Flat earth

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The Independent Online
Little kicks

So China got away with it again at the UN Human Rights Commission's annual jamboree in Geneva, as we told you it would. Seven years running the West has tried to get the UN membership to censure Peking, and each time the motion has failed even to come to a vote.

The way events unfolded, however, lent support to the Flat Earth Theory of Human Rights Condemnation: you only kick those who are too small and friendless to retaliate. Plucky Denmark sponsored this year's resolution, which was seconded by the US. France noisily refused to go along, however, encouraging countries such as Canada to break ranks and ensuring that the European Union failed to back the motion for the first time in seven years. This was despite the efforts of the Netherlands, which currently holds the EU presidency, to keep everyone together.

When it came to payback time, China called off visits from Dutch and Danish ministers, but left the Americans alone - because, as a Western diplomat in Peking helpfully explained: "The US is strong and powerful. There is no way they are going to cancel any meetings with the United States because these are meetings that they want to happen."

A Chinese academic, asked why the Dutch and Danes had been singled out, put it even more clearly and simply. "These are small countries," he said.

Excuses, excuses

Fidel Ramos, the first Protestant president of a mainly Catholic country, has been trying to persuade his fellow Filipinos to take a more Calvinist approach to time-keeping. He declared a National Punctuality Week to remind the Philippines that it had to get out of the habit of being late if it wanted to compete in the global economy.

A bit unfortunate, then, that Ramos turned up for a Red Cross ceremony an hour after he was supposed to. He blamed Tiger Woods, saying he had got up at 4am Manila time to watch the prodigy win the US Masters golf tournament, then went back to bed. "My aide gave me a frantic call on the telephone because, apparently, I overslept," he explained. That's what they all say, Mr President.

National parkers

The great confrontation between the United Nations and New York City over parking tickets has been deferred, because the State Department needs more time to consult its lawyers and Gotham's feisty mayor, Rudolph Giuliani. As a result, the General Assembly has put off its plans for a special session, which will disappoint those looking forward to the spectacle of 185 nations meeting to demand the right to park next to fire hydrants.

Not that the UN has ever had much public relations sense. In June it is gathering for a more seemly purpose - a follow-up to the Earth Summit in Rio five years ago - but nobody in this acronym-addicted organisation seems to have considered finding a more appropriate title for an environmental conclave than General Assembly Special Session, or GASS for short.