- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 28, 2004

Moment of silence

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Friday urged world leaders to observe a moment of silence in memory of the Rwandan genocide, which began April 7, 1994, and claimed more than 800,000 lives, mainly of minority Tutsis, before the exiled Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) overthrew the Hutu-dominated regime in July 1994.

By asking all civil servants and citizens to observe a moment of silence at noon local time on the 10th anniversary of the start of the mass killings, Mr. Annan said, the world could express “remorse for the past, resolve to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening.”

In public remarks at a Canadian-sponsored conference, Mr. Annan — who a decade ago was the head of the U.N. peacekeeping department — expressed sorrow at not having done more to avert the bloodletting.

“I believed at the time that I was doing my best,” he said of his efforts to enlarge a U.N. mission there. “But I realized after the genocide there was more I could and should have done.”

He said the memory of Rwanda and massacres in Bosnia-Herzegovina “has influenced much of my thinking and many of my actions as secretary-general.”

The U.N. Security Council declined to approve a peacekeeping force, but French troops under a U.N. mandate moved into the former Belgian trusteeship on June 23, 1994, to establish a safe zone. After the RPF installed a government, the French pulled out Aug. 22, 1994.

Same-sex unions

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights is scheduled today to take up the question of the rights and protections of homosexuals.

The resolution, drafted by Brazil, has picked up 18 co-sponsors in the 53-member commission. The text has pitted European nations against an increasingly sturdy coalition of Catholic and Muslim countries, which say the language could force them to condone behavior that is condemned by religion.

The split in the Geneva commission mirrors one in the budget committee of the General Assembly, where the Vatican and the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference are refusing to accept a directive from Secretary-General Kofi Annan to extend U.N. family benefits to same-sex couples. That squabble has overshadowed work with far larger budgetary implications, such as peacekeeping accounts.

The draft before the commission calls on governments to promote and protect citizens’ human rights regardless of their sexual orientation. Supporters, including Canada and many European nations that recognize same-sex unions, say the language merely extends existing agreements such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

UNESCO’s free loan

The government of France last week finalized a $112 million loan to finish the renovation of UNESCO’s deteriorating Paris headquarters, a move that subtly ups the pressure on Washington to do the same for the U.N. headquarters in New York.

The 17-year loan will be guaranteed by the French government, which also will cover the roughly $25 million in interest, according to UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura.

The UNESCO headquarters was built in the 1950s. Thanking France for its generosity, Mr. Matsuura said it demonstrates the host country’s support for UNESCO’s ideals.

Most countries that play host to a significant U.N. presence donate or subsidize the site, and sometimes its utilities and other expenses.

During sessions of the General Assembly’s budget and management committee, many delegates urged the United States to either donate the $1.2 billion needed to renovate and expand the U.N. headquarters in New York or at least cancel about $700 million in interest for the loan.

The Bush administration’s offer of the 5.54 percent, 30-year loan has not yet been approved by Congress nor accepted by the General Assembly.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at UNear@aol.com.

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