Summarising the Summit
David Mepham does an excellent job summarising the outcomes of the Summit. Important progress was made on genocide (how to fight it), peace, human rights and democracy. Those are all things we care a lot about at openDemocracy. As for the lackluster bits of the Summit, I think we've covered those already. Even Kofi Annan had a hard time keeping up appearances at this meeting. Some people would think it an opportune moment to poke fun, like George Bush who passed Annan in the hallway right before the summit ended and asked: "Has the place blown up since he's been here?". Very funny, Mr. President. No, it hasn't blown up.
Bolton is speaking
US ambassador John Bolton looks much taller when he is sitting down. "We cannot allow the reform effort to be derailed," he says. And he's also "glad to hear" that so many member-countries denounce terrorism. Me too.
Afternoon at the UN
I wasn't able to be here in the morning, and now, on the afternoon of the last day of the Summit the press have begun wheeling their equipment out of here. Do they know they will be missing out on the photo opportunity with the Secretary-General and the President of Gabon at 17:15?
The General Assembly continues today with more and more presidential addresses, and today I am watching it on television monitors in the press room. It will hardly be news to anyone who's ever attended a press conference, but let me tell you the real thing is very different from what you read in the newspapers.
Yesterday's address by Israel (small important country) was as scarcely attended as all the others. Yet, today's New York Times article describes it as a momentous event. I don't dispute that. It's just strange how history in the making is more apparent when you read it in the paper the next day.
(Can you believe the GA audience were just asked to be quiet out of respect for the speakers? So unruly.) (Photos are from my cellphone, press room and General Assembly)
Cuba and Venezuela call it
I wish I had stuck around for the President of Venezuela yesterday (I had to go). Yesterday, I complained the world leaders were too sterile. Well, Hugo Chavez is completely infectious.
Witness the 4000 blog posts that have been written about his appearance at the UN yesterday. He said the document of the meeting has been "hijacked" by the US. He waved it in the air and called it an "illegal" document "approved with a dictator's hammer". Check out the video.
Chavez suggested (and he wasn't joking) that we should move the UN out of the US, because they do not respect international law. He said this had been a proposal from the World Social Forum. And went on to suggest it's new location could be Jerusalem... after it were converted to an international city for all peoples. He also refused to stop speaking after his 15 minutes ran out, saying that Bush had been allowed 20.
Save for the impracticality (ahem) of some of Chavez suggestions, it was refreshing to hear someone say out loud what most people here seem to be thinking. The document is weak and undemocratic. Some bloggers are being pretty snide about Chavez' comments, saying the US doesn't want the UN anyway (ha, there's more where this comes from). Meanwhile Cuba's envoy Ricardo Alarcon agreed with Chavez, saying:
You might not like where it's coming from, and certainly it's not a very diplomatic way of saying it (dare I say politically correct?), but I think both left and right can agree the UN struck out at this Summit. Check openDemocracy's UN democracy debate for more thoughtful commentary on US maneuvers and how to repair the United Nations, and why it's so important we get it right.
What Israel said
PM Ariel Sharon described his belief in the Jewish right to Jerusalem as the "essence of my Jewish consciousness." He spoke of Israel's "concessions" (withdrawal) in Gaza and the difficult decision he had to make "at a heavy personal price". "Our hearts desire remains to achieve peace with our neighbours," he said, stressing it is now up to the Palestinians to show their commitment to peace by developing their economy and a democratic government. Towards the end he said, "We know there are those who sit here, and who's leadership calls for wiping Israel off the face of the earth." And he chastised the UN Assembly for keeping silent.
What Denmark thinks
"Good deeds start at home," said the prime minister of Denmark referring to the "oil-for-food scandal", "and the UN needs to get its own house in order." Describing Denmark as one of the most generous contributors to African aid, he called on the developed nations to give and do more (especially on Sudan) and on African governments to fight corruption and poverty, and promote women's rights. "All our aid will come to nothing if countries are run by corrupt dictators," he said. And he didn't point to anyone in the audience.
Blogging the General Assembly
I am sitting in the General Assembly hall, where the UN has conveniently provided wireless internet. The president of Georgia is speaking and no one is listening (sorry Georgia).
Many of the politicians on the UN's trademark blue benches are wearing translation headphones, but in the small booths above the GA floor we have loudspeakers. In case you should miss a speech (or aren't paying attention) there are copies of all the speeches available in the press room. These vary from simple two-sided photocopies (most countries) to laminated folders and embossed paper (China, and a few African nations).
The president of Nauru has been followed by the president of the Republic of Congo, and now the president of Mongolia is speaking (I'm typing slow). Still, no one is listening (sorry small or poor countries). But the hall is filling up a little, perhaps because Italy, Israel and France are speaking later. Personally, I am waiting for the kingdom of Denmark (small and rich country where I was born).
India just took the stage, and the hall has gotten a little quieter. You can watch the whole thing on UN webcast if you think you're missing out. You'd think there was something more productive for world leaders to do when they were finally all gathered in the same place. When everyone says what's expected of them, it really isn't too exciting. And yes, mobile phones do go occasionally off in the audience (bad Chad).
It would be much more fun, if they conducted this part of the Summit in quick panel discussions with four-five leaders at a time on subjects of regional or international interest - make the presidents sweat a little. This environment is way too sterile to produce anything useful or informative. Although I guess the symbolic value of it all shouldn't be discounted.
PS: The president of Saint Kitts and Nevis is pretty good speaker. Next up: Cambodia.
On opening day, Summit flops
Crossing the street to enter the UN building yesterday, I passed Abdoulaye Wade, the president of Senegal. Honestly, I would never have recognised him if it weren't for the clapping and shouting supporters who had lined up near the sidewalk barricades hoping to catch a glimpse of him.
Later, I nearly bumped into President Lula of Brazil as he got off an escalator on the 2nd floor of the UN building and entered an elevator. I know I probably should have accosted him for an interview, but he was very busy and had about nine equally busy men surrounding him. Que pena. But how fun to be sharing hallways with all these world leaders.
Apart from that, my afternoon was pretty uneventful. The UN Summit programme is called the "Journal" and it is surprisingly brief - about a page or two per day. Most of the meetings are closed, and the press just sit around outside meeting rooms waiting to pounce on officials when they come out. Yesterday, there were addresses from 80 heads of state, and today there will be 80 more.
It's been sad to see how damning NGO statements on the UN draft document are (seriously, have a look). Combined with the whole US/Bolton ordeal and frustration over how to bring about UN reform, this Summit is not a happy one. Maybe things will perk up later. Or at least before the year 2015.
Bloggers, Bush, and bathroom breaks
On the day of President Bush's speech on the opening day of the Summit, bloggers are much less interested in the words he uttered, than the ones he scribbled on a note to Condoleezza Rice at the UN: "I think I may need a bathroom break". Trust the blogosphere to identify the most interesting story: Bush needs permission from Condi to go to the loo.
UN Summit diary
Grace Mukagabiro from Rwanda works for Oxfam and is writing a daily diary of the Summit for the Globe and Mail newspaper in South Africa.