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Inner City Press Podcast --

On Congo, Cognitive Dissonance at the UN, While UK Calls for Crackdown on LRA's Joseph Kony

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, May 26 -- "The election will be credible," responded France's Permanent Representative to the UN Jean-Marc de La Sabliere to questions Friday on Congo, to which he and nine other Permanent Representatives will travel next month after Sudan.

   Inner City Press had asked about reports of mass displacement in Ituri, and about most observers' skepticism about current president Kabila's claims that an opponent has attempted a coup with foreign mercenaries. Amb. de La Sabliere did not answer about the purported coup attempt, but spoke at length, as the UN's Ross Mountain has, about the number of polling places and the 25 million people who have registered to vote. "I cannot answer as to each village, in Ituri or Kivu," he said, "the DRC forced back by MONUC have done a good job."

            Earlier on Friday at the UN, at a briefing on children's right to HIV and AIDS treatment, the president of World Vision International Dean Hirsch had answered a question from Inner City Press about the lack of AIDS treatment in Congo by stating that "the DRC is the greatest tragedy on earth," comparing it to Darfur.

            The two statements, made three hours apart from the briefing podium in Room 226 of UN Headquarters, lead to cognitive dissonance. Does the continuing level of violence and underdevelopment in the Democratic Republic of Congo make it the world's worst tragedy? Or is everything looking up, at Amb. de La Sabliere and Ross Mountain have it, in light of an election scheduled for July 31, into which the UN is clearly invested? At what point does wanting the election to go well become whitewashing the world's world humanitarian crisis? And how can a Security Council member or mission declare, in advance of their visit as well as of the election, that an election "will be credible"?

"Ituri Explorer" / MONUC

     At the Security Council briefing, UK Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry responded to Inner City Press' question regarding the Lord's Resistance Army that the LRA has "wrecked havoc" leading to (among other things) one and a half displaced people; he reiterated that Kony has been indicted by the ICC and that the indictment should "be implemented" and Kony should "face justice." The spokesman for the Secretary General, who the previous day had said he'd inquire and get a response, provided one late Friday, quoted here in full:

"Northern Uganda continues to experience an enormous humanitarian crisis with 1.7 million Internally Displaced Persons resulting from more than 20-year old conflict. The Lord's Resistance Army activity is one of the most violent and vicious ever seen and it is in everybody's interest to implement the International Criminal Court indictments against its leaders. We are aware of contacts mediated by Sudanese VP Salva Kiir to arrange for a political solution to the LRA. The Ugandan Government insists its amnesty applies to all LRA elements with the exception of its two top leaders Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti. Although recognizing the LRA phenomena has to be addressed from a comprehensive military as well as humanitarian, political, social and economic perspective the overall focus should be on protection of the innocent, respect of human rights and fight against impunity."

          There it is. In other UN news, David Balton, with the long-winded title Chair of the Review Conference on the Agreement for the Conservation and Management of Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, predicted that Japan will be signing on to the agreement "in a week or two," but that outside the agreement remain large fishing counties such as China, Indonesia, Philippines and South Korea. He indicated his awareness of reports of the rogue trawlers Isabella, Carmen, Rosita, Eva and Juanita being serviced in Germany, Lithuania and Poland; his co-briefer Fernando Curcio responded that the European Commission is acting on this, and promised to provide documents in a week or so. Asked by Inner City Press if any fishing industry participants are members of the UN Global Compact, and if the Global Compact has had or could have any role in rooting out illegal, unreported and unregulated (UII) fishing, Mr. Balton said not to date, but that it might be worth asking the Global Compact.

            Speaking still of global, in the future tense, at Friday's Global Movement for Children briefing, UNICEF executive director Ann M. Veneman also answered on Congo, stating that she'd been to DRC this year and speaking passionately about the rape of children there. Responding to a question from Inner City Press about the more than 50 member states which have not provided any response to UNAIDS' survey, Ms. Veneman encouraged attendance next Tuesday at a May 30 UNAIDS press conference. Watch this site.

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Conflict Cocoa in Cote D'Ivoire But Maybe No Election; In Security Council, Late Night on Timor L'Este; In Kosovo, UN Uses Tear Gas Though the Spin

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, May 25 -- In Cote D'Ivoire, thirty percent of cocoa production leaves the country through informal channels, according to the UN's Abdoulaye Mar Dieye. This constitutes, among other things, tax evasion. Inner City Press inquired at Thursday's briefing into the use of child labor in cocoa production, an issue on which Nestle and ADM have been sued. Abdoulaye Mar Dieye responded by referring to a study that's about to come out.  In a subsequent interview he suggested that cocoa production might need something akin to the Kimberly process on conflict diamonds. (Click here for information on the Kimberly process).

  Abdoulaye Mar Dieye reiterated the recent statements of Gerard Stoudmann that elections by the October 31, 2006, deadline are "still technically feasible," although they would require bending if not breaking some procedural rules; he acknowledged that the deadline might not be met. Abdoulaye Mar Dieye stated that there are 700,000 internally displaced people in Cote D'Ivoire (OCHA's web site put the figure at 500,000.)

Guiglo per UNHCR

       On another displacing issue further east in Africa, with the government in South Sudan offering to mediate between Uganda and Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army, Inner City Press asked Kofi Annan's spokesman if the Secretary-General, now in Bangkok, has a position on whether South Sudan should arrest Kony, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court. It was said that a response will be forthcoming.

     What are the odds? A day after the UN's Soren Jessen-Petersen denounced as misinformation reports of attacks on Serbs in Kosovo, in the village of Krushe e Vogel / Mala Krusa stones were thrown at two Serb defense lawyers. he UN Police responded with tear gas. The previous day's press release had

"analyzed 1,408 Kosovo Serb convoys that were escorted by the Kosovo Police Service (KPS) during January to early May this year. It was found that there had been six incidents of stone throwing at these convoys and police had made five arrests in those cases."

  That is, less than four-tenths of one percent of convoys were attacked. So what were the odds of it happening the very next day?  TInner City Press raised the incident at the noon briefing; the questions, both unasked and unanswered, is why the UN attempt to spin in some areas while remaining silent on many others, for example on the "clandestine" violator of the arms embargo in Somalia and the metering of oil in Iraq.

            As the meeting of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues winds down, a briefing was held and these numbers presented: 1200 indigenous representatives attended along with 55 member states. Three of the states, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, openly spoke out against the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, not only against the notion of requiring the consent of indigenous people to projects on their land but also the reference in Article 3 to the right to self-determination.  Inner City Press inquired into Indonesia's position on self-determination for indigenous people, in light of West Papua. The chairwoman responded that Indonesia was not involved in the drafting process in Geneva, nor in this Permanent Forum meeting. Asked about the issues of missionaries, conversions and adoptions, under the rubric of loss of culture, Forum member Wilton Littlechild said the matter is not only in the draft, but also before the Commission on the Rights of the Child.  In a separate interview in the basement outside Conference Room 2, Mr. Littlechild described several class actions in Canada on these issues, alleging cultural genocide. Since the treatment by courts of claims of cultural genocide is an open question, one wonders if the Declaration -- in one its 19 perambulatory paragraphs or 45 articles -- shouldn't address the need in nations' laws for just such a cause of action.

            Finally, on Timor L'Este, events in Dili were murkily described at the Security Council stake-out at 5:40 p.m. by the UN's head of peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno. "Often we leave too early," he said. Inner City Press asked if events in Timor L'Este might cause a rethinking of fast UN pullouts from such locations at Burundi.  "Generally," Mr. Guehenno answered, "one should not be penny-wise and pound-foolish." He added that before leaving, one should make sure that the majority and the minority get along in a democratic fashion.  Yes, one should...

  The Security Council was to re-convene at 10 p.m.. Knowledgeable correspondents ascribed this to the need for the Chinese delegation to get word from Beijing; drained correspondents awaited the recently-dancing Chinese press attache, past deadline.

In the lull at the Security Council stakeout, informed / uniformed sources opined that next month World Cup soccer games will be broadcast in the lounge outside the Security Council, but not outside ("If it was still Mr. Lavrov [as Russian envoy to the UN] and it was up to him, it would be on TV in the Council too," one said).

At 9:56 p.m., a spokesman for China passing through the stakeout explained they had to call their Ministry, and didn't want to wake people up. "Now it's 10 a.m. in Beijing, we've gotten our instructions, it should all go quickly now."  -Filed 9:58 p.m. Eastern

At 10:10 p.m., a passing spokesman disclosed that, with the word "warmly" dropped, it is being passed. -Filed 10:11 p.m.

All this for six minutes (in Real).

At 10:23 p.m., Japan's envoy expressed hope that the UN will not have to reconstitute a peacekeeping force, but stated that when Ian Martin reports back, this too may be considered. There was much joking about returning to dinner, with references to Chinese takeout, and Japanese tea. Some looked for stronger fare. -Final filing 10:25 p.m. Eastern

At the UN, Too-Rosy Light on Myanmar, More Clarification on Timor L'Este and a Dance

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, May 24 -- Myanmar was illuminated, briefly, by rosy light at the UN Headquarters on Wednesday. Following his visit to Myanmar including its new capital Pyinmana, the UN's Ibrahim Gambari told journalists that Aung San Suu Kyi, who he called A.S.S.K., is in good health, that the military regime is working well with the UN's anti-drug office and, generally, that things are looking up.  Inner City Press asked Mr. Gambari if he raised to the regime the issues of press freedom, and of the Karen and stateless people, and about reports that Myanmar is defaulting on payments to the state-owned Ukraine arms supplier UkrspetsExport and on construction of its new capital in the jungle. Mr. Gambari said his visit was not about the defaults (or, by implication, about arms sales), but he was willing to describe his one hour visit to the new capital, stating that although most ministries have moved there, it is still fairly empty. Mr. Gambari made an analogy to when his country, Nigeria, moved its capital.  But the Myanmar regime's move seems not about rural economic development, but rather about staying in power.

Refugees from Myanmar (c) UNHCR

            Relatedly, Mr. Gambari was repeatedly asked about his and Kofi Annan's involvement in seeking an endgame for the Mugabe era in Zimbabwe.  While the spokesman turned questions away, Mr. Gambari appeared to respond that he's involved, then backed away.  We talk to a lot of people, was essentially the answer. Ah, diplomacy.

            Also diplomatic was the UNAIDS director's spin on more than fifty countries' failure to respond to UN surveys on AIDS. At a briefing on Wednesday he characterized such an inquiry as pessimistic. While tomorrow can always be a better day, for the UN to excuse failure to provide basic information seems counterintuitive.

            On an issues raised at the noon briefing, the UN's reaction to disturbances in Timor L'Este which has now invited back in foreign forces from four countries, in light of the critique that the UN left too quickly, the Secretary General's spokesman subsequently had an answer, on- and off-line. It was the U.S. and Australia which wanted to pull out when they did. He also stated, in the briefing, that the UN would not look kindly on the reported coup attempt by foreign mercenaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Well, unlike on Somalia and even Montenegro, it is a response. On Tuesday as Monday, the spokesman declined to comment substantively on the weekend's vote in Montenegro, despite Russia and now Serbia conceding the result.

            An observer noted that perhaps the UN made little of Montenegrin's vote for independence because the victory and credit for the peaceful transition, so far, is for the European Union and even Serbia.  Another noted that Timor L'Este is considered one of the UN's coups, so to speak, so perhaps the UN is reticent to highlight the temporary unraveling of things there. But what explains the lack of information from Somalia, in particular from the UN's envoy Francois Lonseny Fall? Most recently his office still has no comment on the UN-backed transitional government inviting in peacekeeper -- from which it seems fair to infer that the UN was not involved in this development. He still has no comment on the attempted sale by the breakaway region of Puntland of mineral rights to the Australian company Range Resources Ltd. In fact, the UN system insists on characterizing those who flee into Puntland as "internally displaced persons" and not full fledged refugees. (Click here for the wider humanitarian issues.) It was however observed: if you're going to play politics and put more energy into always siding on a one-state solution for Somalia, you should at least fully play the game and both be involved in seeking peace(keepers) and in speaking out against a breakaway region's sale of resources to a first world corporation, in what others in the UN have called a vulnerable conflict zone. If the UN doesn't speak on these matters, who will?

Footnote: When the day was done (and before this report was filed), the UN Correspondents Association threw a party for the release of its new directory. There was champagne and there was dancing, including by the press liaisons of the Canadian and Chinese missions. It was good to see. As one slick-dancing correspondent was heard to say (and not only as a song title), We are family.

At UN, Silence Greets Birth of a Nation, Montenegro, and Continuing Collapse of Another, Somalia

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, May 22 -- What if a nation was born and nobody came? The birth today of a nation, Montenegro, was met at UN Headquarters with a shrug, a confused look, even a yawn. Over the weekend, just over the required 55% of Montenegrins voted to break away from Serbia, the next to last shoe falling from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. The Kosovar question remains. At the noon briefing Inner City Press asked Kofi Annan's spokesman if the Secretary General had any comment on the birth of this nation. As summarized in the briefing's highlights,

"Asked if the Secretary-General had any comment to make on the independence referendum held in Montenegro over the weekend, the Spokesman said that the UN had no official comment to make as it is awaiting the official results to be announced. He added that the UN had taken note of the peaceful manner in which the referendum took place. Asked what the referendum meant for possible membership of the UN general Assembly, the Spokesman said membership is decided by the General Assembly."

     The spokeswoman for the GA president said she hadn't spoken with Jan Eliasson about Montenegro, but "we'll check on it for you." By press time, no comment was forthcoming, nor any description of the process Montenegro must follow. A call to the permanent mission to the UN of Serbia and Montenegro found the answering machine still listing the two countries together.  At 7:40 p.m., as Puccini's Madame Butterfly reverberated in the General Assembly (and one listener was seen with the white one-ear headphone on, clicking the translation knob) this response came in:

"I raised your question about Montenegro with General Assembly Affairs. The process is that Montenegro would apply for UN membership by sending a letter to the Secretary-General.  The Security Council would make a recommendation to the General Assembly, and the General Assembly would adopt a resolution.  An item to address such situations is on the agenda of all sessions of the Assembly."

Jan E. w/ FM of S&M

   Inner City Press sat in the Serbia and Montenegro seat, between the Philippines and Spain, in Conference Room 2 throughout the afternoon, for an otherwise well-attended meeting of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, including details on Indonesian plantations, mass evictions and the killings of 46 indigenous leaders in The Philippines. On agenda item 4B, the delegate from the Russian Federation spoke too fast for the translators, and too long for the chair. On the matter of requiring the "free prior informed consent" of indigenous communities to projects which impact them, a contrary joint statement by the U.S., Australia and New Zealand rejected consent, and also bad-mouthed the draft Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People.

            What if a nation was (re) born and nobody came?

      In another state disintegrating less peacefully, Somalia, parliamentarians in Baidoa voted over the weekend to invite in peacekeepers from Uganda and Sudan. Last week, the spokesman for Kofi Annan's envoy Francois Lonseny Fall had no comment on this. At Monday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked if Lonseny Fall had any involvement in the Baidoa announcement of inviting in peacekeepers (which would required UN Security Council approval, as it would contravene the arms embargo in place since 1992).  "We can check into it," the spokesman said.  At press time, nothing on Lonseny Fall's involvement if any. Meanwhile Puntland reiterated its lack of respect for and submission to Baidoa, on the question of selling its mineral and energy resources. In Puntland, General Adde Muse Hersi told reporters that "the government of premier Gedi has no land to rule and we will continue the missions to produce our resources and we are prepared to defend ourselves against any assault."  Presumably including by any troops from Uganda or Sudan...

In Brussels --

The Place of the Cost-Cut UN in Europe's Torn-Up Heart;
Deafness to Consumers, Even by the Greens

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee, in Brussels

BRUSSELS, April 28 -- Ears ringing with the talk of waste within the UN system, an Inner City Press reporter yesterday visited the consolidated, scaled back and renamed UN Regional Information Center (UNRIC) in Brussels, to see how an early attempt at cost-saving is working out.

            On narrow, car-filled Rue de la Loi, just passed the European Commission, the UNRIC is tucked in on the 7th and 8th floors of a stately building in the Residence Palace compound. Outside are construction zones, the city literally torn-up to build office space for the ten new EU members. Inside UNRIC it is spacious, with hardwood floors and uncaptioned photos of each Secretary-General. The UNRIC's deputy director is an engaging Dane who is among other things the answer to the UN system Jeopardy question: who was the spokesman for the president of the General Assembly when the World Trade Towers were demolished by hijacked plane? Who is... Jan Fischer. Mr. Fischer also served the UN in Iraq in 1993, along with a stint in Australia. He knows the System, and the context of the cost-cutting he's witnessed at the UNRIC.

            The travel budget the more than half-dozen country desk officers based in Brussels is $16,000 for six months. This has resulted in fewer trips to the countries covered by each desk officer, and even to them staying with family and friend on such trips. There's a striking correlation between surname and country covered: Carlos Jimenez for Spain, Fabio Graziosi for Italy, Dimitrios Fatouros for Greece and so forth. The desk officers were once "national information officers," which required this consonance. Now that they've had to move to Brussels, they've been "professionalized," in the parlance of the UN civil service. Still some stay with friends and family on their UN trips back home.

            In Brussels some 15,000 journalists cover the doings of the European Union and to some degree NATO. It is hard, Jan Fischer says, for UN news to break through. They hold press conferences, and briefings by visiting UN envoys, from conflict diamonds to the rights of the child. Across from the well-guarded United States embassy, there's a storefront for UNICEF, with its tell-tale blue sign. The UN's refugee agency, it appears from a list, has a dozen Brussels employees, seeking EU funding for their far-flung operations. UNRIC tries to get their stories told. Mr. Fischer says he'd rather say too much than too little; he suggests that the media not abandoned UN staffers who go off script and speak their minds. It's a plan that makes much sense, and one that we will follow. This series of occasional visits with continue from Inner City Press, consonant with the cost-cuts as they come.

Footnote: in a third-floor room in the European Parliament on April 27, Green party delegate Heide Ruhle listened while nodding to consumer advocates despairing of non-bank input into the pending Consumer Credit Directive. When asked, with an administrative colleague, about merger review in the Euro zone, the Green response was that review by particular nations is outmoded. Will Brussels' review consider predatory lending? That remains unclear.

Other Inner City Press reports are archived on

Kinshasa Election Nightmares, from Ituri to Kasai. Au Revoir Allan Rock; the UN's Belly-Dancing

Working with Warlords, Insulated by Latrines: Somalia and Pakistan Addressed at the UN

The Silence of the Congo and Naomi Watts; Between Bolivia and the World Bank

Human Rights Council Has Its Own Hanging Chads; Cocky U.S. State Department Spins from SUVs

Child Labor and Cargill and Nestle; Iran, Darfur and WHO's on First with Bird Flu

Press Freedom? Editor Arrested by Congo-Brazzaville, As It Presides Over Security Council

The Place of the Cost-Cut UN in Europe's Torn-Up Heart;
Deafness to Consumers, Even by the Greens

Background Checks at the UN, But Not the Global Compact; Teaching Statistics from Turkmenbashi's Single Book

Ripped Off Worse in the Big Apple, by Citigroup and Chase: High Cost Mortgages Spread in Outer Boroughs in 2005, Study Finds

Burundi: Chaos at Camp for Congolese Refugees, Silence from UNHCR, While Reform's Debated by Forty Until 4 AM

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

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

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

Racial Disparities Grew Worse in 2005 at Citigroup, HSBC and Other Large Banks

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

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

Iraq's Oil to be Metered by Shell, While Basrah Project Remains Less than Clear

At the UN, Dues Threats and Presidents-Elect, Unanswered Greek Mission Questions

Kofi, Kony, Kagame and Coltan: This Moment in the Congo and Kampala

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

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

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

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

For reporting about banks, predatory lending, consumer protection, money laundering, mergers or the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), click here for Inner City Press's weekly CRA Report. Inner City Press also reports weekly concerning the Federal Reserve, environmental justice, global inner cities, and more recently on the United Nations, where Inner City Press is accredited media. Follow those links for more of Inner City Press's reporting, or, click here for five ways to contact us, with or for more information.

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