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The UN and Human Rights, A Day Late and a Dollar Short in Sri Lanka, Uganda and Bangladesh

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 7 -- One of the UN's major mandates is to protect human rights. Even the UN Security Council, the home of real politik, is involved, for example Thursday, debating the UN International Criminal Court's two new Darfur indictments. Afterwards, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo came to tell reporters that he demands that the two indictees be "put in the Hague" and face justice.

            Inner City Press shouted out, "What about the Lord's Resistance Army?" Five of the LRA's leaders in Uganda were previously indicted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including kidnapping children, making them kill their parents and then turning them loose. The arrest warrants have not been enforced, even as UN officials from Jan Egeland to Joaquim Chissano have met with the LRA leaders, including Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti.

            Mr. Moreno-Ocampo stood and heard the question, even leaned toward the microphone... and then, no. Video here, from Minute 8:36. He walked away without answering. It is difficult to explain, how with previous indictments not acted on, the UN makes itself out to be the human rights hero in another conflict, with a higher media profile.

ICC staff in Chad, per ICC

            Tracking the media is one human rights monitoring function one might expect of the UN. On Wednesday, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's Deputy Spokesperson:

Inner City Press: There's a United Nations Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, and Bangladesh has refused to allow the person to leave the country, [saying] she could testify in a way that's detrimental to the country.  Various human rights groups have called on the Secretary-General to say or do something about this.  Is he going to say or do anything about this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is the first I've heard of this, so let me look into that for you.

Inner City Press: This is just a procedural question about the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) briefing.  Why is the person going to speak only on background?  Why isnít it possible to have this...

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let's take this up when we go up there at 3:00 [p.m.].  This is not for me to decide; this is a DPKO decision.

            At Thursday's noon briefing, having heard nothing back, Inner City Press asked again, and also about Sri Lanka:

Inner City Press: A couple of questions, very short, each of them.  In Sri Lanka, there is this report of the Government forcibly evicting Tamils from the capital to the northern part -- some people call it ethnic cleansing.  That's what some people call it.  What does the United Nations call it?  Has the UN said anything about this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I haven't seen anything on that particular subject today, so let me look into that for you.

Inner City Press: The thing of yesterday, on Bangladesh, they're refusing to allow the Special Rapporteur to leave the country, actually to testify to the Human Rights Council.  Has anyone in the United Nations system taken note of that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.  We followed up with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), because this involves a Rapporteur.  They have been advised that Sigma Huda has been prevented from leaving Bangladesh, where she has reportedly been charged under provisions of anti-corruption legislation in that country.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has requested clarification from the Bangladeshi authorities regarding the legal proceedings and charges against her and how, in light of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations and regulations on the status, rights and duties of UN experts on missions, such proceedings allow for keeping her from attending to her duties as Special Rapporteur, which include her addressing the Human Rights Council on 11 June, as she is scheduled to do.  So, that's what we have from the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Inner City Press: There was a demonstration a couple of weeks ago, across First Avenue from here, with people from Bangladesh saying that, in the same way that Fiji's being looked at, that possibly the United Nations should take note of a coup and of human rights issues in Bangladesh in terms of use of Bangladeshi peacekeepers.  Is that on the UN's radar?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not seen anything on that.

Inner City Press: One last thing -- are we getting any closer to maybe having the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) Under Secretary-General Inga-Britt Ahlenius come and give us a briefing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  On what subject?

Inner City Press: The various reports that they've presented to the General Assembly.  I'd like to hear about the Pension Fund, but this is an ongoing request.  Weíve heard in the air that it may be getting closer. I want to make sure. Is it true?  Have you heard that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing to announce as of now.

            Less than four hours later, the Spokesperson's office announced that Ms. Ahlenius would finally be available for questions -- on ten minutes notice. Inner City Press arrived late, but still asked about, among other things, OIOS' investigation of allegations of UN gold and gun trading in the Congo, click here for that article. If the UN's Luis Moreno-Ocampo had deigned to answer even one question, about the Lord's Resistance Army, a follow up might have been about the ICC's failure to indict Congo militia leaders like Peter Karim, who killed and kidnapped UN peacekeepers and recruited child soldiers, across even to UNICEF, click here for that story.

            Regarding tomorrow, Friday, Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press:  This is actually a Gambari follow-up.  There's, I think, tomorrow evening, Mr. Gambari's scheduled to speak at an outside event.  I guess itís a fundraiser. There are tables being sold for $20,000 a table.  I e-mailed you this question, but I wondered what is the United Nation's policy on having high officials speak at outside events at which funds are raised?  What kind of review is made of the sponsors of the event or the use of funds?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I'm sorry, I have to tell you that the International Criminal Court Prosecutor, Mr. Ocampo, is coming to the stakeout, so if you are interested in talking to him, now is the time to go to the stakeout. The answer to your question on Mr. Gambari, I'd have to look into this event.  Again, Iím not aware of the event that you're talking about.

Inner City Press: It's sponsored by the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, or WANGO, it's Friday [inaudible].  Itís in the e-mail I sent to you.

Deputy Spokesperson:  You send a lot of e-mails.

            As usual, a day late and a dollar short...

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

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