15 DECEMBER 2015


The outgoing politically-appointed UN envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, added further erosion to the United Nations' reputation when he was exposed as taking sizeable amounts of money to work for the United Arab Emirates. Published documents revealed that he was keeping in touch with senior officials in Abu Dhabi, where two former Libyan officials also reside, and that he was trying to nudge the negotiating process in their direction.

The real hushed-up question is: why Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who had indicated a determination to look into similar violations, did not clearly and firmly dissociate himself from the obvious embarrassment caused by his outgoing envoy? Some indicated that it was a cautious approach to avoid embarrassing Spain, which is a member of the Security Council, and a country the Secretary-General may need regular support from on pressing issues. That, however, would not fly, because Spanish diplomats have more interest in preserving their country's reputation than accommodating a former colleague who in fact abandoned their highly regarded values of professional integrity.

Others would think that the Secretary-General has greater problems on his mind than to deal with this issue himself. But then all that would need to be made is a couple of brief, clear statements, the type of which are produced daily.

A more serous claim would be that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would not wish to offend the United Arab Emirates, not only as it is apparently involved in conflicts from Libya to Yemen and Syria, but also because he counted on goodwill contributions from Abu Dhabi for various voluntary causes, and some would add perhaps that the Republic of Korea has major balance of trade interests in the Emirates. That, of course, is a bilateral business.

Whatever the speculation, it would have helped if a more substantive position had been announced immediately and in time.