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At the UN, Srebrenica Immunity Downplayed, West Papua No Comment

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 8 -- Let us take for granted that there are many problems that the UN cannot solve. What it and its Secretary-General and Council can choose is what they deem important, what they comment on (and, more fundamentally, how they run themselves, in terms of transparency and accountability).

            Take, for purposes of this report, the single day of Friday, June 8, 2007. Ban Ki-moon's Deputy Spokesman made it a point to re-read out a statement that had been released the night before, that Mr. Ban condemns Iran's president's statement about Israel. The Council met to adopt a statement in a similar vein, but got bogged down.

    Afterwards France's Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere came out and said that one country had reservations, and another had no instructions. Press pundits assumed that Qatar was one of the two. But which was the other? Indonesia, some assumed. Russia, said another, thinking of business relations. South Africa, for G-77 and ideological reason. The dark horse as always was China. Diplomat said, with all due respect to France, the number of members with some reservations was four, and not the publicly-claimed two. This will rear its head again on Monday, when the Council is slated to meet on Lebanon, Sudan and UNMEE (Ethiopia - Eritrea border), and an Ivory Coast report is due.

            As set forth below, the UN had no comment, for a second day, on the forced removal of people from Sri Lanka's capital based on ethnicity. Nor on a protest of the UN's role in continuing colonialism. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: West Papua, otherwise known as Irian Jaya in Indonesia.  The United Nations' Hina Jilani is going there and there's a demonstration asking the UN to use its influence to either have another referendum or to somehow consider them as next in line [for independence].  Does the current Secretary-General have any thoughts on that long-standing conflict and has he noticed the demonstrations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I'll check to see if there's anything new on this that we can report to you.

            Twelve hours later, nothing had been provided.

Mr. Ban on the road, with Spanish president, June 6

    On a genocide-related case filed against the UN, Mr. Ban says he agrees -- but will apparently still seek to dismiss the UN from the case, on the basis of immunity. The transcript went as follows:

Deputy Spokesperson:  The survivors of the Srebrenica massacres are absolutely right to demand justice for the most heinous crimes committed on European soil since World War II.  The Secretary-General joins them in that demand, without reservation, and expresses his deepest sympathies to them and to the relatives of those brutally executed at Srebrenica, almost 12 years ago....

Inner City Press: Does that mean that the United Nations will not be seeking to assert immunity and have the case dismissed against it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The fact that the United Nations is  immune from the legal process under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations in no way diminishes the United Nations' commitment to assist the people of Srebrenica in the aftermath of this tragedy.

Inner City Press: Someone from OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] will be making that argument in court?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, this is the position.

            Great... There are others who argue that the UN's claimed immunity may not be total, and others who point out that just as power corrupts, so too does immunity. Still at Friday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked about Kosovo and Cote d'Ivoire:

Inner City Press: At the G-8, it was said that French President Sarkozy had offered, proposed a six-month delay of the Kosovo status if Russia would agree to independence.  Does the Secretary-General have a view of that, and is there a readout of that meeting with Russia?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I'm familiar with the press reports that you are referring to on Kosovo, but on Kosovo, what I can say is, that the Secretary-General notes and welcomes the engagement of the G-8 countries on this issue, which is of central importance to the United Nations.  Following the presentation of Mr. Ahtissari, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy's comprehensive proposal for a settlement, it is important that the Kosovo future status process maintain a forward momentum.  So that's where we are on that.

Question:  What's the position that was taken at the G-8 summit on Kosovo?  Mr. Sarkozy's position to prolong for six months...

Deputy Spokesperson:  That you'll have to follow up with the G-8.  I'm just simply stating the Secretary-General's position....

Inner City Press: He's meeting with [ Vladimir] Putin, can we get a read out...

Deputy Spokesperson:  As soon as we get a read out from our chief spokesman, who is with them, I will give you that readout.

[Following the briefing, correspondents were informed that the Secretary-General did not have a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin today.  The Secretary-General did meet bilaterally with the leaders of Japan and Italy.]

            But despite this addition to the transcript, also piped to UN correspondents via the old-school squawk box system, TASS had reported that the meeting took place. Inner City Press after the squawking sent this to the Spokesperson, asking if a retraction would be sought. There was no answer. Only more questions:

Inner City Press: There's a report out about the Cote d'Ivoire saying that the conflict between the New Forces and the Government was funded largely by cocoa leaf sold illegally or outside normal channels.  The group that put out this study says that this could easily happen again.  I wonder if the United Nations mission in Cote d'Ivoire or anyone in the UN system has noted that, what the response is and is there a new Special Representative of the Secretary-General... what's happening in Cote d'Ivoire?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not seen anything on that specific subject from the mission, but we will certainly look into that for you and, as you know, the Security Council is also headed to Cote d'Ivoire, as part of their larger mission.  So you might want to discuss that with the Security Council mission before they go, as well.

            What Inner City Press asked the Council about, beyond Darfur, was UN corruption and reform. From the U.S. Mission's transcript:

Inner City Press Reporter: Mr. Ambassador what's the U.S.'s response to the conviction yesterday of Mr. Behel in the UN procurement scandal and whether OIOS reports should be released to the press and public?

Ambassador Khalilzad: Well, we welcome this and I think that this has been an appropriate action that has been taken.  It shows that the ability to take appropriate action is there so we welcome it.  As far as access to the media, we the United States of course have no problem with transparency and sharing as much information as can be shared.  Thank you very much.

            No, thank you...  To be continued next week.

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