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Monthly Archives: October 2006

What the news reports usually don’t tell you about conferences in Qatar is just how plush some of the hotels are — which may help account for the popularity of Doha as a meeting place for folks spending other people’s money. This past spring I gave a paper at a conference in the Qatari capital of Doha; I went there expecting generic lodgings. Instead, it was a voyage through luxury, from the chilled orange juice served at the hotel registration desk, to the designer French soap in the bathrooms, the marble floors, lavishly stocked breakfast buffet, flowers, chocolates, outdoor jacuzzi, assorted swimming pools and beach-side cafes. Lined up at one of the hotels, awaiting the pleasure of guests who might wish to rent a vehicle, was a row of Porsche SUV’s. (All this was some distance up the road from the squalid housing into which oil-rich Qatar crams its legions of guest-workers from places such as Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and so on).

These richly appointed hotels are the setting right now for the UN’s Sixth Conference on New and Restored Democracies, from Oct. 29-Nov. 1. If that sounds promising — after all, why not spend a few days coddling the aspiring democrats of the world? — look again.

For starters, the host country, Qatar, which has now taken over the presidency of this conference, is no democracy. Qatar is run by an Emir, and New York-based Freedom House notes that “Qataris cannot change their government democratically.” And while the guest list does include some genuine democrats and dissidents, the organizers have also arranged to include officials from a roster of countries where democracy is neither “new” nor “restored,” for the simple reason that there isn’t any. Among the countries sending official representatives are Zimbabwe, Cuba, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Togo, Cameroon, Vietnam, and Sudan… (it almost starts to sound like your average meeting of the UN Human Rights Council. Or for that matter, the UN General Assembly in New York… so why bother flying everyone to Doha?). Also on the guest list is the head of the despot-packed Arab League, Amr Moussa, as well as a fellow from the Organization of the Islamic Conference; and folks who can boast of having won “elections,” but who are evidently opposed to coupling that with such principles as liberty and decent rule of law. These include members of the terrorist group, Hamas, and the foreign minister of Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. And of course these are plenty of officials from the UN, available no doubt to explain to the participants how the UN, in order to assemble this crowd, has decided to define “democracy.”

(Addendum, keeping in mind the comforts of conferencing in Doha: According to the list of participants, the 10 delegates from Lebanon are accompanied by more than 40 people listed as “translators” or “interpreters,” outdoing even the Egyptians, who will have in tow more than 20).

Probably never, if you live in a western democratic country. You don’t meet North Korean refugees for the simple reason that there are hardly any among us. Most North Koreans who try to flee Kim Jong Il’s despotic realm never even make it through China — which in violation of its UN treaty obligations refuses to recognize any of them as refugees. The relatively few who have made it out have been largely shunted to South Korea, where Seoul’s “sunshine” policy of appeasing North Korea means that defectors from the North tend to be stifled or co-opted into silence about the horrors back home. So, unlike countries such as China or Iran, where bad as things are, there is at least an outspoken dissident diaspora, there are very few North Koreans in a position to tell the world firsthand and in detail about the hunger, labor camps, and brutal state security with which Kim Jong Il holds sway. Instead, it is officials of the North Korean regime who enjoy a place on the world stage — issuing threats and demands, occupying a member seat on the UN Disarmament Conference, strutting on the UN General Assembly stage, pocketing aid meant for hungry people, and dining in comfort in places such as Beijing and Geneva.

There are, however, a small number of intrepid souls who continue to delve into the atrocious realities inside North Korea, bringing defectors to speak in Washington, forming groups concerned with the utter lack of human rights inside North Korea, and in some cases helping North Koreans to escape via the Underground Railroad that for years has been doing the work the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is supposed to be doing — but won’t. Among those who have tried to spread the word is a young American, Edward Kim, who in 2001, as a student then in his 20s, working with a laptop and a couple of unpaid assistants, started a web site called Chosun Journal. At the time, there were few consolidated sources of information on the atrocities inside North Korea. Kim’s web site was a valuable resource (here, for instance, is his 2003 deck of cards on the North Korean leadership), all the more so for the sweet sense he displayed in asking questions such as why anti-war protesters do not turn out in equal numbers to protest genocide in North Korea — where state repression, still killing people there today, led to the deaths in the late 1990s of an estimated one to two million people. (Disclosure: Some of my own articles about North Korea have been posted on the Chosun Journal site).

About two years ago, Edward Kim had to take a break. The good news today is that he is back. Chosun Journal has just become active again, with a message worth reading. This is a good resource in the fight to explain that the only real solution to North Korea’s money-counterfeiting, missile-peddling, nuclear-testing escapades is not to dignify Kim Jong Il with “talks,” but to get rid of his regime. To that end, an avenue still miserably under-used amid all the complicated diplomatic debate is to support and amplify the truth, that in the mingled interests of both security and humanity, Kim Jong Il has got to go.

Human Wrongs

October 25th, 2006 - 6:23 pm

Remember how the UN earlier this year reformed its so-called Human Rights Commission? The UN replaced it with the re-labeled Human Rights Council, the promise being to put an end to such perversions as Libya three years ago chairing the meetings. Well, in some ways, Libya never left. From a Geneva-based monitoring group, UN Watch, comes a reminder of the Libya connections of the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the right to food — Swiss socialist, Jean Ziegler. While serving as a UN eminence on food, Ziegler has exalted terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, and urged boycotts of Israel (here is some background on his 2004 letter to Caterpillar, Inc.). But the punch-line is, Ziegler serves as vice-chairman of an outfit that hands out — get ready for this — the lucrative “Moammar Khaddafi Human Rights Prize.” According to UN Watch, this prize was set up by Libya’s dictator in 1989, “with Mr. Ziegler’s help,” and winners have included Louis Farrakhan, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. …Ummm, where were we before this tale of UN human-rights endeavors defaulted to the twilight zone? Oh yes, Ziegler is in New York this week to offer the UN General Assembly his expertise on who deserves free food.

… And, speaking of Chavez and the UN General Assembly, the latest news on the contest between Guatemala and Chavez’s Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for a two-year seat on the UN Security Council is that the General Assembly remains deadlocked this evening after four days and 41 rounds of voting. With a two-thirds majority of those voting needed to end this showdown, the good news is that Guatemala remains in the lead. The bad news is that Venezuela in the latest round received 82 votes. In other words, the UN — the same UN that Condi Rice is hoping will cope with nuclear-happy North Korea and Iran — is an outfit where more than 40% of the member states think having Hugo Chavez on the Security Council is a great idea.

Kofi’s Free Pass for Hezbollah

October 25th, 2006 - 10:02 am

Lebanon has faded from the headlines since the war launched by Hezbollah against Israel this past summer. But the UN setup in the area is breeding big trouble ahead — a classic case of the perfidies of UN peace deals. The latest word, posted on the UN web site, is that Major-General Alain Pellegrini, military leader of UNIFIL, the UN “peacekeeping” force in Lebanon, is calling indignantly for all parties to respect “in letter and spirit” UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which like the pile of UN resolutions before it is supposed to ensure peace.

But the UN news release lambastes only one party – denouncing overflights by Israel. There is no mention of Hezbollah’s gross violations of this latest peace deal; no mention of allegations that Hezbollah is rearming, courtesy of Syria and Iran. And despite the clear call in the preamble to Resolution 1701 for the unconditional release of the two Israeli soldiers whose kidnapping by Hezbollah in July kicked off the conflict, the UN appears entirely unbothered that Hezbollah is still refusing to release or even account for them. If that’s of no concern to UNIFIL’s Pellegrini, it ought to be a cause of outrage to Kofi Annan, who told us all in early September that he was sending a “facilitator” to bring the Israelis home. Annan claimed it would be more effective to keep the identity of his facilitator secret. The main effect of this has been, as usual at the UN, to bury an issue that evidently Annan would rather not deal with. Or perhaps in the excitement of lecturing well-heeled corporations on governance and buffing up his legacy before stepping down at the end of December, Annan has simply lost track of his non-facilitating facilitator. (This is, after all, the same Annan who would have us believe he lost track of his role as chief administrator of Oil-for-Food, and last year lost track of the whereabouts of New York-based former Oil-for-Food director Benon Sevan, until Sevan popped up out of reach of U.S. extradition on Cyprus).

If by now the UN, while funneling a torrent of taxpayer-funded resources into Lebanon, cannot produce the kidnapped Israelis — Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser — it’s time for Annan to produce his secret facilitator and explain in public exactly what has been going on. Why is the UN holding Israel to the terms of a phony peace deal, while giving the flagrant and inhumane abuses of “Lebanon-Hezbollah” (Kofi’s term) a free pass?

He’d be looking forward to years of dining out with his pals and collecting his pension in comfort. Instead, found guilty of fraud and conspiracy, he’s facing a 24 year sentence.

Meanwhile, at the UN, which from 1996-2003 under the label of Oil-for-Food ran the biggest scam in the history of humanitarian relief, not a single official involved in the program has even been fired, let alone prosecuted. Oil-for-Food provided cover and conduits for UN-sanctioned Saddam Hussein to pocket billions meant strictly for relief — bribing businesses, politicians and officials of the UN itself along the way. But Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who presided over this program, and Annan’s handpicked head of the program, Benon Sevan, have paid no penalties. Instead, Sevan has retired on full pension to Cyprus. And at the unreformed UN, the unrepentant and apparently unembarrassable Annan, undaunted by his own record as chief administrator of Oil-for-Fraud, has set himself up as a guru of governance — peddling a UN-corporate “Global Compact.”

The real lesson here: If you want to preside over a world-class scam, don’t do it in the private sector. Get yourself a top job at the UN.

Department of UN Sex Scandals

October 22nd, 2006 - 1:24 am

Remember the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, who resigned last year amid allegations that he’d made rude advances toward female staffers in his Geneva office? Lubbers has since kept a low profile. But for those who might be wondering what he’s up to (why would you? — there are so many better ways to spend time) — he’s just popped up on the list of speakers for a conference to be held November 10 at the European Parliament in Brussels.

The subject? Why, ethics, of course! To be precise, (who comes up with this stuff?): “Corporate Culture and Spirituality: Business and Ethics – Complementary or Contradictory.”

What position Lubbers will take — whether he is in the complementary or contradictory camp — is not yet clear. The press release, in language that might just as well have been lifted straight out of your average UN office wastebasket, says: “This conference primarily addresses the role of an ethics based approach to sustainable corporate success and leadership performance.”

The conference blurb describes Lubbers only by way of his pre-UN incarnation, as the former prime minister of the Netherlands. But it would be a pity if the conferees decide to avoid the subject of the UN altogether — ethics there being such rich grounds for discussion. Along with the Lubbers scandal, the Oil-for-Food scandal, the peacekeeper rape scandals, the procurement bribery scandals and what-not, the UN is where Kofi Annan after many questions and much pressure from the press finally agreed to file with the UN’s new “Ethics Office” a UN financial “disclosure” form which Annan has refused to actually disclose to the public.

For those who might have forgotten the Lubbers scandal, a quick reprise. In early 2004, a female member of Lubbers’s staff at the UNHCR’s Geneva headquarters officially lodged a complaint of sexual harassment. The UN held an internal investigation which in June, 2004 reported confidentially to Kofi Annan that investigators had found “a pattern of sexual harassment by Mr. Lubbers,” and recommended that “appropriate action be taken against Mr. Lubbers for misconduct and abuse of authority.” For eight months, Kofi Annan sat serenely on these secret findings, doing nothing to address the problem or the recommendations of his own internal auditors. Finally in February, 2005, the report leaked to the press. In the ensuing broo-ha-ha, for reasons described by Annan’s office as being solely to put an end to the “continuing controversy,” Lubbers resigned.

UN office habits to the side, I have thought for some time that Annan should have fired Lubbers on grounds of UNHCR policy — for the enormous dereliction of the UNHCR’s doing or even saying next to nothing to help hundreds of thousands of desperate, famished North Korean refugees trying to flee into China. But of couse that is Annan’s policy too, based on the view that it is more important for the UN to avoid offending the despots who run China than to go to bat for the most abandoned refugee population on earth. The “ethics” of this approach would be a terrific subject for debate at this Nov. 10 European Parliament conference, but I guess it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as folks like Ruud Lubbers lecturing corporate leaders on “values” and “leadership performance.”

It’s Called Nuclear Blackmail

October 20th, 2006 - 9:05 am

Now we’re hearing that North Korea’s Kim Jong Il regrets he conducted a nuclear test. That’s like Tony Soprano dropping by your shop with his hand out, and saying he is — oops — sorry he just test-fired a bullet past your head.

This is a shakedown, in which Kim has just succeeded in notching up his negotiating position to include a radioactive new bargaining chip. The idea is that if we now do what he wants, he won’t conduct any more nuclear tests… at least not until the next time he decides he wants to. And what have we got? The U.S. and its allies are now waving around a limited and leaky UN resolution for sanctions on North Korea, which China might sort of somewhat sometimes maybe enforce as it chooses — or not. And we now appear to be heading for more of those six-way talks, where nations such as the U.S. and Japan are by their nature constrained to honor their agreements, while any promises Pyongyang might make will mean no more than they have before — which is to say, they will be worthless.

North Korea’s regime has used this kind of brinksmanship for years to boost its importance in the world, strengthen its grip at home, and create a situation in which the Free World endlessly seeks to engage Pyongyang at the bargaining table. Over the past decade, this has meant the U.S. and others offering round after round of concessions, which Kim then incorporates into his own intricate maneuvers, both foreign and domestic, to stay in power. Along with pouring the foundations for two turn-key nuclear reactors for Kim, sending free fuel, free food, and in 2000 dispatching Madeleine Albright to cozy up to Kim in Pyongyang, these concessions have included the morally bankrupt and politically blind policy of dismissing as a side-show such abominations as the North Korean gulag, and the famine under Kim’s repressive policies in which during the late 1990s an estimated one to two million North Koreans died. For an excellent history and analysis of Pyongyang’s tactics, see the book “Over the Line: North Korea’s Negotiating Strategy,” by Chuck Downs. Writing in 1999, the era in which talks with North Korea were “Four Party” instead of “six-way,” Downs details how North Korea’s regime, which uses a mix of shocking acts and bad-faith negotiations to wring concessions meant “exclusively to ensure its survival, extend its power, and enhance its control.”

It’s worked so far. And, you can bet on it, Iran’s Ahmadinejad and his comrades are taking copious notes.

After a trip last week to Ireland, to take part in a debate at Trinity College on the War on Terror (yes, fighting back has made us safer), I’ve been catching up on UN doings. Right now, these would have the makings of a pretty good sitcom — if only the UN would stop advertising itself as qualified to stop genocide, war, and rogue-state nuclear bomb programs, and admit that the entire charade went off the rails about the time Alger Hiss was presiding over the UN’s 1945 founding conference.

Never mind that the UN deadline slid by almost two months ago for Iran to stop enriching uranium, the main effect having been to reinforce the message that UN deadlines don’t matter (the EU is now supposed to be tackling Iran, again, with France taking the lead; Ahmadinejad must be enjoying this). We live in an age when every nuclear-bomb happy tyrant gets to be famous — for 15 minutes. The big thrill this month is North Korea, whose leaders apparently got such a kick out of their Oct. 9 nuclear test that they want to do more.

So we now have a UN resolution imposing nuclear-related sanctions on North Korea. Except China — which voted for these strictures — appears to believe they do not extend to such activities as boarding ships in order to inspect cargoes bound for the Hermit Kingdom (Kim Jong Il must be enjoying that).

Meanwhile, as Venezuela and Guatemala duke it out to fill one of the 10 rotating two-year seats on the 15-member Security Council, the General Assembly has just gone through 22 rounds of voting, with no end yet in sight. Guatemala is leading, but has been unable to get the required two-thirds majority of the votes. Venezuela, home to sulfur-sniffing Chomsky-reading Hugo Chavez, at last count had garnered 77 votes to Guatemala’s 102, with some of the 192 General Assembly members abstaining. Voting is due to resume on Thursday, and will continue until a state from the Latin American and Caribbean region gets the necessary number of votes. There is no limit to this process, which in a record stand-off involving the same region once went to 155 voting rounds before Mexico finally won a 1979-1980 Security Council seat. If anyone deserves a replay of that experience, it’s the Excellencies of the UN General Assembly.

UN sanctions are only as useful as the will of the feckless UN to enforce anything — and the usual practice at the UN is to prevaricate and cheat. Previous U.S. ambassadors to the UN, such as Richard Holbrooke and John Negroponte, have had a dismal record of calling the UN to account on such stuff — remember Oil-for-Food. John Bolton has managed the amazing art of getting resolutions passed while still– as far as possible for anyone working for the State Department — telling it like it is. With John Bolton soon to be gone, what’s the value of UN sanctions on North Korea?

Missing From That Lancet Article on Iraq

October 12th, 2006 - 9:40 pm

There’s an odd omission of context in that article just published in the Lancet, on Iraqi mortality before and after the U.S.-led coalition’s 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein. While the article purports to measure and categorize the causes of death, none of the following names or words appear:

1. Iran
2. Syria
3. Saudi Arabia
4. Palestinian
5. Saddam Hussein
6. Terrorist/Terrorism

This is curious, because the violence in Iraq is not taking place in a U.S.-U.K.-occupied vacuum. While the U.S. and U.K. have been spending blood and treasure in the attempt to engender a secure and democratic Iraq, terrorists and their backers — including Iranians, Syrians, Saudis, Palestinians, brutal Saddam loyalists, and such personalities as the late Zarqawi — have been busy for years now poisoning the Iraqi pot, with the evident aim of maximizing carnage and conflict. To the questions being asked about the methodology of this study, may we add a query about why the authors apparently concerned themselves so little with trying to measure that lethal element, and so much with blaming the U.K. and U.S.? And if they really mean to imply that it would be a safer world, or even a safer Iraq, with Saddam still in power –which is the scenario of their baseline assumption — that raises another question. May we hear more about the methodology by which they assured themselves that Saddam — who filled mass graves, gassed his own people, started two wars, and by 2003 via Oil-for-Food had pretty much corrupted his way out from under UN sanctions — would have gone on no new binges of butchery and war?