From the UN to JFK, It's Kim Jong Eel and Labor
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
UNITED NATIONS, March 2 -- Most of the
stories written from the UN are read by very few here. This week's
of rats and eels in the UN was different. It appeared on
of the New York Post, and was talked about not only in the briefing room and at
Wednesday evening's reception at the Slovakian Ambassador's 67th Street
townhouse, but also by security guards in
and cleaning staff in the Secretariat's garage.
said that yes, there are eels, and that in the past some ate them. The
spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon, who was known in Korea as the Slippery Eel, made
light of the story and implied there are no eels, only rodents.
And so Inner City Press, on its own turf
on this story, went in search of the eels. This quest, as so many here, led to
the third sub-basement. There one finds machines that screen and filter the
water that comes in from the East River. Inner City Press is told that eels, or
fish of any kind, would only be visible when they stop the machine and open them
to clean out the screens. Whether the New York Post actually saw the eels before
running its piece is not known. Some years ago, U.S. Navy SEALS explored the UN
- East River interplay for potential security issues.
Another urban legend was plumbed: whether
there is or was a subway station under the UN, a stop between Grand Central and
Long Island City on the 7 train. The answer appears to be yes. There is a
tunnel, metal fencing, security cameras. Wonders never cease.
Korea: keep on walking
Friday evening as most UN
staff poured out of the building, Peacekeeping head Jean-Marie Guehenno was
coming in. To Inner City Press he explained, "Night shift." He said he was
coming back from Washington, would soon be leaving for Pakistan. Inner City
Press asked about the
comment earlier on Friday from Ambassador
Kumalo of South Africa, that even a civilian force in Chad would need security.
"That's true," Mr. Guehenno said. Speaking of protection, Mr. Guehenno is known
to be lobbying to get additional spokespersons' posts in his Department. There
are, he says, three functions: speaking for the Department, providing back-up to
the missions in the field, and creating an overall communications strategy. It
sounds like UNDP...
Meanwhile a portion of the UN press corps
has been in a frenzy tracking the foreign minister of the Kim Jong Il government
of North Korea, from San Francisco to New York, where he's slated to meet with
Christopher Hill at the U.S. Mission. In San Francisco, Japan's NHK television
is said to have rented five motorcycles to try to find Minister Kim. In New
York, reporters flocked out to the airport, awaiting a certain (or uncertain)
United Airlines flight, and then camped out in front of the Millennium Plaza
hotel, in the same structure at UNDP, and awaited him. They got a wave, and not
Back in the UN, the day ended as it so
often Friday does in the Delegates' Lounge. This time a high-ranking UN official
twice graced the scene -- hint: one who will hold a press conference on Monday,
which narrows it down to two -- and first conveyed the 38th floor's anger at the
Staff Union's letter to the editor of the New York Times. This letter looks
critically both at Mr. Ban's reforms to date, calling them cosmetic, and at the
Times' Feb. 28 article making much of these reforms. The letter focuses on three
"fundamental reforms" it calls necessary: staff selection, the culture of fear
and the "unfair system of justice at the United Nations."
An example of the first of these was
within spitting and drinking distance of the UN high official Friday night. The
culture of fear, so often described on this site, was attempted to be spread to
the Press this week by the Pension Fund's
complaint to UN
Security about Inner City Press' attempt to observe and ask questions outside
the February 15 Audit Committee meeting. On Friday, a UN spokesperson said not
to worry about this complaint, that the OSSG is angry about it too, and that no
written statement is necessary. The system of justice at the UN is called into
question by the same UN Pension Fund's lack of action on a March 2006 OIOS
report, and failure to be fair to many of its employees.
Still the week and evening came to a
pleasant close in the Delegates' Lounge, with its door into the ECOSOC Chamber,
its six-dollar screwdrivers and bowls of free potato chips, its views of the
East River reflecting an empty insane asylum, in the middle of the river or here
on its west bank, it is not quite certain...
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At the UN, Chad and Darfur Fall Into Footnotes,
Sudanese Praise of French But Not UN Soldiers
Byline: Matthew Russell
Lee of Inner City Press at the UN
UNITED NATIONS, March 2 -- While some
predict Security Council resolution in March on sending UN peacekeepers to Chad,
the Council's president for February, Slovakian Ambassador Peter Burian, on Feb.
28 told Inner City Press that it is unlikely that "anything can happen in Chad
until summertime." The obstacles include Chadian president Deby's now-stated
opposition to peacekeepers (he would prefer a "civilian" presence).
On March 2, the incoming
president of the Security Council, South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo said
that Darfur, Chad and Central African Republic only in the footnotes of this
month's Council agenda, that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has said
that even a civilian force would need protection, and that discussions continue.
Inner City Press also asked when to expect UN envoy Joaquim Chissano to brief
the Council about Uganda's
Lord's Resistance Army.
Outgoing Council president Burian raised to the issue to Amb. Kumalo during
their bilateral meeting of transition.
A less studied response to Inner City
Press' questions, on March 1, Sudan's Ambassador to the UN told Inner City Press
that he, too, doubts that Chad will let in the force the UN would like to send.
"We are the same people," he said, saying that one of Deby's sons is named Omar,
after Sudan's president Omar al Bashir.
Inner City Press asked for his
explanation of last year's abortive march by rebels on Chad's capital,
ostensibly stopped by France dropping of a bomb next to the rebel column.
"France showed too much force," Sudan's Ambassador said, adding that his
government has fewer doubts about French troops than UN blue helmets, against
whom the Ambassador raised issues of sexual and other abuse.
Ban at the Lest We Forget - The Triumph Over Slavery
It was at an event on slavery -- the
opening of the "Lest We Forget - The Triumph Over Slavery" exhibit -- in the UN
visitors' entrance on Thursday night that the Sudanese Ambassador made his
remarks to Inner City Press. He began be remarking that the commemoration of
slavery should be a national holiday in the United States. He continued:
don't like this force. They want a small civilian force here and there, just to
make the world community happy they are doing something. Darfur and Chadians are
the same people. Idriss Deby [Chad's President], his wife delivered in the
medical hospital in Khartoum. His youngest son is named Omar, for Omar al Bashir.
His second wife is Sudanese...
the Security Council is considering this resolution. They say they have not
money for Darfur, but they want to deploy to Chad and to Somalia. [CAR
president] Bozize? There is a reconciliation there, the Libya mediation. There
are many problems there and in Chad that have nothing to do with Darfur. Like in
our case, it is better to advance the peace process."
Inner City Press asked about France's
dropping of a bomb in Chad to defend the Deby government last year. Who were the
rebels? Why did they stop advancing? Had they been told to simply knock on
Deby's door -- either related to oil and the World Bank's conditional loans, or
to recognizing China and not Taiwan -- and then to back away?
French response was too big, too massive... We prefer the French to the UN
troops, the French do not engage in sexual exploitation like the UN peacekeepers
do. In Sudan we don't consider the French as destabilizers."
When Ban Ki-moon spoke at the Thursday
event, he said that slavery continues to this day, including in the use of child
soldiers. Canapes were passed around and Ambassadors chit-chatted. On the walls
were pictures of slave traders, including Humphrey Morice (1679-1731), who
besides owning eight slave ships, named for his wife and daughters, was also a
governor of the Bank of England. Beside this picture, the Ambassadors of Sudan
and the UK made small talk. Only at the UN...
At deadline, in other inside-the-UN news,
Inner City Press has learned that Warren Sach has been removed from the post of
Ban Ki-moon's representative to the UN Pension Fund, replaced on March 1 by
Alicia Barcena of the Department of Management. Perhaps this explains Mr. Sach's
recent non-response to recent questions. [At 4 p.m., eight hours after
questions, an auto-response arrived, that Mr. Sach is away from UN Headquarters
from Feb. 28 -- the
day of the Pension Fund press conference -- through March 12.] Ms. Barcena,
on the other hand, will be taking questions from the Press on March 5...
UN, Calls for Transparency and Short-Lists for Genocide Prevention Post, Russian
Sporting, Salad Days
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN
February 14 -- The place of human rights in Ban Ki-moon's UN was questioned on
Wednesday. Acting on reports that the Kofi Annan-created Office of the Special
Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide might be downgraded or merged out of
existence, three non-governmental organization held a press conference at which
they urged transparency and that short-lists be released of any possible
successor to the current advisor, Juan E. Mendez. The NGOs, including Human
Rights Watch, the Institute for Global Policy and Amnesty International, urged
Ban Ki-moon to make public the report and recommendations of the Advisory
Committee to the S-G on the Prevention of Genocide.
Afterwards, Amnesty International's Yvonne Terlingen was asked if she had a copy
of the report. She at first indicated that she did have a copy, then declined to
provide a copy to requesting journalists, one of whom scoffed, "So the NGOs want
transparency for everyone but themselves."
subsequent UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokeswoman if
that report, and another one by Mr. Mendez about the Ivory Coast, could be
from Minute 14:53. Four hours later, the spokesperson's office responded:
question about NGOs urging the SG to consider making public the report and
recommendations of the advisory committee to the SG on prevention of genocide:
The SG has received the report and is considering its recommendations -- it is
not presently public."
report on the Ivory Coast, dated back to December 2005, nothing was said. The
spokesperson did say, however, that Mr. Mendez won't be reappointed, because he
has asked not to be. So will a short-list be released in this test case? We'll
Terlinger, 2d from left, 2006
wants transparency at the UN? Inner City Press asked the spokesperson for a
comment on the
controversial settlement of
the toxic waste dumping scandal between the Gbagbo government in Ivory Coast and
Trafigura, the European dumper which, as Inner City Press first
was part of the UN Oil for Food scandal. It is a settlement between a private
corporation and a member state, the spokesperson said, declining comment. Kofi
Annan speechified on the topic, but the new Administration apparently views it
as a "private" matter.
request made on Wednesday was for a list of all UN Goodwill Ambassadors and
"Dollar a Year" dignitaries. The latter requests dated back to the prior
Administration, and has yet to be filled. At a press conference with UNDP --
for that article -- tennis player Maria Sharapova was named a Goodwill
Ambassador. UNDP's Ad Melkert declined to provide a simple number on the volume
of UNDP's payments in North Korea in 2005, a year for which the books are
presumably closed. Afterwards, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was seen
exiting the protocol room containing Ms. Sharapova with a broad smile on his
face. In the hallway he told of his "sketchy" sporting career, including speed
skating. Inner City Press asked him for his favorite length. 1,500 meters was
the answer. There followed a story of breaking his leg in St. Tropez. Ms.
Sharapova left with an entourage including UNDP's Communications Office staff.
At the UN these days it is all spin, all the time. As one wag put it,
commenting on recent fix-ups of the staff cafeteria, the only thing that's
gotten more transparent at the UN is the salad bar, which is now under less
also marked the first snow of the season in New York. The UN closed down its
main walkway, shunting pedestrian entrants into the basement corridor by the
library. Dignitaries arriving by car, denied access to the tent by the General
Assembly, parked by the front door and entered along a thin and quivering path
like on suburban yards everywhere. Many senior officials left at 3 p.m.. One
long-time correspondent remembered back in anger at when, when the Rodney King
verdict was read out in Los Angeles, the UN closed down and sent everyone home
early. What was that again, about a human rights culture?
Other, earlier Inner
City Press are listed here, and
some are available in the ProQuest service.
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