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Ban Ki-moon's Soft Ear Not Heard at UN Human Rights Council, Lost in the Mail, Bosnia Letter

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 18 -- Beating a midnight deadline by mere minutes, the UN Human Rights Council on Monday adopted rules for its future work. Two countries which until now have been the subject of human rights rapporteurs will now have scrutiny reduced: Belarus and Cuba.

            Many in the UN system recently congratulated themselves and the System that Bosnia rather than Belarus was elected to the Council. But now the Council has voted to stop human rights monitoring of Belarus, despite the (now final) report of rapporteur Adrian Severin that the situation of human rights deteriorated during 2006 in the former Soviet republic ruled by Alexander Lukashenko, including torture and lack of independence of media and judiciary.

            As the time for decision approached, North Korea denounced the proposal to continue the rapporteurs, and said it will never cooperate.  Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's spokesperson on Monday, hours before the vote while the controversy was live, what the Secretary-General was doing:

Inner City Press: On the Human Rights Council, it's reported that there’s this package presentation by the [chairman - typo in UN transcript] saying that the rapporteurs would continue, but as to Belarus and Cuba, they would be dropped.  And there's a proposal by China to require a two-third vote in the future to have any country put on the special rapporteur process.  Has the Secretary-General had any views, has he provided any guidance on this or does anyone in the Secretariat have a view of how this...?

Spokesperson:  As you know, the affairs of the Human Rights Council, the representative of the Secretariat there is the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Arbour, who has already spoken out on the issue.  Right now, they are meeting, at this hour, and they are probably going to meet way into the night tonight.  So I don't have the results yet, I don't know whether the two-third vote asked for was passed, and I don't what has happened because it hasn't happened yet.  So let's just wait for it.

             How did such waiting serve the people of, for example, Belarus? What message is sent by the Secretary-General's "soft" approach to human rights?

Mr. Ban addressing Human Rights Council March 12, 2007 - but not June 18, 2007

    Another question raised Monday involved Bosnia and genocide:

Inner City Press: There's a report that two of Bosnia’s Presidents have written to Ban Ki-moon asking that he get involved to, I guess, bring the country back together.  Has he received a letter and what's his response?

Spokesperson:  Well, I asked this morning.  I heard about it, but I don't have an answer yet on whether the letter was received by the Secretariat upstairs.  As soon as we have confirmation that it is received, we'll let you know.

            Twelve hours later, nothing had been said, despite the senders' statement that the letter was sent last week: "'The situation created in Bosnia-Herzegovina ... is a direct result of genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and war crimes,' said the letter, which was sent to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by Presidents Haris Silajdzic and Zeljko Komsic. 'Therefore, we are urging you to use your authority and influence to ensure that these obligations are fulfilled and that all efforts are made to eliminate the results of genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina,' according to the letter, which was sent last week."

            What, we ask again, has happened with the UN's mail and communications systems? We'll see.

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

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