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Ban-Mentor's Olympic Dreams Are Covered Over in NY, the Rights Mariachis in Geneva

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 19 -- The negotiations on Long Island about the fate of Western Sahara are under a "news blackout," Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson said Tuesday at noon. The UN Secretariat has imposed a similar blackout on the whittling away of mandates at its Human Rights Council in Geneva. A vote was taken Monday night there, dropping the rapporteurs on Belarus and Cuba, and making future country-specific reporting more difficult.

            When asked for comment by Inner City Press on Monday, before the vote, Ban's spokesperson said no. But even Tuesday, asked by additional reporters, the response was to wait for the end of the Council's day-after meeting. Why?

            Inner City Press asked if Mr. Ban has any comment on North Korea's open statement that it will "never" allow UN human rights personnel in, just as it has refused to allow in UN auditors, trying to figure out the basics of the funding of the UN Development Program in North Korea. "All reaction will be after the meeting is over," the spokesperson said. Video here, from Minute 11:21. But North Korea thumbing its nose at the UN predated this meeting, and has nothing to do with it. News blackout, indeed.

            From Geneva, we are told that the president of the Human Rights Council, Mexican ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, had arranged for a party complete with mariachi band on Monday night. Then China threw a wrench into the mix, demanding a change to el presidente's "take it or leave it" draft, which already dropped Belarus and Cuba from reporting. The mariachis were told to pipe down, at least temporarily. And now they can play, their music seeping into UN headquarters despite the human rights blackout.

   The incoming president, Doru Romulus Costea of Romania, asked rhetorically, "We may adopt good decisions, but are they enough to change the situation of the women, children and men, young and old, who have their rights violated, who are victims of abuses, whose voices are not heard, nor heeded by those who were called to protect them in their countries?" So far, no.

            Inner City Press also asked about a report in the Sudanese press, of president al-Bashir again stating that the UN will not control any hybrid force in Darfur. Ban's spokesperson insists that Bashir has already agreed to UN control. But if he says he hasn't, there's a problem, no? Another news blackout.

            Finally, at Tuesday's noon briefing, Inner City Press raised a more local matter, the dueling photo exhibitions of Russia's Sochi and South Korea's PyeongChang, two of the competitors for the 2014 Winter Olympics. That reference had been removed from the photo exhibits -- why? The spokesperson said she would look into it.

   And barely three hours later, this particularly blackout was broken, and how --

"Regarding the exhibits in the Vienna cafe -- such exhibits are supposed to be non-commercial in nature.  For that reason, the Mission of the Republic of Korea was asked to omit the reference to its bid for the Olympics, which it did by taping over the relevant wording."

  But question: the South Korean mission was asked by whom? (This has now been asked -- and answered: "Facilities Management."). It has previously been said that Vienna Cafe exhibitions are entirely up to the missions.

            Another question that should be addressed: since Ban Ki-moon's mentor, Mr. Han Seung-Soo, is now doing double duty as Ban's climate envoy and as the leader of the "PyeongChang 2014" campaign, what conflicts of interest might be raised? When he travels to Paris, for example, in what capacity is it? How is this kept clear, including to those he meets with? What undue access or influence might be had? It may start in the UN's Viennese Cafe, but the world is wide, and the climate will take you everywhere.

Messrs. Ban and Han, PyeongChang 2014 not shown

            Another question arose, about an exhibition that's up in the UN's lobby, about "el Cristo" in Sao Paulo, Brazil. There is a campaign to get it named out of the "Seven New Wonders" of the world. A correspondent asked if similar wonders in India could get their own exhibition at the UN. Yes, the spokesperson said.

            They better hurry. A pamphlet handed out Monday night amid the canapes says that the Seven New Wonders will be announced by Sean Connery (Double-oh Seven, get it?) on July 7 (7/7/07, natch). In this case, el Cristo's timing was perfect. And who runs the UN Secretariat's lobby has been asked, and a search is on for answers.

    Meanwhile, to come full circle, 38 days after UN Television imposed a literal blackout by pulling the plug on a stakeout interview by a representative of the Polisario Front, just before 7 p.m. on Tuesday the Spokesperson's Office announced that the Western Sahara negotiations will "continue in Manhasset in the second week of August 2007." We'll be there...

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540