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Inner City Press Podcast --

UN  Waffles on Human Rights in Central Asia and China; ICC on Kony and a Hero from Algiers

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, June 14 -- What is the place of human rights among the UN's other goals? If Central Asia is the test, the results are decidedly mixed. Wednesday at the noon briefing, Kofi Annan's spokesman read out a statement from the UN's refugee agency UNHCR, urging the Kyrgyz government not to deport four Uzbeks who "arrived in Kyrgyzstan in the immediate aftermath of the violent events in Andijan in May 2005." Uzbekistan's Karimov regime has pursued all opponents, getting a dozen returned for example from Ukraine.

  Inner City Press has repeatedly asked UNHCR headquarters in Geneva for some update on those deported from Ukraine. "There is no update," has been the response. Another refugee from the region, imam Hseyincan Celil who was pursued for raising his voice for China's Uighur minority, was disappeared in Uzbekistan in April and has not been heard from since. (CBC radio report here; Uzbek response here.) His relatives fear he will be deported or "refouled" to China, for more permanent disappearance. Nevertheless, UNDP has said that Uzbekistan is making much progress toward the Millennium Development Goals.

Karimov & Hu Jintao

            If UNHCR is the left hand and UNDP is the right, Kofi Annan's Secretariat is supposed to be the heart or head or both. But on Monday, the Secretary-General sent an unequivocal message of congratulations to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a entity through which China has gotten deportation and "refoulement" commitments from the Central Asian states and Russia, and soon perhaps others. As reported, Mr. Annan praised the SCO's efforts against "terrorism, separatism and extremism." Of course, Uzbekistan's Karimov would say his pursuit of opponents is just that, part of the war on terror. That's what China says of the Uighurs, using the loaded term East Turkestan. 

            At Wednesday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked the spokesman about this, and about Undersecretary General Gambari's current trip to Tajikistan. "Is the issue of human rights being raised?" Perhaps Kofi will be addressing these issues this week, mid-way through his last year as S-G.

            Ambassador Bolton's meeting with the UN Staff Union, which Inner City Press Tuesday night predicted, from hallways sources, would take place in the Indonesia lounge on Wednesday, did in fact take place. It was after 3 p.m., however, and not at 10 a.m. (parallel universe reported on below). At 3:45, the president of the Staff Union and the ubiquitous Judge Geoffrey Robertson emerged, saying it was a good first meeting. Judge Robertson added, in response to Inner City Press' question about what other member states they'd meet with, that there would be several.

   Then John Bolton stepped up to the impromptu Fox News camera and graded Mr. Annan incomplete. At a stakeout on the Hariri investigation earlier on Wednesday, Professor Bolton said that Mr. Brammertz' characterization of Syria's cooperation as "generally satisfactory" was only praise in a pass - fail grading system. He was also asked by AP about his previously-highlighted remark that Malloch Brown's speech was the worse mistake by a senior UN official since 1989; AP asked him to contrast to Rwanda. Bolton called that "incompetence and a lack of political will," versus the speechmaker's "flat out mistake."

            Inner City Press asked Ambassador Bolton if the United States supports a Freedom of Information Act at the United Nations, and John Bolton appeared to say yes. A flamboyant colleague points out that the Deputy Secretary-General began speaking of a UN FOIA six months ago. Another, of pragmatic stock, says that it's not who speaks first, but who gets the job done. We'll see.

            From the Department of Parallel Universes, in the Indonesia Lounge mid-morning Wednesday, at least three candidates for election to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women were campaigning by meeting with representatives of the voting member states. The candidate from Slovenia had a staffer from the Slovene mission working the phones.  "Myanmar can't make it? We have a lunch at one. Vietnam? Excellent." To those she met with, she made the identical small talk. "I lobbied you on the Human Rights Council, and now I'm back asking for this. But my candidate -- I mean, our candidate -- has a long history of advocating for women."

            In opposition to these smooth campaigns, on a couch with a phone was a slight woman of proud bearing, alternately speaking Arab, French and English. She met with a staffer from Ireland's mission, and asked him about the status of woman in his country. In response later to a reporter's questions, she explained that in her previous service as vice-chairperson of CEDAW, she noticed that while predominantly Muslim countries were invariably questioned about women's rights to abortion and in marriage, such questions were rarely put to the representatives of "Christian countries." And so she asked the questions, even to countries whose vote she seeks for re-election.

            Her name is Meriem Belmihoub-Zerdani, a lawyer in Algiers who had been in New York since mid-May. Of her service on CEDAW she says that the problems of women in the developed and the developing worlds are not the same.  "They asked Eritria for employment statistics, when the average woman has six or seven children and lives only into her 40s, often dying of AIDS." As she spoke on this topic, on a bench in the basement outside Conference Room 2, there were tears in her eyes. "The world can get along," she said. And hearing her, one believes it.

            Near press time, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court emerged from the Security Council to take the press' questions. Inner City Press asked his position on arresting Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti and the three -- or two -- other Lord's Resistance Army indictees. Mr. Moreno-Ocampo repeated that Sudan has agreed to make such arrests. A colleague just back from Juba pointed out that "it is not Sudan, it is not the central government there." The colleague's reporting was detailed, and raised during her absence in perhaps garbled form, to move the story forward.

    Inner City Press asked directly what the Chief Prosecutor thought of the photograph of South Sudan's vice president handing Joseph Kony money, variously described as five or twenty thousand dollars. Trailing down the second floor hallway Mr. Moreno-Ocampo and his former spokesman, Inner City Press asked about Peter Karim, who according to DPKO holds the seven Nepali peacekeepers. What will happen next remains to be seen. Meanwhile in DR Congo, not only do the seven UN peacekeepers remain in captivity -- now there is plague. A colleague reporter just back from Kinshasa recounts that the plight of the peacekeepers was not mentioned after the meetings with President Kabila, nor with this "ex-warlord" vice presidents...

Search WWW Search

At the UN, Internal Justice Needs Reform, While in Timor Leste, Has Evidence Gone Missing?

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, June 13 -- With its tens of thousands of employees, the UN is far behind the times in terms of workers' rights and whistleblower protections. How out of step with institutions its size is the subject of a just-released Report of the Commission of Experts on Reforming Internal Justice at the UN. On Tuesday Justice Geoffrey Robertson Q.C. of the Commission briefed reporters on his findings. These include a failure to publish UN Appeals Tribunal decisions, meaning that these can hardly be cited as precedent. Disputes can take up to five years to lead to a recommended outcome, which can be ignored or modified by the Secretariat in any event.

   Justice Robertson says the UN inherited these Kafkaesque procedures from the League of Nations, and has not meaningfully improved them. His recommendations include that "the UN should promulgate its own 'Freedom of Information Act,' under which its internal documents and decisions will become available in due course, upon application by the public of the media." (Report at Paragraph 65).

            This call for transparency, endorsed by the UN Staff Union, is consonant with a demand made earlier in the week by, among others, a visiting U.S. Senator, Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, a skeptic of the UN system on sovereignty grounds. Asked on Monday by Inner City Press for his views on a UN Freedom of Information Act, Senator Coburn embraced the idea, while declining to comment on reported U.S. funding of Somali warlords in violation of the UN arms embargo.

   And so on Tuesday Inner City Press asked Justice Robertson if his report and its future before the Redesign Panel and then the General Assembly might be consonant, so to speak, with the U.S.' and others' different demands for reform. Justice Robertson answered diplomatically, that the UN would benefit from openness, so that wild accusations from Senators "or whomever else" could be disproved.  So where in the current mano-a-mano does the report and its trajectory lie? Amb. Bolton or Deputy S-G Malloch Brown? [regarding both of whom, see 9:25 update below.]

   Justice Robertson answered indirectly, saying that some governments are against the UN for domestic political reasons -- that is, as Malloch Brown described the U.S. -- while other governments are overprotective of the UN "because they get more than they deserver" from it. A candid judge whose decisions, up to now, have not been published or collected.

UNHCR tents in Dili

            In the wider world, the Secretary General's envoy to Timor Leste, Ian Martin, briefed the Security Council and then the media. In response to a question about how the oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea relate to the conflicts, Mr. Martin said he sees no connection to the present violence, but that the oil and gas may be part of the solution, as poverty and unemployment are roots of the current unrest.

   Asked about evidence reportedly looted from prosecutors' offices in Dili, Mr. Martin said the losses are being catalogued, but that the UN "has copies." Asked how that could include physical and forensic evidence, Mr. Martin said it's being checked, but he believes such items have been returned. We'll see.

Endnotes and follow-ups: At the noon briefing, Inner City Press asked about Monday's meeting between Deputy S-G Malloch Brown and Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona. At press time the answer came in: the meeting was "about the budget," and had been scheduled before the Deputy S-G's speech.

  Inner City Press asked for more information on Jan Egeland's plan, announced Monday, to work with personnel of the Lord's Resistance Army before the level of the five indictees; we'll see.  Reuters did -- they reported on Jan Egeland's answer yesterday. Now, reportedly, Joseph Kony has named 14 negotiators. And on the captive UN peacekeepers in Congo, still no update, 15 days in...

9:25 p.m. update, heard in the halls: it's said that Amb. Bolton will be meeting with the UN Staff Union tomorrow. The time and place named by one source was 10 a.m. in the Indonesian Lounge; this source says the topic is "MMB and a possible united front." Another, better placed hallway source says he's heard that they'll meet, at Amb. Bolton's request, but that it's not 10 o'clock. We'll see. For or with more information, e Matthew.Lee [at]

UN & US, Transparency for Finance But Not Foreign Affairs: Somalia, Sovereignty and Senator Tom Coburn

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, June 12 -- In the real world, Congo equals six Rwandas: that is how the UN's Jan Egeland put it in response to question about the death of seven humanitarian workers in Ituri in the DRC. "By far the worst humanitarian disaster of our time," he also said, urging that whatever happens at the end of July, when elections are slated, the UN not mostly leave the country as it did, in essence, in East Timor.

UNHCR aid reaches Dili

   In issuing $18 million flash appeal for Timor Leste, to supplement $4 million from the UN's Central Emergency Revolving Fund, Mr. Egeland characterized as "great" the United States' $10 million. The CERF web site shows that this $10 million is an "uncommitted pledge." Time did not permit this follow-up question:

how does this U.S. un-commitment relate to the issues raised in Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown's speech last week?

   On that, at 11 a.m. U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, came down from a meeting with Mr. Malloch Brown, and after three times referring to waste-fraud-and-abuse as if a single word, took questions from the media. Responding to Sen. Coburn's demand for transparency, Inner City Press asked if he would support at the UN something like the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. The Senator said yes. Inner City Press later asked him if he had any insight into the controversy surrounding the U.S.'s alleged funding of warlords in Somalia. "I have no comment on that," Senator Coburn replied. It did not feel transparent.

Sen. Coburn --   versus [=] ???

            As it turns out, during his 2004 campaign Tom Coburn bragged that

"As a U.S. Senator, I will oppose any legislation or treaty that compromises the sovereignty of the United States... I will vote against approving the United Nation sponsored Law of the Sea treaty which seeks to impose a regime to rule over the use of the oceans and their resources... No treaty or international organization, including the U.N., shall ever supercede [sic] the sovereignty of the United States." 

(, as of June 12, 2006.)

            One wonders if this particular campaign promise came up at the meeting with the Deputy Secretary General. At the stake-out, Senator Coburn said this meeting had been scheduled well before "the speech," to discuss on what terms the U.S. would participate in renovating the UN Headquarters. Deputy Secretary-General Malloch Brown's daily schedule include a Republican Rep. from Arizona as well. At the noon briefing, Inner City Press asked if this meeting, too, pre-dated last week's speech. No answer came, as of press time five hours later.

            There was however some candor. Inner City Press asked Jan Egeland, as last week it asked Kofi Annan's spokesman, if the Lord's Resistance Army's Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti and three other ICC indictees should be arrested. Mr. Egeland responded that all five should be arrested. He added that he is working on a plan to reach out to the Lord's Resistance Army personnel below the five top indictees, to "remind" them that that there is a future, even to get them back in school. This has not been elsewhere reported. Nor has the second of these two responses to Inner City Press, from the ICC Prosecutor's spokesman in The Hague:

From: Christian.Palme [at]

To: Matthew.Lee [at]

Sent: Sat, 10 Jun 2006 13:58:24 +0200

  Dear Matthew, My only comment is the following official statement from the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC:

"The governments of Uganda, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo are obligated to give effect to the arrest warrants, and we are confident that they will honor their joint commitment to do so.  The ICC warrants name  Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen and Raska Lukwiya.  Each is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes, committed in Uganda since July 2002, in the context of a 20-year campaign of brutality against civilians."

  Then, after Inner City Press' follow-up question, does Sudan have any agreement or arrangement with the ICC in this regard, this:

From: Christian.Palme [at] To: Matthew.Lee [at]  Sent: Sat, 10 Jun 2006 19:20:17 +0200

  Dear Matthew, No, the Sudan is not a State Party to the ICC. Yes, there is an agreement between the ICC and Sudan to arrest the five leaders of the Lord's Resistance Army for whom arrest warrants have been issued by the Court.

            Subsequently, there were reports quoting that ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo that "the Sudan, a non-state party who had harbored the LRA in the past, has voluntarily agreed to execute the (ICC) warrants" and that Kony "has used negotiations to buy time and regroup. To do justice and re-establish security in the region, the justice network has to arrest the LRA commanders." And then there were reports of the LRA killing nine more people near Juba. Presumably, the triggers weren't pulled the five indictees.

            Of the S-G's spokesman's office in New York, speaking of waste-fraud-and-abuse, Inner City Press asked for an update and briefing from the UN's Jean-Pierre Halbwachs on the International Advisory and Monitoring Board for Iraq, whose June 2 release implies that oil is still not being metered in Iraq, by "continu[ing] to reiterate its concern that key actions, especially the installation of an oil metering system, needed to be comprehensive and were taking a long time to implement." Speaking of waste-fraud-and-abuse, the release also discloses delay in the auditing of contracts of Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root:

"the IAMB requested an independent verification of the global settlement of all six DFI funded task orders under the Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) contract reached between the U.S. Government and KBR on December 22, 2005 as well as a review of the remaining sole-sourced contracts to determine whether excess costs were incurred that would be the subject of renegotiation. However, progress has been slow in executing these special audits."

 On the peacekeepers in Ituri there was no update, after two weeks of captivity. On a report of UNHCR's dealings in Cairo with Sudanese refugees, culminating in the death of 27 refugees on December 30, 2005, Inner City Press was directed to UNHCR, which has denounced the report. Let the sunshine in!

Endnotes: First, on the topic of child labor, BBC today broadcast an in-depth report about 10-year old miners in Katanga in DRC, in a mine owned by Metorex Group. Cobalt dug and cleaned by foot by ten year olds... Next, some less enterprising gloating. Last week Inner City Press asked the spokesman about rumblings heard that the SRSG for Kosovo Soren Jessen-Petersen would leave at the end of the month. "I have nothing on that," was the response. Monday it was announced: Jessen-Petersen is leaving, at the end of the month. Finally, upstairs downstairs: in the basement in Conference Room 2, speakers inveighed for independence for Puerto Rico, pointing out the corporate interests which want to keep their Caribbean tax breaks. Upstairs in the lobby, a throng watched the Czech Republic beat Team USA 3-0. One wag in the crowd said, "If they still had Slovakia, would the score have been six - zero?" Let the games continue.

In Bolton's Wake, Silence and Speech at the UN, Congo and Kony, Let the Games Begin

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, June 9 -- What is the U.N.'s role, what is it's jurisdiction? U.S. Ambassador John Bolton on Friday said, "The member states tell the Secretariat what to do, not the other way around." Meanwhile in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the U.N. has 17,000 peacekeeping troops, prisoners in Beni, North Kivu are rioting to protest conditions and their lock-out without charges or trial. Less than a week after 192 prisoners broke out of jail in Bukavu, in Beni ten escaped and three were shot, including one prisoner who hadn't even tried to escape. In a post-shooting written statement, the UN stated that it will "remind the authorities once again of their responsibilities concerning prison conditions and the security of the population." So the UN does sometimes speak to, or at least remind, member states of their responsibilities.

            But when does the UN speak, and when does it stay silent? Friday at the noon briefing at UN Headquarters, Inner City Press asked the spokesman to take a position, primarily directed at South Sudan, on whether Lord's Resistance Army officials including not only Joseph Kony but also Vincent Otti, who have both been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Northern Uganda by the International Criminal Court, should be arrested. On Thursday, the new staffer in the Spokesman's office, previously speaking for the ICC, stated at five p.m. that he'd been unable to confirm reports that Otti is in South Sudan. The effort was appreciated and acknowledged. Friday after the briefing and Inner City Press' question about increasingly detailed reports, he appeared to say that it is not the UN's problem. (In fairness, Inner City Press later in the day sought clarification, see below.) In the briefing as before, the spokesman had inveighed generally against impunity.

 But what about this particular individual, Otti, as a test: will the UN "remind the authorities" in South Sudan that they have a responsibility, in light of the ICC indictment? 

World Cup fans in Congo

   So far, for two days the UN has declined to answer the question.  So too when asked about a detailed report in the New Vision newspaper, carried on the UN's own MONUC website, that the Lord's Resistance Army is entrenched in Garanga National Park in the DRC. Inner City Press raised this article at the noon briefing, and afterwards showed the new staffer that article, as well as a more recent article, "Sudan VP Meets Kony Rebels in Juba," in which the Ugandan state minister for foreign affairs Henry Okello Oryem is quoted that "We are consulting the International Criminal Court because they have issued arrest warrants, implying the government of southern Sudan is under obligation to arrest the rebels on sight. This issue has to be sorted out."

  Inner City Press asked again: why isn't the Secretary General or wider UN providing guidance at this point?  (In fairness, the Secretary General spoke out at the time of the ICC indictments, and since then generally about not tolerating impunity.) The reasons offered for not speaking at this time include that the International Criminal Court is not a UN body, that the UN and ICC have a partnership agreement; that Sudan is not a party to the ICC (the spokesman for the ICC Christian Palme will be asked to confirm this); and that the reported talks between the LRA, South Sudan and prospectively Uganda have no UN involvement.  Inner City Press said, and says here, that there are some who question if the UN would be so restrained if Mladic for example were spotted negotiation in Pristina or Montenegro, and who question if the proffered differences are much more than hair-splitting. So far not many seem to care or question, was the interim response. What is the standard for speaking? It becomes increasingly hard to tell.

            In Kampala, Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni said, "the DRC government and the UN are not serious" about acting on the Lord's Resistance Army. Often in reference to Un inaction it is said, "the UN and what army?" But in this case, the UN actually has an army, near the refuge of the long-denounced Lord's Resistance Army, reportedly down to fewer the 500 members. While 17,000 troops may be spread out, the rhetorical question about "what army" can, in this case, be answered. MONUC in the field will speak to government officials about their human rights duties, in jails and elsewhere. Why at UN headquarters has speech become so selective?

            Again no new update was given regarding the seven UN peacekeepers held captive in Ituri. Before he left for Khartoum, what we'll call a senior UN official told Inner City Press that the UN has seen the Nepali kidnappers, but that their captor is lucid one day and not so the next. More was said but for now not reported. As the Spokesman says, things are delicate.

            In lighter news, the first day of the 2006 World Cup saw dozens of people milling in front of the television in the UN Headquarters lobby, watching Germany beat Costa Rica 4-2 in French-language TV 5. Such crowds in the lobby usually connote an act of terrorism, or perhaps a John Bolton speech. But this time, and for this month, it is sport. On the second floor, a smaller crowd gathered by the TV set to the side of the Security Council. What will happen when a match overlaps with a Security Council stakeout is not yet known. Then again, as of Friday there's no ESPN, ABC or ESPN-2 available on UN TV. At 2:50 p.m., DSG Mark Malloch Brown floated through the lobby. Let the games begin!

3:25 p.m. postscript -- the light mood can't last long. An impromptu press conference was called at the stake-out regarding the alleged targeting of civilians on a beach by the Israeli Defense Forces. Questions were shouted about the impact on the referendum. Games, not funny, of an entirely different sort.

7:15 footnote: in the UN's Delegate's Lounge, prospective spokespersons for Lebanese inquiries hold forth with martinis and thick cigars, at the bar there's rare talk of Turkmenistan and Ruhnama, and even those who joist back and forth throughout the week are all at ease. If only world peace were this easy.

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.

Human Rights Forgotten in UN's War of Words, Bolton versus Mark Malloch Brown: News Analysis

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, June 7 -- The dueling speech and sound-bytes from UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown and John Bolton, the U.S. Ambassador, consumed the press corps and debate on Wednesday. At a three-minute stake-out in the morning, Amb. Bolton declared that "this is the worst mistake by a senior U.N. official" since 1989. (Video here, quote is at minute 2:13). At the noon briefing, after the spokesman said that the Secretary-General stands behind his Deputy's speech, he was asked if any graver mistakes by UN officials since 1989 came to mind. A topic just then being discussed in the depopulated Security Council, Rwanda, came to mind but was not mentioned.

    The spokesman was also asked, since the speech named names, if there'd be any comment on the Council of Europe's just-released report calling "reprehensible" the U.S. policy of extraordinary rendition of terrorism suspects to secret camps -- including it seems in Poland and Romania -- and from there for torture with nary a court.  The spokesman said he hadn't yet seen the report and had not comment. So much for naming names.

   Asked, in advance, about the Dutch judicial system's conviction earlier in the day of Oriental Timber Co.'s Guus Kouwenhove for violation the UN arms embargo on Liberia, the spokesman said that it is up the member states to bring enforcement actions. On Ambassador Bolton's call for now lifting the arms embargo on Liberia, the spokesman had no comment.

            Later at the very Security Council stake-out, Mark Malloch Brown appeared. He selectively took questions from reporters by name, praising the very Fox news he'd in the speech called a detractor, and dismissing the notions of polarization, either that he is too closely aligned with the Democratic Party in the U.S. or that his remarks might make matters worse by enlarging the UN as a target of Republican rhetoric. When he strode off, there were still hands in the air and questions to be asked. These include, from the text of his speech, the identities of the G-77 member "few spoilers... opposed to reform for its own sake" and his views of the major candidates for the 2008 U.S. presidential election, referred to in the final substantive line of his speech. While he'd probably "no comment" an inquiry about Senator Bill Frist, for example, one might wonder why, given the other specifics in his speech.

 versus = ???

  One mostly wonders why what he calls his friendly critique of the U.S. did not include any reference to such controversies as extraordinary rendition or, even more unreported, the essentially confirmed U.S. funding of warlords in Somalia. The references in the speech to human rights are to the Unites States' vote against the new Human Rights Council and decision not to run for a seat, and to the Security Council's attempt to expand its mandate to include human rights. The speech mentions Rush Limbaugh and not Guantanamo Bay, and one wonders why.

            One might also wonder why Mr. Malloch Brown gave his speech at such a Democratic Party-identified venue. Why not the Council on Foreign Relations? Or the American Enterprise Institute, which he mentioned by acronym at the stake-out? Why not in the UN Headquarters building, described in the speech as "in most respects the most hazardous workplace in town"?

            In fact, the previous week Richard Holbrooke said much the same thing, in an impromptu stake-out after his remarks on the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS. Holbrooke said, as taped by this reporter (see, Corporate Spin on AIDS, Holbrooke's Kudos to Montenegro and its Independence, May 31, 2006), and the unnamed CNN, which never played it:

"This administration has shown a schizophrenic attitude towards the UN. We use it when it suits our purposes, like Iran, and we bypass it in a way that undermines it. It needs to be funded, and at the same time we need to push for more reforms."

            Some might call this a Cliff Notes version of Malloch Brown's later speech. While all day reporters were urged to "read the speech," as of 5 p.m. a Google search for "you will lose the UN" did not find the speech. [5:30 update: on clicking Dep. Sect-Gen and speeches and latest, one finds the speech.] In further punditry, the first lesson and question of public relations is "who are you trying to persuade"?  This question was posed to a right-leaning pundit who was, in fact, called on by Mr. Malloch Brown. "The people where he gave the speech," was the answer. "It was a job application." If so, consider the owners of Progressive Insurance in Ohio, Middle America, and the cashing-out duo of Golden West Financial, selling to Wachovia. But if the message was directed beyond that room, again the question is, to whom? If overseas, to omit a substantive critique of U.S. human rights seems strange. And if it was directed to Middle America, the phrase in the speech, it is not clear that the speech's venue, its gleeful dissection on Fox News or the subsequent stake-out are enough.

            In other fruitless stake-out news, while at the noon briefing it was announced that Carla Del Ponte and her replacement on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Hassan B. Jallow, would take questions after their time in the Security Council, Ms. Del Ponte walked right by the microphone and brushed off those reporters who trailed her.

            Security Council president Loj did stop and take questions. On Somalia, she said she anticipates a briefing on Thursday and next week. Asked again to comment on Denmark's failure to response to the UNAIDS survey, she deferred to a staffer, who reiterated this written response:

"From: Michael Starbaek Christensen [at]
To: Matthew.Lee [at]
Sent: Mon, 5 Jun 2006 15:42:42 -0400
Subject: Un  AIDS survey

  "Dear Matthew, I checked with the Danish delegation to the HIV/AIDS high level event. In Denmark, the Ministry of Health is in charge of the Danish efforts to prevent and inform about HIV/AIDS. The efforts are concentrated on the substantive work in this field, and resources have not been earmarked to produce a report to the UN."

            In refusing to even respond to a UN project on AIDS, is Denmark a "spoiler," as phrased in the Malloch Brown speech? On Denmark's (non-) response, UNAIDS has yet to respond to a request for comment. Selective naming of names, selective allowing of questions. How it will turn out remains to be seen

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