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Backstage at the UN: Graphic novel explores Syrian deadlock

© La Revue Dessinee - Karim Lebhour/James and Thierry Martin.

Video by Jessica LE MASURIER

Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2014-03-29

The diplomatic wrangling over Syria is a story with which many readers have grown tired. But a French journalist is hoping to buck the trend by portraying the UN’s failure to broker a peace deal through an unlikely medium – the graphic novel.

RFI reporter Karim Lebhour moved to New York from Paris shortly before the Syrian conflict broke out.

Reporting from the United Nations, Lebhour followed more than a hundred Security Council meetings and countless press briefings on the Syrian crisis – each time growing more frustrated at his inability to tell the full story in his radio reports.

So he teamed up with two French illustrators to create the graphic novel, "Syrie, le veto de l’ONU" (Syria: the UN's veto), published in the spring issue of the French-language magazine, "La Revue dessinée".

Lebhour’s satirical novel paints a colourful picture of the often faceless United Nations, lending a human side to the global organisation.

“At the UN most things happen behind the scenes,” Lebhour told FRANCE 24. “Closed consultations of the Security Council; diplomats speaking off the record in the corridors... In a graphic novel it’s much easier to recreate the scene.”

The UN ambassadors depicted in the often sardonic novel seem somewhat resigned to the fact that despite three gruelling years of briefings, negotiations and inconclusive resolutions, the UN has failed to mediate an end to the devastating war in Syria.

'A little over the top'

“When you ridicule diplomats, well, they deserve it,” France's UN Ambassador Gérard Araud told Lebhour after a first glance at the book. “But I don’t think they are ridiculous… They’re doing their best.”

As for the suggestion that Lebhour could be perceived as making light of the Syria situation by depicting it in a graphic novel, Araud disagreed. “It’s very serious at times, and you also show the suffering of the Syrian people,” the ambassador told the RFI reporter.

UN Under Secretary General for Communications and Public Information Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal was less impressed. “Some of the depictions go a little bit over the top," he told FRANCE 24, though he acknowledged that it was "a way of introducing the story and making it interesting.”

Launsky-Tieffenthal also defended the global organisation as the main protector of the Syrian people. “The UN is the only institution worldwide that looks after 10 million refugees and internally displaced Syrians,” he said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is depicted as expressionless and impotent, has not commented on the novel.

Date created : 2014-03-28

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