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Gabbing on the Law of the Sea

On UN Plaza this week, Scott Paul of The Washington Note and Citizens for Global Solutions explains why the US Senate should ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Click here to tell your senator to support ratification.

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The Scandal that Never Was

It is easy to get bogged down in the details of today’s New York Times piece on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing on alleged improprieties involving the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) operations in North Korea. The basic story is this: Last year, the United States Mission to the UN accused the UNDP of channeling millions of dollars to the regime of Kim Jong Il. Amidst these allegations, the UNDP, which coordinates development and aid assistance across UN agencies, suspended its operations.

At the time, news outfits predisposed to bashing the United Nations, notably Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, decided that this was the next Oil for Food scandal. In a January 19, 2007 op-ed, Melanie Kirkpatrick “broke” the story by obtaining a letter to the UNDP from an official at the US-UN mission, Ambassador Mark Wallace, that detailed the allegations. Kirkpatrick alleged that hundreds of millions of UN development dollars may have been diverted to the coffers of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The WSJ promptly branded this “Cash for Kim” scandal.

Ambassador Mark Wallace subsequently said that the amount of money alleged to have illegally gone from the UNDP to North Korea was somewhere in the $2-3 million range and was used by Kim Jong Il to purchase weaponry and real estate abroad. To be sure, this is a far cry from the hundreds of millions of dollars floated by the Wall Street Journal. Still, it is not an insignificant sum, and rightly deserved to be investigated.

The senate subcommittee did its due diligence. And what did Senate investigators find? Well, mostly that the initial allegations were baseless. From the New York Times:

At the hearing the chairman, Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, pressed Mr. Wallace repeatedly to say whether, with what he knew now, he could still make the same charges he had made last year.

Mr. Wallace said that he did not know the specific amounts of money involved because of the difficulty of tracking transactions in North Korea, and added that they could be even higher than he had estimated.

In an interview outside the hearing room, Mr. Levin expressed frustration at the answer. “I gave him a chance on at least three occasions to acknowledge that some of the points that he made back in May were inaccurate at the time, perhaps based on information that he interpreted, but that nonetheless, he could not make those statements now,” Mr. Levin said.

“That doesn’t mean he lied,” Mr. Levin added. “It does mean that he said things at the time that he now knows are not accurate.”

The real scandal here is that editorialists with an axe to grind at the Wall Street Journal could turn this nonsense into a “scandal” in the first place.

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Friday Morning Coffee

Roger Federer’s grand slam winning streak finally came to an end.
 The wife of a Fairfax county school administrator left a message
on the answering machine
of a student who called her husband at
home…and it is all the rage on YouTube.

Top Stories

>>The five permanent members of the UN Security
Council and Germany have
agreed on a draft resolution
enacting a new round of
sanctions against Iran — including a new restriction on those
exporting to Iran and a stricter ban on travel for Iranian nuclear
scientists. It is unlikely that the resolution will be introduced in
the Council until next month, at which time Iran has agreed to the IAEA
to answer remaining questions on its nuclear program.

>>Brazil announced yesterday that the rate of
rainforest destruction increased
roughly 400 percent
from August to December 2007.
 President Lula da Silva has

a 25 percent increase in
the region’s police force.

>>U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates said that the U.S. was
prepared to send troops
to assist Pakistan in fighting
militants. Meanwhile, police in Indian-controlled Kashmir have
killed a top commander
of the pro-Pakistani Harkat-ul-Jehad-e-Islami militant group, who was
the mastermind of three bombings in Uttar Pradesh last November.

>>The EU member states’ foreign ministers are expected to agree
to a 1,800-person stabilization force for Kosovo on Monday, under the
expectation that it will soon declare independence from Serbia.
 Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci has said that it is only a matter of days.

>>Italy’s Prime Minister Romano Prodi has resigned after losing a vote of confidence in the Senate.  President Giorgio Napolitano is holding emergency meetings with political leaders in an effort to avoid snap elections.

>>Amid continuing violence, warring Kenyan political leaders met for the first time face to face,
along with Kofi Annan, who is facilitating the negotiations. Even the
most optimistic analysts agree that this is at best the first step in a
long process.

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Ban pledges action on water resources at the World Economic Forum

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told participants at the World Economic Forum that the United Nations will take action to address the shortage of water resources in the context of reaching global anti-poverty targets.

“Our experiences tell us that environmental stress, due to lack of water, may lead to conflict, and would be greater in poor nations…Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon.”


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How PDAs can Transform Emerging Economies

A few months back, Dr. Joel Selanikio, co-founder of (a UN Foundation-Vodafone partnership) wrote in to explain how PDAs are saving lives in Africa. At the time, Selanikio was concluding a pilot program that distributed Palm Ziros equipped with open source software called EpiSurveyor to public health workers in Kenya and Zambia. As Selanikio reported, the PDAs had a transformative effect on the ability of local public health officials to efficiently distribute immunizations and monitor potentially catastrophic outbreaks.

That experience obviously made clear to Selanikio the potential of PDAs to not only revolutionize the public health sector in the developing world, but to transform entire emerging economies. Selanikio explains in an op-ed picked up by All

Along with the internet, with which it is rapidly merging, this is the most astonishing technology story of our time, and one that has the power to revolutionise access to information across the developing world.

Unfortunately, rich country biases limit understanding of this amazing phenomenon: for those in North America or Western Europe the cell phone is primarily or uniquely a phone designed to make voice calls.

In the rich world, even those who use the mobile for other tasks such as e-mail almost always do so as an adjunct to their “computer” (ie, the desktop or laptop in their home or office): the mobile phone is used for those tasks only when the “computer” isn’t accessible.

Selanikio explains how that ‘bias’ becomes manifest, “as of this morning a Google search for ‘educational software for Windows’ got 41,300 results, while a search for ‘educational software for cell phones’ got exactly 9 hits.”

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Thursday Morning Coffee


>>Jason Green, who works at an Australian crocodile farm, was attacked by a female of the species only to subsequently shot by a colleague trying to save him. Green survived and is now recuperating post surgery.

Top Stories

>>Egyptian authorities today began to stop the flow of an estimated 350,000 Palestinians who have entered from Gaza through 17 gaps blown in the border wall. According to at least one border guard, Hamas was responsible and had been weakening the wall for months using “oxy-acetylene cutting torches.

>>In preparation for this summer’s Olympic Games, Beijing is cleansing both environmentally and socially. Prior to the August event, “problem” citizens, including prostitutes and the homeless, will be relocated. The Beijing Times has reported that the Chinese motor traffic during the games, pulling an estimated 1.65 million cars off the road. In the meantime, athletes are preparing face masks, trying special diets, and delaying their arrivals due to pollution.

>>The European Commission proposed sweeping measures to reduce carbon emissions (20 percent of 1990 levels by 2020) and promote the use of renewable energy sources (20 percent of all power). Responsibilities have been suggested for individual nations, and some are none too happy.

>>The WHO has created a database to keep tabs on avian flu strains collected around the world.

Quote of the Day

  • “In my opinion boxers are probably the finest athletes in the world. But they didn’t think they could make it three rounds in Beijing.”

    -Frank Filiberto, a physician for the U.S. boxing team

Yesterday in UN Dispatch

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