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  October 11, 2009

D'Escoto Pt.2: On Palestine and the UN

Outgoing General Assembly prez tells niece, after UN inaction on Gaza, "I feel like I'm in a cesspool"
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Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann recently finished his term as president of the United Nations General Assembly. His term was notable for numerous attempts to assert the authority of the General Assembly and numerous pronouncements on current events, such as the financial crisis and the Israeli siege and war on Gaza. This was a considerable departure from the highly conservative role that the General Assembly, and in particular the president, had played over recent years.

D'Escoto is an ordained Roman Catholic priest for the Maryknoll congregation, serving in 1970 as an official with the World Council of Churches. As an adherent of liberation theology, he secretly joined Nicaragua's revolutionary Sandinista independence movement. In 1979, he was appointed foreign minister of the new revolutionary government following the Sandinistas' overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship. He served as foreign minister under President Daniel Ortega from 1979 until their electoral defeat in 1990. He was one of a group of Latin American priests who were denounced and eventually suspended during the 1980s by the Vatican of Pope John Paul II, after their dedication to liberation theology compelled them to become involved in revolutionary politics.

In 2008, he was selected by the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean to as their choice to fill the presidency of the General Assembly.

"The question of Palestine remains the most serious political and human rights problem on the agenda of the United Nations since its creation," says outgoing General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto. D'Escoto points to the UN's failure to lift the two-year-old blockade on Gaza being maintained by Israel and Egypt as a clear example of the organization's decadence. This despite the fact that all the organs of the UN have passed resolutions demanding the blockade be lifted, but none of the members with influence have done anything to force compliance, and according to d'Escoto, they are quite comfortable with this.


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Father Miguel d'Escoto, outgoing president of the United Nations General Assemby, presided over a yearlong term that included the global economic food and AIDS crisis; wars in the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka; the Iran question; and military coups in Honduras and Madagascar. With all of this and more, d'Escoto identifies the ongoing crisis in Palestine as the most disturbing of all.

FATHER MIGUEL D'ESCOTO BROCKMANN, OUTGOING PRESIDENT, UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY: The situation of Palestine, the question of Palestine, remains the most serious political and human-rights problem on the agenda of the United Nations since its creation.

JAY: The UN's role in the conflict has been put back on center stage due to the current controversy over the Goldstone Report on war crimes during the Gaza war in December and January. The report tables numerous accusations of war crimes committed by both sides, but singles out Israel for the disproportionate use of force against civilians. For d'Escoto, it's the ongoing blockade on Gaza that the militaries of Israel and Egypt have maintained for over two years that illustrates the failure of the UN. Despite a January 2009 Security Council resolution demanding its immediate dismantling, nine months later the Israeli blockade still renders the reconstruction of Gaza all but impossible.

D'ESCOTO: It is really unbelievable to see the passivity and the couldn't-care-less attitude kind of attitude of the Security Council concerning the fact that Israel is not about to comply with its own Security Council resolution to lift a blockade around Gaza that is causing such great suffering and death because of inaccessibility to the adequate medical attention, food, and whatever.

JAY: Sofía Clark d'Escoto, niece and deputy chief of staff of the former president of the General Assembly, explains that the inaction persists in the face of consensus amongst all the relevant organs of the United Nations.

SOFÍA CLARK, FMR. DEP. CHEF DE CABINET TO PRESIDENT OF UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY: You know, Father Miguel just sent a letter to the president of the Security Council, asking for them to implement their own resolution to lift the blockade against Gaza and reminding them that they passed a resolution, they committed themselves to taking action, and the Human Rights Council has passed a resolution, and we passed a resolution supporting the Security Council. It wasn't what Father Miguel wanted, but that's what we got. So we tell them: we want to know what you've done. Tell me so I can tell the member states what have you done. Tell me what you did, what you're doing now, and what you have under consideration, so I can tell the member states.


JAY: So you've just sent a letter to the Security Council?

D'ESCOTO: I just sent one. There is no compliance whatsoever, and the Security Council is quite satisfied.


JAY: While the all-powerful Security Council refuses to implement its own resolutions, the General Assembly is, as usual, hesitant to take any real action.


JAY: You know, it's easy to have a lot of rhetoric in the general General Assembly, but when do they actually take a real stand against, you know, either a US veto, the role of the Security Council?

CLARK: They haven't.

JAY: Like—

CLARK: They haven't.

JAY: —they don't. So—

CLARK: Some do.

JAY: —they get to talk as if they're on the side of the Palestinians, but in terms of really waging a fight at the level of the General Assembly, which they seem to have, you know, constitutional authority to do, to some extent, they don't really do it, do they?

CLARK: There are many recourses that are available to the General Assembly to take action on their own, but they come with this idea that if you're discussing it in the Security Council, you can't discuss it here. Well, they have been discussing it for 60 years. You know, there's a school, a UN school, that was bombed. Forty people were killed—civilians. And the UN has been, you know, concerned about UN staff that was killed. But what about civilians who had no place to go 'cause the borders are sealed, and they drop fliers and tell you, "Flee. We're going to bomb," and so they went to UN premises to try to get refuge, and they got killed? What do we do as an organization in that situation? The Security Council has done nothing. Nothing. And the General Assembly said, "We have to let the Security Council take the lead." And those are the things that Father Miguel—you know, he's just—I think that was the single most disappointing and for him embarrassing—. He said, "I was a foreign minister, but I never had a position that I was embarrassed to see that our response was so pathetically insufficient." He goes, "I feel we're in a cesspool, and I don't want to be here anymore." And, you know, it took him days. He was truly, truly grieving, because he thought the killing's going on, and yet you had certain countries that should have been, supposedly—publicly, they're the ones leading the struggle in favor of the Palestinian people, but they were blocking it. And, in fact, when Father Miguel wanted to send a humanitarian adviser, a seniormost advisor into Gaza, he went to a neighboring member state and he wanted them to help him get inside of Gaza, and the member state said, "What for? Are you trying to strengthen Hamas?" That just opened the eyes. And we thought, "Oh, so this is what they want." And he was like, "They will let people get massacred. They will let this continue."


JAY: So on the issue of the United Nations and international law, President Obama, one issue I think will be a litmus test whether there really is any change will be the Middle East, the question of Israel, Palestine, particularly Gaza. What's your assessment of where we're at and what should be done?

D'ESCOTO: Well, I will tend to agree with you that this is a very important test, whether they are going to—a test to prove that really there is a desire for change, significant, meaningful change.

JAY: President Obama made a speech in Cairo which signaled a change of direction.


JAY: But have we seen one? The one power on earth that has some leverage with the Israeli government is obviously the United States.

D'ESCOTO: No. We're still waiting. As I said, what we have seen until now remains more at the level of rhetoric, signaling change. At least the speech is different. We need more than speech; we need actions.


JAY: Join us for the final segment of our interview with Father Miguel d'Escoto, when we discuss his views on the United States and the United Nations.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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