US Signs Disability Convention, UN Withholds Pen From William Kennedy
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, July 30 -- Accompanied by William Kennedy Smith and Barack
Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice signed
on to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on
July 30. The UN's 38th floor conference room was packed, journalists
on one side, disability right advocates on the other. Ambassador Rice
took a question from the press corps, relating this signing to the
U.S. joining the UN Human Rights Council.
One wanted to ask, will the
U.S. be joining the International Criminal Court? But time did not
was enacted in 2006, without the support of the Bush administration,
the chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Convention Don MacKay
told Inner City Press that arguments that a reference to reproductive
health meant abortion rights has no merit at all. Click
here for video, here for
Inner City Press' story at the time.
signing, one might expect the Obama administration to move toward
joining the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against
Women, regarding which as Inner City Press recently
asked, similar abortion-related arguments have been
made. But that is for another day.
Ambassador Rice used to sign the disabilities convention was handed
to William Kennedy Smith. He took additional questions from the
media. Inner City Press asked about his comment that the World Bank
had to spend million retrofitting infrastructure it helped build
after Hurricane Mitch, because accessibility for the disabled had not
been considered. "I got this from James Wolfensohn," he
told Inner City Press. He might have added that similar inaccessible
building with U.S. foreign aid took place in Kosovo,
a UN staffer
asked William Kennedy Smith for the pen. He offered to buy her a new
one, saying that this pen was symbolic. The UN staffer responded that
everyone asks for
the pen, but the UN uses the same pen for all
signings. As Inner City Press videotaped the discussion, quickly
dubbed Pen-Gate, a US Mission spokesman stepped in to try to defuse
US' Rice and UN's Ban sign, not on
disabilities but immunity of swing space- but is it accessible?
down from the 38th floor, the head of the UN Office of Legal Affairs
Patricia O'Brien spoke about her office's upcoming move out of the
UN's building, as part of the Capital Master Plan renovation. She was
told about Pen-Gate, and remarked, "That's terrible." Then
the elevator doors closed.
one correspondent who had been left out of thesigning due to a lack of
space marveled that the US Mission was in charge of who got into the UN
Deputy Secretary General's conference room. The UN made a point of
controlling the pen that Ambassadors use to sign multilateral treaties,
but cedes control over the Secretariat's space to Permanent Five
members' press preferences (click here for
France's Sarkozy example).
present in the signing room in spirit, if not physically, was long
time UN disability rights expert Thomas Schindlmayr, who helped
shepherd through the Convention back in 2006. May he rest in peace.
UN Peacekeeping, Lost Horizon of Somalia and Sexual Abuse, Chad
Mission Half Staffed
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, July 28 -- Faced with demands to deploy peacekeepers in
Somalia, to stop rape while working with rapists in the Congo and to
police restive crowds in Haiti, the UN Department of Peacekeeping
Operations has produced a report, which a UN official calls a "cry
from the heart," called New Horizons.
On July 27 two UN
officials who declined to be identified by name described the report
and conundrums to a handful of reports on the UN's 37th floor. They
called a budget cut of seven percent cut from what they'd asked for
"doable," they described trying to get peacekeepers from
new countries like Vietnam.
asked what the report is suggesting on the topics of sexual abuse and
exploitation, procurement irregularities like the no-bid Lockheed
Martin contract in Darfur, and on the human rights records of the
troops the UN takes, from countries like Sri Lanka and Fiji or
perhaps one day Myanmar and North Korea. Strangely, these relatively
obvious issues for UN Peacekeeping are neither the focus nor in some
cases even mentioned in the report.
sexual abuse and
exploitation, such as charges against the Moroccan contingent in Cote
d'Ivoire or the Sri Lankan troops in Haiti, an official argued
that upon repatriation to their countries, the peacekeepers are often
disciplined. Inner City Press asked, then why doesn't the UN report
said that some countries inform the UN
confidentially of the outcomes, but do not consent to make it public.
The UN shouldn't be surprised that its reputation suffers. Since the
UN pays countries for peacekeepers, why not make the public reporting
of discipline a condition of the the payments? It's not in the
report, which might thus be called "Lost Horizons," a lost
previously told Inner City Press, after a question was left generally
unanswered on camera at the stakeout by chief peacekeeper Alain Le
Roy that DPKO has proposed that peacekeepers be tried in the
communities they are charged in, but under the law of their own
country. But member states, he said, shot down this proposal.
added with helpful but too rare candor that the countries in the
General Assembly jealously keep control of UN Peacekeeping, not
wanting it taken over for example by the Nordics, with their ideas of
a permanent rapid deployment force, or such countries as France,
which in Cote d'Ivoire and Chad keeps its own national troops
alongside more constrained UN forces.
named as the largest UN missions those in Congo, Sudan and Chad and
the Central African Republic. Two hours later, Inner City Press asked
Victor Angelo, the chief of the UN Mission in Chad and the Central
African Republic which known by the French or feline acronym
MINURCAT, how the New Horizons plan would help him get deployment in
MINURCAT up from the current less than half. Video here.
answered about stopping child soldier recruitment, which Inner City
Press had previously asked about, but did not name any change New
Horizon would bring. Lost Horizons, then?
UN's Le Roy and the Lost Horizon
soldiers don't deploy because their equipment is not ready. Inner
City Press asked about the case of a French EUFOR soldier shooting an
killing a Togolese peacekeeper serving the UN. Angela acknowledged
the incident -- the only violent killing of a UN peacekeeper
regarding which the UN did not issue a statement, either at the
request of France or because the story was too isolated and strange
-- and said that the shooter from EUFOR was caught two or three days
later and is on trial in France. Will France report the outcome?
Horizon will be
the subject of a Security Council debate on August 5. It will not,
the official said, just sit on the shelf, since it is written in
prose reminiscent of Hemingway. He acknowledged, however, that
despite all this planning ahead, the current renovation of the UN
will leave some DPKO staffers twenty minutes away on Madison Avenue.
Press suggested they speed to meet with Le Roy on a fleet
of Segways. The official envisioned bicycles instead: send in the
clowns. Back to the
future, Lost Horizons, a laudable mission hamstrung by politics,
excuse making and lack of follow through. We will cover the August 5
while the UN can unilaterally declare the officials it produces to
answer question to be anonymous, what is seen with the eye is still
for now on the record. On the 27th floor on Tuesday morning was Oscar
Fernandez-Taranco, who only the day before briefing the Security
Council the Middle East, but afterwards did not speak to the Press at
the stakeout, or to a reporter who tried by the elevators. If the UN
has a story to tell...
on the 37th
floor was UN envoy to Somalia Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, who asked Inner
City Press, perhaps as a joke, who had invited it so high. Inner City
Press was told that his presence on the Peacekeeping floor on Tuesday
was only because they have a big conference room, that the briefing
was humanitarian and included John Holmes, who has yet to speak on
Sri Lanka's backtracking on commitments to release its detainees or
its self-exoneration in the murder of 17 aid workers from Action
Contre la Faim.
In an attempt
to get something at least on the
record, Inner City Press at the subsequent noon briefing ask if Ould
Abdallah will have a media availability on July 29 after he briefs
the Council. Video here, from Minute 18:07. He has been in New York
for some days, the official answered -- Inner City Press saw him in
the increasingly empty UN cafeteria on Monday -- and he will be asked
to speak to the Press. We'll be here.