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Inner City Press Podcast --

U.S. Calls for Annan and Ban Ki-moon to Publicly Disclose Finances, As U.S. Angles for 5-Year WFP Appointment

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

  UNITED NATIONS, October 6 -- Secretary General Kofi Annan, who only after delay and indecision filed a financial disclosure form on September 22, is now being asked to make the financial contents public. Mr. Annan's spokesman Friday at noon said that since the UN is an "inter-governmental organization" rather than a government, the Secretary-General's disclosure should remain private, until the General Assembly requires otherwise.  Video on UNTV from Minute 10:35.

            An hour later, Inner City Press asked Ambassador John Bolton for the U.S. position. "I'm sure Congress will be interested in that response," Amb. Bolton said. Video on UNTV from Minute 7:45.

            In response to an Inner City Press question Friday morning on whether the incoming Secretary-General, presumptively Ban Ki-moon, should disclosure his finances on the way in -- possibly before the General Assembly vote -- Ambassador Bolton signaled agreement, saying that "transparency" is good, that as with preventive diplomacy, the UN system does not engage enough in transparency. Video on UNTV from Minutes 7:15, transcripts below.

Agreeing to disclose or not? S-G/Ban Ki-Moon

            But how transparent is the US? Beyond the U.S. Mission's continued withholding of information in its possession about UN officials receiving free housing from governments -- the U.S. spokesman says there are eight such UN officials while Kofi Annan's spokesman has said there is only one, without providing the name -- there is a emerging issue on which neither the UN nor the U.S. is practicing transparency.  As first reported by Inner City Press, the U.S. has put forward Josette Sheeran (Shiner) for a five year term as executive director of the UN's World Food Program. While Amb. Bolton is on record that Kofi Annan should not appoint any new official past the end of the year, when asked by Inner City Press if the U.S. wants Josette Sheeran (Shiner) to be given a five year term right away, Amb. Bolton responded that "there is precedent for that."

            Friday the UN spokesman told Inner City Press that the selection process, and giving of a five year terms, is now expected to be completed in "early November," less than two months before Mr. Annan's term ends. Despite U.S. Amb. Bolton's previous statements about lame duck appointment, presumably the U.S. would not object if the American Josette Sheeran (Shiner) is the beneficiary of a five year lame duck appointment. In terms of transparency, Inner City Press on October 3 asked the UN spokesman's office:

Yesterday you confirmed that Secretary-General will be making the selection of the next WFP executive director, in conjunction with the head of FAO. You stated that the "normal procedures" would be followed. Please elaborate on the "normal procedures." Specifically, Is there a selection panel?  Who is on the selection panel?  Is there a shortlist? How many names are on the shortlist?  Did the selection panel develop the shortlist, or are they only interviewing candidates on the shortlist? What is the timeframe for the selection?  Will this process be completed within October, November, or December? In previous cases of senior appointments (such as the chief of UNHCR), the  UN announced the shortlist prior to the actual selection of Mr. Guterres.  Was that "normal procedure"?  In this case will the UN announce the shortlist?  When?

            Three days later on October 6, the spokesman handed Inner City Press a page with a paragraph on it:

"Nominations were solicited from Member States and an advertisement was placed in The Economist. The deadline for the submission of nominations was 15 September 2006. A joint UN/FAO Panel met in Rome on 28 and 29 September to review the applications received with a view to drawing up a short list of candidates for the consideration of the Secretary-General and Director-General of FAO. The short-listed candidates will be interviewed in New York in the near future by a join UN/FAO panel comprising representatives from each side. The Panel is expected to identify two or three finalists for the Secretary-General's the Director-General's consideration. The Secretary-General and the Director-General would thereafter interview the candidates and jointly make a decision on the individual they would wish to appoint to the post. They would then jointly inform the WFP Executive Board accordingly and await their response before making the appointment public. The process should normally be completed by early November."

    Among other things, this does not answer whether the identities of the candidates on the shortlist will be made public. On Thursday, an individual from the Canadian government (who asked not to be identified, as such functionaries are apt to do) said while Canada has not nominated its WFP Ambassador Robert Fowler, he is in fact a candidate. As to who will conduct the interviews, as early as next week, Inner City Press' sources indicate that it will be Mark Malloch-Brown. The propriety of the Annan administration considering a five-year appointment with only two months left in office has not been addressed. Developing.

From U.S. mission's transcription of the above-reported:

Inner City Press: Do you think that financial disclosure forms of secretary-generals should be made public?

Ambassador Bolton: I don't, to tell you the truth, understand why financial disclosure forms of all senior U.N. officials are not made public. My financial disclosure forms are public -- not that they're very interesting to read, but it's certainly true in the U.S. government. People say it's an invasion of privacy. It's part of the responsibility I think we undertake in the U.S. government as senior officials so that anybody can see what our pitiful net worth is, and -- at least in my case -- and I don't see what the problem is with public disclosure. Do individuals like to have to disclose? Of course not. Is it a good thing to do it? I think so.

Inner City Press: Should Ban Ki-Moon file his?

Ambassador Bolton: Well, I think this is something we need to have more discussion of in the U.N. You know, one of the buzz words -- I mentioned in the case of North Korea the other day, one of the buzz words was "preventative" diplomacy. We talk a lot about it, but we don't actually do much. Another buzz word, as all of you in the press know, is "transparency," "transparency." Okay. How about transparency?

Later on Friday:

Inner City Press: On the financial disclosure form, the secretary-general's spokesman at noon said since it's an international organization, he doesn't think that he has to disclose, he's not going to disclose. Is the U.S. thinking of organizing other countries to try to get this one reform accomplished?

Ambassador Bolton: Well, I think we'll have further discussions about it. I'm sure Congress will be interested in that response.

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UN's Annan Dodges Danger and Set-Backs in Gabon, Malabo, Geneva, Tibet, Sudan, Disclosure Form Also for Successor?

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

   UNITED NATIONS, October 5 -- Two non-events in Geneva were downplayed by the UN on Thursday. Amid reports of a threat against the UN's Palais des Nations building, Gabon's president Omar Bongo cancelled a negotiating meeting involving Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the leader of Equatorial Guinea to discuss disputed islands thought to be oil-rich.

Mr. Annan in Gabon, March 2006

   With Bongo a no-show, Mr. Annan did not travel to Geneva. In New York, his spokesman downplayed both the threat and the Gabonese setback. Inner City Press asked:

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on Gabon not showing up for this meeting about the island that it has a dispute over, with Equatorial Guinea?

Spokesman:  This is an issue the Secretary-General has been working on for quite some time, the territorial dispute between Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.  The meeting I think that you are referring to had not been officially announced by us.

            But AP of September 29 had reported:

"Kofi Annan will meet with the presidents of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea next week to try to resolve a dispute between the two nations over control of several islands in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea. The talks between Gabon's President Omar Bongo and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea will take place Oct. 2-4 in Geneva, said Marie Heuze, director of the U.N. information service in Geneva."

            So does Mr. Annan's spokesman's "us" not include statements by his counterpart in Geneva, the director of the UN information service there? The attempt seems to be to downplay difficulties in Mr. Annan's final three months in office. Earlier in the year, the UN's in-house News Service of February 27 gushed that

"Hailing the Presidents of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea for showing 'incredible flexibility' toward resolving a border dispute, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said today that the two leaders were determined to resolve the issue before the end of the year. Mr. Annan hosted a mini-summit between President El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea in Geneva this morning and said both leaders had 'agreed to press ahead with immediate negotiations on the delimitation of their maritime and land borders. They showed incredible flexibility, good will and determination to press ahead and resolve this issue in the next few months and definitely before the end of the year,' Mr. Annan told the press after the meeting. 'I think it will be important for them to resolve this issue as quickly as possible and it will also be a good message for the continent, a continent wracked by conflicts and tensions, that two leaders come together and resolve their differences very, very peacefully.'"

            That Africa is wracked by conflicts is undisputable. Also at Thursday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked, about the Ivory Coast, if the UN had any response to Laurent Gbabgo's political party's threat to retaliate against citizens of countries which suggest that he hold an election or leave power.  The spokesman paused as a written statement was carried into the briefing room, which he then read out:

"The Secretary-General deplores the inflammatory remarks made on 2 October by the President of the Front Populaire Ivoirien, Affi Nguessan, which contained threats against citizens of other members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) living in Cote d'Ivoire. The Secretary-General calls on all Ivorian political leaders and their followers to exercise the utmost restraint at this critical juncture and stresses that those instigating or committing violent acts will be held personally responsible by the international community.  He also emphasizes the responsibility of the Ivorian Defense and Security Forces to protect the civilian population including ECOWAS citizens as well as other foreigners residing in Cote d'Ivoire.  The Secretary-General urges the Ivorian leaders to pursue dialogue and work with ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations to break the current impasse and agree on new transitional arrangements that should lead to elections."

            The UN's prepared transcript of Thursday briefing omits the question, and puts the statement as the lead item in the briefing, when it was the last item. Compare to the video, available on the UN's web site and here. It is good for Kofi Annan to have a statement ready on human rights issues. But why then no response, at noon nor by close of business, to reports that China has shot and killed at least two Tibetans seeking to flee into Nepal?  At noon Inner City Press asked:

Question:  There are reports, including on BBC, that China has shot people trying to flee Tibet into Nepal?  I don’t know if either the Secretariat or UNHCR can confirm it, perhaps later today, and also what UNHCR’s position is on Nepal’s treatment of people fleeing Tibet, whether they are in fact…

Spokesman:  I have not seen these reports, but we can put you in touch with UNHCR and see what they have to say on that.

            UNHCR has said nothing, even now.

Tibet per UNHCR

   In fact, UNHCR has not responded to a request for information, four days ago, about a pending deportation-for-torture to Uzbekistan nor about UNHCR's activities and contacts in Somalia. AndMr. Annan, in dodging comment on Gabon's Bongo's pulling-out of the meeting also neglected to comment on Bongo's shut-down of a news publication for three months for daring to report on the island dispute and Bongo's attempt, flexible or corrupt, to sell the island. At the UN, particularly these days, there's an attempt by many to focus only on the good news, on the most Polyanna interpretation.

            At the Security Council stakeout, for example, the Ambassador of Greece was asked for his response to the Sudanese mission's letter rejecting any UN peacekeepers in Darfur, and his response was to ignore the letter, says that Sudanese President Al-Bashir had said nothing marginally less combative. Many reporters shook their heads. One wag muttered, "Everything's okay in Darfur, then."  Another correspondent inquired into the platters of food being carried into the Security Council: "Can't deal with Darfur on an empty stomach, right?"  The spokesman quickly clarified that the food was for a Slovakian side event in the Security Council area.

            In the UN General Assembly, in the basement, contradictory testimony continued on Western Sahara. At day's end, with yet more witnesses to go on the Polisario Front, the UK's Deputy Permanent Representative said on the record that "the United Kingdom does not believe that the principle of territorial integrity is applicable to the decolonialization of Gibraltar."

            On the integrity front, it is anticipated that beyond the after-shocks to the right, Friday at the UN the calls for Mr. Annan's long-delayed financial disclosure to be made public will grow, not despite but in part in furtherance of the precedent it would set. Developing...

At the UN, Ban Ki-Moon's Track Record on Myanmar Criticized by ASEAN Parliamentarians on Human Rights

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

  UNITED NATIONS, October 4 -- Criticism of apparently incoming UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon came from an unexpected quarter on Wednesday, on a timely issue in the Security Council: Myanmar.

    Speaking for the Asian Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, Mr. Djoko Susilo of Indonesia said, when asked about Ban Ki-Moon's track record on Myanmar, "I have to say regarding Mister Ban Ki-Moon when he was foreign ministers, as a member of Caucus, we are not quite happy... you are quite right." Video here at Minute 18:16.

    Inner City Press had asked, in the context of South Korea-based Daewoo Corporation's reported plan to develop natural gas fields off Myanmar's western coast, what the Caucus thought of South Korean foreign minister Ban Ki-Moon's positions on Myanmar. Video here at Minute 13:28.  Mr. Susilo called Daewoo's engagement with the Myanmar government "regrettable," and also said of Ban Ki-Moon that "we hope for a significant change in policy."

Mr. Ban Ki-Moon and GA President

     The United States, which pushed to get Myanmar on the UN Security Council's agenda on September 15, has supported Ban Ki-Moon as Secretary-General, as has China, whose extensive business and military ties with Myanmar came up repeatedly at Wednesday's press conference. A question arose about whether China would veto any substantive Security Council resolution on Myanmar. The panelists, including Ms. Loretta Ann P. Rosales of the Philippines, said hopefully they will continue reaching out to Chinese parliamentarians. Efforts may also be made with India, which as inquired into by Inner City Press has developed military ties with the government of Myanmar.

     U.S. Ambassador John Bolton has cited Myanmar's export of opium as a threat to international peace and security, the term of art triggering compulsory action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Since then, the head of the UN's Office on Crime and Drugs told Inner City Press that virtually all of the world's opium and heroin is coming from Afghanistan, and that Myanmar like Laos is on its way to having no opium exports. Inner City Press asked the ASEAN panelists about this discrepancy.

    John Ungphakorn, who was a Thai parliamentarian until the recent military coup, responded defensively that it is not only opium, but amphetamines, which are produces in Myanmar. Whether there is evidence of this is unclear. So to a claim pushed on Inner City Press at the end of the briefing by an advocate in the audience with a business card from the "National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma," who whispered that North Korea is providing nuclear technology and materials to Myanmar.  Developing...

European Treatment of Roma, Past, Present and Future in Display

    In other human rights news, also discussed at the UN on Wednesday was t he plight in Europe of the Roma and Sinti, also called Gypsies. Roma women have been subject to forced sterilization in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and are provided substandard education and discriminated against in income European Union members Romania and Bulgaria. These and other reports were given by Mr. Romani Rose, Chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, in preparing of an exhibit about the Holocaust to open at the UN in January 2007.

   The questions focused primarily on current discrimination, including in Ukraine. Video here, from Minute 26:45.  Mr. Rose described Roma's living conditions as dire and "Third World." He criticized many European countries' practice of identifying to news media that alleged criminals are Roma. He analogized to apartheid the construction of a dividing wall in the Czech Republic. While criticizing educational fairness in Hungary, he said that Hungary is further along in improving treatment to Roma, and in living up to commitments made to enter the EU. He did not address whether the UN's new Human Rights Council (or new Secretary-General) bode well for the treatment of Roma. Developing...

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