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Inner City Press Podcast --

At the UN, No Belarus But Much Boasting, Human Rights Hypocrisy Is Widespread

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 17 --  "I came here today to vote for Belarus," Sudan's Ambassador told Inner City Press on Thursday in the hallway of the UN General Assembly. Inside the GA chamber, a vote was to be held, in which Bosnia beat out Belarus 112 to 72 for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

            Sudanese Amb. Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem denounced the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and said that "colonialism is coming in a new form." Afterwards an American correspondent sighed that the Bush administration has given up the moral high ground, which now allows such comments.

            While Amb. Abdalhaleem's statements were the most flamboyant -- one wag joked that he did everything but wear an "I [Heart] Belarus" t-shirt -- other countries' Ambassadors spoke similarly, against what they called hypocrisy and name-calling by the West. South Africa's Amb. Dumisani Kumalo said, "It's not for us to judge." Apparently not -- when asked about the African Group's opposition and twenty amendments to the draft declaration on the human rights of indigenous people, Amb. Kumalo said he wasn't aware and would check it out. We'll see.

Ambassadors of Sudan and Egypt in the GA before Thursday's vote

            Mid-morning, as U.S. Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad passed the GA entrance with two body guards, a reporter trailed after him, asking first about the U.S.'s role in getting Bosnia to enter the race, and of the barring of UN human rights expert Jorge Bustamente from two U.S. detention facilities for undocumented migrants, in Texas and New Jersey. "I am not holding a press conference," Amb. Khalilzad said with a smile. What was that, about the U.S. foregoing the Council Presidency press conference because of so much availability to the press?

            In a less-watched contested Human Rights Council vote, Italy edged out Denmark, 101 to 86. Sources tell Inner City Press that the Danish cartoon's issue didn't help. It is an issue that runs below the surface in the strangest places in the UN.

            Surfacing in the UN's entrance from 42nd Street Thursday afternoon, looking wind-blown and harried, was humanitarian coordinator Sir John Holmes, just back from Somalia -- which he left early in the face of four bombings -- and Uganda. "Welcome back," one reporter told him. We will await his briefing.

            While many governments and groups issued Human Rights Council statements on Thursday afternoon, the record shows that neither Ban Ki-moon nor the GA president could claim any credit for avoiding the sound-byte, Belarus on Human Rights Council. Team Ban's position is to not get involved in "General Assembly affairs." And the PGA, as she's called, says that it's all up to member states. Sometimes, as with the withholding of basic information about whom the UN hires, blaming member states is a diversionary argument. Click here for that story.

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

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