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Pro-Poor Talk and a Critique of the World Trade Organization from a WTO Founder: In UN Lull, Ugandan Fog and Montenegrin Mufti

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, June 8 -- The chairman of BP / British Petroleum on Thursday denounced the high cost of remitting money from poor people to their relatives as "a horrific indictment of the financial system."

   Peter Sutherland, Kofi Annan's point-man on migration and founding director general of the World Trade Organization, also conceded that the poor are ill-served by the WTO's dissonant treatment of goods and people. Nations accede to the free movement of goods and increasing services, but restrict those who must travel in search of work or other improvement.

   Asked what might make member states be as open to people as goods and services, Mr. Sutherland responded both that there are economic benefits and that it is inexorable, given most of the developed world's declining birthrate. Thus the briefing ended, but there were ever yet more question some quite concrete. In Russia for example, with its dwindling population, much of the construction work is done by migrants from Central Asia. Uzbek immigrants live in sheds, subjected to shakedowns under threats of deportation. The use of migrant labor may well be inexorable, but the fair and humane treatment of migrants is not.

BP's Mr. Sutherland & S-G

            The recent UN migration report's author, Hania Zlotnik, was asked about this outside the briefing room. She recounted recently watching an old Public Broadcasting Corporation documentary about Chicago, in which Eastern European immigrants were exploited but now have even power. She reported that on the substance of migration, the United States is not being a problem -- only on the issue of the upcoming forum and its timing. In the wake of Wednesday's John Bolton - Mark Malloch Brown dust-up, the U.S. position on migration was not mentioned in the briefing.  

   The U.S. was the elephant in the (briefing) room, as it is on the issue of the funding of the warlords in Somalia. On that, Ambassador Loj in the morning predicted a Security Council briefing, which occurred, leading to a more formal presentation from Francois Lonseny Fall, now slated for June 19. Whether he will take questions is not yet known. On Thursday, incoming General Assembly president Haya Rashed Al Khalifa was slated to speak with the press, and then decided not to at the late minute.  Speaking in depth, not in Room 226 but rather in the UN Correspondents Association, was the Grand Mufti of Bosniak and Albanian Muslims in Montenegro, Rifat Fejzic, who painted a positive picture of the treatment of the Islamic community in what's slated to be the 192nd member state. He estimated that there are 150,000 Muslims in Serbia itself, not including Kosovo.

   A long-time Balkans observer was surprised at the Grand Mufti's upbeat take, contrasting it to the Bosnians. He referenced a Balkan proverb, that one who is bitten by a snake becomes afraid of a lizard. Independence via referendum and not bloodshed means that lizards can be addressed without fear. The Grand Mufti said that French officials have approached him, for information on how to bring about a more hierarchical organization of Muslims in France. How this will work out is anybody's guess.

            There was something of a lull at the UN on Thursday. The Secretary General urged reporters to put the speech story behind them, advice echoed by the forthcoming lame duck General Assembly president at a four-minute East Foyer stakeout. John Bolton was in London; his Security Council colleagues were in Sudan, from which Reuters reported that Joseph Kony's deputy Vincent Otti will be participating in talks with South Sudan and even Uganda. Since Mr. Otti has been indicted by the International Criminal Court, at noon the question was raised, should Mr. Otti be arrested? Near press time the new member of the Spokesman's Office team courteously disclosed that the Otti report could not be confirmed, and thus there'd be no comment. The question remains: should South Sudan arrest Mr. Otti? Time will tell the answer.

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