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On Mali, UN Wants to Talk Culture Not Human Rights, Bungles Even That

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 7 -- Mali and the preservation of cultural heritage there are very photogenic issue for the United Nations system.

  The UN would certainly rather talk, if not answer questions, about that rather than abuses by the Malian Army they propose to partner with, or the inclusion in the UN Mission MINUSMA of armies which are on the UN's own child soldier recruitment list.

  And so Friday's UN noon briefing was to include a video feed from Bamako. These are often useful. Here, there were four initial speakers who went over the 30 minutes which the UN rules say is the maximum for press conferences.

  Then they announced 15 minutes of questions, including both Bamako and New York. After 15 minutes and three or four Bamako questions, they turned to New York.

  Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Martin Nesirky and his colleague from UNESCO chose three questions: AP, Voice of America and "TV from Lebanon" (actually, Al Mayadeen). Nesirky tried to call on AFP Agence France Presse, even though its correspondent had no question. Video here from Minute 43:50.

  But even these questions could not be heard over the video hook-up. Nesirky said he would call Bamako and get answers -- apparently, only to the three questions selected.

  The presentations included praise of French president Francois Hollande, to whom UNESCO recently gave an Africa prize, of Bert Koenders who did France's bidding for the UN mission in Cote d'Ivoire, refusing to probe killing of perceived supporters of Laurent Gbagbo at Nahibly, and of Irina Bokova, see below. This praise was perhaps the purpose of the press conference.

   During what remained of the noon briefing, Inner City Press asked (as it had wanted to ask the Malian minister who spoke on the UN webcast about "terrorists") about Malian Army abuses in Sourango and Tenekou.

   Nesirky said, on this and Inner City Press' question about Chad and other listed soldier recruiters serving in MINUSMA - and on a Syria question Inner City Press re-asked from June 4 -- that he would check with DPKO, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

  But DPKO's spokesman Kieran Dwyer was right there in the briefing room. Dwyer has, on camera, justified DPKO chief Herve Ladsous' refusal to answer Inner City Press questions - video here - and has no provided the update on the 135 Minova raped by the Congolese Army Inner City Press asked Ladsous for on May 29. Ladsous said, "You know I do not respond to you." Nor has DPKO or the UN, since. Zero tolerance, indeed.

  Why did the UN go so "all in" for Mali and culture? Some think it's a push to line up UNESCO chief Irina Bokova to succeed Ban Ki-moon as Secretary General. She speaks on many topics; she flew in Francois Hollande's plane to Mali, appropriate or not.

  There are many questions beyond culture that the UN system should answer about Mali. But on Friday they wouldn't even answer or take those. Watch this site.

Footnote: Since the UN doesn't enforce or live up to its own "rule" about 30 minute press conferences, it's hard to see how they could legitimately seek to enforce the bogus "no media workspace at the Security Council" rule some in the Department of Public Information and their UN Censorship Alliance are trying to enact.

  But the UN practicing what it preaches - cited by another SG candidate - is often the exception, not the rule. More on rules to follow.

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