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As US Joins UN Rights Council, Washington Post Mulls Closing UN Bureau

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 12, updated -- Amid the modulated hoopla Tuesday morning surrounding the election of the United States to the UN Human Rights Council, Inner City Press learned of an opposite trend of pull-back from the UN by American, or at least American-based media. The venerable Washington Post is moving to close its UN bureau, by the end of 2009 at latest, sources said. Post correspondent Colum Lynch, who has broken stories about abuse by peacekeepers and procurement corruption, will no longer daily be covering the UN "from inside."

    While the financial crisis, globally and of newspapers, is sure to be presented as the rationale, others wonder if the drop-off in charisma and flash in the transition from Kofi Annan to Ban Ki-moon does not also play a factor. CNN, for example, no longer opens its UN office every day. Correspondent Richard Roth, after man in the street interviews about the global financial crisis and some spring baseball stories, is said to be trying to get the Human Rights Council story a spot in the network's Situation Room.  The World Body, some says, just doesn't rate anymore.

   Another network correspondent mused, of the Washington Post's plans, that the work space in the UN is free: why would they be closing? Ban Ki-moon's head of management Angela Kane has floated and conflicted a draft proposal to charge rent to the press in the future. With major media pulling back from the UN, some wonder why the UN would try to make it more difficult to cover the organization and its work.

At stakeout of Japan, Lynch, center with glasses, calm amid the storm

  While we report further on this story, for now we wish to note Lynch's unassuming but fact-uncovering style, both at the Security Council stakeout and in the UN briefing room... Lynch has not settled for political correctness, has not left facts unreported. Hence this interim piece.

Footnote 1: Seemingly connecting these two competing trends, Lynch was Tuesday morning at the stakeout in front of the General Assembly vote asking US Ambassador Susan Rice a question -- or seemingly trying to. As he asked three minutes into Amb. Rice's stakeout, she walked away. Apparently, he did not shout loud enough. We report, you decide: video here, from Minute 3:30.

  From the mea culpa department, it has been pointed out that in an earlier version of this story, a journalist who Amb. Rice said was mumbling was identified as Lynch. (Since he was mumbling, the mis-identification occured, and was repeated at the noon briefing.)  "You're mumbling," Ambassador Rice told the jounalist. Video here, from Minute 1:21.

  "Mumbling? Oh my God," he said, and then continued to ask Rice to respond to charges that given the membership of human rights abuses, the Council cannot be effective. We do not agree, Rice said, and then seemed to refuse Lynch's question: video here, from Minute 3:30.

Footnote 2: Craig Mokhiber also said, of the UN in Sri Lanka, where interment camps alleged to be site of sexual abuse by soldiers and even of starvation are funded by the UN, that the UN must itself abide by international law. We'll see.

Earlier piece on HRC:

For UN Human Rights Council, 20 Countries for 18 Seats, Nigeria, Azeris on the Cusp

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 12, updated -- The 2009 elections for the UN Human Rights Council, while drawing last minute outrage from a range of non-governmental organizations, seems largely a foregone conclusion. Most regional groups, including the oft self satisfied WEOG, Western European and Other Group, presented consensus slates with the same number of candidates as seats. New Zealand backed down for the U.S., perhaps in exchange for the U.S. dropping its candidates in the face of new UN Development Program Administrator Helen Clark.

   Freedom House, a now hybrid group, sponsored a session with Saudi and Cuba dissidents in the office of Bahai. Afterwards, Inner City Press asked why Freedom House, unlike co-sponsor UN Watch, had joined a wider, mostly liberal coalition. It is good to work together was the answer. But the liberal coalition complained last time that despite their endorsement of Zambia, Freedom House broke ranks.

   UN Watch, speaking truth to power, noted that some groups it left unnamed have a revolving door with the UN system. They were diplomatic, not wanting to attack their Geneva colleagues. But it is not rocket science: Human Rights Watch in Geneva has a director from the UN. The door spins the other way, too: to be appointed a special rapporteur now requires the support of member states, “the Pakistan's of the world,” as one NGO put it. Those seeking careers in human rights are holding their tongues. Careerism is a killer, in this field as others.

HRC ceiling in Geneva, development aid funds used?

   The slates, for election on May 12, include only 20 countries running for 18 seats. The only contested regions are Africa (six candidates for five seats; only Nigeria did not submit a voluntary pledge, according to the GA; Mauritius or more likely Djibouti may end up with the short end of the stick) and Eastern Europe (three for two, with Azeris on the cusp).

  Only two will lose out -- if they don't drop out in advance in the secret balloting. Freedom House has denounced Azerbaijan, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Russia and Saudi Arabia. This last, at a Freedom House event last week, was said to receive UN / UNDP electoral assistance for an election that excluded women. There are other UN silences that we will cover. Watch this space.

Update of 11:11 a.m. -- the vote was taken, and a 45 minute adjournment was announced. In the upper deck, Susan Rice was in the US seat. It wasn't clear if she would speak and take questions afterwards. Mexico's Claude Heller spoke with the Press for ten minutes, while he took congratulations in advance from other Ambassadors. A senior UN political adviser was unwilling, when asked, to commit himself to a prediction. He said there might be a sympathy vote for Djibouti due to their problems with Eritrea. Then again, Djibouti has both French and US bases.

The African backstory is that Kenya horned in, but if both Mauritius and Djibouti are elected along with Kenya, one of the three Regional Group-endorsed candidates from West Africa will lose out...

Update of 12:26 p.m. -- news flash: Djibouti and Mauritius both made it, Kenya bounces, for breaking protocol, it seems. Aberbaijan, as we predicted, lost. But Kenya? Mea culpa...

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

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

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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