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Inner City Press Global Inner Cities Report - April 3, 2006

Mine Your Own Business: Explosive Remnants of War and the Great Powers, Amid the Paparazzi

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee, at the United Nations

  UNITED NATIONS, April 3 -- On a day when UN envoy Jan Egeland was barred from entering Sudan, Mine Action and Awareness Day events were held in that country, with the involvement of the UN Mine Action Service. The UN Mission in Sudan put out a statement that "Egeland’s flight into Sudan was not given authorization to land yesterday" and "the Wali (governor) of South Darfur stated that he strictly opposes Mr. Egeland’s visit. The Sudanese Permanent Representation to the United Nations in New York further stated that Mr. Egeland would be welcome neither in Darfur nor in Khartoum." Simultaneously, the UN Mine Action Office in Sudan put out a press release entitled "The UN in Sudan Celebrates the First International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on 4 April 2006." The celebration apparently took place without Mr. Egeland, the UN's Emergency Relief Coordinator.

   A week earlier, UNMAS led a trip to Damazin, Sudan, to which refugees currently in Ethiopia are slated to return. The trip was led by Richard Kollodge, who in an April 3 interview with Inner City Press stated that the government in Khartoum has not blocked the work, at least in South Sudan, of the UN Mine Action Service.

   Back in New York, a Mine Action fact sheet was distributed stating that in 2005, three governments used landmines. The fact sheet didn't name them, but a question during the press briefing yielded two of the names: Nepal and Myanmar. In the hallway after the briefing, once the cameras were off, the third name emerged: Russia. In fact, the 2005 report of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines states unequivocally:

"Russia has used mines on a regular basis since 1999, primarily in Chechnya, but also at times in Dagestan, Tajikistan, and on the border with Georgia. Russia has generally argued that its mine usage has been necessary to stop the flow of terrorists, weapons and drugs... Russian forces have used mines extensively in Chechnya since the renewal of armed conflict in September 1999. Federal troops have laid mines around and leading up to bases, checkpoints, commanders’ offices, government buildings, factories and power plants; on roads and mountain paths in the rebel-dominated south; in fields running from Grozny to Alkhan-Kalu; in the estuary of the River Sunzha; along various borders. Russian officials have repeatedly claimed that all minefields are mapped, marked, and removed when troops relocate. [Source: report of Deputy Chief of the Military Engineering University, Maj. Gen. A. Nizhalovskii, during a virtual roundtable discussion of engineer equipment in military operations in Chechnya. Armeyskiy sbornik (Army collection), No. 6, June 2000, pp. 35-40.] These assertions have been contradicted by statements from both civilians and military officers. In addition to Chechnya, there appears to have been a considerable increase in rebel mine attacks in Dagestan, especially in May-June 2005. According to the Minister of Interior of Dagestan, Lieutenant-General Adilgerei Magomedtagirov, 58 terrorist acts (bombings) have been committed in Dagestan since the beginning of 2005, 40 of them committed in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan. [Russian source]

   Some in the press corps wondered not if naming Russia during the on-the-record press conference was a coincidence, given that two smaller (and less powerful) state-users of mines were named. During the briefing, Inner City Press inquired whether the type of cluster munitions most recently in the news from use by the United States in Afghanistan qualify as "mines." No, was the answer given at the briefing by Max Gaylard, the director of the UN Mine Action Service, who added that such cluster munitions are "just as dangerous" and constitute a "next important issue." One wag noted how members of the Permanent Five can contort a debate, leading to fact sheets missing basic facts, and definitions with glaring loopholes.

[See 9 p.m. update below: a cluster bomb answer came after deadline from UNDP: "Cluster munitions are addressed by mine action when they are dropped and become unexploded." Hmm.]

Ela Bhatt speak on micro-credit at the UN, 4/3/06

   At an earlier press briefing, Ela Bhatt of SEWA Bank in India spoke about microcredit, in the run-up to a (late-starting) Fashion for Development event. Inner City Press asked whether Ms. Bhatt would agree with Citigroup's characterization of its own consumer finance lending in India as "micro-finance." In response, Ms. Bhatt emphasized that it is the organizing of the poor that is important, and not merely the provision of credit for interest. Those at the briefing nodded, though much of the interest in the briefing had been the flier saying that the Colombian-born singer Shakira would be there. Once it was clear that she would not, the paparazzi left, and Ms. Bhatt spoke eloquently of the marginalization of street vendors. This was slated to continue at 5 p.m. in Conference Room 3, but as of press time at 5:25 p.m., the event had yet to start. Not appearing to collect their awards were Hillary Clinton, Kerry Kennedy, Nélida Piñón, and Angelina Jolie. The m.c. joked that all present knew the reason for this last. Such is the news... Various fashionistas were, however, assembled (as elsewhere in the basement preparations to greet a cosmonaut were underway). And at 5:35 p.m., as Global Compact executive head praised the fashion industry, Shakira swept into the room, and the flashbulbs were blinding. Upon receiving her award, she spoke briefly. Whether a question about the UN's ILO should open an office in Colombia in light of the murders of trade union organizers there remained to be seen.

[9 p.m. 4/3/06 update: the answer is no, no questions were possible. At the Fashion for Development shindig in the Delegate's Lounge, slinky dresses were paraded (one falling one, by accident or design) to pumping Brazilian and flamenco music. Outside a hard rain fell on Long Island City. The quasi-cosmonaut event had red sturgeon eggs on pastry. And after deadline the Afghan cluster bomb answer rolled in, from UNDP: "Cluster munitions are addressed by mine action when they are dropped and become unexploded." It was too late to follow up, for now -- the cleaning crew was closing the UN down.]

Footnote: earlier in Conference Room 2, Nicaraguan Ambassador Eduardo J. Sevilla Somoza, nephew of Anastasio Somoza Debayle, the country's president until 1979, was rubberstamped to head a committee considering the UN Charter...

Human Rights Are Lost in the Mail: DR Congo Got the Letter, But the Process is Still Murky

 Byline: Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press UN Correspondent

UNITED NATIONS, March 31 -- The "a dog ate my homework" defense proffered to the UN Human Rights Committee by the Democratic Republic of the Congo was discredited on Friday, in questions and follow-up at the UN Headquarters in New York. At a March 16 open meeting, the Congolese representative claimed that the question-letter of the Human Rights Committee had never been received. But on March 31, UN associate spokesman Robert Sullivan confirmed that the question-letter had been given directly to the DRC's permanent representative in Geneva.  If the homework was eaten, it was not by the dog.

Human Rights Committee Chairperson at 3/31/06 briefing (stream)

            At a March 31 press briefing, the chairperson of the Human Rights Committee Christine Chanet was asked by Inner City Press how the Committee sends its question-letters to state parties. "We use notes verbales," she said. "We can send mail and email." Asked to assess the DRC's statement that it did not receive the question-letter, she said, "We have to suppose that it is true." The other two Committee members conducting the press briefing both weighed in. Sweden's Elizabeth Palm opined that the issue arose in connection with an "individual communication" -- that is, a complaint -- to which DRC never responded, leaving the Commission to consider only one side of the complaint, and in closed session at that.

  Among the questions asked in the purloined letter was this overarching one, still unanswered:

"Please comment on the growing number of reports of enforced disappearances and summary executions throughout the territory of the State party, apparently committed by all the parties to the armed conflict. What has the State party done to stop these violations and afford remedies to the victims and their families?"

  The letter also referred to these sample complaints:

Isidore Kanana Tshiongo a Miranga v. Zaire; No. 542/1993 (Agnès N’Goya v. Zaire); No. 641/1995 (Nyekuma Kopita Toro Gedumbe v. Democratic Republic of the Congo); No. 933/2000 (Adrien Mundyo Busyo, Thomas Osthudi Wongodi, René Sibu Matubuka et al. v. Democratic Republic of the Congo); No. 962/2001 (Marcel Mulezi v. Democratic Republic of the Congo).

   Ivan Shearer of Australia ascribed DRC's lack of response to "administrative disorganization" that he said he hoped would soon end.  Elections are scheduled for the DRC in June; as Ms. Chanet noted, issues have arisen about the release prior to the election of voter information.

            Access or no-access to information also came up at the briefing. The Committee panelists alluded to an unnamed country which, since it declined to submit a report, was reviewed only in confidential session -- presumably what this still-unnamed country wanted in the first place. As previously reported on this site, at least one of the Human Rights Committee's meeting that was listed as "open" was abruptly closed, by means of a piece of paper taped to the door of Conference Room 2. Asked about this, Ms. Chanet said that often the non-governmental organizations that make presentations to the Committee need to be protected by keeping the meetings closed.  But the Committee earlier this month solicited and heard testimony from NGOs about the United States' compliance with the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights -- did the testifying NGOs ask to be confined to closed sessions? They didn't ask that it be open session, Ms. Chanet replied. Perhaps in the future this will change.

Friday footnote: following the UN Security Council's vote, without hearing from the Republic of Georgia, to extend the UN Peacekeeping mission there for six months, Inner City Press asked outgoing Council president Cesar Mayoral why Georgia had not been permitted to speak (as Georgian permanent representative Revaz Adamia has been complaining for months).  "One member blocked it," Amb. Mayoral said.

"That would be Russia?" asked Inner City Press.

"You're the one saying that," the Argentine Ambassador replied.  With a smile.

An earlier Inner City Press report, on Iraq, footnote on DR Congo

As Operation Swarmer Begins, UN's Qazi Denies It's Civil War and Has No Answers if Iraq's Oil is Being Metered

 Byline: Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press UN Correspondent

   UNITED NATIONS, March 16 -- Kofi Annan's representative to Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, on Thursday described to the UN press corps a country on the upswing, where people view each other in secular terms and there is little to no danger of violence spreading over any of the country's borders.  Ashraf Qazi said, "I don't personally believe they are anywhere close to a civil war" and "the situation has so far been under control." Ashraf in Wonderland, said one wag at the briefing. Out in real world, 1500 troops and 50 helicopters were conducting assaults near Samarra, part of "Operation Swarmer."

      In New York, Mr. Qazi arrived more than half an hour late for the scheduled press briefing. He was accompanied by a staffer from the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary General, who made a list of the reporters who raised their hands to asked questions, but then went out of order for the final two allowed questions. Inner City Press, which has sought since December to get an answer regarding oil metering in Iraq, was passed over, for a question that elicited from Ashraf Qazi statements that "on the streets, Iraqis don't deal with each other as Shia and Sunni," but such fissures in governance "haven't allowed ministries to become professional and competent." As the briefing ended and Mr. Qazi and his entourage made for the side door, Inner City Press' reporter shouted out, "Is oil in Iraq being metered?"

            "I don’t know."
            "That's too technical." 
Ashraf Qazi on 3/16/06

            "We'll try to get Mr. Halbwachs to answer." This last was from the Spokesman's Office staffer, who acknowledged having gone out of the order on his list.  "I thought you were going to ask that question," he said.

            This was not mind-reading: Inner City Press began asking this question about oil metering in December 2005. There's a new context, including reports that Iraq's Oil Ministry is warning Western Oilsands of Canada against bypassing the Ministry and seeking oil directly in the Kurd-dominated north of the country, presumably unmetered.

  At the December 2005 press briefing at the United Nations, regarding oil metering, the UN's Jean-Pierre Halbwachs stated that we “understand that a recent agreement has been reached between the Government of Iraq and a U.S. company to undertake the task.” See,

   The minutes of the Jan. 23 meeting (also online at vaguely state that “the IAMB was informed that no progress had been made with regards to the metering contract.”

            Midday on March 16, Inner City Press sent an email to Mr. Halbwachs at the address he gave at the December press briefing, and raised the matter -- and others -- at the regular noon press briefing, including the report about Western Oilsands of Canada and oil in the Kurdish north. The spokesman had no response about oil metering, stating that the oil belongs to the people of Iraq. That's the point -- if the oil is continuing to flow unmetered, it makes the use of the revenue to benefit Iraq's people ever less likely. 

            Finding no answers from the United Nations, which chairs the International Advisory & Monitoring Board on the Development Fund for Iraq, Inner City Press will also be pursuing these issues elsewhere, including in Washington with the International Monetary Fund, whose Bert Keuppens sits on the Advisory & Monitoring Board. Watch this space.

IAMB, including Messrs. Halbwachs & Keuppens, 12/05

   Elsewhere at the UN on March 16, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was critiqued at length before the human rights panel in Conference Room 2. DR Congo's representative claimed that some of the question-letters had gotten lost. One wag thought, even on human rights, it's like the dog-ate-my-homework defense...


In Locked Down Iraq, Oil Still Flows Unmetered While Questions Run in Circles

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press UN Correspondent

UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 24 – While Iraq is on lockdown, that country’s oil continues to flow unmetered. Basic information about the issue continues to be shrouded in mystery by the International Advisory and Monitoring Board for the Development Fund for Iraq. In just-released minutes of IAMB’s Jan. 23 meeting in Paris, it is vaguely stated that “the IAMB was informed that no progress had been made with regards to the metering contract.”

            IAMB had previous stated, in December 2005 press briefing at the UN, that it “underst[ood] that a recent agreement has been reached between the Government of Iraq and a U.S. company to undertake the task.”

            Faced with questions on Feb. 24, at the UN Secretary-General’s Spokesperson’s press conference, and in writing to Iraq’s UN mission, none of these officials would answer these questions:

-does a contract or agreement for the oil metering exist? If so, with which company? If not, was IAMB’s public-stated December understanding inaccurate? If so, why?

      Inner City Press raised these questions at the Feb. 24 noon briefing by the UN Secretary-General spokesperson.  The UN’s Jean-Pierre Halbwachs is the Secretary-General’s representative on the IAMB, and chairs the IAMB. Inner City Press was encouraged to ask the Iraqi mission to the UN. Despite submissions of written questions, as the UN emptied out on the afternoon of Feb. 24, no answer had been received. The online minutes of IAMB’s Jan. 23 meeting name all of the participants at the meeting except for the Government of Iraq / IGI, of which it is only stated “Adviser, Ministry of Finance.” Inner City Press then bypassed the Iraqi mission’s press attaché, and was referred to a staffer who while not providing the name of the “U.S. company,” speculated that his government’s representative to IAMB might be one Mr. Turki of the Supreme Board of Audit, whose contact information he said would be provided next week.

    Subsequently the IAMB’s spokesman at the IMF informed Inner City Press that since Iraq’s first representative to IAMB was assassinated, it has since been the policy not to name subsequent representatives, nor even the venues where IAMB meets. He stated that prior to the December 2005 press briefing, IAMB had been informed that a contract had been let, but that in Paris in late January, the unnamed Iraqi representative(s) now said that no contract was awarded. He committed to asking IAMB to make some public statement regarding the contract, prior to IAMB’s next meeting in late May. What was the identify of the referenced “U.S. company”? ICP was told that IAMB’s spokesman has no direct access to IAMB’s chairman, Jean-Pierre Halbwachs, regarding whom questions should be directed to the UN: full circle.

  -- Jean-Pierre Halbwachs briefing reporters on 12/28/05

  Elsewhere at the UN headquarters on Feb. 24, at a Black History Month presentation in Conference Room 8 in the basement, names were named: a call was made, to Attorney General Gonzalez and to the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama to convene a grand jury regarding a murder on February 8, 1965 of Jimmy Lee Jackson. The name named as Jackson’s killer was Alabama state trooper James Bernard Fowler. A reporter who’d faced a day of Iraqi oil metering run-around sighed, it’s not so hard to name names…

Other Inner City Press reports are archived on

Cash Crop: In Nepal, Bhutanese Refugees Prohibited from Income Generation Even in their Camps

The Shorted and Shorting in Humanitarian Aid: From Davos to Darfur, the Numbers Don't Add Up

UN Reform: Transparency Later, Not Now -- At Least Not for AXA - WFP Insurance Contract

In Congolese Chaos, Shots Fired at U.N. Helicopter Gunship

In the Sudanese Crisis, Oil Revenue Goes Missing, UN Says

Empty Words on Money Laundering and Narcotics, from the UN and Georgia

What is the Sound of Eleven Uzbeks Disappearing? A Lack of Seats in Tashkent, a Turf War at UN

Kosovo: Of Collective Punishment and Electricity; Lights Out on Privatization of Ferronikeli Mines

Abkhazia: Cleansing and (Money) Laundering, Says Georgia, Even Terror’s Haven

Post-Tsunami Human Rights Abuses, including by UNDP in the Maldives

Halliburton Repays $9 Million, While Iraq’s Oil Remains Unmetered

Darfur on the Margins: Slovenia’s President Drnovsek’s Quixotic Call for Action Ignored

Who Pays for the Global Bird Flu Fight? Not the Corporations, So Far - UN

Citigroup Dissembles at United Nations Environmental Conference

Other Inner City Press reports are archived on

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