Thursday, February 01, 2007

Investigative Journalism from the United Nations

At the UN, Sierra Leone Prosecutor Picks Justice Over Peace as Roma Ask Ban Ki-moon To Act on Rights

UNITED NATIONS, January 30 -- Genocide and war crimes were discussed and on display at the UN on Tuesday. A delegation of Roma and Sinti described current-day discrimination in the European Union as well as during the Holocaust, and called on the UN to establish a Special Representative on their issues.

Stephen Rapp, the new prosecutor of the Sierra Leone court which will try Charles Taylor in The Hague, spoke movingly of the need for justice before peace, regarding West Africa and also Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Mr. Rapp had been quoted -- misquoted, he said Tuesday -- that he regrets that Charles Taylor will be tried in the Hague rather than in Freetown.

Inner City Press asked him about the change of venue, and about the reported possibility of the trial testimony to impact Sierra Leone's upcoming presidential election. Without discussing the election, Mr. Rapp acknowledged that Sierra Leone and Liberia are still "fragile," while Guinea is once again engulfed in violence. He said the trial will be "narrow-casted" back to West Africa. He did not say if it would be streamed over the Internet, as was done with Milosevic's trial until it ended in his death.

Inner City Press asked Mr. Rapp the same question previously asked of Judge Richard Goldstone: should UN officials be openly meeting with Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti and the other LRA leaders, who are indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court? Mr. Rapp was diplomatic, hitting his hat to ICC prosecutor Ocampo, but concluding that on this question of peace versus justice, he believes that justice must come first.  The UN's official write-up omits this issue, but compare to the last Q&A on the video, here.

Afterwards, Inner City Press asked him for his views on the trial and execution of Saddan Hussein.  Mr. Rapp responded, smiling, "Do you want to get me in trouble with the United States?" He serves as a prosecutor in his home state of Iowa, as well as at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Alongside a variety of Holocaust events this week at the UN, a delegation of Roma and Sinti from across Europe held a press conference on Monday, and a photo-exhibition opening on Tuesday. Speakers on Monday came from such groups as the Association of Roma in Poland, the Kiev-based International Charitable Organization of Roma Women Fund, the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center, the Council of NGOs of the Slovak Romani Communities, and the Committee for the Compensation for the Romani Holocaust.

Inner City Press asked what they would like the UN to do, and what they knew of Ban Ki-moon's position.  Video here. In response, Romani Rose summarized the petition and requests the delegation is delivering, along with a book describing the "horrifying" refugee camps for Roma, including Plemetina, run by the UN in the Mitrovica region of Kosovo. Tuesday, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokeswoman for his position on the Roma petition. She said she couldn't yet say, they haven't received it. Video here.

In the General Assembly lobby on Tuesday evening, Romani Rose spoke, again in German. The walls were full of photographs of the Romani Holocaust, called porrajimos or "the devouring." In Croatia, Roma were sent to the notorious Jasenovac camp. In Poland, to Section B II e of Auschwitz, as well as to Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec. A companion exhibit included the paintings of David Friedman, who died in 1980, and of Joseph Bau, 1920-2002, whose daughter gave tours of the stark black-and-white graphics. In the background, the UN's One Source staff prepared to serve drinks.

In the UN's basement on Tuesday, a quiet revolution took place. A source told Inner City Press of what he called the first paperless meeting at the UN, of ECOSOC's committee on NGOs. Inner City Press went to see, but found those present still using thick binders of applications from NGOs. But the questions-and-answers, a Swiss diplomat said, are now all on computer. Delegates worked on UN-provided laptops, while stared at projections on a screen in the front. The committee's meeting will end two days early. But it is unclear how much of this time savings is due to the quasi-paperless direction the committee is taking.

"Is this is small step for humankind?" Inner City Press asked the Swiss diplomat.

"It's a step of some kind," he said. The talk turned to transparency, and on that we'll have more in coming days. Click here for Inner City Press' story today about the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Source: Inner City Press -- Investigative Journalism from the United Nations