25 April 2004

A twisted approach in covering up colossal failures is to blame it on the whole U.N. or -- if truly cornered -- on a committee. Otherwise, if there is any credit to be claimed on the most minor event, it is reaped by the individual. On Rwanda, we are all to blame. On Srebrenica, it is mea culpa for the dysfunctional U.N. Most recently, that approach has been demonstrated in the second report on the murderous bombing of the U.N. Baghdad premises. The first report by Mr. Ahtisaari, now Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa, responded partially to the determined search by the staff for some accountability (though it mainly blamed the dead). The second report by an "Accountability Panel," submitted on 3 March but announced three weeks later, dealt mainly with security. The main predominance within the panel, with due respect to all its members, was for the Chair, Gerald Walzer, a former Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees and Brian Deschamp, also from the High Commissioner's office. UNHCR is where current Secretary General Kofi Annan, a former staff member, seeks helpful resources. The Panel concluded that there was "no blurring in the relevant chain of command." That must mean something to those who commissioned them. However, it "identified" some "principle failures:" no security mission was sent before staff arrived on 1 May; no comprehensive security review was undertaken of the site (the Canal Hotel); there was conflicting amounts of information from varied sources as the security situation deteriorated; the Security Co-ordinator, the Designated Official, and Security Management team in Baghdad "appeared blinded by the conviction that U.N. personnel and installations would not become a target despite warnings to the contrary;" standard security management was deficient and lacking cohesion; failure to take remedial action. At New York Headquarters, the Steering Group on Iraq (SGI) "lacked due care and diligence in the manner in which it dealt with the circumstances of the return to Baghdad." It should have asked some searching questions while endorsing a "flawed concept" from the Designated Official. It failed to insist on clarifying the extent of the risk the staff would be running. It also "failed to insist on respect by all entities involved regarding staff ceilings and security clearances in contravention of the established practices and procedures of the Organization." In general, there was "a failure to take appropriate remedial action, either by reducing staff members or by a concerted effort to improve security measures."

Based on that report the Secretary General initiated disciplinary proceedings against two staff members, re-assigned the Field Security Co-ordination Officer to a non-security post, sent a letter of reprimand to the Security Management Team in Baghdad; requested the immediate resignation of the Designated Official from his Assistant Secretary General post so he will return to the World Food Program in Rome at a D-2 level; and requested the resignation of the U.N. Security Co-ordinator.

Most of the interest, however, was about the action towards the more senior officials comprising the Steering Group on Iraq headed by Deputy Secretary General Louise Frechette. The Secretary General sent her a letter as Chairperson of that group expressing his "disappointment and regret" regarding identified failures. That letter "would be shared with all members" of the Steering Group.

Staff representatives felt strongly that measures taken were disproportionate, hitting some officers with no political backing while letting senior decision makers off the hook. They pointed to the members of the Steering Group at Headquarters who insisted they were in charge but were not held accountable. A letter to be "shared" by them was less than a slap on the wrist. The Secretary General, however, told the press that he felt "firm action" was taken. At any rate, observers noted a flurry of power maneuvers between the submission of the report and the announcement of action taken. Deputy Secretary General Louise Frechette must have sensed that she was being set up for a fall. She "gambled" by submitting her resignation and won.