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At the UN, Rwanda Exhibition Postponed For Turkish Armenian Concerns, Abkhazia Exhibition Flies Under Radar

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 9, 1:41 pm, updated 6:50 pm -- To commemorate the 13th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda, a photo exhibit was scheduled to open today in the lobby of the UN General Assembly. It has now been cancelled or postponed, due to objections raised by Turkey to a reference in the exhibit to one million Armenians murdered in 1915. While during the UN's noon press briefing spokesman Farhan Haq ascribed the postponement to a failure to have vetted the exhibit, other UN insiders state that the Department of Public Information had signed off on it, but that Turkey's eleventh-hour objection called the previous DPI approval into question.

            At Monday's noon press briefing, Inner City Press asked about another current exhibition at the UN, in the lobby by the Vienna Cafe, of graphic photographs of ethnic cleansing in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia. Video here. Mr. Haq stated that that exhibit had been reviewed, and that the same scrutiny is given to exhibits in public spaces of the General Assembly and of the Secretariat building. The Abkhaz exhibit coincides with the UN Security Council's consideration on April 10 of the situation in Abkhazia, including allegations of Russian bombing of pro-Georgia positions.

            In late 2006, there was an exhibit by the Vienna Cafe which, although not cancelled, became the subject to behind-the-scenes controversy, not for its content but for its sponsor. Blue-clad representatives of a Taiwan-based non-governmental organization, the Tzu Chi Foundation, served tea and handed out literature in front of displays concerning the seventh century ramble of XuanZang through Central Asia. At the last minute, the Chinese delegation became aware of the Taiwan connection of the exhibit, and tried to have it cancelled. But Swaziland stepped in as sponsor, and so the exhibition went forward. Inner City Press at the opening asked Swaziland's Ambassador for his nation's position on Taiwan, a question the Ambassador declined to answer. But Swaziland remains one of the countries which recognizes Taiwan, as until last year Chad did. The politics of even exhibitions at the UN continues to amaze.

Ban Ki-moon and Rwandan president Kagame

            While Ban Ki-moon's Rwanda statement remains online, its final line, that "later today Mr. Ban will give a signed copy of his message to Rwanda’s Permanent Representative to the UN" is now in question, as this was to take place at the opening of the exhibition.

[Update 5:57 pm: With Turkey's role confirmed, Mr. Ban instead read out his statement on the 38th floor, on the UN's closed circuit TV network, and gave the signed copy to Rwanda’s Permanent Representative, who referred to the exhibition "which was supposed to open today but which has been postponed." Down in the lobby, unlike the earlier report, the photos were no longer "turned around" - they had been taken down entirely. Postponed or cancelled? There were black boxes -- not those kind of black boxes -- behind where the displays would have been.

Update of 6:45 pm - the following has been received:

Ambassador Nsengimana wrote to the UN Secretary-General today protesting the postponement of the exhibit. Below is an excerpt of the letter:

"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."]

Rwanda's ambassador to the UN, Joseph Nsengimana, told Inner City Press in late March that with the Security Council lifting the remnants of the arms embargo against his country, Rwanda now stood ready to provided training, if not active military support, to Somalia's Transitional Federal Government -- which has now been accused of war crimes, including by a European Union security expert. We'll have more on this. [now we do - click here.]

            Since the "G word" -- genocide -- wasn't applied to the events of 1915, but rather the figure "one million murders," one wag wondered why it couldn't have been negotiated, to bring the number down. A UN spokesperson conceded that this type of bean counting has been known to happen. What will happen in this case remains to be seen. Watch this site.

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UN Mine Action Works With One-Third of Governments Including Ugandan Army Mining Karamoja

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 6 -- In a week full of mine talk at the United Nations, some questions were still left unanswered. The UN's head of peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno, asked Tuesday by Inner City Press about the reported use of landmines by the Ugandan military, did not directly respond, but said that a UN Mine Action staffer would get back with information. Video here.

            This staffer, Justin Brady, provided a list of 64 countries in which the UN is or has been active with mines -- one third of the UN's member states. On Uganda, however, there appears to still be some misunderstanding. UK-based Save the Children, as quoted in the Kampala Monitor of April 2, reports that the Uganda People's Defense Forces have laid landmines in the northeast Karamoja region, where the UPDF has been engaged in violent disarmament of the pastoralist Karimojong. As Inner City Press reported in June 2006, the UN Development Program had been involved in and encouraged the UPDF's collection of guns, which led to deaths of civilians, most recently dozens of children, as reported by Save the Children. 

            But UN Mine Action staffer Justin Brady this week assumed that the problem, if there is one, is providing training to the UPDF to remove landmines. While he said he has now asked colleagues in Uganda about the UPDF's mining, nothing has been heard back in the following three days. Justin Brady told Inner City Press that UPDF personnel had received some de-mining training at a UK-funded center in Nairobi. The first step for the UPDF would be to stop laying mines, to stop killing civilians and stop covering both up. For the UN Development Program, which like the UN Office of Project Services (UNOPS) is a mine action middle-man, the first step would be to be more careful about working with governments which use landmines, and otherwise violate human rights. Also on human rights and governance, Jean-Marie Guehenno on April 3 declined to answer Inner City Press' question about the UN's continued use of peacekeepers from Fiji, following the military coup in late 2006. Video here, article here.

Searching for mines - laid by Ugandan army?

            While the UN Mine Action Service is a part of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, UNMAS is active in many countries where DPKO is not (see list below). Inner City Press has covered the mine action logistics work of UNOPS, including in South Sudan, where a UNOPS staffer recounts collecting unexploded remnants of war and piling them in the back of a vehicle. At the check-point outside the UN's compound, guards checked the entire chassis of the vehicle before allowing it to enter, without ever looking at the pile of explosives inside the vehicle. It is a dangerous job, and the front-line workers are to be commended.

            As is Justin Brady, who as noted followed-up by providing a list of countries and territories where since 1989 UN Mine Action has been active, through "assessment, technical advice, demining, survey, capacity building, advocacy, risk education, and survivor / victim assistance." In the table below * = active programs; ** = potential inter-agency or technical assistance mission under discussion based on request by member state or by "senior UN official;" * ** = both) --

1. *Afghanistan- UNMAS
2. *Albania- UNDP
3. *Algeria- UNDP (prodoc just signed)
4. *Angola- UNDP

5. Armenia
6. Azerbaijan
7. Bangladesh
8. Belarus
9. *Bosnia & Herzegovina-UNDP
10. *Burundi- UNDP
11. *Cambodia- UNDP
12. *Chad- UNDP (& UNMAS if PKO)

13. Chile
14. China
15. *Colombia**- UNICEF
16. Croatia
17. *Cyprus- UNDP/UNMAS - funded by EU
18. *DR Congo**- UNMAS
19. Djibouti
20. *Egypt- UNDP
21. El Salvador
22. *Eritrea- UNMAS (UNMEE)
23. *Ethiopia- UNDP, UNMAS (UNMEE)

24. Georgia
25. Guatemala
26. *Guinea-Bissau- UNDP
27. Indonesia
28. Iran**
29. *Iraq- UNDP
30. *Jordan- UNDP

31. Kenya
32. *Lao PDR- UNDP
33. *Lebanon- UNMAS (S. Leb), UNDP
34. *Liberia- UNMAS (UNMIL)

35. Libya*
36. Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
37. Malawi
38. *Mauritania- UNDP
39. *Mozambique- UNDP
40. *Nepal*- UNICEF, UNMAS (UNMIN)

41. Nicaragua
42. *Occupied Palestinian territories**- UNICEF
43. Panama
44. Peru
45. *Republic of Serbia (Kosovo)- UNMAS (UNMIK)
46. *Russian Federation (Chechnya**, Ingushetia)- UNICEF

47. Rwanda
48. *Senegal- UNDP
49. Serbia Montenegro
50. Sierra Leone
51. Slovenia
52. *Somalia** (Somaliland & Puntland) UNDP
53. *Sri Lanka- UNDP

55. Syria (Golan Heights)
56. *Tajikistan- UNDP
57. Thailand
58. Tunisia
59. *Uganda**- UNDP, UNHCR
60. Ukraine (awaiting outcome of assessment mission)
61. Viet Nam
62. *Western Sahara- UNMAS (MINURSO)
63. Yemen
64. Zambia

            Among the interested annotations in this list is that UNMAS would take over mine removal in Chad if and when President Deby lets in a UN force. Also, UNICEF's involvement in Chechnya and in Nepal, where with the UN's relatively new force, UNMAS has moved in. The listing of not only UNHCR but also UNDP in Uganda is not only ironic but troubling, in light of UNDP's involvement with the UPDF, and UNDP's reported involvement in the laying of landmines.

Fijian Troops are "Rotated" to UN in Iraq through Limitless Loophole in Previous UN Coup Response

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 5 -- Following the military coup in Fiji in late 2006, the UN had said it would not use more Fijian troops as peacekeepers until democracy was restored. In recent weeks, New Zealand, Australia and the Commonwealth have said they have asked new Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to implement this policy. Now it turns out that either the policy has changed, or that the policy wasn't what most people thought it was.

   Associate UN Spokesman Farhan Haq told Inner City Press, to his credit on the record, that the policy "doesn't effect existing deployments," including the deployment of Fijian troops to protect the UN in Iraq. Inner City Press asked for a comment on reports that 15 more Fijians are heading to Iraq on April 25. Mr. Haq called this a "rotation," but when was asked if the number of Fijian troops in UN peacekeeping service is capped, the UN's Mr. Haq said "no."

   So, despite what previous Secretary General Kofi Annan said, even without any move toward democratization in Fiji, the number of Fijian soldiers for which the UN pays the Fijian (military) government could go up. Earlier this week, as subsequently reported in Fiji, the head of UN peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno on camera declined to answer Inner City Press' question on whether his Department is still using, or is increasing the use of, Fijian peacekeepers. Video here at Minute 30:15. Now the ongoing no-comment makes more sense.

The coup as breaking news. The follow-through? Not so much.

            The UN seems to be claiming that no one has explicitly asked for the cessation of use, even rotation, of Fijian peacekeepers. But a spokesman for Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) was quoted earlier this week that "we have made our view clear about the inappropriateness of Fiji's participation... given the Fiji military's illegal overthrow of the legitimately elected government." And as noted, in January 2007, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said, "We've made it very clear to the UN that we do not believe they should be using Fijian troops."  

            Nor has the UN responded on the record to the quote by the Commonwealth's Secretary-General Don McKinnon, that Mr. Ban said, "Don, we need these troops," nor to the claim by Fiji's interim Prime Minister -- that is, military leader -- that Mr. Ban has rebuffed the Commonwealth and implicitly validated the coup in Fiji.

    One correspondent wondered, Why can't the UN respond and be transparent? Another noted that Fijian troops are prized by the UN in part because many of them like to visit the Holy Land, and have done so on bus tours organized by Israel. Fiji, like Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and others, makes money from its soldiers.

  On January 5, 2007, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson if he would implement the statements of Kofi Annan on the use, or dis-use, of Fijian peacekeepers. "What was previously said, stands," the spokeswoman answered. Video here, from Minute 11:28.

  On April 3, 2007, Inner City Press asked the spokesperson to confirm or deny that Mr. Ban has changed this policy, and has told the head of the Commonwealth that "we need these troops."

            "I cannot confirm this at this point," the spokesperson said. Video here, from Minute 10:05. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: There was a quote by the head of the Commonwealth, Don McKinnon, saying he spoke with Ban Ki-moon about the Fijian peacekeepers, and again asked him to either enforce or implement the idea that peacekeepers, following the coup, wouldn’t be used by DPKO.  He said, and I'm not sure if it's true or not, "Don, we need the peacekeepers," Mr. Ban said.  Did Mr. Ban say that?

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm this at this point.

    Again the correspondent wondered, Why can't the UN just respond, one way or the other, and be transparent? We'll see.

UN's Africa Report Sidesteps Zimbabwe's Fall, Embraces Privatization of Banks

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 3 -- Africa's economic future is painted, in nuanced but generally upbeat tones, in the 2007 report of the UN's Economic Commission on Africa. The report was presented Monday at UN Headquarters by Ejeviome Eloho Otobo, something of an in-house UN intellectual, who repeatedly pitched two of his publications, one in the New School Economic Review, the other a letter to the editor of the Financial Times.

            Inner City Press asked Mr. Otobo for his views on the economic downturn in Zimbabwe, which the ECA puts at negative 4.4% growth last year, and which the UN's humanitarian affairs office last week put at a 40% decline since 2000. Mr. Otobo ascribed the drop to "political tensions," but did not explain why political tensions in other African states, from Cote D'Ivoire to Somalia to Uganda, did not result in anywhere near Zimbabwe's decline. Video here, from Minute 36:22 to 39:32. In fact, tension-wracked Sudan was one of the eight fastest-growing African countries in 2006.

            On Monday, Ban Ki-moon returned to UN Headquarters from a lengthy Middle Eastern trip. Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban two Africa questions, about Somalia -- click here for that story -- and about Zimbabwe. The Harare Q and A, from the transcript:

Inner City Press: ... while you were away, on Zimbabwe, the Secretariat’s briefer to the Council said that the situation in Zimbabwe is not a threat to international peace and security.  I am wondering if that’s the Secretariat’s view, or what is your view on that?

SG:  We are also very much concerned about the situation in there.  It is necessary for the leaders of the Zimbabwean Government to strictly abide by all democratic rules, to firmly establish democratic rules again. Click here for video.

            The ECA "Economic Report on Africa 2007" states, at page 32, that "only one country -- Zimbabwe -- recorded a negative growth rate in 2006."  On page 39, this decline is diplomatically ascribed to "political difficulties." Inflation makes its appears on page 41: "In Zimbabwe, inflation increased to 1216 per cent in 2006 compared to 237.8 per cent in 2005, owing to inflationary financing of the budget deficit." Still, Zimbabwe scored high in tourism.

Mr. Otobo, Ms. Montas, UN hand-signals

            The ECA report, formally entitled "Accelerating Africa's Growth and Development to Meet the Millennium Development Goals - Emerging Challenges and the Way Forward," purports to deal with the financial services sector in less than one of its 182 pages. The report's approach is surprising: "financial sector reforms have resulted in a gradual move towards market-based interest rate determination and curtailment of the government’s presence in the financial sector through privatization of government-owned banks. While these are welcome developments" -- that is, ECA unequivocally portrays bank-privatization as welcome, regardless of buying.

   In  Mr. Ban's native South Korea, banks sold by the government were snapped up by predatory investors like Lone Star, subsequently sued for fraud. Would ECA really like to lure Lone Star to Africa? There is no discussion of the so-far seminal African bank-acquisition deal, Barclays return to South Africa by purchasing Absa. Given the report's 189 pages, this deal merited discussion.

            Inner City Press, in the course of reporting on another of the UN's regional economic commissions, ESCWA in Lebanon, received detailed reports from Addis Ababa regarding abuses under the 1995-2005 head of UNECA, K.Y. Amoako of Ghana, including that he unceremoniously had ejected from Ethiopia any dissenters among his ranks, family first. How these far-flung UN commissions can remain accountable and credible is a question for reform, and a question of the objectivity of their reports. We'll see.

As Somali Mortars Fly, Ban Ki-moon Waits for April 16 Summit, While Some Clans Are Excluded

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 2 -- As mortars fly in Somalia, now with the involvement of mercenaries, the UN continues to point toward an April 16 summit which most predict will not be inclusive. Alongside the fighting in and flight from Mogadishu, doubts have increased about the Transitional Federal Government's commitment to involvement any of its perceived opponents, or now-disfavored clans.

    Monday at UN headquarters, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon about Somalia:

Inner City Press: On Somalia, it was reported that Egyptian Foreign Minister has written to the UN, AU and Arab League, asking for immediate intervention to stop the conflict in Mogadishu.  I wanted to know if you have received that, what your thinking is?

Ban Ki-moon:  On Somalia, during the Riyadh Summit meeting, we had a mini-summit to discuss this issue, which was convened by the Saudi Foreign Minister. It was very useful.  We hope that the Somali government will be able to convene the national reconciliation congress, which is scheduled for April 16th.   The international community should continue to encourage the Transitional Federal Government’s efforts.  (Click here for video.)

            While sidestepping the request for response to today's fighting in Somalia, it is also unclear what efforts by the TFG are being supported. For more than a month, the UN has been asked, what is being done to encourage the TFG to reach out to its opponents?

Ban Ki-moon on April 2, hoping Mogadishu can hold for a fortnight

            On March 7, Inner City Press submitted questions, including a request for response to a detail critique of the TFG's inclusiveness, to the spokesman of the UN Political Office on Somalia, Ian Steele, and to the address OCHA Online provides for its Somalia coordinator, Eric Laroche. The latter bounced back, and Mr. Steele has yet to respond.  The UNPOS web site, at least its front page, has not been updated since January.

            In the midst of all this is the affable Francois Lonseny Fall. He at least took questions from the rostrum, at the UN on March 14. He said, "4.5 is very important," but only defined it out in the hall. Posts in the Transitional Federal Institutions should be given out equally to the four main clans in Somalia, with an additional "point five" to the remaining, smaller minorities.

            But Inner City Press has received, and provided to UNPOS and then DPA for comment, the following message and list of appointments, which is decidedly top-heavy with one particular clan:

Subj: UN creates a dictator in Somalia while condemning others elsewhere 

From: [Name withheld in this format]

To: Matthew Russell Lee

Date: 3/6/2007 11:32:04 PM Eastern Standard Time

Excellent reports on Somalia and the incompetent role of the UN.  A good question to ask the UN is if they have monitored the basis of the TFG charter i.e. 4.5 power sharing. This power sharing is the result of the UN sponsored meeting that culminated in the formation of the TFG. The TFG's claim to legitimacy is derived solely from the UN's endorsement of that agreement. Did the UN compare the diversity in clans of the current president's staff, appointments to the military, police, secret service, ambassadorships etc. and that of his immediate predecessor Abdiqasim Salad Hassan. The government forces are over 90% Puntland militia members. An op-ed article on one of the Somali websites noted that the appointments to high military, police, security positions etc are almost all from the President's clan. Below is an excerpt from the article...

Military & Police Appointments: Position, Name, Clan Affiliation

1. Chief of Staff of Military Axmed Mahdi Cabdisalaan  Ogaadeen- Darood

2. Chief of  Police Ali Madoobe - Mareehaan - Darood

3. Chief of Staff of Military Abdullaahi Ali Omar (Ina libaaxsankataabte) Majeerteen / Carab Saalax - Darood 

4. Head of National Security Service Col Maxamed Darwiish  Majeerteen- Darood

6. Head of First Division Abdirisaaq Afguduud - Majeerteen - Darood

7. Head of Second Division Abdullaahi Fartaag  Mareehaan

8. Head of Third Division Hiif  Ali Taar  Majeerteen- Darood

9. Head of Fourth Division  Col Abdullaahi Arays  Majeerteen- Darood

10. Head of Sea Port and Airport Mogadishu  Joocaar - Majeerteen -Darood

            On March 14, Inner City Press re-posed these questions and demographics to the spokesman for the UN's Department of Political Affairs. Five days later, this response arrived:

Subj: Qs, & the follow-up on Jan Egeland, thanks 

From: [DPA Spokesman at]

To: Matthew Russell Lee

Date: 3/19/2007 11:35:03 AM Eastern Standard Time

Matthew, regarding your question as to the UN's position regarding a statement issued on 6 March by a group in Somalia, I've consulted with UNPOS and can give you the following response:

"We have no specific reaction to the statement you refer to, which was dated several weeks ago, but SRSG Fall and other members of the international community have repeatedly expressed the view that an all-inclusive dialogue is essential to peace and stability in Somalia. They continue to encourage the TFG to include all national stakeholders who have renounced violence in the National Reconciliation Congress planned for 16 April in Mogadishu."

            Maybe, just maybe, the April 16 Congress will cure all previous missteps. Meanwhile, the UN has stood by while Ethiopian troops took over, at least temporarily, Mogadishu, while the U.S. bombed in the south and now sends DynCorp mercenaries, and while even the UN-annointed Transitional Federal Government excludes major clans contrary to the "4.5" system that the UN calls important, without really defining. It means that the four major clans each were supposed to get equal numbers of government posts, with the remaining minorities in Somalia getting a "point five" share. It has fallen out of whack, as now helicopters are shot out of the sky. Questions will continue to be asked.

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