- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

Aboriginal rights

The General Assembly passed an “aspirational” declaration Thursday, affirming the rights of indigenous peoples to exercise full control over their lands and culture — a document that took 20 years to draft and still didn’t muster the approval of Washington or Ottawa.

The text gives native people full human rights already enshrined in national and international law but goes further to recognize their histories of suffering, discrimination and loss of original lands.

The U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Canada, had a difficult time with a clause allowing indigenous groups to seek restitution for loss of resources “traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used” by natives … and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.”

The text is nonbinding. But for the dissenting governments — all of which have significant native populations — it gave away too much control over native lands.

The Canadian delegation, which handled most of the negotiations for the four, rejected that language as “overly broad” and subject to a variety of interpretations.

Eleven nations abstained.

Price of justice

How much will it cost to try the assassins of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri? About $120 million, according to a report from the U.N. Secretariat to the General Assembly.

The court — which is likely to be set up in The Hague, near other high-profile and high-security trials — will eventually require up to 430 staffers, including translators.

Even piggybacking on existing facilities, the Lebanon tribunal will cost about $35 million to set up, and $40 million to $45 million a year to administer, according to initial projections.

U.N. member states are to pay 49 percent of the tab, while the government of Lebanon, which is deeply and angrily divided over whether an international legal effort is even necessary, is to pay 51 percent under an agreement negotiated by the office of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

Chinese envoy

The Chinese government’s envoy for Darfur dropped by the U.N. last week to meet with peacekeeping and political officials to clarify the country’s contribution for the war-wracked region.

While here, Liu Guijin, special representative of the Chinese government on Darfur and African issues, found time to defend China’s policy of judgment-free trade and assistance with Khartoum.

“The Chinese side has made a huge effort,” said Mr. Liu. “Particularly on the hybrid peacekeeping operation, the Chinese side has utilized all kinds of channels and talked to the Sudanese government and persuaded them as an equal partner to accept the [U.N. peacekeeping] plan.”

Many activists feel that China, as Sudan’s largest non-African economic partner and a permanent Security Council member, should be exerting more pressure on Sudan to call off the killing in Darfur.

But Mr. Liu said Beijing’s relationship with Sudan is “nothing special” compared to its relations with other developing nations.

China’s assistance is “a type of cooperation between friends,” he said, adding that the road to development and a country’s ideology should be decided by a government and its people.

Mr. Liu’s American counterpart, Andrew Natsios, this summer praised Mr. Liu, and said China has been a solid partner in U.S. efforts with Khartoum. He said Beijing’s quiet diplomacy was publicly underrated.

“It’s sort of a good cop, bad cop thing,” he told The Washington Times. “But it does feel strange that we’re the ‘bad cop.’ ”

Betsy Pisik may be reached via e-mail at bpisik@ washingtontimes.com.

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