn't care about these states.

  Suriname talks about climate change, Maldives about the refugee crisis. Down on the GA floor, many countries' seats were empty, among them Bangladesh and Bulgaria (which wants the Secretary General post) and Burundi - tweeting this drew some government defenders, as did noting that Cote d'Ivoire did not, like even more servile Central African Republic, refer to “Moroccan Sahara,” but rather “Western Sahara.”

  Deputy SG Jan Eliasson joined Mogens Lykketoft on the podium but himself gave no speech. Lykketoft botched the procedure, closing the session before allowing of the rights of reply. In the end there were only Indonesia, Tonga and the Solomon Island, all about Papua, and Iran replying to Bahrain, Canada and the UAE.

 The Hall was empty for Canada; there followed some errata statement by Lykketoft about filling the post of Canadian OIOS chief Carman Lapointe. Down in front of the GA were the Permanent Representative of Palau and Liberia's Deputy. It was over, with a whimper and not a bang.

 Even by the fifth day of the UN General Debate on October 2, when countries such as Syria and Sudan, Myanmar and Jamaica were scheduled to speak, the NY Police Department barricades were removed and life returned to normal, at least UN-normal, inside the Secretariat building.

  UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric wouldn't tell Inner City Press if Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with Haiti's Martelly had even mentioned cholera, which UN Peacekeeping brought to the island. Ban's read-out with Sudan's foreign minister Ghandour did not mention the mass rapes at Thabit in Darfur, which UN Peacekeeping's Herve Ladsous helped cover up.

  When Inner City Press asked Dujarric about Ladsous so controlling the UNGA stakeout that he Banned questions to Mali's foreign minister Diop, Dujarric said not to worry, “It's a stakeout, just shout your question.” Duly noted.

  In the increasingly empty General Assembly Hall, Ghandour complained about the sanctions on his country. Syria's Walid al Moualem said that Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia all support terrorism. One expected rights of reply, at least at some point. Myanmar's foreign minister spoke surreally about a “culture of peace” with the Rohingya in Rakhine State. With the OIC's Madani, Ban Ki-moon did discuss Myanmar - but not Yemen, where OIC host Saudi Arabia is blasting away with airstrikes.

   Inner City Press asked Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of the UK, penholder on Yemen, if he'd met with envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. Yes, he said, back on October 1. Francois Delattre of France, penholding on such countries as Burundi and the Central African Republic, went into the Security Council affably but without news. Inner City Press, since Ladsous blocked Press questions to CAR's ministers, asked UN Spokesman Dujarric if the UN thought the violence in Bangui is a coup. Apparently not.

  Turkish Cypriot leader Akinci met with Ban Ki-moon then did a stakeout; Inner City Press asked him about bilaterals with Sweden, the EU and New Zealand (no answer) and about hydrocarbons (long answer.) Many other such entities would like to be in the UN this week but are denied, even in what is increasingly called garbage time. Watch this site.

 As the UN removes its maze of metal detectors until next year, and New York City traffic flows up First Avenue again, what did this week's UN General Assembly debate come down to?

   Perhaps the moment of the week was US Secretary of State John Kerry finding Syria's Walid Moualem in the clubhouse of the Security Council's Permanent Five members, then looking around for another place to pass time. (Inner City Press first tweeted it, here.)

 While Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov then made back to back statements at the Security Council stakeout without taking any questions, the next day October 1 Lavrov took an hour worth of questions, in the UN Press Briefing Room.

  This UN Press Briefing Room became a battleground, with Brazil trying to follow France in reserving the front rows for its diplomats rather than journalists - they relented - and France innovating, in its way, by using seat-holders who rose to their feet to cede their place to French minister Laurent Fabius and, in one case, Segolene Royal.

   Fabius scowled when Inner City Press asked “his” President Francois Hollande about French soldiers rapes in the Central African Republic and UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous linking rapes to “R&R.” Then on October 1 Fabius refused to take a Press question whether Turkey's airstrikes on Kurds met the three conditions he had just announced.

   Ladsous, apparently angrier than usual at the question to Hollande, scowled up at the photo booths during the Peacekeeping Summit, then directed his flunkies to control the UN microphone at the cramped third floor UNTV stakeout, to the extent of Banning a question to Mali's foreign minister. On that, we'll have more.

  This too: Turkey used the UN Press Briefing Room for a staged “press conference” where it chose the question in advance then told Inner City Press, when it asked a follow-up, not to “interfere.” The old UN Correspondents Association, typically, did nothing about this (instead they lured the Syrian Coalition's Khaled Khoja into their clubhouse from which no live-stream or comments on journalists' arrest in Turkey ever emerged); the new Free UN Coalition for Access fought this and other forms of UN decay.

  As if in a parallel world, China made a number of financial commitments -- $2 billion to a South-South fund, money to UN women, training to the African Union - and drew praise in later General Assembly speeches, which were increasingly ill-attended. Once US President Obama left, after the briefest of photo ops with Russia's Vladimir Putin and a longer one with Raul Castro, much of the security was withdrawn and the air came out of the balloon.

 The UN again closed its big cafeteria, in which food workers were told to dine in a separate room, and after a week of speeches about transparency refused to answer the Press even on how many candidates there are to head the UN refugees agency UNHCR, and who is heading the panel to make the recommendation. We'll have more on this.


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