SENIOR U.N. "REFUGEES" IN DAVOS; NEITHER HERE NOR THERE

 

1 FEBRUARY 2015

SENIOR U.N. "REFUGEES" IN DAVOS; NEITHER HERE NOR THERE

It was embarrassing timing.

As a snowstorm approached New York, where U.N. Headquarters is based, an editorial in The New York Times by actress/refugees assistance activist Angelina Jolie highlighted unprecedented agonies of expanding millions of displaced refugees, particularly from Syria and Iraq, pleading for effective international leadership to help. Aaround that same time, top senior U.N. officials and their staff happened to opt for a world famous ski resort.

However it is glorified, which dignitaries attend, in whatever way it is presented, whoever handles -- successfully, of course -- its public relations, the fact remains that Davos is a resort -- indeed a luxury one to those who can afford to pay at the prestigious exclusive Hof. It was, therefore, puzzling that shortly after the U.N. itself had announced distressing figures on unprecedented numbers and hardships for refugees worldwide, a glaring number of U.N. officials unabashedly made their hurried announced way to the Swiss Alps.

An impressive attendance by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would have been understandable if anything he said or did there had received media or public attention, however limited. Even an "acte de presence" to make contact with participants (whom he could easily meet elsewhere if desired) would be taken as part of his wide-range duties.

But why also the Deputy Secretary-General? A public explanation, when that post was established under Mr. Annan was that the Deputy would keep an eye at Headquarters when the Chief travelled. But it has now become habitual for Mr. Eliasson to follow avidly in the footsteps of Mr. Ban -- especially at photo opportunities. And then there he was in Davos, though photos seemed to be limited to U.N. archives.

There were also a number of others. There was the Acting (acting?!) Director of the U.N. Geneva Office, which was inevitable to escort visiting officials. The Executive Director, U.N. Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, was also there to call for "using existing knowledge to make a difference on gender equality and women empowerment." The other Mr. Kim, of the World Bank, "identified improving healthcare and the quality of education as critical to reducing inequality and fostering sustainable growth." UNDP Administrator Helen Clark "highlighted 2015 as a critical opportunity to shift towards inclusive sustainable development and agree to eradicate all forms of poverty" (quotations taken from a website public communique).

Why travel to Davos at great expense and time to repeat already announced adopted policy resolutions is a valid question. A more puzzled one is whether anybody knew there was actually a "Head of Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement, Post-2015 Development Planning Unit, Executive Office of the U.N. Secretary-General?! Indeed that "Head," Nelson Muffuh, laboured to Davos to announce that "2015 is Time for Global Action to end poverty, transform lives and protect the planet?!" We, then, should be adequately grateful to "Puffuh" Muffuh for pioneering our way.

There is no point in fully listing the names of senior U.N. officials -- and their supporting staff who attended -- and enquiring at what enormous cost. Incidentally, there seems to be a new secretive approach of not publicly identifying those names; any such attendance -- together with means of transport -- used to be regularly mentioned, particularly in response to a question. Not anymore. Perhaps because doing so may make it hard to explain, for example, why the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, was in Davos when the number of Syrian refugees was expanding, new clash points on the Syrian/Israeli border were threating international peace and, more practically, meetings directly dealing with the Syrian situation were being held elsewhere.

It will also be awkward to justify the substantial role in the management of the gathering in Davos by the newly-appointed U.N. Special Envoy on Cyprus, Espen Barthe Eide. What is he doing there...or there?!

Which leads regrettably to a discouraging question -- whether a number of expediently-appointed senior U.N. officials are neither here nor there.