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Little Law & Order at the UN, Guinea Crimes Taint Ban's Eulogy

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 1 -- Uganda's notorious rebel movement, the Lord's Resistance Army, made a rare appearance on American network television on March 31. It was not on a news program or documentary, but rather as part of the plot of an episode of NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. A homeless man find a Uganda girl in a vacant lot, slashed across the throat and barely alive. The show's detectives follow leads to a church in Staten Island then back to Harlem, where a former LRA child soldier lives with other refugees. He in turn leads them to “the Devil of Gulu,” now working as a janitor and described as nearly indicted by the International Criminal Court before he left the region.

   In the run-up to the episode's airing, when the United Nations spokesperson twice promoted the show and the UN's role in it -- CNN covered it as the first use of the UN premises by a network TV program -- Inner City Press had guessed that it would portray LRA leader Joseph Kony, indicted by the ICC and on the run in Congo. But if Law & Order is indeed “ripped from the headlines,” this Devil of Gulu is based on a lower ranking LRA captain.

   After several plot twists, the show says that the U.S. government will extradite the Devil of Gulu to the ICC in the Hague. With the U.S. still not a member of the ICC, it is not known if this would or could happen. At a UN Security Council end of presidency reception this week at Libya House, the topic arose, whether the U.S. could or would arrest and extradite to the Hague Sudan's President Omar al Bashir if he came to the U.S..

   The UN itself made only slight appearances in the episode. A New York City prosecutor enters through the 46th Street gate and talks with a former law school classmate, now with UNHCR, who arranges for her to receive LRA photographs from the ICC in the Hague. The same character appears in the 42nd Street driveway, explaining that the UN would not consider a person who began as a child soldier to later be guilty of war crimes, even if he or she continued serving after hitting age 18. Finally, the detectives walk on a ramp in the visitors' lobby. That's it.

Contrary to what UN officials breathlessly projected to Inner City Press during the panel discussion at the UN about another TV show, Battlestar Galactica, there was no quote at the end of the Law & Order episode from the UN's expert on children and armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy. The UN building appeared three times, in passing; the only UN system speaker was a representative of the Geneva-based refugee agency, UNHCR. As the spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon routinely points out, the ICC is not a UN body. So was this really Law & Order, the UN edition?

UN's Ban in Uganda, Law & Order and Conte eulogy not shown

Footnote: at a higher-brow level of the culture, complete with white wine and mini quiches 12 floors above the UN entrance across First Avenue, the International Peace Institute on the same night as the Law & Order episode offered a by-invitation only dualogue between outgoing New York Times bureau chief for West Africa, Lydia Polgreen and former Times reporter Warren Hogue, now IPI vice president. In the nature of a question, Hogue said among other things that IPI is studying the effect of drug trans-shipment on the stability of states in West Africa.

  Ms. Polgreen replied about the assassination of leaders in Guinea-Bissau, and the military takeover in Guinea Conakry. That followed the death by natural causes of the country's longtime dictator Lansana Conte, whose passing triggered a laudatory statement by the UN's Ban Ki-moon. Shortly thereafter, a series of confessions including by Conte's son on Guinean television made clear that the leader praised by Ban had used his position and even diplomatic pouch and privileges to traffic drugs to Europe. There has been no retraction or clarification of Ban's eulogy. Is this Law and Order?

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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