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Inner City Press Podcast --

On AIDS at the UN, Who Speaks and Who Remains Unseen

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, June 1 -- On AIDS, the UN Thursday was the venue of an unwieldy dance of nation states, people and an unseen force, corporations. The rumbling in the UN basement and the street, which gathered force Wednesday while Booz Allen Hamilton and hybrid corporateer cum diplomat Richard Holbrooke briefed in Room 226, came upstairs for a well-run press conference at 11:30 a.m.. From the podium four activists, and more from the audience seats, explained how the draft declaration was getting watered down and twisted. "If it is weaker than in 2001, we will not accept it," one said. The call was also for openness and an end to "side deals."

            Inner City Press asked what role corporations are playing. While one answered that the focus was on nation states, others noted that pharmaceutical companies were brandishing the talisman of intellectual property, at least as enshrined in Doha. Downstairs the U.S. delegation conferred, noting that they could not commit Congress to spend any money but would focus on unpacking "vulnerable populations" and some qualifier on universal access. A later draft conveys an "aim of coming as close as possible to the goal of universal access" -- a phrasing that echoes of failed desegregation "with all deliberate speed."

            In a background briefing by individuals describing themselves as "UN officials following the negotiations," it was dropped that negotiations had begun with opposition to the concept of the empowerment of girls. "Who was it that said that?" a journalist asked. "I don't remember," replied a UN Official Following the Negotiations.

            By nightfall Richard Gere held forth in the General Assembly. And outside a hard rain began to fall...

            In other UN system news, two update from UNHCR in Geneva: the agency responded to the Senate Inquiry on the Unauthorized Arrivals Bill. UNHCR's is #75 of these responses. Asked about UNHCR's leaked contingency plan for tens of thousands of Serbs leaving Kosovo, UNHCR's Jennifer Pagonis responded that "contingency planning is based on the institutional and moral responsibility of the UN humanitarian agencies to help ensure that adequate and timely humanitarian aid is provided to persons in need, should such  an emergency occur, in order to reduce human suffering.  It is not part of any  political process.... I passed on your enquiry on the other issue to Olivier Delarue but don't have a response as yet."  We'll be waiting...

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Corporate Spin on AIDS, Holbrooke's Kudos to Montenegro and its Independence

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, May 31 -- Two faces of the UN were on display on Wednesday, as corporations were celebrating themselves in less than transparent fashion while one of the corporateers praised, sincerely, the birth of the 192nd state, Montenegro.

    The UN's two faces were combined Janus-like in one: Richard Holbrooke, who along with Peter Parry of Booz Allen Hamilton, briefed reporters on the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS. The GBC now has 215 corporate members, each of which pays an annual fee of $25,000 and can help, the hand-outs state, "by simply adding the force of their reputation and reach to [the] work." One of the members is DynCorp, embroiled in abuse allegations in the Balkans. Not a member, at least for now, is Credit Suisse, where Mr. Holbrooke was previously vice chairman.  Listed as a member is another financial firm on whose board of directors Mr. Holbrooke currently serves, the insurer American International Group (AIG).

            Inner City Press asked Mr. Holbrooke both about what, if anything, AIG does about AIDS, and also for his reaction to the independence vote in Montenegro. On the former, ICP noted that a search of AIG's website for "AIDS" results in not a single hit.  "It might surprise you," Mr. Holbrooke said, "but I am not in charge of their website."

            "But what does AIG do about AIDS?"

            Mr. Holbrooke said he was not comfortable answering, since he is a director of the company. This approach seemed to spread on the podium.  Inner City Press asked Peter Parry about its role in USAID's $77 million contract to "build a system to distribute pharmaceuticals to people with HIV/AIDS worldwide. Booz Allen Hamilton and Northrop Grumman IT are among the contractors involved." See Federal Computer Week of May 29, 2006 (live link here as of May 31, 2006). Mr. Parry responded that he doesn'twork in that part of the company, and so couldn't answer. Whether forthcoming will be any answer or revision Mr. Holbrooke's statement that Booz Allen's work on AIDS is pro bono is not known at this time.

            Outside the briefing room, Mr. Holbrooke stopped to take informal questions about more diplomatic matters. He opined that the current U.S. "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."

   Inner City Press asked if he had any comment on the vote in Montenegro. Mr. Holbrooke responded:

"The Montenegro vote is fantastic. I applaud the Montenegrin people. I've always thought that they should be an independent country. It was an inevitable event. I congratulate the people for making a historic decision. And now let's deal with Kosovo."

   (.wmv clip to be uploaded; formal briefing here.) And then he was gone...

   Elsewhere at UN Headquarters on Wednesday, the President of the General Assembly in response to a stake-out question from Inner City Press added his voice to that of UNAIDS' director, that members states are "urged to respond" to UNAIDS' surveys. Portugal's ex-president Jorge Sampaio briefed on tuberculosis, while declining to name the countries with the most cases, or why the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria pulled out of Myanmar.

   The Global Fund's executive director Richard Feachum did answer the question, stating that like North Korea, Myanmar is a country where it was impossible to know if money was being spent appropriately. These he distinguished where countries where corruption has been found, and the funding temporarily cut off: Ukraine and Uganda. (Click here for background on the Uganda situation.) In non-AIDS news, the cloak-and-dagger in the Security Council involved cutting costs and troop levels in UNMEE in Ethiopia and Eritrea, in the face of results in Timor-Leste. The seven Nepali blue helmet remain hostages in Ituri in the Congo.

At 8 p.m. Inner City Press asked Jean-Marie Guehenno, head of UN Peacekeeping, if there was any update on the peacekeepers. "No," he said. "We're working on it," a bespeckled colleague with him said. "No good news, but no bad news," Mr. Guehenno added.

On AIDS at the UN Perspectives Vary, Some Civil Skeptics and Many Non-reporting Countries

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, May 30 -- Brandishing a 629-page report of the global AIDS epidemic, the head of UNAIDS Peter Piot on Tuesday emphasized that the 2001 contribution target of $8.3 billion has been reached. Asked why only 126 of 191 current countries, or of the 189 that made the 2001 commitments, have responded in any way to the UNAIDS survey requesting information, Mr. Piot said that this is a problem, particularly in Central Asia and in developed countries which think "this is only for poor nations." (The nations which have not reported can be inferred from this web site.) Mr. Piot indicated that the May 31-June 2 High Level Meeting will be used to urge the non-reporters to come clean. Hearing the issue of the missing country data for the second time was UNICEF's executive director Ann Veneman, who afterwards gave a heartfelt interview to South African Broadcasting.

            Activists in town for the meeting had a different take. In from Nigeria, Omulolu Falobi laughed at the size and weight of UNAIDS' report. "They could buy medicine for three people for the cost of each book," he said. He stated that the funding offered by the U.S. President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, contorts developing countries' responses to AIDS toward religiously-rooted programs focused on abstinence, like those on Ghana and of Uganda's First Lady. In from Bolivia, and stating that her HIV/AIDS came from being raped in 1998, Gracia Violetta Ross Quiroga, stated that she sees so much misspending in Latin America by the Global Fund for AIDS that she cannot advocate for additional funding for that mechanism. She and other activists stated more generally that much more funding that the $8.3 billion referred to by Mr. Piot is needed.

Mr. Piot & Ms. "I am not an expert" (see Report of 5/15/06, below)

            On the matter of the non-reporting countries, Liz Ercevik Amado from the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies opined that many Middle Eastern and Central Asia states may not have reported due to taboos and stigmas surrounding the issue of AIDS. In from Canada, Kieran Daly of the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations said, of the Catholic Church and its anti-condoms policy, "You could argue that they're killing people."  For the coming three days in and around the UN, let the arguments begin!

In Congo, Peacekeepers Turned Hostages: Interview with Jean-Marie Guehenno by Inner City Press

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, May 30 -- In the Democratic Republic of Congo, one UN peacekeeper is dead, three wounded and seven taken hostage by the forces of Peter Karim, known for hauling the DRC's resources east into Uganda. At UN Headquarters on Tuesday, Inner City Press interviewed Jean-Marie Guehenno, Under-secretary general for peacekeeping (click here for WAV file). Earlier, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Kofi Annan what is being done to secure the peacekeepers' release, and how the DRC election, slated for the end of July, can take place in these circumstances. The Secretary General replied that Karim has been implored to release the peacekeepers, and will not have impunity. He added that the UN is doing the best that it can for the election, the first in 40 years in Congo.

            An hour later at Kofi Annan's spokesman's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked about reports that Karim is demanding $20,000 per peacekeeper. We do not pay ransom for our personnel, the spokesman replied, and there will be no impunity.  Asked about MONUC's own report that it is government soldiers who are responsible for most of the rapes in the Congo, the spokesman referred to training, and repeated that there is and will be no impunity. That was the word of the day. To inquire further, Inner City Press asked at the noon briefing if Jean-Marie Guehenno would take questions after he briefed the council. "We've asked," was the answer.

            At 1 p.m., Inner City Press asked Jean-Marie Guehenno as he rushed into the Security Council if he would answer questions at the stakeout after he briefed the Council. Mr. Guehenno replied that he was not going in to brief, but rather to find an Ambassador.  It was past three p.m. when the briefing began. Kofi Annan and Mr. Guehenno went in, and at 4:08, the Secretary General came out, waving.  At nearly five o'clock Mr. Guehenno emerged, with a half-dozen staffers in his entourage. For eight minutes Mr. Guehenno answered Inner City Press' questions, all on the Democratic Republic of Congo.

            Asked about the status of the seven kidnapped peacekeepers, Mr. Guehenno said the militia leader involved would be held personally accountable if the Blue Helmets are not released. Asked if this militia leader is, in fact, Peter Karim, Mr. Guehenno replied, that is the assumption. He described an ambush in Ituri in which one peacekeeper was killed, three injured and seven surrounded and captured. A helicopter that arrived thereafter could not free them, due to the surrounding jungle.

            Asked to clarify a recent quote that there are not that many deaths in Congo, Mr. Guehenno distinguished between "direct" deaths, by shooting or machete, and more indirect impacts of war, including the breakdown of the state and health system.

            Asked if the elections, slated for the end of July, are on track, Mr. Guehenno replied "as much as can be," and described logistical and political obstacles. Mr. Guehenno asked rhetorically, Will it be a Westminster democracy? No, he answered. He said that what gives him hope, when he goes "beyond Kinshasa," as the ten Permanent Representatives visiting DRC in the second week of June apparently will not, is excitement about voting, and the mobilizing of voices "who have no voice."

"Ituri Explorer" / MONUC Mr. Guehenno

            Asked about the calls in Kasai for a boycott of the election, Mr. Guehenno replied that the leader of the UDPS had been given many opportunities to participate, but unfortunately has chosen not to. Asked about President Kabila's allegation that the three dozen foreign bodyguards, including three from Orlando, Florida-based AQMI Strategy and others from South Africa's Omega Risk Solutions, were attempting a coup, Mr. Guehenno said he only knows the news he reads. One wonders if others in a position to impact Congo even read the news. Click here to hear Inner City Press' interview with the UN's Jean-Marie Guehenno, recorded on a $20 MP3 player and edited on open source audio software, with an voiceover introduction recorded in an echo chamber on the UN Headquarters' third floor. Watch -- and listen for -- this site.

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

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, May 15 -- The Democratic Republic of Congo and its ongoing wars hit the top three of the UN's list of "Stories the World Should Hear More About." At the UN's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked about reports over the weekend, of 500 rebels attacking the 800 Congolese soldiers stationed at Nioka in the Ituri region. The spokesman answered the UN's Congo mission, MONUC, has been focused on "controlling the militias." But other reports have Peter Karim's band smuggling wood into Uganda to exchange for yet more weapons. Note to UN: the world needs to hear more...

            In response to a follow-up question requesting comment on the fact that the UN's call for $682 million in assistance to the DRC has yielded less than 14% of the figure, the spokesman noted that the list of countries which gave is public, so by implication so are the non-givers. "What does the Secretary General say to those countries which haven't given?" "Give," was the answer.

DR Congo 

            Paparazzi filled the UN's briefing room, to capture each phrase Naomi Watts read about her visit to Zambia for UNAIDS.  Asked why the UNAIDS website has a country listing but no information about Afghanistan, Deborah Landey said it was hard, but that a global survey will soon come out with such information.  After the briefing, UNAIDS director of advocacy (and noted novelist) Achmat Dangor told Inner City Press that 125 of 191 countries responded to UNAIDS' survey. Asked if information on Afghanistan will be in the forthcoming global study, Mr. Dangor said no.

            In a question unrelated to AIDS, Inner City Press asked Naomi Watts about the criticism, including by UNHCR, of Australia's new anti-refugee proposal, to outsource those seeking asylum to the scorched island of Nauru.

Inner City Press question: "Have you heard of this? Would you like to say anything about it?"

Response by Naomi Watts: "I am not an authority on that."  But that wasn't the question. Developing? (Click here for the press conference in Real).

            Naomi "I am not an authority on that" Watts

            Bolivia's foreign minister David Choquehanca Cespedes fielded most of the questions at a half-hour briefing on the kick-off of the meeting of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. One of the questioners asked "if there will be further restrictions on gas operations in Bolivia." The answer addressed unfair bargains of the past and included reference to 500 years of oppression. Near the end, a person attending the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues complained that all most "Occidental" questioners cared about was gas and timber and money. "What are we, objects?" he asked. For the record, Inner City Press directed questions to the Forum's chairperson Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and to Jose Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, about the progress if any of the draft International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and about the World Bank's requirement on its projects for consultation with, but not consent by, indigenous people. Ms. Tauli-Corpus responded that the draft Declaration should be on the agenda of the new UN Human Rights Council, with an eye toward adoption by the end of the year. And, she said, it is hoped that the Declaration will use the term consent and not consultation, in pointed reference to the World Bank.  Left unanswered -- and unasked, due to the abrupt end of the briefing -- was whether Bolivia under Evo Morales might run for a seat on the Human Rights Council next year. Time will tell...

An earlier report from 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

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