1 August 2004

A recent crash of an U.N. chartered helicopter in Sierre Leone raised once more questions about who hires these planes? Who runs them? And what did investigations of previous crashes reveal? This time, there were 14 members of the Pakistan peacekeeping contingent, 1 from Bangladesh, 6 civilians and 3 crew members. There was a swift farewell and brief appropriate expressions of sorrow. The matter was preceded by other news. As usual, an investigation will follow. But what will it say? What happened to previous crashes and investigations?

Let's not raise now the miserable investigations on the catastrophic bombing of U.N. Baghdad office. The legacy of our dead colleagues, who became sacrificial lambs, will eventually get back to haunt those at U.N. Headquarters, who buried the event ceremoniously and moved on like nothing had happened.

But there were other crashes by U.N. chartered helicopters which remain a mystery to this day. A U.N. Special Representative, Bloundine Beye, was killed in one over Angola. He was an influential African francophone who had supported an extension for previous Secretary General Boutrous Ghali. After a solemn ceremony in the General Assembly assurances were made that the truth shall be found, the case faded away into oblivion. At least, his wife was given a symbolic job so she could survive -- trying to avoid any problems. There was also a crash in Mongolia after which eulogies were offered and, again, assurances given that they will get to the "bottom of this." The only bottom they got to was bringing the U.N. reputation down and raising suspicions that there may be something rotten in peacekeeping procurement (let alone stories about sex, drugs and videotapes!).

The general approach has been to say that we regret the dead but let's care for the living. You wouldn't do that if the dead were your loved ones and you would if the idea of the living means a clique that protects one another with impunity. Helicopters fly; it is corruption that kills.