25 April 2004

PRINCESS RIM:

In a break with traditional protocol Jordan King Abdullah II visited the house of U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Paris to ask the hand of his daughter Rim in marriage to his half-brother Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein. The discreet visit to a second floor apartment in a quiet Paris suburb was arranged to coincide with the return of the Special Envoy from a crucial mission to Iraq. Rim Brahimi is an accomplished reporter for CNN who covered news of the conflict in Iraq as well as feature stories like the prize winning series about the Moslem Haj -- a sensitive exploration of her own feelings as an Arab Moslem woman who grew up mainly in the West while visiting Islam's holiest sites with millions of Pilgrims. She had worked for various media groups including a stint as an accredited correspondent at U.N. Headquarters. Her professional talent was matched by dynamic charm and sharp wit. Prince Ali's mother was the late King Hussein's third wife. Alia, who came from the distinguished Toukan Palestinian family, died in a helicopter crash. A graduate of prestigious military colleges, he is in charge of King Abdullah's personal security.

The Jordanian grapevine has it that the love affair grew as the CNN reporter moved to Amman initially following the fall of Baghdad. Rim, who is fluent in English, French, Arabic and Italian, made quite an impact on the Jordanian media -- and social scene -- with her record of courageous and enlightened reporting. She rarely invoked the name of her prominent father who sometimes, like while serving in Afghanistan, was not able to follow her reports. Rim wanted her beloved grandmother to be the first to know. She visited her in Cairo with a photo of her Prince Charming. The grandmother enthusiastically approved even before knowing he was a real prince. "You love him, and he looks manly and handsome," was her response. Rim then sped to Paris to get her parents' blessing. Her mother, a Croatian, also agreed, pending the approval of the father who was still in Baghdad handling other intricate issues like the composition of a transitional government and a framework for the future of Iraq. A time was set for a stopover in Paris en route to New York. King Abdullah, who postponed a visit to Washington, took an exceptional step of visiting Paris for a few hours to make an official approach. On Friday 23 April, the Jordanian Royal Palace made an official announcement indicating that the wedding date is 7 September.

Congratulations, dear Rim. You deserve the best. A real princess met a real prince. MABROUK.

CATHERINE DENEUVE ON NEW YORK:

The exquisite French actress once said that different types of men thought she was their type; what scared her was that she somehow appealed to everyone. Now the former model for France's symbol "Marianne" has published some of her diaries in the Parisian daily "Le Figaro." Nothing thrilling. No scandals nor steaming rendezvous. Just a casual recount of daily life like trying to catch a plane or forgetting her shopping list. There is a reference to New York, which she seems to enjoy, except for New Yorkers who are described as "very strange."

A SATISFIED CUSTOMER:

When William Safire blasted the U.N. for its handling of Food for Oil and mentioned Kojo Kofi Annan, he suggested to a U.N. employee, Shawket Farid, to give him a call. There were several interpretations why Safire mentioned the name, but Farid sprung to the rescue. In a letter to the editor he suggested that the columnist need not hold his breath because he, that is Farid, will not be contacting him anytime soon because he was not an "ex-U.N. type" nor was he "embittered." He was quite satisfied that matters were being looked into appropriately within the Secretariat upon instructions of the Secretary General. A well informed "ex-U.N. type" thought that the ex-Pakistani diplomat and perennially extended "Director of Whatever" has many reasons to be completely satisfied, although Mr. Safire would not know any of them.

THERE'S ALWAYS AHTISAARI:

After presenting a report under his name on the bombing of U.N. Iraq Headquarters, former Finnish President, who also served as Under Secretary General for Administration and Management, is available for other assignments. He was appointed as Special Representative to the Horn of Africa. This month he went for a Special "first look" at the humanitarian situation in Eritrea in order "to highlight any gaps in assistance." Clearly, he discussed "recovery and food security strategies" and, of course, the "recently approved Integrated Recovery program." Some of those who admired Ahtisaari were saddened to note that such a distinguished man would need such banal verbal cover for being given an international job.

RWANDA SUSPECT IN KOSOVO: WHO HELPED HIM?

It was common knowledge in Rwanda during the massacres that a particular locally recruited employee of the U.N. Office shared in the complicity to commit genocide, not only against his own countrymen who happened to belong to another tribe, but also against his own U.N. colleagues. When they went into hiding in fear of their lives, he traced their whereabouts and denounced them to their killers, generally known as the Interahamwe.

Somehow the suspect remained at the U.N. Office and, in an attempt to protect him, he was eventually posted out of the country as Chief of a Unit, no less in the Kosovo mission. As if that Balkan province needed more determined killers, or the U.N. needed more dubious characters, it took seven years before Callixte Mbarushimana was identified officially by the Arusha Tribunal and arrested while parading as an international emergency relief official.

Questions abound. Why did it take seven years to trace the suspect? Why was he still working at an ever more prestigious posting? What precisely was he doing in Kosovo? Backed by whom, really? As such employment in Peacekeeping Field Operations is usually subject to references, who recommended him? Who actually took the decision to employ him? What does he know?

DEEP THOUGHTS BY CHEF DEC:

"I am thinking. The Secretary General has too many friends. Too many, I tell you. I am thinking maybe I should be taking care of that problem."

MORE FOOD FOR OIL STORIES:

It seems like more is yet to come on Food For Oil. Some media sources claim they are looking into a quite different angle than the current trend. Some could be linked with politics, other with financing dubious prospects and the rest with raw greed. The way the claims were handled by the U.N. does not seem to work. Except for internal self-congratulations for letters to the editor or a quotable remark, the unfortunate fact is that there is a general impression that there are several unexposed stories, delayed only while some sort of a deal was being negotiated. Meanwhile, the U.N. (and the usually tough talking Benon Sevan) remain vulnerable to attacks.

SUSTAINABLE COFFEE:

No more Italian or Columbian espresso for your cappuccino at the U.N. Delegates lounge, Viennese Cafe or the Cafeteria. Elly, Lavazza, or even Java are out. Rainforest products are in. In a politically correct move, only "sustainable coffee" will be served, certified by a group entitled Rainforest Alliance. Those who took that decision are not likely to seize the opportunity to taste it.

THE BLACK BOX WAS ORANGE:

Confusion about "a" or "the" black box continues, although overtaken temporarily by a worldwide remembrance of the Rwanda genocide, noted particularly by a new approach to court General Romeo Dallaire instead of repeatedly dismissing him as an "embittered" man or "overzealous" former Commander. Apropos the Canadian general, he has told those who would listen that he had personally sent "the black box" to U.N. Headquarters in New York -- obviously to a particular recipient. Its colour, by the way, was ORANGE.

PRIZED BOOKS ON RWANDA:

In addition to the two hour special shown on Public Television covering the prelude and aftermath to the massacres of Rwanda, two books by investigative reporters received Pulitzer prizes. "We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families," by Philip Gourevitch was on the New York Times Best Seller List and its Editor's Choice; it also won the National Book Critics Award. The same award was given to the other book by Samantha Power, entitled "A Problem From Hell" -- America and the Age of Genocide. While Mr. Gourevitch focuses mainly on the African case, Ms. Powers puts it within worldwide perspective with a researcher's background on the drafting of the anti-genocide convention. Like the TV special, both books drew on the experience of General Romeo Dallaire, Commander of U.N. forces in Rwanda who was instructed in an infamous cable in April 1994 not to take any preventive action.

INCREASED ROLE, DECREASED INVESTIGATION:

Some skeptical sources are claiming that maybe, just maybe, the level of investigation into the Iraq Food For Oil programme would take a lower priority with an increasing readiness by some interested sources in the U.N. Secretariat and some involved members of the Security Council to help in providing a more active role by the international community in finding a way out by June 30. Clearly, nothing could be further from the truth. There will always be powerful groups seeking to find out what deals took place in the programme while the U.N. is duty bound to find an exit out of a crisis. Any side deal would be a welcome bonus!

A SOLEMN REMEMBRANCE:

The U.N. staff marched together around the circle of the main Secretariat entrance at noon of 7 April in a solemn remembrance of the massacres of Rwanda. In silence and with dignity, they moved together regardless of rank or function. Catherine Bertini, Under Secretary General for Administration and Management, presided over the proceedings by ringing the peace bell after making a brief yet intense statement; she did so with poise and spoke to the point. It is at such gatherings that the genuine spirit of dedication is demonstrated, reflecting the human face of the United Nations.

MOBILE U.N. LIBRARY:

A creative outreach project is under discussion between the U.N. Department of Public Information and a private businessman. A mobile classroom to travel across the U.S. and teach schoolchildren about the U.N. is being considered. The required funding is above $1.5 million which banker Malcolm Taaffe is seeking to raise for setting up the U.N. Mobile Education Centre. An excellent initiative.

TORN NIGERIAN FLAG:

Nigeria, one of the most influential and populous African countries, has a towering building one block away from the U.N. on 44th Street and Second Avenue. Its permanent mission, and other governmental and tourism offices, are assembled in it, giving an impressive image particularly to passersby and generally to the American public. Lately, however, the symbol of that great country, its flag, is fluttering unattended in the wind. Ironically, it is torn from where the third colour joins the two others -- as if it is about to secede from them. With a troubled background of a Federated state, the last thing it needs is a symbolic tearaway by the winds of change. Upon telephoning the Mission, we were advised that an Ambassador is yet to be appointed and that in the meantime a Mr. Ndekhedehe is in charge. Would he wish to buy a new flag or does he have to wait for the new Ambassador to do so?

WIM KOK NOT RUUD LUBBERS:

In reaction to the March issue of Insider, it was pointed out that Ruud Lubbers was not Dutch Prime Minister during the Srebrenica massacre when the international community failed to defend the Bosnian enclave against an assault by Serb forces. The Prime Minister at the time was Wim Kok who resigned following the publication of a seven year long investigation commissioned by Dutch authorities -- a genuine example of transparent accountability.

THROUGH THE EYES OF CHILDREN:

In commemorating ten years of the massacres in Rwanda, an artistic exhibit was displayed at the General Assembly entrance wall called "In the Eyes of the Children." Photos taken by children of the Imbabazi Orphanage were offered to support its work. Jan Arnesen of the Department of Public Information was on hand to ensure that the artistic work adapted to the building's requirements. She also helped in promoting support for that group.

TEN YEARS LATER ANNAN PROPOSES A PLAN TO AVERT GENOCIDE:

Addressing the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva on the tenth anniversary of the Rwanda massacres, Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed a plan which he felt will help prevent similar genocide. Following are the main five headings of his statement:

"We must never forget our collective failure to protect at least eight hundred thousand defenceless men, women and children who perished in Rwanda ten years ago.

Such crimes cannot be reversed.

Such failures cannot be repaired.

The dead cannot be brought back to life.

So what can we do?

First, we must all acknowledge our responsibility for not having done more to prevent or stop the genocide.

Neither the United Nations Secretariat, nor the Security Council, nor Member States in general, nor the international media, paid enough attention to the gathering signs of disaster. Still less did we take timely action.

When we recall such events and ask "why did no one intervene?" we should address the question not only to the United Nations, or even to its Member States. No one can claim ignorance. All who were playing any part in world affairs at that time should ask, "what more could I have done? How would I react next time? And what am I doing now to make it less likely there will be a next time?"

Perhaps more than any others, those questions have dominated my thoughts since I became Secretary General. If there is one legacy I would most wish to leave my successors, it is an Organization both better equipped to prevent genocide, and able to act decisively to stop it when prevention fails.

Many of my actions as Secretary General have been undertaken with this in mind. But I know that my efforts are insufficient. The risk of genocide remains frighteningly real.

Therefore, as the only fitting memorial the United Nations can offer to those whom its inaction in 1994 condemned to die, and as recommended in 1999 by the Independent Inquiry into the actions of the United Nations during the genocide in Rwanda, I wish today to launch an Action Plan to Prevent Genocide, involving the whole United Nations system.

Let me summarise the plan under five headings:

First, preventing armed conflict.

One of the best ways to reduce the chances of genocide is to address the causes of conflict. We must help countries strengthen their capacity to prevent conflict, at local and national levels. We must do more at the regional level, to prevent conflict spilling over from one country to another. We must give greater attention to environmental problems and tensions related to competition over natural resources. We must work together with the international financial institutions, with civil society, and with the private sector, to ensure that young people get the chance to better themselves through education and peaceful employment, so that they are less easily recruited into predatory gangs and militias. We must protect the rights of minorities, since they are genocide's most frequent targets.

Second, protection of civilians in armed conflict.

Wherever civilians are deliberately targeted because they belong to a particular community, we are in the presence of potential, if not actual, genocide. That is why many of our United Nations peacekeepers, today, are no longer restricted to using force only in self-defence. They are also empowered to do so in defence of their mandate, and that mandate often explicitly includes the protection of local civilians threatened with imminent violence.

Third, ending impunity.

We have little hope of preventing genocide, or reassuring those who live in fear of its recurrence, if people who have committed this most heinous of crimes are left at large, and not held to account. It is therefore vital that we build and maintain robust judicial systems, both national and international so that, over time, people will see there is no impunity for such crimes.

Fourth, early and clear warning.

One of the reasons for our failure in Rwanda was that beforehand we did not face the fact that genocide was a real possibility. And once it started, for too long we could not bring ourselves to recognise it, or call it by its name. If we are serious about preventing or stopping genocide in the future, we must not be held back by legalistic arguments about whether a particular atrocity meets the definition of genocide nor not. By the time we are certain, it may often be too late to act. We must recognise the signs of approaching or possible genocide, so that we can act in time to avert it. Here, civil society groups can play a vital role. Often it is their reports that first draw attention to an impending catastrophe and far too often, they are ignored. The United Nations human rights system, too, has a special responsibility. This Commission, through the work of its Special Rapporteurs, independent experts and working groups, as well as the treaty bodies and the Office of the High Commissioner, should be well placed to sound the alarm. Indeed, your Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings described many warning signs in Rwanda the year before the genocide happened. Alas, no one paid attention.

That brings us to the fifth and final heading of the action plan, which is the need for swift and decisive action when, despite all our efforts, we learn that genocide is happening, or about to happen. Too often, even when there is abundant warning, we lack the political will to act. Anyone who embarks on genocide commits a crime against humanity. Humanity must respond by taking action in its own defence. Humanity's instrument for that purpose must be the United Nations, and specifically the Security Council.

Let us not wait until the worst has happened, or is already happening.

Let us not wait until the only alternatives to military action are futile hand-wringing or callous indifference.

Let us be serious about preventing genocide.

Only so can we honour the victims whom we remember today. Only so can we save those who might be victims tomorrow." May all those victims, over 800,000, rest in peace.

PETALS OF PEACE:

"I heard it was snowing in New York. I travelled all the way from Tokyo to arrange spring flowers for the United Nations staff who have been working hard day and night for global peace. I bring an early spring to you in the form of Ikebana. My elegant flowers spell hope for a peaceful solution to the current crisis. I offer my art as a show of humble support to help you attain peace successfully." That is what Nobue Miyauchi, a headmistress, poet and artist, said in the main lobby of the United Nations Secretariat one March afternoon. Her deft fingers were arranging colourful blooms in a perfectly balanced, symmetrical arrangement against a window reflecting an unexpectedly balmy day in New York City. There was feverish activity around her, with people purposefully striding to meetings as the world outside watched with trepidation and hope. Ms. Miyauchi uses the art of Ikebana as her symbol for peace. The entire structure of this art form is based upon a harmonious synthesis of linear construction, rhythm and colour. It's three lines symbolizing heaven, earth and humankind are the spiritual manifestation of Buddhist thought, and its origins can be traced as far back as the sixth century to ritual flower offerings in Buddhist temples.

She has been practicing Ikebana since the 1980s with a series entitled "Arranging the Universe" and "Arranging Nature". In addition to participating in exhibitions, television broadcasting and teaching creative flower arrangement, she has been writing and reciting poems on "global environment and the mind of flower arrangement" at conferences around the world. Her overseas activities include art demonstrations at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization headquarters and Sorbonne University in Paris, Fauchon window displays, the Cannes Film Festival Hall and various embassies. Her periodic visits to the United Nations Secretariat never fail to delight as she creates a little island of peace and tranquility in the bustling lobby.