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As US Signs Disability Convention, UN Withholds Pen From William Kennedy Smith

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED 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 permit.

  When the Convention 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.

   Given Thursday's 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.

  The pen that 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, among other places.

   Then 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 it.

US' Rice and UN's Ban sign, not on disabilities but immunity of swing space- but is it accessible?

  On the elevator 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.

  Afterwards, 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).

Note: 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.

* * *

For UN Peacekeeping, Lost Horizon of Somalia and Sexual Abuse, Chad Mission Half Staffed

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED 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.

   Inner City Press 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.

   On 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 on it?

  The official 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 opportunity.

   This official has 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.

  He 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.

   The officials 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.

  Angelo 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

   Angelo said that 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?

   New 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.

  Inner City 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 debate.

Footnote: 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...

   Also 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.

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

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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