Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Human Rights Brought Low in UN Basement, North Korea Fight Back, Crack Down on the Press

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

UNITED NATIONS, October 28 -- Human rights were confined to the UN basement on Tuesday, as representatives of Belarus, Sri Lanka and North Korea lashed out at what they called the hypocrisy of their Western critics, notably France, which spoke for the European Union.  The representative of Myanmar, who walked out during France's presentation, didn't even assert its right of reply at day's end. One wag asked, why should they? They have an accommodating human rights rapporteur functionally protecting them, in the form of Tomas Ojea Quintana, to whom the rapporteur on torture, for example, says he defers.

   Tuesday afternoon, Inner City Press was told by a number of countries' representatives to the UN's Third Committee to expect fireworks at the session's end at six o'clock.  Running to the basement at 5:40, Inner City Press entered Conference Room 1 and took up a position against the wall at the back of the room as Belarus bragged about the transparency of its elections and the freedom it allows to the media. Suddenly Inner City Press was told, "You can't be in here," then was instructed to go and speak with the Secretary of the Third Committee, Moncef Khane, up at the front of the room. He's the one who told us to order you out, Inner City Press was told.

   Quick research finds that Mr. Khane, a native of Algeria, is one of two Senior Political Affairs Officers in the Economic and Social Council Affairs Branch of the UN's Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, DGACM. The Third Committee has hardly been receiving any media coverage, so one can wonder why Mr. Khane would be so quick to order other UN staff to tell a reporter to move, as soon as he entered the room to cover the meeting.  

UN Human Rights Council, press restrictions not shown

   After a briefing exchange, Inner City Press repaired to the raised "cheap seats" of the conference room, where for example there are no electrical outlets into which to plug a laptop.

   Down on the floor, the representative of Sri Lanka was denouncing France's accusation of the use of child soldiers in the country. No mention was made of Sri Lanka being ousted from the Human Rights Council in the last election, despite its swank reception just prior to the vote, at which for example Sudan's Ambassador ate French croissants and looked out over the East River into Queens.

  Next up was North Korea, whose representative said that for fifty years, North Koreans have been "enjoying" a political system that will not change anytime soon. Sitting near the front of the room, he said the Western countries are killing civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and are engaged in human trafficking and police brutality at home. While there's truth to this, North Korea's punishments of those who try to leave hit a new low in terms of human rights. As low as in the UN's basement.

  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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