WHO is punishing the NYTimes – lightly – for breaking news embargo

The World Health Organization has just announced sanctions — very light ones — against the NYTimes for breaching a news embargo.

It is surprising, because hardly anybody who wants news coverage would dare do anything against the NYTimes.  In fact, it is far more normal for UN spokespersons to deliberately leak advance copies of important UN reports and documents to the NYTimes.  This is a refreshing change:


Please note that the New York Times has been suspended from the World Health Organization media distribution list for a period of two weeks, effective immediately, after breaking the embargo yesterday on a story from WHO and other partners.

The story in question, “Sharp drop in deaths from measles reported,” appeared on the New York Times website after the reporter participated in an embargoed telebriefing.

After speaking to the reporter and assessing the circumstances surrounding the breach, WHO has decided that a two-week exclusion from our email list is a proportionate sanction. WHO communications staff have been asked not to brief any New York Times reporters during this period on any stories that are scheduled to be released through the WHO email distribution list.

WHO takes embargoes very seriously. Breaches are a violation of this code of honour among journalists and between reporters and their sources. The Organization will determine appropriate sanctions on a case-by-case basis.

She came to the Sudan … and cashed her salary in dollars

This teacher could have received 40 lashes, but was sentenced instead to 15 days in jail — while demonstrators are calling for her execution. Her crime? Officially, that she allowed her students to name a class teddy bear “Muhammad”. Scholars can debate whether this is in any way an offense against Islam (though I am amazed that it could be thought so). But the real cause for grievance may be rather more base: “A Muslim cleric at Khartoum’s main Martyrs Mosque denounced Gibbons during one sermon, saying she intentionally insulted Islam. He did not call for protests, however. ‘Imprisoning this lady does not satisfy the thirst of Muslims in Sudan. But we welcome imprisonment and expulsion’, the cleric, Abdul-Jalil Nazeer al-Karouri, a well-known hard-liner, told worshippers. ‘This an arrogant woman who came to our country, cashing her salary in dollars, teaching our children hatred of our Prophet Muhammad’, he said”. The report on the demonstrations in Sudan are here.

Here are some excerpts from remarks made by British Muslims — of a decidedly different tone — included in an Associated Press “Questions and Answers” file on the “teddy bear controversy”: “Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, who chairs the interfaith council of the Muslim Council of Britain, says the Sudanese trial was more political than religious. Gibbons did make a mistake, he says, but it was an innocent one. A Muslim teacher would not have named a teddy bear Muhammad because ‘they know the score with the name’, Mogra said, adding that such stuffed toys were largely alien to Sudanese culture. ‘In Britain, there are hardly any children who grew up without a teddy bear’, Mogra said. In the Sudanese culture, the bear is not a cuddly thing. It is seen as vicious, ferocious animal, and when you use the name Muhammad and attach it to a ferocious animal, there is scope there for it to cause (suspicion)’.” The AP Q and A file is posted here.

What?! U.S. withdraws draft UNSC resolution on Annapolis understanding – because Israel objects

Are they serious? The U.S. proposed a draft UN Security Council resolution aimed at enshrining and endorsing the Annapolis Joint Understanding signed by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators — and then they withdrew it, because Israel objected!

Israel reportedly does not want the UN Security Council involved…

Israeli officials have also complained that they were not informed about the move in advance.

The AP’s indefatigable Edith Lederer has just reported that “In an about face, the United States on Friday withdrew a U.N. resolution endorsing this week’s agreement by Israeli and Palestinian leaders to try to reach a Mideast peace settlement by the end of 2008, apparently after Israel objected. Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff informed the Security Council that the United States was pulling the resolution from consideration less than 24 hours after Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad had introduced it and welcomed the ‘very positive’ response from council members … Well-informed diplomats said Israel, a close U.S. ally, did not want a resolution, which would bring the Security Council into the fledgling negeotiations with the Palestinians”.

This happened after the Palestinians expressed pleasure at the U.S. gesture to table a UNSC resolution. The AP report said that “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters Friday in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, that while he didn’t know the details of the draft resolution it was a sign of the seriousness of the United States, which he also perceived at this week’s Mideast conference in Annapolis, Md. ‘This means, if what we have learned is verified, that there are serious steps that speak to the existence of an American position supporting the negotiations’, Abbas said”. The AP report on the U.S. withdrawing its draft UNSC resolution endorsing the Annapolis Joint Understanding is here.

Haaretz newspaper later reported that “Israel expressed opposition to the American initiative to pursue Security Council support for the proposed resolution because it does not consider most of the member states of the council to be friendly toward Israel … UN sources said that Israel expressed dissatisfaction over the fact that Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, did not give it advance notice of its intentions to pursue UN adoption of Annapolis decisions. ‘It’s not the proper venue’, Israel’s deputy ambassador Daniel Carmon told reporters after Friday’s council meeting. ‘We feel that the appreciation of Annapolis has other means of being expressed than in a resolution’. ‘We were not the only ones to object’, Carmon added, saying the Americans had told the Israelis that the Palestinians also objected. UN sources also said that the Palestinian Authority said it wasn’t interested in a resolution”. The Haaretz report on the Israeli objections to the American draft UNSC resolution is published here.

Could it be true that the Palestinian representative at the UN objected? The Palestinian Observer at the UN, Riyad al-Malki, recently wanted the UNSC to condemn the Hamas take-over in Gaza.

U.S. Annapolis hospitality goes all the way

When the U.S. does something, it tries to go all the way. Now, we learn, the U.S. is asking the UN Security council to endorse the Annapolis “Joint Understanding” — agreed between Israeli and apparently more recalcitrant Palestinian negotiators just eight minutes before the opening of the conference this week.

The U.S. is probably the second-biggest vetoer of UN SC resolutions — particularly those concerning the Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts — after the former Soviet Union.

But, it seems the U.S. likes to go for endorsing the good news, if that is what Annapolis may bring.

The AP reported overnight that “The United States asked the Security Council to support a United Nations resolution endorsing this week’s agreement by Israeli and Palestinian leaders to try to reach a Mideast peace settlement by the end of 2008. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters after closed-door discussions Thursday on the draft resolution that there was enormous support for the decisions taken by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference held in Annapolis, Maryland Tuesday … Khalilzad said he would consult with the Israelis and Palestinians overnight on the text of the resolution to ensure that it’s what they want. Council members said they needed to consult with their capitals on the text. Indonesia’s UN Ambassador Marty Natalegawa, the current council president, said hopefully the resolution will be adopted on Friday, after the council gets its monthly Mideast briefing. ‘From the presidency perspective, we see there is a good potential for a common, positive response to Annapolis which we wish to nurture and capture as early as possible so that positive momentum is maintained’, he said … Qatar’s UN Ambassador Nassir Al-Nasser, the only Arab member of the Security Council, told reporters ‘we are happy with the language as it is in the U.S. draft resolution … I am happy that the council is dealing with this issue’, he said. ‘For me, this is the main thing’.”

So, what will the UN SC be asked to endorse? (1) That the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations should conclude by late 2008; and (2) the last two phrases of the Joint Declaration — read out by President George Bush — and evidently endorsed by both parties: “The United States will monitor and judge the fulfillment of the commitment of both sides of the road map. Unless otherwise agreed by the parties, implementation of the future peace treaty will be subject to the implementation of the road map, as judged by the United States.”

Dozens of serious analysts have said the Road Map is dead. That aside, will the U.S. role as arbiter be helpful? So far, they have come down on the side of the Israeli negotiators in nearly every dispute to date. On top of that, what will happen if there is disagreement, or obstinancy? What, exactly, will happen then?

The day after Annapolis, it was announced that General Jim Jones, a former commander of both NATO and the American forces in Europe, will serve in this role as the arbiter. The Israeli press is reporting that Jones is due to arrive in the region in the coming days. Continue reading U.S. Annapolis hospitality goes all the way

There are two types of journalists — if not more

“…one of my mentors pointed out an interesting fact to me. He told me that in life there are different types of journalists – those who are very good at getting the story but terrible at putting it together and those who are the opposite. ‘If you get a journalist who can get the story and write it well, that’s a bonus’, he said, explaining why even some senior journalists’ work still need to be subbed [edited]…” This comment, from a media column in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian, is here.

UNSG Appoints new Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace Process etc.

Just after returning from the Annapolis conference, the UNSG BAN Ki-Moon said he would appoint Dutch diplomat Robert H. Serry as his “Envoy to the Quartet”. In addition, BAN said that Serry would be the “United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and his Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority”. The UN Security Council will be asked to approve this nomination. He was previously the Dutch Ambassador to Ireland, and before that, the UN announcment said, “he was Director and Deputy Assistant Secretary-General for Crisis Management and Operations at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, where among other functions he had informal contacts with Palestinian and Israeli security experts (including ex-IDF officers) on lessons learned by NATO in the Balkans”.

In addition, the UN spokesperson announced that Vladimir Goryayev, a former Soviet diplomat, who has worked for the UN’s Department of Political Affairs since 1988, was being appointed Executive Director of the office of the UN Register of Damage caused by the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The announcement indicated that “the office of the UN Register of Damage, based in Vienna, is a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly operating under the administrative authority of the Secretary-General”.  The UN said that “In his new capacity, Mr. Goryayev will be responsible for overseeing and administrating the work of the office of the UN Register of Damage. As an ex-officio member of the Board of the Register of Damage, he will also be responsible for reviewing all the claim cases and presenting them to members of the Board for inclusion in the Register”. The announcement of this appointment is here.

The register of damages was sent up in response to the International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in Occupied Palestinian Territory — which was handed down in 2004. (2004!)

Ahmadeinejad threatens to reveal Mousavian's conversations with "foreigners"

Just a day after the acquital of Iran’s former nuclear negotiator on charges of spying, the AP has reported from Tehran that “President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened Wednesday that his government would expose details of conversations between a former Iranian nuclear negotiator whom the president had labeled a spy and foreigners he was accused of colluding with. The president’s threat came in response to Mousavian’s acquittal Tuesday in a case that has become a centerpiece in the feud between Ahmadinejad and his more liberal political rivals. ‘I insist that the content of remarks conveyed by him (Mousavian) be published, so that the people know about it’, the official IRNA news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday … Mousavian was accused by the Intelligence Ministry of passing classified information to foreigners, including the British Embassy, and was charged with ‘spying, keeping confidential documents and propagating against the ruling system’. He was found not guilty of the first two charges and guilty of the third charge, and the court also suspended a sentence against him … The secret service allegedly has recorded conversations between Mousavian and unnamed foreigners. ‘Mr. Mousavian had 10-15 meetings with foreigners and said things. If the content of the conversations and the exchange of information is published, the issue will be clear‘, Ahmadinejad said … But there was more dissent against the president Wednesday in comments backing Mousavian. Conservative parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel said one should be happy with Mousavian’s acquittal, since only a court was competent to rule on such charges. Mahmoud Mohammadi, a conservative lawmaker, said Mousavian must be praised for his persistent ‘bitter silence’ in the face of high-profile accusations and for his ‘faith in the ruling system’ and a court’s fair verdict, according to Mehr. Mohammadi, alluding to Ahmadinehad, said it was ‘deploring to see some individuals unhappy’ over Mousavian’s acquittal”… The AP report of Ahmadinejad’s threat to reveal details of Mousavian’s conversations with “foreigners” is here.

BAN at Annapolis: This time, let us see it through

UNSG BAN Ki-Moon told delegates at the Annapolis conference that he was “very pleased and moved to be a part of this historic meeting”. He pledged “the full support of the United Nations family for the renewed effort”, adding that “[f]or 60 years, the Organization has provided the broad parameters for peace, first in the partition plan, and then in Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515”.

BAN’s speech, however, revealed that he has a particularly bad speechwriter.

He did not mention The Wall — despite the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the UN’s prinicipal judicial organ, the International Court of Justice — though he did refer to “the barrier, but so briefly you would have missed it if you blinked.

BAN said that “The Palestinians have been deprived of their fundamental right to self-determination for 60 years”.

He said that “Their society has been increasingly fragmented – territorially, by settlements, land expropriation and the barrier; socially and economically, by closure; and politically, between Gaza and the West Bank. They have begun to fear that the dream of statehood may slip beyond their grasp. We must reverse this growing sense of despair, and build a process that begins to change the lives of Palestinians, and secures their independence and freedom. The process must end the occupation and create an independent and viable State of Palestine, at peace with itself and its neighbours”.

BAN confirmed the phenomenon first identified in 1999 by long-time Knesset Member Azmi Bishara, who said that the creation of a Palestinian state was becoming an Israeli demand, Ban said, “For its part, Israel faces genuine security challenges. The Israeli people have sought security and freedom from threat for 60 years. But this has proven elusive. Recently, they have felt anew the threat of attack, and their very right to exist has been questioned. Some have started believing that territorial withdrawal only brings new acts of terrorism. We must reverse this loss of faith, and build a process that delivers on the vital interests of Israelis: a Palestinian State that is a true partner, secure and recognized borders, and a permanent end to the conflict”…

BAN SAID THAT “success depends not on what we say today, but on what we do tomorrow. There will be a steering committee and the Quartet will have its own role, complementary to a trilateral monitoring mechanism”

So, now the Quartet will be complementary to the mechanism that will be headed by former Nato commander-in-chief, U.S. General Jim Jones?

BAN also observed that “The people of Gaza have suffered more than anyone else from conflict and poverty … Humanitarian aid is no substitute for a functioning economy”.

He called for concrete initiatives. He said that “We will also have to work politically to restore the unity of Gaza and the West Bank under the legitimate Palestinian Authority”. And BAN concluded, “As we re-embark together on this quest, there can be no second thoughts, no half-measures, no going back. This time, come what may, let us see it through”.

The full text of UNSG BAN’s comments to the Annapolis conference is here.

The Quartet — of which UNSG BAN is a member — issued its own statement in support of the Annapolis event: “It welcomed the commitment of the Israeli and Palestinians leaders to launch bilateral negotiations towards the establishment of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza, and the realization of Israeli-Palestinian peace. This reflects the results of months of work by the parties and by the Quartet, including the Quartet’s engagement with members of the Arab League Follow-Up Committee to expand the circle of support for peace. The Quartet welcomed the parties’ continuing efforts to fulfil their respective commitments under Phase One of the Road Map and urged the international community to provide robust support for all the parties’ efforts. The principals took note of the broad international support for the Annapolis Conference and looked forward to the December Paris Donors’ Conference to muster international financial backing for efforts to build the foundation for a viable and prosperous Palestinian State. The Quartet agreed to remain closely involved, and to that end will meet again in December, and looks forward to inviting members of the Arab League Follow-Up Committee to attend”. The Quartet statement in support of the Annapolis meeting is here.

Kazemi case reopened – Is something happening in Iran?

The AP reported yesterday that “Iran’s Supreme Court ordered a new investigation Tuesday into the case of an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist whose death in a notorious Tehran prison severely strained relations with Canada. Zahra Kazemi was arrested in July 2003 while taking photographs outside Evin prison during student-led protests against the ruling theocracy. She taken into custody, jailed at Evin and died a few days later”.

Coming on the same day that former nuclear negotiator Hossein Moussavian was acquitted of the most serious charges against him, it does make one wonder if something might be going on in Iran.

The AP report on the re-opening of the Kazemi investigation says that “Iranian authorities initially said she had suffered a stroke. A committee appointed by then-President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist, found that Kazemi, 54, died of a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage caused by a ‘physical attack. Prosecutors filed charges against a secret agent who interrogated Kazemi while she was in custody. The more conservative judiciary rejected the presidential finding, saying that Kazemi had died in an accidental fall when her blood pressure dropped during a hunger strike. A former Iranian army doctor has said he examined Kazemi and observed horrific injuries that could only have been caused by torture and rape. The doctor later received political asylum in Canada … Kazemi was not formally charged with a crime but Iran does not allow photographs of its prisons and is especially sensitive about Evin, where human rights groups have accused authorities of abusing political prisoners — a charge the government denies … Kazemi’s family has filed a civil claim in Quebec against the government of Iran seeking damages for her alleged torture and death, said John Terry, the family’s Canadian lawyer. Terry speculated that the Iranian justice system may be reacting to that civil lawsuit or to some Iranian lawyers’ criticism of the case’s handling. ‘I think they want to take some weight off this suit. They just want to give themselves a good image’, Hachemi said”. The AP report from Tehran is posted here.

Report: Hague court says families can sue UN and Netherlands for Srebrenica massacre

Reuters is reporting that “Families of Srebrenica massacre victims have cleared a legal hurdle in their lawsuit against the Dutch state and the United Nations, which they argue allowed the killing of thousands of Muslims, their lawyers said. A court in the Hague ruled the case could proceed, dismissing pleas by public prosecutors that it should be dropped after the United Nations invoked its legal immunity and said it would not take part. In 1995 Bosnian Serb forces massacred 8,000 Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica, a town declared a safe area and guarded by a Dutch army unit serving as part of a larger UN force. Lawyer Marco Gerritsen, representing the victims’ families, said on Tuesday the court had supported their argument that the UN could not be granted automatic immunity. ‘The UN has the duty to prevent genocide. An appeal to immunity in a case of genocide, as in the Srebrenica drama, is irreconcilable with the U.N.’s own objectives and its international obligations’, he added in a statement…” The full report is posted here.