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As UN Council Meets, NGOs' Eviction from Darfur Called "Only the First Step," Bashir Indictment Freeze Requests

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, March 6 -- With African Union and Arab League diplomats headed to New York to lobby the Security Council for a suspension of the indictment against Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, the Council met Friday about Bashir's expulsion of NGOs which serve Darfur. The percentage of the humanitarian work in Darfur impacted by the expulsion order varied by source. The UN's Catherine Bragg, who cancelled her noon press availability and postponed it until after the Council's Friday afternoon session, put the figure at 50%.  Costa Rica's Ambassador Jorge Urbina, on the other hand, said he'd head the figure was closer to 70%. Inner City Press asked Ambassador Urbina, on camera, to comment on the NGOs departure from Sudan.  He declined, but off camera said "something must be done." Asked if the harm to civilians would make Costa Rica re-think its opposition to suspending the indictment of Bashir, he said no.

  Footage from Khartoum showed al-Bashir dancing with a crowd and apparently little security. We will not back down, he told the crowd. This is the new Sudan.

   At a diplomatic luncheon Friday for Ghana, Inner City Press asked a range of Ambassadors about the situation in Sudan. While most spoke off the record, the representative of the Holy See said he disagreed that the indictment would make peace talks less likely. Look at South Sudan, he said. Even after the death of John Garang, the talks continued. Bashir has been in power for nearly 20 years.

  But now the Justice and Equality Movement says it will not negotiate with a war criminal. Were these foreseeable impacts thought out? Will Ocampo be the one serving breakfast in Nyala? 

  On the way into the Council, a senior Sudanese diplomat stopped and told Inner City Press that "our people" say the meeting is about the requests for suspension from the AU and Arab League. They are member states, he said, they should come before the NGOs. All of this could have been avoided, he said. This is only the first step. We have nothing to lose.

  Beginning with this quote, we will endeavor to live-blog outside the Council's closed door session. Watch this space.

Chinese engineers unload in Darfur: breakfast kits and referral veto not shown

  On his way into the meeting, Austria's Ambassador stopped to say that the UN taking over the humanitarian programs in Darfur is "unrealistic," and that Austria would not support any suspension of the indictment, as they believe in the rule of law, the fight against impunity and the independence of the court. He was asked, since Sudan could only be prosecuted due to the Council's 2005 vote to refer the case, if the Council couldn't not ask for deferral. That would be even more problematic, he answered, saying that the court proceeding must proceed.

Update of 4:09 p.m. -- in a rambling stakeout interview, Sudan's Ambassador said he has a "dossier" of proof against each of the 13 expelled NGOs. He said that the International Rescue Committee, for example, "has an MOU with the ICC," and that other NGOs "use their planes to fly supposed victims to Paris." One reporter suggested that he return to the stakeout Monday at 10 a.m. with the dossier. You can come to my office, the Sudanese Ambassador said, adding to the crowd, but he better be careful, he might have a heart attack, the evidence is so strong.

  Reporters laughed, some cringed. Inner City Press asked if these 13 NGOs are being allowed to continue operations in South Sudan. I don't know if they have operations in the South, the Ambassador said. Inner City Press asked what Sudan would think of Bill Frist as the US Special Envoy for Darfur. That is a US decision, he said, adding that Sudan would prefer an "upgraded" US Ambassador in Khartoum, and might not allow in a new US Special Envoy. What will happen Monday at 10 a.m. is not known. Even Friday afternoon, the Council meeting continues.

Update of 4:35 p.m. -- France's Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert came to the stakeout, saying among other things that if Sudan does not reverse its position, Kalma camp and another may run out of water in 48 hours. Inner City Press asked him if France thinks the expulsion is a violation of international humanitarian law or implicates the Responsibilility to Protect (which France's Bernard Kouchner has said he invented).  Yes, Ripert said, we think this violates the law, and we've said that in the Council, asking members to act on their commitments made in January to support international humanitarian law.

  Will there be a written statement, then? A draft is being circulated. But it seems clear that several members will not sign onto anything that does not raise the suspension of the indictment of Bashir.

Update of 4:54 p.m. -- UK Ambassador John Sawers came to the stakeout out and, long story short, said there would be no Council statement. A British reporter said NGOs called this "grotesque." Sawers explained that one of the Permanent members insisted on references to the ICC.  He said that Russia would have been willing to sign on to some reasonable statement. So call it China -- which, like the US, hasn't spoken at the stakeout.

  Inner City Press asked Sawers if the expulsion was entirely unexpected, if any contingency planning had been done. You can't plan for everything, he said, adding that no one saw the NGOs as connected to the ICC. No one?

Update of 5:35 p.m. -- the UN's Catherine Bragg emerged, and her spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said she's had a long day and has other engagements, so will take only three questions. She was asked about the capacity of national NGOs, and spoke of trying to replace six thousand some humanitarian workers. She dropped the estimate of impacted humanitarian services to 40%.

 Inner City Press asked if it's true that Kalma camp and one other will run out of water in 48 hours. Ms. Bragg said the situation is serious, as the NGO providing water and sanitation in Kalma camp is being expelled. She said "we" are trying to pick up the slack.  Inner City Press asked, does that mean the UNAMID peacekeepers? I don't have the details, she said. For the second day in a row, she did not answer if the NGOs being expelled have operations, and if they will continue, in South Sudan.

Update of 6:05 p.m. -- the Libyan president of the Council for March came out, speaking of a "high level" delegation from the African Union and League of Arab States which will come to the Council to argue for a suspension of the indictment under Article 16 of what he called the "Roma Statute." Inner City Press asked if the threat of African Union members which have joined the OCC un-joining came up in the Council. No, but there is a meeting of such members to reconsider their membership, he said.

  Since the AU / Arab League delegation would come until March 16 or so, in part due to the Council being in Haiti next week, Inner City Press asked about the report that the Kalma camp will run out of water in 48 hours. The Libyan Ambassador said this was a "detail," that it might be true if the water came in bottles, but if the water is in wells, it will not run out.  We'll see if it's a detail...

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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