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At the UN, Indigenous Miss Mr. Ban, Fight for Rights While UN Censors Films for its Member States

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 24 -- The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has been meeting at UN Headquarters for ten days now. On the first day, Inner City Press asked chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, if there had been any indication with new Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would meet with them. No, she indicated.

            Inner City Press subsequently asked Mr. Ban's spokesperson's office, which said he hadn't been invited, and that Mr. Ban did not want to get involved in General Assembly affairs, presumably a reference to the Draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which is now stalled by objections by the African Group, and Canada, New Zealand and other behind them.

            On Thursday Inner City Press asked Ms. Tauli-Corpuz if the Forum had invited Mr. Ban. "Yes," she said.

The indigenous in the UN: "Where Ban?"

            At Thursday's UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: Who has Ban Ki-moon met with during the Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues?  Has he met with the proponents of the draft resolution on rights?  Since theyíve been here about 10 days now.

Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe: Iíd have to check that for you.  I donít know off the top of my head.

            Later the following arrived:

From: Marie Okabe [at] un.org

To: matthew.lee [at] innercitypress.com

Subject: Re: noon briefing (and other) questions, in writing, including PFII

PFII The SG had been invited to attend the opening of the Permanent Forum and had would have liked to have attended but could not due to a scheduling conflict.  The Under Secretary-General for Social and Economic Affairs, Jose Antonio Ocampo, was present at the opening and welcomed the participants on the Secretary-General's behalf. The fact that he was not present should not be interpreted as a sign of lack of support of the ideals and goals of the Forum.

            "It is unfortunate Mr. Ban Ki-moon didn't come," Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said at a Thursday afternoon press conference, since there was a half-day session on Asia, "and he is Asian."

            On the substance of the Draft Declaration, both Ms. Tauli-Corpuz and Wilton Littlechild of Canada told Inner City Press that they think the declaration will pass the General Assembly, but by a vote, not be consensus. Still, Mr. Littlechild implored member states to view the declaration as a solution to conflicts in their society.

            In UN-world, however, even a film about the mistreatment of indigenous people can be censor, upon the request of a member state. Inner City Press previously reported that Vietnam had moved to block the screening during the UNPFII of a film about the Hmong, and had asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson's office to confirm this. On Thursday, the following was read out:

And thereís a question on DESA, I believe.  A formal complaint by the Permanent Mission of Viet Nam to the United Nations was received on 18 May by the Chairperson of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues regarding the scheduled screening of two films on UN premises on 22 and 23 May.  The Ambassador of Viet Nam expressed in his letter to the Chairperson of the Permanent Forum grave concerns about the contents of the films as being alarmingly biased against the State of Viet Nam.  Given that the United Nations is an organization of Member States, and in light of the formal protest of a Member State, DESA was of the view that screening these films on UN premises would be inappropriate and that the films could be screened off the UN premises.  The Permanent Forum continues to be an important place where indigenous peoples voice their concerns and indeed in the presence of Member States and have a dialogue with States.

...at 1:30, here again in room 226, we have the Chairperson and a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, who will be briefing you on the outcome and recommendations of the Forumís current session, to which you can address further questions.

            Inner City Press did ask about this at the 1:30 briefing, and Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said that she'd favored the screening of the film, but that DESA runs the Forum's secretariat, and pulled the "member states say" card.

            By this logic, what if Sudan said, "We don't want there to be any further discussion or film screenings about Darfur" -- would the UN move all such events outside the building?

Update of May 25 -- The film, "Hunted Like Animal," is being screened at a gallery at 217 E. 42nd Street, between Second and Third Avenues, a block and a half from the UN. The filmmaker extended an invitation to Vietnam's Ambassador Le Luong Minh, including to a Q&A session to follow the film. As they say in Spanish, "Hablando, se entiende" -- by speaking, people come to understand each other...

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            Copyright 2007 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] innercitypress.com -

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

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