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At the UN, Indigenous Rights Get Deferred, As U.S. Abstains, Deftly or Deceptively

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

UNITED NATIONS, November 28 -- The draft declaration on the rights of indigenous people got deferred on Tuesday, in a vote of the UN General Assembly's Third Committee that pitted Namibia, other members of the African Group, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and some others against Peru and other sponsors of the declaration. The vote on deferring action was 82 for delay, 67 for action, and 25 abstaining.

            Following that, Peru urged supporters of the rights declaration to abstain from approving the draft with the deferral attached. On this second vote, 83 countries supported the amended draft, and 91 countries abstained. Under UN rules, the amended draft was deemed approved.

            The United States abstained for the vote to defer, a move that a Chilean representative characterized as both deft and deceptive. The U.S. had previously spoken out against the declaration, when it was debated earlier in the year at the UN.. As with most opponents, the stated reason for concern is the draft's reference to self-determination.

 .          In the run-up to Tuesday's vote, Inner City Press twice asked U.S. Amb. Bolton for his position on the declaration. The first time, on November 22, the response was that Ambassador Miller would speak for the U.S.. But the item was not considered that day.  From the second level of Conference Room 1, even on Friday indigenous representatives and other observers began a groaning -- which would only grow louder on Tuesday.

    Tuesday morning, Inner City Press asked Amb. Bolton for the U.S. view. "There's a procedural vote first," Amb. Bolton said. As it turned out, there were enough votes to defer that the U.S. could afford to abstain.

            Namibia's pre-vote statement argued that some provisions of the draft would violate the constitution of some African countries. Egypt's representative noted that when the draft was considered by the UN Human Rights Council, ten African nations abstained. If what followed has been dialogue, he said, it has been "the dialogue of the deaf."

            After the African Group voted as a block and the resolution as proposed by Peru was deferred, groans went up from the second level of Conference Room 1, where many indigenous representatives were sitting. When one hapless staffer of an African nation's mission wandered up to the second level looking for a seat, he was met with angry stares. "Divide and conquer," someone muttered.

Indigenous on the run

   The mood Tuesday in Conference Room 1, at least here, was similarly angry and disappointed as when the small arms conference failed, and Sri Lanka's representative persisted in calling it a victory.  Tuesday after the votes, nations continued speechifying until the translation services stopped. A point of order was raised, that this was no longer an official meeting. From the podium it was argued that it could still be official, even if the meeting continued in only one language, English. Eventually it was decided to resume the Third Committee's business on Thursday morning.

            After Tuesday's votes, Inner City Press asked the North America representative to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Wilton Littlechild, was asked what the next steps are. "Now the onus is on Africa" and the other deferrers and abstainers, he said. Immediately following the first vote, Mr.. Littlechild says he approached Namibia's representative and asked how the amenders intended to proceed. "They didn't know," Mr. Littlechild summarized. "They said they'll talk to the co-sponsors."

    Mr. Littlechild also opined that the draft declaration got caught in a wider debate concerning the authority of the UN's third committee, charged with social, humanitarian and cultural matters, to review the reports of the Human Right Council.     

            "We'll be back in the fall with the same text," promised Mr. Littlechild. The evening after the vote, Inner City Press asked representatives of Chile and Peru is they thought the declaration will pass before September, and neither could in good conscience say yes. On the other side, Inner City Press interviewed a representative of Guinea-Bissau, who emphasized the African countries' good faith in deferring action, with the argument that with up to 200 tribes in some countries, a vaguely-defined self determination could cause problems. (Like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has caused problems, he added.)

    Some opined that General Assembly President Haya Rashed Al Khalifa might have gotten involved and tried to bring the sides together, as her predecessor Jan Eliason was known to have done. But a Peruvian staffer who has worked on the draft declaration for seven  years said, "Clearly, the house is divided.  It is up to the African Group to come back to us proponents with some reasonable changes, and then to make sure it gets adopted before the 61st General Assembly ends in September." Developing...

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At the UN, Threat and Possible Statement on Fiji Spotlights Selection and Payment of UN Peacekeepers

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

UNITED NATIONS, November 28 -- As Fiji slides toward an apparent military coup, a United Nations diplomat on Tuesday told Inner City Press that a move is afoot in the UN Security Council to issue a Presidential Statement as a warning to Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who has threatened to overthrow the government of Fijian prime minister Laisenia Qarase. "There could be a coup there any day," the UN diplomat said. "We've had a lot of consultations on it and might try to move very soon... tomorrow or the next day."

            At the UN's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Kofi Annan's spokesman to confirm that Mr. Annan had called Laisenia Qarase and had said that the UN would stop accepting peacekeeping troops from Fiji if a coup takes place. The spokesman confirmed that the call had occurred, but deferred any summary of the call until later in the day.

           Tuesday afternoon, Inner City Press asked Ambassador John Bolton for the U.S. view on the turmoil in Fiji, prefacing the question by saying that Kofi Annan had placed a call, and said the UN might not accept peacekeepers from a post-coup Fiji. From the U.S. Mission's transcript:

Inner City Press: On Fiji, the secretary-general has called there and said    that if there's a coup that the U.N. won't accept peacekeeping troops from there.  Is the U.S. --

Ambassador Bolton:  There's a press report that says that... We are discussing here today the possibility of the Security Council engaging in something that it talks a lot about but rarely does -- namely, preventative diplomacy.  But -- and we've been in discussion with a wide range of countries, but we're not at this point prepared to say exactly where we're going to come out.  But we're certainly watching the situation there very carefully.

   Four hours after the noon briefing, Inner City Press against asked Kofi Annan's spokesman's office for a summary of his call about Fiji. We're still waiting, was the answer. He definitely made the call, but we're still waiting for the summary. [See update of 6 p.m., below.]

            If Mr. Annan did make the reported statement about rejecting peacekeeping troops from a country under military rule, it would call into question a number of the so-called "troop contributing countries." Human rights groups in Zimbabwe, for example, have asked the UN to stop accepting, and paying for, Zimbabwean troops in peacekeeping missions, given the abuses committed in their home country. A similar call was made regarding Nepal.

UN Blue Helmets in Haiti

  One should also follow the money. The word "contributing" is somewhat misleading: the UN pays the nations for the troops, and also for equipment. For weeks Inner City Press has requested an answer from the UN regarding how much Germany is seeking to charge for the use of its ships to patrol the coast off Lebanon. In the interim, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations provided Inner City Press with this breakdown of reimbursements:

Subject: compensation of TCCs

In response to some questions you had for Steph on compensation for troop-contributing countries....

1.) How do we reimburse TCCs for the use of their soldiers?

TCCs are reimbursed the following for each soldier:

A. (i-iv) are paid directly to TCCs

      i)  Troop cost - $1,028/month
      ii)   Personal clothing, gear and equipment allowance -  $68/month
      iii)   Personal weaponry - $5/month
      iv) Specialist rates for 25% of troop strength (for logistics Units, eg engineering, aviation, medical) - $303/month
      v)  Specialist rates for 10% of Infantry Units - $303/month

B.  (vi-vii) are paid directly to the soldier in the UN Field Mission

       vi)  Daily allowance - $1.28/day
       vii)  Recreational leave allowance - $10.50 per day up to 7 days of
leave taken during each 6 months period.

2.)  How we do know/ensure that the money goes to the actual soldier and doesn't get kept by the army?

The MOU is signed between the UN and the TCC and there is no mechanism in place to ensure the utilization of payments made directly to the troop contributor (Item A).

With Item B, the Field Mission ensures payments are made to the soldiers.

3.) Do we reimburse TCCs for ammunition used?

Training ammunition is a national responsibility unless the Force Commander specifically authorizes and directs special training beyond accepted UN readiness standards.
And on somewhat more general note....

Troops serving in UN peacekeeping operations are paid by their own Governments according to their own national rank and salary scale.

Countries volunteering military contingents and formed police units are reimbursed by the United Nations.

The standard rates, approved by the General Assembly, are used to compensate for pay and allowances of all troops and supplementary payment for specialists (within infantry, logistics contingents and formed police units).

 In addition, troop contributing countries are reimbursed for the usage of personal clothing, gear and equipment, including personal weaponry.

The current rates of reimbursement paid by the UN to troop contributing countries per peacekeeper per month include: $1,028 for pay and allowances; $303 supplementary pay for specialists; $68 for personal clothing, gear and equipment; and $5 for personal weaponry.

            To countries like Fiji, Nepal, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and others, UN payment from sending soldiers overseas is a profit-center for the government. Incongruously, it was reported this week that UN peacekeeping troops in Haiti cost $10,000 a month - click here for that report. While at the UN on Monday there was a call for nations to disclose how much they make from sale of national resources, and how they spend it -- click here for Inner City Press' story on this -- one wonders why the UN doesn't require, or at least suggest, that countries disclose how much they are paid for troops and equipment "contributions," and how they spend it. A Troop-Contributing Country Transparency Initiative. It could start with less concealment of how much Germany is asking for the use of its ships in Lebanon. Developing.

Update Nov. 28, 6 p.m. -- well after 5 p.m. deadline, the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary General released this:

"The Secretary-General is alarmed by the continued possibility of a military coup d’état against the legitimate government of the Republic of Fiji Islands.  He encourages the parties to continue their search for a peaceful reconciliation of their differences within the constitutional framework.  

"The Secretary-General also wishes to stress that further prolongation of the crisis may damage Fiji’s international standing, which it has built carefully over the years, as an important contributor to UN peacekeeping operations and more recently as a member of the Peacebuilding Commission.

    "The Secretary-General stands ready to complement national and regional efforts aimed at overcoming the crisis through dialogue."

   A relevant phrase, in diplomat-speak, is that any prolongation of the crisis might damage standing built on peacekeeping "contributions." One notes this wasn't said, at least not this way, with respect to Thailand and its coup... One theory has it that Kofi Annan played the "no more participation in peacekeeping" card in this instance because some, even many, of those moving toward a coup have made money from peacekeeping, and that the U.S. Mission was miffed at Annan's ploy because Washington wants to be (seen to be) saving the day. We'll see.

At the UN, China and Islamic Dev't Bank Oppose Soros and World Bank On How to Fight Poverty

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

UNITED NATIONS, November 27 -- "We do not impose political conditions." So said China's representative Liu Zhenmin in critique of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which financier George Soros described at the UN Monday during a daylong discussion of the Millennium Development Goals. Video here at Minute 1:44:00.

            Mr. Soros replied that the EITI contains no conditions about democracy, but focuses rather on the use of revenue by governments. Video here at Minute 2:32:36.

            "Transparency not conditionality," summarized the UN's Shashi Tharoor, who moderated the session.

            This same critique of conditionality was launched by the operations director of the Islamic Development Bank, Dr. Amadou Boubacar Cisse, former minister of Niger. Inner City Press asked Dr. Cisse if the IDB, in making its general loans including trade finance, considers such matters as workers' rights or environmental protection, under the Equator Principles or otherwise. Video here, from Minute 35:54.

            The IDB's Dr. Cisse responded, "If you are asking if we impose conditionality such as the World Bank, the answer is no. We are not interesting in doing that. Our member countries are our partners." Video here, from Minute 37:07.

Fleeing to Yemen: MDGs?

            Dr. Cisse had announced that a Memorandum of Understanding would be signed Monday at 3:30 with the UN Development program. UNDP apparently shares the opposition to conditions. UNDP helps the Karimov government of Uzbekistan to collect taxes, and helps Robert Mugabe set up a human right council which is being boycotted by NGOs in Zimbabwe. (China's dealing with Zimbabwe have previously been reported.)

   When UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis was approached with these and other questions on Monday after he gave a speech about the MDGs, he replied that he does not answer questions upon leaving a meeting. He has not appeared to give a press conference in over 14 months. UNDP does not appear to favor Transparency Initiative, either. Reporters who asked were not allowed to attend Monday's MOU signing, and no copy of the MOU, although requested, has been provided in the eight hours to follow.

News analysis:  noting the consonance between the positions Monday of China and the Islamic Development Bank, one wonders how the conditions of low-income manual workers, migrating for example from Pakistan or East Asia to the Gulf, might be improved, if anti-poverty funds are given without conditions or oversight. At least five of the 50 least development nations are major oil producers, but this wealth has not alleviated poverty.  Take, for example, Equatorial Guinea, which after the  money laundering scandal at Riggs-now-PNC Bank pledged to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. While still an LDC, the presidential heir in Equatorial Guinea, Teodorin Nguema Obiang, recently bought a $35 million mansion in California. Transparency, anyone?

   Dr. Jeffrey Sachs concluded the afternoon's debate by directing countries in the audience to go to UNDP. For the Press, going to UNDP does not work; one wonders if Dr. Sachs is aware of UNDP's lack of transparency.  Dr. Sachs chided countries for not setting high enough goals. As Inner City Press has previously reported, doubling for example access to drinkable water in Chad, from the current 19% to 42%, still leaves half the population with unhealthy water. Noted in the GA hall on Monday was a water distilling contraption by a private firm, whose representative said it would cost only $1000. (Inner City Press asked the representative the process by which hsi company had been selected and allowed to demonstrate its product in the UN Headquarters; "my boss did it," was the the non-transparent answer.)  It still had to be plugged in, so count on greater costs for solar or other power. Still, unlike some of the debate, the distilling machine was concrete.

            Following the afternoon's debate there was a reception, sponsored as the debate was by General Assembly President Haya Rashed Al Khalifa. It was held in the UN Delegates' Dining Room, complete with roast beef and salmon, hummus and champagne. One saw the Ambassador of North Korea pacing the room, and no one but two reporters approaching him. One saw an ambassador who will remain unnamed picking roast potatoes from the common bowl with his fingers. One heard much talk of poverty reduction, but many questions remained unanswered, including by the UN's own Development Program. They will continue to be asked.

Other Inner City Press reports are archived on

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