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In Liberia, From Nightmare to Challenge; Lack of Generosity to Egeland's CERF, Which China's Asked About by Inner City Press

BYLINE: Matthew Russell Lee, at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, April 20 -- In Liberia, on the same day that the United Nations celebrated the end of programs for internally displaced people by its Mission to Liberia (UNMIL), the refugee agency UNHCR declared that "we are not here to transport refugees back to their countries" and that "because of the increase of number of Liberian refugees all over that are requesting our assistance to return back home, now we are in logistics nightmare."

            At the noon briefing at UN headquarters, Inner City Press inquired into the specifics of this "nightmare," and immediately followed up with written questions to the spokesman at UNHCR's New York office:

"is UNHCR asking for additional resource for the return to Liberia of the 2000 refugees in Sierra Leone and Guinea that Representative Mengesha Kebede projects will seek this week to return? Is any other UN agency involved or being asked to become involved? Long shot: were any of the corporate CEOs on UNHCR's 'Council of Business Leaders' being asked to be of assistance?"

   Four hours later, UNHCR's New York spokesman sent a copy of this press release. From Annette Rehrl of UNMIL, these details:

"My assistant... who went with the Rep yesterday to another opening ceremony just confirmed that he made that statement, but the sentence is out of context... What Mr. Mengesha Kebede referred is firstly extremely poor road conditions in Lofa county, where most of the returnees from Guinea and Sierra Leone go to... UNHCR has had to engage itself in road and bridges repair... UNHCR is appealing to donor countries to continue supporting its efforts to bring Liberian refugees back home."

            The UN as many others view the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf led government installed in Liberia on January 16, 2006, as a a dream and not a nightmare. Ms. Rehrl suggests that rather than Mengesha Kebede's "nightmare," the situation in Liberia is more akin to a logistical "challenge." At least that's an answer. As to Uzbekistan, from which UNHCR has been expelled, the surreal of the day was the movement not of people but of spent nuclear fuel described as enough for two and a half bombs. While UNDP states that it will now deal with refugees in Uzbekistan, it also emphasizes that most of these are Afghans. But was of those deported to Uzbekistan, for example the eleven sent from Ukraine? Who is following up on that, or rather, on them? We'll see.

Liberia: Nightmare?

 Update of the UN Central Emergency Response Fund

April 20, UN -- After Jan Egeland briefed the Security Council about humanitarian issues in Africa, he took questions from reporters.  He spoke passionately about Darfur; asked by Inner City Press if Joseph Kony is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mr. Egeland said he'd heard Kony is in Southern Sudan, and that he hopes Kony will soon be in The Hague.

            On March 9, 2006, Mr. Egeland announced there had been $256 million in contributions to the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).  The web site, as of April 20 (stating that it was updated on April 6), listed the same amount. Asked by Inner City Press for an update, Mr. Egeland said the number is now $260 million; he added that it is being well spent, in the Horn of Africa, Chad and Western Cote D'Ivoire.

            China's Ambassador Wang Guangya, asked "with all due respect" (by Inner City Press) why China has contributed only $1 million to the CERF, stated that this is the limits of China's capability, and that while below some countries, it compares favorably with other developing countries. As of press time, the CERF Donor List web site shows the China's contribution is doubled by India, and that the Republic of Korea's is fully five times higher.

Footnote: It was hurriedly announced on Thursday that the CEOs of ten companies have been named to the Global Compact's Board. Inner City Press asked if these CEOs will take questions from the media, on their human rights performance. Again it was stated that this would be a good idea. We'll see if it gets implemented. The Global Compact Board is slated to meet in New York this summer.

Basement footnote: a meeting in Conference Room 1, entitled "ICT as a Tool for Development," feature Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and a microphone with feedback. The speakers' bios had been garbled through late-night transmission, according to one of them. AOL's titan who owns every sports franchise in DC bragged that each day features two billion instant messages on AOL. Not for long, one wag was heard to say...


Inner City Press: Tale of Two Citi's: Sandy Lives Richly While UN Begs for Refugees and Darfur is Redacted

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the UN

NEW YORK, April 18 -- In this capital city for finance and diplomacy (in that order), twenty block and twenty minutes can separate the self-celebration of a $1.5 trillion dollar bank and an international organization that's forced to beg to feed the starving and for permission to serve refugees. On Tuesday at Carnegie Hall a modern-day Pierpont Morgan, Sandy Weill, presided over his last annual shareholders meeting at Citigroup, handing the reigns to his understudy Chuck Prince. As reported by AP, questions were raised about predatory lending, money laundering and tax evasion. But the ritual rolled on, replete with videos of tributes to Sandy, from a craven Dan Rather to a gushing Robert Rubin, who called Sandy the "most knowledgeable" business leader he'd ever "engaged with." $45 million a year will buy these kind of plugs. Citigroup's directors, some on the board for more than twenty years, were each re-elected by Saddam-like margins of 98 percent. Chuck Prince intoned that Citigroup will open over a thousand branches or consumer finance outlets in the coming year -- "three a day," he bragged.


            Further east at the UN, the noon briefing was a tale of more marginal woe. There was talk of Chad and of Sudan's Darfur region.  The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees formalized its "regret" on being thrown out of Uzbekistan, to which people who demonstrated at Andijan are being deported, to face uncertain futures.  Inner City Press asked for comment on the Uzbekistan regime of Islam Karimov now publicly supporting the South Korean bid to succeed Kofi Annan. There was no comment. Perhaps none was needed, since South Korea simultaneously announced an energy deal with Uzbekistan. Most would call that buying votes. In Turtle Bay it is unremarkable, or at least, unremarked on. And while UNHCR decried Australia's new outsourcing of refugees from Papua, it stopped short of opting out. In a carefully worded statement, from Geneva it was said: "UNHCR would not normally substitute for a well-established national procedure such as Australia's."  But these are not normal times, nor is this a normal Citi.

            At press time the stake-out was like the bleacher for batting practice at Yankee Stadium: John Bolton's spokesman came out and whisper, and a dozen chased the ball. "People want to get out of here," he said. "So this will be fast."

            "And they'll do Chad after Sudan?"

            "I'll let you know."

            City of hurry up and wait, interchangeable crises on the Upper East Side's gold coast. Kofi strode in at four minutes to six, to personally brief on Chad. Like a ship in the night, Mr. Salim Salim came out, to take questions at the stake-out. He expressed optimism; he initially declined to say anything about Sudan's support of the rebels in Chad. Then he relented, acknowledging that the situations are intimately related, and that he'd spoken to the Security Council about this relation. And then he was gone. Subsequently John Bolton took questions on why four names have been redacted from the public version of the draft Sudan resolution. As he answered, Kofi Annan sped from the chamber and then he was gone. The French Ambassador was the last talking head standing, answering Inner City Press that "things in Africa are not as they were, fifteen years ago, where you could just seize power by force." He pointed out that naming just three individuals in Ivory Coast had "been enough" to calm things down; he made it clear, by implication, that France will not meet with the Chadian rebels. And in Darfur the tide of death continues, at a faster pace than the offices of Citigroup.


The Chadian Mirage: Beyond French Bombs, Is Exxon In the Cast? Asylum and the Uzbeks, Shadows of Stories to Come

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, April 13 -- As Chadian rebels seeking to oust President Idriss Deby reached the capital N'Djamena, and published reports quoted a French Ministry of Defense spokesman that a French Mirage fighter dropped a bomb "near" a column of the insurgents, France's Ambassador to the UN, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, told reporters that French soldiers in Chad are only there to protect French citizens.

   When Inner City Press asked Amb. de La Sabliere what the French troops' rules of engagement are, Mr. de La Sabliere referred only to an earlier statement by the Minister of Defense, made before the Mirage and bomb reports emerged. After explaining why France intends to demand that whoever succeeds Kofi Annan must speak French, Amb. de La Sabliere left the stake-out. An hour later Inner City Press posed written questions to the media attaché of the French mission:

-could you confirm that there at now 1350 French troops in Chad (1200 plus the new 150), and that that the statement on your web site that "the French community in that country which numbers about 1,500 people" means 1500 non-military French citizens and also, how many of those more or less remain in Chad right now?

   Two hours later, the French mission responded that the Ministry of Defense communiqué, twice referenced as an answer by Amb. de La Sabliere, is not in fact online; an AFP report, in French, was provided, in which Defense Minister Jean-Francois Bureau confirmed the bomb-drop from the Mirage but said it had no military target. Rather, he said, it represented a signal addressed to the belligerents, of a psychological or political character translating France's preoccupation with the situation. [Translation by Inner City Press; the original direct quote was "un signal adressé aux belligérants", de "caractère psychologique ou politique traduisant notre preoccupation"]. The response also stated that it "can confirm the figures of the French troops in Chad."

Kofi Annan visits Chad, 7/2/04- before 4/13/06 bomb

  As UN Headquarters emptied out for a three day weekend, there was a OSSG written statement on Chad, that Kofi Annan "strongly condemns once again any attempts to seize power by force or other unconstitutional means and appeals to the protagonists to resolve their political differences through peaceful negotiations."

     But how wide is the cast of protagonists? Does the roster include France, with its fifteen hundred citizens and troops, and now a bombing interest? Does it include Exxon Mobil and Chevron, which own 40% and 35% respectively of the Chad - Cameroon pipeline? Developing...

Footnote (then foreshadowing) -- on April 11, Inner City Press asked if the UN resident coordinator in Tashkent, Fikret Akcura, check in with UN HQ before that day praising the Karimov regime's progress on the Millennium Development Goals. The question was in light of Karimov ordering the exit of UNHCR by April 17, while continuing to demand the return of those who protested in Andijan. We now have a not-kurt response directly for Fikret Akcura:

From: Fikret Akcura
To: Matthew.Lee [at]
Sent: Thu, 13 Apr 2006 19:00:44 +0500 (Ekaterinburg Standard Time)
Subject: Re: Question re your 4/11 statement re Uzbek progress toward MDGs, relation to expulsion of UNHCR, etc.

Dear Mr. Lee,

Yes, strictly speaking, the MDGs do not include the good governance dimension. I guess this was by design in order to reach consensus and be able to hold the Millennium Summit in September 2000. Otherwise, it would have been extremely difficult to agree to a set of goals so clearly described. For many of the MDGs, Uzbekistan is indeed in a good position if one considers that this is a country with no more than $500 per capita. For an as-if least developed country, the absence of hunger, the equal access to schooling for boys and girls, a literacy rate around 97%, the relatively wide availability of electricity & gas & water, wide availability of primary health care are all very impressive indeed. If we compared the MDG indicators of Uzbekistan with those of many African and Asian countries of similar GDP per capita, the favorable situation in this country becomes most evident. Much of this owes to the Soviet infrastructure inherited by the CIS countries. However, the dislocations of transition has made it very difficult for them to maintain let alone build on that inheritance. In the case of environmental indicators, we should mention the terrible legacy that was also inherited - such as the Aral Sea disaster that affects both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan deeply. Another disadvantage for these countries is the base year of MDGs (1990) which coincides with the breakup of the USSR and their involuntary birth. As a result, they faced many problems that detracted from moving steadily up to better indicators by the MDG target year of 2015. A byproduct of the slower transition path taken by Uzbekistan is reflected in the better MDG performance compared to some of the faster reformers. However, MDGs have to be fed by sustained high economic growth and the faster reformers may start showing higher MDG returns soon. The international community is formulating a PRSP process with the Government in order to ensure steady reforms, sustained economic growth and the meeting of the MDGs by 2015. I hope the above is somewhat helpful to your article. I am sorry I could not respond more broadly or earlier - I was busy with arranging for UNDP's take over of UNHCR's work with the almost 1,800 refugees who will be looked after by UNDP once UNHCR closes on 17 April.

   But it was that incongruity -- UNDP praise while UNHCR is being thrown out of the country that led to the initial inquiry. There will be further questions, and answers.

Foreshadowing: in the wake of Australia further tightening its policy on asylum seekers, to now exclude and "out-source" even those who reach the Australian coast by boat to Nauru and two other islands, UNHCR has been asked for its position, and about what role, if any, it would play in assess these asylum claims, particularly of Papuans. A response has been promised, though perhaps only next week. Watch this site.



Through the UN's One-Way Mirror, Sustainable Development To Be Discussed by Corporations, Even Nuclear Areva

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, April 11 -- Sustainable development, a talismanic buzzword in both the corporate and the UN worlds, was the focus of a report released Tuesday as a glossy pamphlet with accompanying Power-Point(TM) on CD-ROM. It's in preparation for 12 days of meetings on the topic at the beginning of May. JoAnne DiSano, director of the UN Division of Sustainable Development, stated that the CEOs for various companies will be attending.

   When asked by Inner City Press to name the companies and how they were chosen, Ms. DiSano named three: Shell US, Alcan and Eskom. Subsequently a staffer named more: Electricity de France along with an "Italian utility," presumably Ente Nazionale per l'Elergia Eletrica and, subject to confirmation, the producer of nuclear reactors and fuels Areva <CEPFi.PA>.  Areva, it should be noted, is bidding on a contract to supply four nuclear reactors to China, while fending off questions about its domination of legislative and other processes, and its disposal of spent uranium and plutonium. Click here for Areva NC's recent 400-page disclosure on these issues -- released in response to a ruling by the Cherbourg county court to provide proof of its claim that it is not illegally storing foreign waste at its La Hague reprocessing complex.

            At the UN briefing on Tuesday Inner City Press asked: "Are all of the invited companies members of the UN Global Compact?"

            Some are and some aren't, Ms. DiSano in essence answered. When asked if the CEOs will brief the press and take questions, both Ms. DiSano and her staff said it would be a good idea. That's what the head of the UN Global Compact, Georg Kell, told Inner City Press in an impromptu interview before his pep talk at a Fashion and Development event in the UN basement last week [see April 3 Report, below.]

    UN Under-Secretary Jose Antonio Ocampo responded that the Global Compact is about more than the environment. The report that was the subject of the briefing, "Trends in Sustainable Development," references the Global Compact and voluntary "corporate social responsibility," another swirling buzzword. Whether the Sustainable Development conference, slated for May 1-12, will including a corporate stake-out remains to be seen.

After the quake in Muzaffarabad

            In other UN corporate news, an inquiry to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, about what they called a financial "scheme" with Société Générale and derilab s.a., resulted in the following answer:

From: Olivier Pierre Delarue

To: Matthew.Lee [at]

Sent: Thu, 6 Apr 2006 14:18:54 +0200

Subject: Re: Fwd: Press inquiry concerning how Societe Generale Corporate & Investment Banking, and derilab s.a were selected for participation with UNHCR

I work in UNHCR's Private Sector Fund Raising Service as Senior Corporate Relations Officer and your query about this fund raising initiative was forwarded to me... Based on the previous exchange of email you sent, your focus seems to be on the procurement and bidding process done by the UN. This particular initiative, however, is a fund raising project first proposed by  corporate entities and aimed at raising funds for UNHCR's humanitarian program.  Therefore, as with any fund raising project, we are not talking about the usual procurement procedure.

In my capacity as Senior Corporate Relations Officer, my role is to work on creating new partnerships with the corporate world in order to increase our donor base and receive greater financial and expertise from the private sector. In this particular case, Derilab s.a. approached us in the aftermath of the earthquake in South Asia and proposed to assist us pro bono in finding new ways of raising donations from the financial market for this emergency. As this was never done in the past, a financial product which incorporated a charity/donation component was not easy to build. Derilab presented the project to all the major banks involved in structured and derivative products. Only Societe Generale showed a serious interest in working on this new concept.

As matter of principle, UNHCR screens all new partnerships with the private sector. Societe Generale, the only bank to show an interest for this project, was screened. As a result of our careful review, Societe Generale was screened positively for various reasons, including their participation in the UN Global Compact. Please note that in the case of this initiative, UNHCR is only a receiver of donations through this financial product -- but is not endorsing the product itself.

     Inner City Press responded with follow-up questions, including regarding Societe General's long embroilment in a money laundering scandal, and asked:

-is membership in the Global Compact the main screen UNHCR applies to its corporate engagements, whether philanthropic or in procurement? What are the other "various reasons"? Did your careful review of Soc Gen -- just as an example -- include the issues raised by the money laundering allegations sketched below, including those in Nigeria (we're aware that Soc Gen has not been convicted of anything, but that wouldn't seem to be the standards for a careful review).Again, these questions don't go to the merits of how the funds are used by UNHCR -- as an aside, hats off for your work in the Balkans and with Return, Afghanistan, etc.

- is derilab s.a a signatory to the Global Compact? (I'm aware I could look it up, but the question also includes -- if a company is not a signatory to the Compact, what else do you look at?) 

   Neither question has yet been answered. A Web search for derilab reflects that nearly all of the "hits" are about its recent "scheme" with UNHCR. It's own web site says only

"derilab(R) was recently founded by experts in the field of financial derivative and structured products. derilab's focus is to provide it's [sic] customers with key information on derivative and structured products. derilab also advises on the structuring of financial products."

            It might well be on the level. But it's not yet clear that if it weren't, the scheme would not proceed. It would help if the follow-up questions were answered. Or, for purposes of the corporate stake-out (idea) Soc Gen's CEO is Daniel Bouton.

            Elsewhere at UN headquarters on Tuesday, the main press interest was the freeze-out of Hamas. Political contacts, said Kofi Annan's spokesman, will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Is this a new policy? The policy is in evolution, it is fluid.  It is, in a word, developing. Sustainably or not, only time will tell. 

            One of the (James) bones of contention at the noon briefing was how much UN special coordinator Alvaro de Soto confers with UN headquarters, before engaging in "political contacts." Often, appeared to be the answer.  Which led into the following colloquy:

            Did the UN resident coordinator in Tashkent, Fikret Akcura, check in with UN HQ before on Tuesday praising the Karimov regime's progress on the Millennium Development Goals? I haven't seen his statement, the spokesman replied. (Fikret Akcura's statement, put out on the IRIN service of the UN, was then and is as of this writing online, click here.)  The praise can be contrasted with Karimov ordering the exit of UNHCR by April 17, while continuing to demand the return of those who protested in Andijan. (Click here for more. Another lesser contrast is that the Uzbekistan Q&A did not make the cut for the briefing's online highlights, what standard was applied is unclear.)  Mid-afternoon, the OSSG proffered an answer, that both agencies are part of a UN country team and as such share information, including with Headquarters. Despite the prompt response, we're still left with a question: at the UN, at least in Uzbekistan, does the left hand know what the right hand is shaking?

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...

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