Three diplomats, from the United Nations missions of Jamaica, Pakistan and Uganda, were interviewed this spring by CUNY Graduate School of Journalism students. The diplomats focused on topics relevant to their countries and regions and spoke unscripted. The Ugandan ambassador responded to the video about Joseph Kony, the leader of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army, and where he might be hiding. The Pakistan envoy offered strong words on his country’s tensions over Afghanistan and the United States. And the Jamaican ambassador discussed his country’s role in a current exhibition at the UN commemorating the trans-Atlantic slave trade (closing June 10) as well as reports of homophobia in his country. The interviews have been edited for length.
Adonia Ayebare is the Ugandan deputy ambassador to the United Nations, a cabinet-level post. Ayebare held the deputy UN ambassador post from 2005-2009 as well and was formerly ambassador to Rwanda and Burundi. Before that, he was a journalist, covering East Africa for regional magazines and Irin, an news network that is part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In addition, Ayebare worked as a consultant on East African peace and security issues for the International Crisis Group.
Q: How do you feel about the newfound interest in Joseph Kony, whose Lord’s Resistance Army militia group (LRA), terrorized northern Uganda for years, and about the related “Stop Kony 2012” video that went viral this spring?
A: That question should be, Why they were not interested in him earlier? Yes, of course it takes time to attract interest, but finally it happened, huh?
Q: So do you look at the attention as positive or negative?
A: I don’t know. Of course you need perspective here. I think, of course, as you know, Kony is out of Uganda. It’s unfortunate that he’s causing problems elsewhere, in the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] and central Africa. I think people watching this, people who don’t know about Africa and who don’t know about central Africa in particular, they still think that the war is raging in Uganda, which is not true. He’s [Kony] out of Uganda but causing havoc, like I said, in the other states, Central African Republic.
Q: Is Joseph Kony a topic in your work at the UN?
A: Absolutely. The LRA is one of the things that we deal with every day at the government level, at the African Union and the UN.
Q: And that work was happening before the “Stop Kony 2012” video?
A: You know what, the “Kony 2012” is completely not a new thing to us. We’re always meeting about it, trying to get a solution to the problem.
Q: As a former journalist, did you ever cover what Kony has done in the past?
A: I’m an old man. I used to be a journalist when there was Alice Lakwena [a Ugandan warrior mystic who led an insurgency in the 1980s], who preceded him. I never covered Kony.
Q: Do you think that the newfound interest in Kony will lead to his capture?
A: I hope so, but I don’t know. I think what is happening on the ground, the African Union has a strategy. You know, the African Union has coordinated the countries that are affected. People talk about the US military involvement. That is small compared to what the African Union is doing. The Union — Africans themselves — have been trying to capture him for a long time, and now there is a regional effort to do precisely that.
Q: Yes, they’ve been working on it for a long time, and the US has been providing intelligence to the Uganda military for years and increased its role last year in tracking Kony down, but he still hasn’t been captured.
A: Not for a long time. The AU has just started doing it. It was being done by Uganda alone, and Congo and the Central African Republic coordinating together. But now, the African Union as a continent, as a whole, they’re just doing it a few months ago.
Q: So you’re optimistic that the new efforts will end in his capture?
A: It will, it will. – SARAH M. KAZADI
Abdullah Hussain Haroon has been Pakistan ambassador to the UN since 2008; his country sits on the UN Security Council as a nonpermanent member, having begun its two-year term in January. Haroon spoke about the war in Afghanistan and the US and its effect on his country.
Q: Obviously there’s been a crisis in Afghanistan for years, but this spring tensions seemed to rise to a new level, with the burning of the Koran by US soldiers, among other major troubles. What do you say about all that?
A: I would just say very quickly that if you read my speeches on Afghanistan in the Security Council and in the General Assembly, we always said that Afghanistan is a case study in international affairs where an intervening country can never succeed and has never succeeded historically. It is a case study for a country that does not submit to external will. Anyone who went in as a friend and did a lot for Afghanistan emerged as Enemy One. Take a look at recent times: the Russians went in in a big way; they left as enemies. The Americans went in in a big way; they left as enemies. The Pakistanis intervened; they became enemies. So you’re telling them you’re leaving and I kept telling the Security Council, when they know you’re leaving they come back more harshly at you. It’s the history of every retreat that takes place in Afghanistan. I don’t think that will change. The truth is, you went in, you didn’t meet your own expectations; your own commitments were not met.
Q: By ‘you,’ do you mean the United States?
A: Yes, of course, it’s all military. There may be some building of roads, some building of airbases, but the roads and airbases were used by the US for military purposes. You know the question is, Where’s the rest? O.K., so I think by their own standard, by their own formations, by their own assessments at every stage they have not achieved anything. What’s going to happen is very simple. There will never be peace in Pakistan until there is stability and peace in Afghanistan.
Q: How does Pakistan as a neighboring country feel about the circumstances in Afghanistan?
A: We are terrified. We’re the proverbial, shall we say, mother left with the unwanted child. I’m not referring to Afghanistan; I’m referring to the problem in Afghanistan. And that problem is dilution and devastation of its economy; the nonintegration of institution building into the infrastructure of the nation and the complete absence of a rule of law.
Q: What do you think is the best solution for the region now?
A: The best-case solution is for the Americans to take the Pakistanis into confidence. They will have to take Pakistan back into the equation and try with Pakistan to resolve those issues. We are starving as a nation; we have 40 percent aggregate energy absence, which needs to be rectified. People don’t have businesses anymore, people are dying for lack of financial generation. You say don’t take the energy from Iran, will you give it to us? No. Will you subsidize and get us oil from anywhere? No. What’s killing Pakistan? The pricing of oil. — GWEN McCLURE
Raymond Wolfe, the Jamaican ambassador to the UN, has held this post since 2006. The country joined the UN in 1962 and has taken active roles in the creation of the Law of the Sea Treaty as well as environmental issues and the campaign against apartheid. Wolfe discussed the current multimedia exhibition at the UN, “Honoring the Heroes, Resisters and Survivors,” which marks the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, on March 25. The exhibition is displayed in the UN headquarters through June 10 and was organized by the UN, the African Union and the Caribbean Community, or Caricom.
Q: Can you tell me about the work you did on the exhibition honoring the victims of slavery during the trans-Atlantic slave trade?
A: Let me first start with the theme behind the memorial, acknowledging the tragedy, considering the legacy and lest we forget. That is the theme which we adopted for the memorial. Jamaica came up with the idea — that there shouldn’t just be a commemorative event, there should be a lasting memorial at the United Nations, which the entire world could reflect on. Because first of all, slavery and the slave trade lasted for over 400 years, and even with the abolition of the slave trade, the lingering consequences still exist. We feel the international community should do something collectively about this. [Information on the design contest for a permanent memorial can be found here.]
Q: How did the idea for the slave-trade exhibition take shape?
A: We came together with the African Union but also formed partnerships with our former colonial powers to have this memorial erected at the UN.
Q: What did you have to do to get this at the UN?
A: In the context of the UN, decisions and resolutions are taken by the General Assembly. That provides a mandate for the UN to act on initiatives. So the first thing we had to do was to formulate a resolution, which was in 2008, calling for the erection of a monument at the UN. In subsequent resolutions, we updated the language to say that it should not just be a monument on the ground, but it should be on the plaza, a place of prominence, easily accessible to delegates, to visitors, to staff members, so it would have a permanent presence, where the world community is gathered.
Q: Why is the slave-trade exhibition important to the UN, to the surrounding communities and to Jamaica?
A: Well, 400 years of slavery without any atonement says a lot about what we need the international community to do. The legacy and consequences of slavery still exist with us today in the form of xenophobia, racial attitudes, hatred, racism, bigotry, xenophobia: all of these. The memorial should stand as a symbol and a reminder that this tragedy of such proportions should be allowed to happen ever again.
Q: Staying on the topic of humanitarian issues, Amnesty International has reported on homophobic attacks in Jamaica; can you tell me about that? What is the UN doing to address this issue?
A: You can argue that there is some level of homophobia [in Jamaica], but our government is respectful of the rights of all citizens, and we don’t single out one group against the other. And when there are any cases of abuse against homosexuals, this is a violation against their basic human rights. And if those who carry out acts, they are subject to prosecution under the law. If you look at what we said in our universal peer review at the Human Rights Council, our minister was very clear that we do not tolerate abuse against homosexuals in Jamaica. Right? Now you have to understand, we are a Christian country. There are certain fundamental views, so obviously Jamaicans will have strong views. But the issue of abuse is something that is not tolerated. I want to make it clear on behalf of my government that if wherever any acts should occur, those who have carried out those acts will be subject to prosecution under the law. —ERIN HORAN
Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.