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UN: Protests at the Millennium Summit

by Jacki LydenNational Public Radio
September 9th, 2000

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Improving health care and education, and ending poverty were some of the resolutions world leaders agreed upon at the United Nations Millennium Summit this week in New York. Participants also pledged to strengthen the UN's role in preventing international conflict. Such an ambitious agenda generated its own sorts of conflicts. The summit brought more than 150 heads of state to New York City, a perfect opportunity for thousands of activist groups to make their voices heard, if bad for gridlock. NPR's Margot Adler reports.

MARGOT ADLER reporting:

New Yorkers got through the week despite the traffic headaches of hosting 150 leaders, their entourages, their motorcades and the thousands of police and secret service agents that came with them. Thursday night was the worst. Long sections of two avenues were completely closed. And rush-hour traffic was described by police as Christmastime heavy. The chaos was even worse Thursday evening during a gala hosted by President Clinton at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Meanwhile, protests continued for the third day in front of missions and consulates and at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. They were Haitians protesting US policy, Muslims kneeling in prayer, Togolese denouncing their own president, and Chinese Falun Gong members doing exercises. There were demonstrations against human rights violations in China and slavery in the Sudan. Sadi Tulaba(ph), an Iranian exile, spoke out at a march condemning the policies of Iran's President Khatami.

Ms. SADI TULABA (Arabian Exile): They arrest me in Iran, and I was in jail as a political prisoner for two years. They used several torture as well as the raping us in jail as a torture. They used the information about the other people.

ADLER: With one exception, the protests were not about the United Nations. Most were the cries of various peoples for justice. The one exception was a teach-in on Tuesday at Town Hall. About 900 people came to the International Forum on Globalization to examine the relationship of the United Nations to corporate power. Kenny Bruno of the Transnational Resource and Action Center said he remembered collecting money for UNICEF as a child.

Mr. KENNY BRUNO (Transnational Resource and Action Center): Now that seems a long time ago, not only because I'm trying to teach my own children now about UNICEF but also because the UN is partnering not with candy collecting kids but with giant transnational corporations. The corporations involved include companies like Nike, Shell, Rio Tinto, DaimlerChrysler, Unocal and a lot of others who are infamous for environmental degradation and for violation of human rights.

ADLER: Maude Barlow, the director of the Council of Canadians, said the UN was making partnerships with corporations, accepting the basic ideas of globalization, arguing only that the benefits should be more broadly shared.

Ms. MAUDE BARLOW (Council of Canadians): This means that the United Nations is accepting the notion of unlimited growth and the marketization of everything, that the market can place the value on everything and that will protect it. These are simply unsustainable precepts for us to survive.

ADLER: Still others at the forum argued that the United Nations was, in fact, a victim and was, despite everything, a life line for many peoples in the world. Jocelyn Dow of the Women's Environment and Development Organization.

Ms. JOCELYN DOW (Women's Environment and Development Organization): It is, in fact, our only reservoir of hope and advocacy against governments who are far too happy to trot off in the market direction.

ADLER: On the other hand, she argued, you can gain a very clear understanding of the place of men and women in the world by understanding what they are doing at the UN.

Ms. DOW: Women are running UNICEF. Women are running the foreign food program, the refugee program. And where are the boys? The boys are doing business under the global compact.

ADLER: Meanwhile, New York's Mayor Giuliani acted more like a protester than a mayor when he refused to go to President Clinton's reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, saying that some of the heads of state had murdered a lot of people. The mayor also sent a letter to President Clinton asking the federal government to give the city $25 million for its expenses during the summit week, money that was used for overtime for police and firefighters, not to mention sanitation costs. As for the United Nations, it's going to appease New Yorkers in its own way. The UN building will be lit up Sunday and Monday night, and the lights will spell out, 'Thank you, New York.' Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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