Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
George Clooney has been roughing it recently, on the latest of his trips to Sudan to highlight the problems there.
The Hollywood superstar and U.N. Goodwill Ambassador was touring semi-autonomous south Sudan ahead of a planned January 2011 referendum on whether southerners in Africa’s biggest country should secede from the Khartoum-led north. Tensions are high because of fears the plebiscite could be delayed, sparking a new war between the predominantly Muslim north and the heavily animist and Christian south.
The U.N. Security Council delegation I traveled to Sudan with was in Juba, the scruffy capital of south Sudan, at the same time as Clooney. But we reporters never saw him. The journalists covering the Security Council’s African trip were barred from the party that Clooney, council diplomats and U.N. officials attended. According to several of those present, Clooney and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, had a long huddle to discuss the problems of Sudan, including the referendum and the 7-year-old conflict in Sudan’s remote western Darfur region. Of course Sudan was not the only interesting thing about the evening — one U.N. official boasted of having seven pictures of her and Clooney on her digital camera.
Leaving south Sudan was not so easy. Our plane had engine trouble and we were all marched to a Russian peacekeeper base. Four local Sudanese reporters with us were told by U.N. officials that there no sandwiches for them and initially ordered to remain on the press bus.
from Africa News blog:
The simple answer to the question of how many people died in Congo’s civil war is “too many”.
Trying to get a realistic figure is fraught with difficulties and a new report suggests that a widely used estimate of 5.4 million dead – potentially making Congo the deadliest conflict since World War Two - is hugely inaccurate and that the loss of life may be less than half that.
It’s more than six years since mostly non-Arab rebels in Sudan’s western Darfur region revolted after accusing Khartoum of neglecting their remote corner of Africa’s biggest country. Khartoum’s U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, declared in New York this week that the “war in Darfur is over.”
But Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, disagrees. Although levels of violence in Darfur have fallen, he told the Security Council that crimes “are continuing.” He said those crimes include indiscriminate bombings of civilians, creation of inhumane conditions for displaced people in order to “exterminate” them, rapes and sexual violence, and the use of child soldiers.
The ICC has already issued arrest warrants for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, another government official and a former Janjaweed militia leader for war crimes in a government-led counter-insurgency campaign that drove more than 2 million from their homes. The United Nations says as many as 300,000 people have died since the conflict erupted in 2003, but Khartoum rejects that figure.
By Patrick Worsnip
It’s not uncommon for journalists at some point in their careers to cross the barricades and become the people who dish out the news as spokespersons for an organization or firm, rather than being on the receiving end. It requires a different set of skills that can make the transition tough, and a stern test confronts former Reuters correspondent Martin Nesirky, who has just been appointed spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. After a high-flying career at Reuters that saw him fill senior editorial positions in London, Berlin, Moscow and Seoul, Nesirky has had some time to acclimatize to his new role by working for more than three years as spokesman for the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), based in Vienna. But the move to New York brings much more formidable challenges.
Like any U.N. spokesperson, Nesirky, a Briton, will have to take into account the concerns of the 192 nations that belong to the world body. That’s 192 different governments that can get upset by something he might say. But his chief problem may be his boss Ban, whose public image, to put it mildly, could take a little burnishing. Aside from his awkward use of English, which has television producers tearing their hair, Ban has had a rough ride from hostile media that have accused him of failing to use his position to end the world’s conflicts and right its wrongs. (Defenders say he is more effective than he appears, works tirelessly behind closed doors, and has made at least some progress on such intractable issues as climate change, global poverty and the crisis in Darfur.)
Then there is the sprawling and ill-defined nature of the U.N. press and public relations operation, with different officials and factions competing for the secretary-general’s attention and waiting to pounce on any mis-step by one of the others. The outgoing spokeswoman, Michele Montas of Haiti, stuck to the job for less than three years. In trying to stay close to the South Korean secretary-general, Nesirky could benefit from his knowledge of the Korean language from his time in Seoul. He is also married to a South Korean. But these advantages too could be a double-edged sword. U.N. diplomats have long complained that Ban is happiest in a Korean comfort zone and relies too much on a compatriot who serves as his deputy chief-of-staff, Kim Won-soo.
Ban Ki-moon isn’t having a good year for public relations. Halfway through a five-year term as U.N. secretary-general, he’s been hit with a wave of negative assessments by the Financial Times, The Economist, London Times, Foreign Policy and other media organizations. In a March 2009 editorial entitled “Whereabouts Unknown,” the Times said Ban was “virtually inaudible” on pressing issues of international security and “ineffectual” on climate change, the one issue that Ban claims he has made the biggest difference on. The Economist gave him a mixed report card, assigning him two out of 10 points for his management skills while praising him on climate change (eight out of 10 points).
This week, Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper made an unpleasant situation much worse. It published a confidential memo assessing Ban’s 2-1/2 years in office from Oslo’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Mona Juul, to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Juul’s report is scathing — and it comes from a representative of one of the world’s body’s top financial contributors. She says the former South Korean foreign minister suffers from a “lack of charisma” and has “constant temper tantrums” in his offices on the 38th floor of the United Nations building in midtown Manhattan.
She describes Ban as a “powerless observer” during the fighting in Sri Lanka earlier this year when thousands of civilians were killed as government forces ended a 25-year civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels, trapping them on a narrow strip of coast in the country’s northeast. In Darfur, Somalia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Congo, she wrote, Ban’s “passive and not very committed appeals seem to fall on deaf ears.” She says that his recent trip to Myanmar was a failure and that some people in Washington refer to Ban as a “one-term” secretary-general.
Juul’s letter could hardly have come at a more inopportune time. Ban is planning to visit Norway in the coming weeks, where he intends to meet with government officials and visit the Arctic circle to see for himself the effects of global warming and the melting polar ice. Now U.N. officials fear reporters will be more interested in what he says about Juul’s memo than climate change.
So far Ban has not reacted to the letter. However, a Norwegian diplomat told Reuters that Ban’s press office had been instructed to hold off on confirming his visit to Norway shortly after the news of Juul’s memo began to spread.
Ban’s PR difficulties didn’t start this year. In March 2008, his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar sent a memo to U.N. employees explaining how to say his boss’s name. “Many world leaders, some of whom are well acquainted with the Secretary-General, still use his first name mistakenly as his surname and address him wrongly as Mr. Ki-moon or Mr. Moon,” Nambiar complained.
Then came Ban’s own speech to senior U.N. officials in Turin, Italy last year, in which he described how difficult it was to improve the working culture inside the United Nations. The secretary-general seemed to acknowledge that his internal management style had failed. “I tried to lead by example,” Ban said. “Nobody followed.”
Ban’s aides vehemently defend him, saying he’s being treated unfairly by the press. One senior U.N. official suggested privately that Ban could very well turn out to be “the greatest secretary-general ever.” They complain that people continue to compare him to his predecessor Kofi Annan, who was a very different U.N. chief and relied less on “quiet diplomacy” than Ban. Annan became a hero to many people around the world for standing up to the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Annan called the March 2003 invasion illegal. U.N. officials also complain bitterly about the indefatigable blogger Matthew Lee, whose website Inner City Press regularly accuses Ban and other U.N. officials of hypocrisy and failing to keep their promises to reform the United Nations and root out corruption. (Some U.N. officials accuse Lee of not always getting his facts right, but his blog has become unofficial required reading for U.N. staffers around the world.)
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, diplomats in New York say, is among those supporting a campaign against a second term for Ban. Juul’s memo said Helen Clark, New Zealand’s former prime minister and current head of the U.N. Development Program, “could quickly become a competitor for Ban’s second term.” But diplomats say they expect the United States, Britain and other major powers to reluctantly back a second term for Ban, if only because there appears to be no viable alternative whom Russia and China would support.
A recent article in the Times of London said the best U.N. chief in the organization’s 64-year history was not Swedish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dag Hammarskjold but the Peruvian diplomat Javier Perez de Cuellar, who held the top U.N. post for 10 years until 1992. Nicknamed “mumbles” because he was so difficult to understand, Perez de Cuellar kept a low profile and, like Ban, preferred backroom diplomacy, not Annan’s bully pulpit. Among the Peruvian diplomat’s successes were managing the end of the Cold War, leading a long-delayed revival of U.N. peacekeeping and encouraging member states to back a U.S.-led military operation to drive Iraq’s invading forces out of Kuwait in 1991.
Will Ban’s preference for quiet diplomacy make him as good or better than Perez de Cuellar? That remains to be seen.
from Africa News blog:
We often hear of the human cost of war. We don't often see the cash cost laid out so baldly as in the price list that went with my colleague Abdi Sheikh's feature from Mogadishu on the arms market that thrives in the city amid Somalia's tragedy.
Among popular weapons, a 120 mm mortar costs $700, plus $55 for each mortar bomb. A 23 mm anti-aircraft gun (truck mounted), fetches a hefty $20,000.
Although the U.N.’s racism conference in Geneva has been dominated by Middle East politics, Palestinian rights groups say Palestinians have effectively been silenced.On the one hand tough rules by the conference organisers prevented Palestinian NGOs from holding “side events”, they say. On the other hand Monday’s controversial speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, slamming Israel as a “totally racist government” founded “on the pretext of Jewish suffering”, has distracted attention from the issues that actually affect Palestinians.
“One thing that we have noticed in this conference is that there has been a concerted effort to silence the voices of the Palestinian presence and raising the Palestinian issue,” said Wisam Ahmad of Al-Haq, a Ramallah-based advocacy group.
from Africa News blog:
Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has seen off other challenges in almost 20 years in power and there is no sign that he is going to give in to the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Some supporters of the court's move hope it will eventually persuade Sudan's politicians to hand over their leader in a palace coup, end the festering conflict in Darfur and do more to repair relations with the West.
from Africa News blog:
Look down the list of the cases the International Criminal Court is pursuing – Congo, Central African Republic, Darfur, Uganda – and it doesn’t take long to spot the connection.
Of the dozen arrest warrants the court has issued, all have been against African rebels or officials. On Monday, the court begins its first trial - of Thomas Lubanga, accused of recruiting child soldiers to wage a gruesome ethnic war in northeastern Congo. Earlier this month, former Congolese rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba was in court for a decision on whether to confirm charges of ordering mass rape to terrorise civilians in the Central African Republic.
Members of Guinea-Bissau’s unruly armed forces have blotted the military’s record again with another attack against the country’s political institutions. Early on Sunday, Nov. 23, renegade soldiers, their faces hooded, sprayed the Bissau residence of President Joao Bernardo “Nino” Vieira with machine-gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire. The president survived unhurt this latest apparent attempt to topple him.
But The attack underlined the fragility of the small, cashew nut-exporting West African nation, one of the poorest in the world and a former Portuguese colony which has suffered a history of bloody coups, mutinies and uprisings since it won independence in 1974 after a bush war led by Amilcar Cabral. The assault followed parliamentary elections on Nov. 16 which donors were hoping would restore stability and put in place a new government capable of resisting the serious threat posed by powerful Latin American cocaine-trafficking cartels who use Guinea-Bissau as a staging post to smuggle drugs to Europe.