UNheadlines

 

HOW FIRM IS "FIRM?" STAFF CONTINUE TO RAISE QUESTIONS ON BAGHDAD REPORTS. WHY NO DUE PROCESS FOR PUBLICLY CONDEMNED COORDINATOR WHILE SENIOR OFFICIALS MERELY "SHARE" A REPRIMAND LETTER?

25 June 2004

While publicly dismissing two Security officials, the Secretary General felt that he had taken "firm" action by sending a letter to the Deputy Secretary General who chaired the decision-making Senior Group on Iraq and requested her to "share" it with its members. In fact, those members still appear to be surrounding Mr. Annan at all meetings related to Iraq. They must have had a "jolly interesting" nudge-nudge when dutifully served with a neatly typed copy of the "collective" reprimand. One could not contain oneself when faced with such "Yes Minister"-type situation.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that a group of mid-level UN staffers has formally protested Annan's decision to discipline a handful of UN officials for failing to provide adequate security at Baghdad headquarters of the UN before the 19 August terrorist attack killed 22 people there. The staffers said the organization's top leaders should accept greater responsibility for the tragedy.

In addition to the strong views expressed by the Staff Committee, two letters to the Secretary General have received wide circulation. They reflect feelings among staff throughout the UN system that senior officials were being protected while junior ones scapegoated. The two official reports produced thus far were described as full of inaccuracies and tailored to suit a selective attitude in dealing with accountability.

The first letter was by Robert Turner, a survivor of the Baghdad blast. It went as follows:

Dear Secretary-General

I would like to thank you for the timely action you took in the aftermath of the Baghdad bombings to investigate the causes and determine responsibilities leading to the tragedy. It is a positive development that it appears the UN is now serious about holding managers accountable for their actions. However, as a staff member with a deep respect for the mission of the United Nations I have some concerns about the investigative process that was undertaken related to Iraq and the decisions that have been taken as a result of that process.

The Security in Iraq Accountability Panel was named after the public submission of the Report of the Independent Panel on the Safety and Security of UN Personnel in Iraq. That Report was so rife with factual inaccuracies and unsubstantiated claims that the correct response would have been a line-by-line refutation and a new effort to establish the truth of what happened in Baghdad. Instead, it was used as a basis for the terms of reference of Mr. Walzer and his team. The fact that a member of Mr. Ahtisaari's team was carried over to the Panel was inappropriate at best.

As a UN staff member who was intimately involved in this affair and who will feel the impact of your decisions in this matter, I am very concerned at the lack of due process provided to Mr. Myat and Mr. Lopes da Silva. Your request that they resign from the UN Secretariat, while convenient for the organization, does not offer either of these staff members the protection provided them by staff rules.

No objective observer could see a forced resignation as anything but a disciplinary measure. Rule 110.4 (Due Process) very clearly states that "no disciplinary proceedings may be instituted against a staff member unless he or she has been notified, in writing, of the allegations against him or her and of the right to seek the assistance of counsel in his or her defence at his or her own expense, and has been given a reasonable opportunity to respond to those allegations." To my knowledge, no such notification was given to Mr. Myat or Mr. Lopes da Silva.

It is my sincere hope that Mr. Myat and Mr. Lopes da Silva will avail themselves of counsel and be provided the opportunity to review the evidence given against them, face those who have accused them of wrongdoing and publicly refute any charges. As it stands now they have been tried in secret by the Panel, arbitrarily sentenced by you, and forced to become the very personal manifestations of a failed security system, a system which you head.

I am also very concerned about the decision you have taken in applying accountability to these two managers. The balance of blame is being assigned to individuals, not the system, and most of the alleged misdeeds cited by the Panel had no impact on the events of 19 August. I would also add that in my experience of missions in the field, including Rwanda, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Liberia, I have never seen security taken as seriously as it was in Iraq, a Designated Official who dedicated as much of his time to security, nor a security presence as large as that in Iraq.

It is my belief that if fairness is to play a part in this, responsibility must be shared more broadly.

Paragraph 98 of the Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 24 of Security Council resolution 1483 (2003) describes 16 tasks that the UN will perform in Iraq. To a great extent, the number of staff in the Canal Hotel on 19 August was based on the activities outlined in your report. By any objective measure only one of these 16 tasks can be described as falling within the definition of activities to be undertaken within Phase IV, which should have resulted in: the relocation outside the country of all remaining internationally recruited staff members except those involved in emergency or humanitarian relief operations or security matters. All other internationally recruited staff members who were previously considered essential to maintain programme activities will be evacuated at this time.

Most of the international UN staff killed on 19 August were not involved in emergency or humanitarian relief operations or security matters.

I also have serious concerns about actions taken following the incident. Within hours of the 19 August bombing you made it publicly clear that the UN would not be evacuating Iraq. This pronouncement pre- judged any recommendation that the Iraq Security Management Team may have made. Similarly, you chose not to follow the unanimous recommendation of the Iraq SMT that followed the suicide bombing against the UN on 22 September.

That you never declared Phase V in Iraq makes a mockery of the UN security system. You clearly demonstrated that politics are more important than staff security when it suits as there was no requirement in Iraq -- bar political -- that justified a continued presence under UN security regulations, after either bombing.

There are other events related to Iraq that I believe deserve recounting:

Your Chef de Cabinet was a member of the Steering Group for Iraq and undermined the authority of the Designated Official by intervening to ensure a large UNESCO cultural mission was allowed to enter Iraq at a time when a serious attempt was being made to limit the number of international staff in the country. The very visible presence of so many UN staff lacking any emergency field experience and performing tasks clearly inappropriate for Phase IV sent the very clear signal that your office had no interest in supporting security decisions in the field that may be politically sensitive at headquarters.

Your Deputy chaired the Steering Group for Iraq, which approved every significant operational and policy decision related to the UN presence in Iraq, including the decision for a combined substantive and security mission to Baghdad on 1 May.

Sir, you will permit me to observe that it appears there exist a "shield" around the Secretariat building that protects those inside from being held accountable for their decisions and actions, a protection that does not exist once one crosses First Avenue.

I believe that the manner in which this situation has been handled will, once the ramifications are understood, lead to paralysis in the field. It is now perfectly clear, if it was not before, that all authority for decision making related to missions -- functions, budgets, resources -- will be retained at headquarters, while those responsible for implementing those decisions will be held accountable for any failings.

In order to gain a sense of how accountability may be applied in the future, I wonder, Sir, who would have been held responsible had an incident taken place at the Secretariat building prior to the very recent installation of shatter resistant film? It has been clear since 9/11 that terrorists have the will and means to attack targets in Manhattan, there have been credible threats against the UN, and yet only in 2004 has that film been installed.

Who will be accepting responsibility if there are further casualties in Iraq? The interests of the organization, the morale of staff, and the memory of our fallen colleagues would be much better served had you shown leadership on this issue and accepted some responsibility for what happened on 19 August.

The UN security system failed in Iraq, no question: The whole system. That you are willing to take action and hold managers accountable is praiseworthy. That you did so in this case, in so limited a fashion, demands this response.

My own role in Iraq was as Operations Coordinator for UNOHCI and eventually Assistant Humanitarian Coordinator, and as such a member of the Security Management Team. I was the author of Concept of Operations IV, a member of the 1 May mission to Baghdad, was in Canal Hotel on 19 August was also present on 22 September. I also attended the Security Management Team meeting that day that recommended a Phase V declaration.

Sir, if you believe this note or my part in Iraq make it appropriate for me to resign from the UN I am willing to do so.

Best regards,

Robert Turner
OCHA New York

The second letter was sent by the staff of the World Food Programme:

Dear Mr. Secretary General:

It was with great dismay and distress that we heard your announcement of 30 March regarding disciplinary measures against Mr. Tun Myat and Mr. Ramiro Lopes da Silva. It is our view that neither of our colleagues can be held personally or professionally responsible for the tragic events of 19 August 2003 in Baghdad.

While we welcome many of the findings contained in the summary of the Security in Iraq Accountability Panel's (SIAP) report, we feel that it does not fully acknowledge the extent of the exceptional internal and external political pressure on the United Nations, and its adverse impact on its decision-making, on the ground in Iraq and at New York Headquarters. We also feel that both the report and your reaction to it place excessive emphasis on individual responsibility over and above the United Nations system's shared responsibility for security.

In addition, despite an internal investigation, we believe that neither of our colleagues has been allowed to fully defend themselves from the accusations which have been made against them.

We have worked for many years with Tun Myat and Ramiro Lopes da Silva, often in very difficult circumstances. They have consistently demonstrated the highest levels of professionalism, good judgment and integrity, which is why the announcement was greeted here in WFP with such incredulity. Tun Myat and Ramiro Lopes da Silva are two of the finest and most respected members of WFP.

Indeed, they form a significant part of the professional and role models which staff of the Programme adopts to contribute to our Organization's success and arguably lead role in certain UN system specialties. To see them and their years of dedicated service treated with such indifference and disrespect has had a severe demoralizing effect on UN staff in general and WFP staff in particular, leading many to question the basic principles of fairness and equality upon which the UN is based.

We find this situation unfair. We ask you to kindly reconsider your acceptance of any resignation letter from either of our colleagues, until such time as they have been afforded an opportunity to respond to the accusations made against them. We would also strongly recommend that, in due course, in order to re-address the balance in the media, you openly acknowledge the broader perspective of the extreme circumstances in which the UN was/is working in Iraq and acknowledge the UN system's shared responsibility for the failings.