Monday, March 23, 2009

At UN, Who Can Speak At Darfur Meeting, Sudan Asks, As Ocampo Arrives -- Ostensibly on Uganda, He Will Not Explain

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 20, updated -- In the wake of Sudan's expulsion of 13 non-governmental organizations from Darfur, a procedural fight broken on Friday in the UN Security Council, with Sudan saying it has a right to be heard at a public briefing by top UN humanitarian John Holmes scheduled for Friday afternoon. The UN Spokesperson's Office at 11:06 in the morning sent out an "urgent" update, while the Council met on the subject of Somalia. The update said that the "Council will hold consultations on the subject of Sudan immediate following the adjournment of the [Somalia] meeting currently in progress." 

  Inner City Press immediately inquired Friday morning with a range of diplomats and learned that while a public meeting on Darfur had been proposed for Friday afternoon, when Sudan asked to participate and speak, the proposal had to be changed. The plan then switched to a public "briefing," by John Holmes, after which no members would speak in public. To Sudan and its supporters -- and it has some -- this seemed like sleight of hand, a hit and run proceeding in which they would not be heard.  Emergency consultations were then set, on no other topic than the format.

  A Western diplomat scoffed that Sudan is using the Council's schedule -- a retreat with Ban Ki-moon is planned to begin on Friday -- to try to block even Holmes' briefing. He said that initially the idea was just to have Holmes briefing publicly, then to take off to the retreat. But if Sudan speaks, "everyone else will want to." He argued that Sudan "could just come and speak at the stakeout."

UN's Ban and ICC's Ocampo, Sudan's request to be heard not shown

On Thursday the US Mission to the UN told the Press that they had pushed to get a Friday meeting on Darfur. They explained that some had initially demurred, saying it could be done next week. But with the expulsion of 13 NGOs just after the International Criminal Court indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes, and President Bashir's more recent statements that he might expel diplomats and "security forces" from the country, the US pushed for the meeting, it said. But when a country is discussed in the Council, in a public meeting, it has some right to speak. Hence the standoff. Watch this site -- and note that at 11:38 a.m., ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo walked into the Council, then paced around outside clutching his cell phone.

Footnote (followed by updates) -- While the UK, and the U.S., are titularly in support of Austria's and Mexico's request for a second Council meeting on Sri Lanka, it appears they are putting substantially less political capital into the Sri Lanka request than for even interim briefings on Darfur. The above-quoted Western diplomat agreed that each country's political capital is limited, and consciously deployed, but added that the deployment is also based on the amount of push-back. 

  Does this mean that Sri Lanka has more or stronger supporters in the Council -- meaning, among China and Russia of the Permanent Five member -- than Sudan does? Or that this, added to the procedural point that Sudan is, and Sri Lanka is not, inscribed on an ongoing basis on the Council agenda makes the US and UK less likely to "waste" energy on overcoming objections to a Sri Lanka briefing now that the UN's knowledge of 2,683 civilian deaths from January 20 to March 7 is known? 

Update of 12:44 p.m. -- on the mystery of Luis Moreno Ocampo's strutting presence in the Security Council as members fight about the format for their Darfur meeting, Ocampo refused to answer any questions. His spokesperson, more polite, explained that Ocampo was in Washington for talks, then came to New York to speak with representatives of Uganda about the Joseph Kony / Lord's Resistance Army case. The claim then is that his presence has nothing to do with the Sudan case -- despite Ocampo standing in front of the Council chatting with representatives of Missions to the UN of the United States and other countries.  As Inner City Press conversed with a UN agency spokesman and Ocampo walked by, he was asked: are you really here only on Uganda? He smirked but said nothing. The agency spokesman said, you can't even call that a no comment...

 It was explained -- not by Ocampo -- that when for example UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay says that war crimes may be being committed by both the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government, the ICC Prosecutor's Office puts a notation in a data base. Since Sri Lanka is not a signatory of the ICC's Rome Statute, it is said, there is nothing they can do. It was noted that "the Tamils have not even tried to argue for jurisdiction, like the Palestinians have." Watch this site.

Update of 4:09 p.m. -- the outcome of the consultations was a public meeting, with "everyone" speaking, including Sudan and others. The UK Ambassador John Sawers referred to Abyei; Susan Rice intoned and inveighed against president Bashir. Russia's Vitaly Churkin, on the other hand, called the proceedings "symptomatic," hastily convened and politically motivated.  Luis Moreno-Ocampo, long after his meeting with the Ugandan mission, is still hanging around the Security Council in the afternoon, now without the Uganda fig leaf. The Ambassador of Liechtenstein, too, is around, the head of the state parties to the ICC's Rome Statute.  One would expect Ocampo to answer some press questions while here. But so far, not.

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