Foreign Aid Money
Spent on $23 Million Art Ceiling at U.N. Human Rights Council
1: Nov. 18: Swiss Federal
President Pascal Couchepin, Spanish Queen Sofia and King Juan Carlos,
Spanish artist Miquel Barcelo, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his wife
Sonsoles Espinosa, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his
wife Emine Erdogan, pose during the inauguration of the Human Rights
Room (Room XX) at the European headquarters of the United Nations in
Geneva, Switzerland. Spanish artist Barcelo was commissioned to create a
ceiling painting for Room XX, which will host the Human Rights Council.
AP. Tuesday , November 18, 2008. The U.N. Human Rights Council,
frequently accused of coddling some of the world's most repressive
governments, threw itself a party in Geneva Tuesday that featured the
unveiling of a $23 million mural paid for in part with foreign aid
In a ceremony attended by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Spanish
artist Miquel Barcelo told the press that his 16,000-square-foot ceiling
artwork reminded him of "an image of the world dripping toward the sky"
— but it reminded critics of money slipping out of relief coffers.
"In Spain there's a controversy because they took money out of the
foreign aid budget — took money from starving children in Africa — and
spent it on colorful stalactites," said Hillel Neuer, executive director
of U.N. Watch.
Spanish taxpayers paid for most of the sprawling sculpture, which has
been compared to the Sistine Chapel, but around $633,000 came from
Spain's budget for overseas development aid.
Spain's conservative opposition party blasted the government for
diverting money from projects to alleviate poverty in poorer countries,
though the government insisted the funding for Barcelo's work was kept
Ban himself praised the piece and thanked Barcelo for putting his
"unique talents to work in the service of the world." The artwork will
soar above the Human Rights Council's chambers at U.N.'s European
headquarters in Geneva, which may soon undergo a $1 billion renovation —
but only after a $1.9 billion facelift of the U.N.'s New York offices is
Meanwhile, international humanitarian groups pleaded with the human
rights panel to take time out from their party to address the worsening
human rights "catastrophe" in the Congo, where the government is
fighting a deadly battle with several rebel groups.
"Mass displacement, killings and sexual violence — involving hundreds of
thousands of victims, if not more — require an urgent response,"
according to a statement issued jointly Tuesday by Freedom House and
Congo has been off the radar at the Human Rights Council, which removed
its monitor from the African country in March when the Congolese
government and a group of neighboring nations applied pressure on the
council to expel the monitor.
"When the Human Rights Council was established two years ago there were
about 12 or so monitors, and gradually one after another has been
scrapped," said Neuer. "The other ones are all on the chopping block."
Violence is worsening in the country, where an estimated 4 million
people have been killed in the past 10 years and tens of thousands have
been displaced in recent months.
"The [Lord's Resistance Army] leader, Joseph Kony, is continuing his
brutal and abusive tactics," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at
Human Rights Watch. "The U.S. and U.K., along with the U.N. and
governments in the region, should actively work together to apprehend
LRA leaders wanted by the [International Criminal Court]."
Secretary-General Ban has supported a U.N. resolution that would
increase the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo by 3,100 troops and
police, but some critics say that move would not be enough.
Human rights groups — and U.N. officials themselves — have criticized
the peacekeeping force for failing to protect civilians in places like
Kiwanja, where at least 20 people were killed this week.
The 17,000-man U.N. deployment is already the U.N.'s largest
peacekeeping commitment, but is restricted by tough rules of engagement
and has a massive territory to cover. Congo is the size of Western
Europe, and North Kivu, where the fighting is centered, is
one-and-a-half times the size of France.
Photos 1 and 2
Photo 3. Miguel Barcelo painting
with his broom...
The Associated Press contributed
to this story.