UNITED NATIONS. SECURITY BLUES

 

15 SEPTEMBER 2008

SECURITY BLUES

The Honourable Sir David Veness fell on his sword. How about someone else doing the right thing too? We don't mean politically correct statements, but real accountability, real action taken, real measures other than business as usual.

These were difficult days of sad memories. We commemorated our beloved colleagues, Sergio, Nadia and all the Baghdad staff, who gave the ultimate sacrifice, proving that the U.N. culture means dedication, and hard team work. Also, at U.N. headquarters, we also commemorated 9/11, a day of criminal horror and infamy when all of us became New Yorkers. It was also a reminder of our recent tragedy in Algiers where, once again, U.N. staff paid the price through no fault of their own.

While two investigations on Baghdad were a pathetic slap on the wrist to some politically-backed senior officials, and an exaggerated punishment to unsheltered lower level staff, the jury is still out for the investigation on Algiers.

Yes, there was the usual Brahimi report. Some understandably questioned whether former Algerian Foreign Minister would come out with a credible result; but the seasoned diplomat had proven long ago that, while proud to be Algerian, he has gone way beyond his national dimension. The result of that report was another report, awaited soon, on accountability. The challenge for Ralph Zachlin, an outstanding jurist and an experienced senior international civil servant, is that the lines seem to be already drawn. The Butler did it. That's what we were initially told. If he points elsewhere, he could be rocking a barely balanced boat.

It is always easier to reprimand a good soldier than a sheltered rebel. U.N. Security has been a convenient scapegoat on so many occasions. That poor fellow from Myanmar was fired without due process, while the consummate shredder drafted those wink-wink / nudge-nudge letters to distinguished members of the Iraq Crisis Group. In the Algiers case, U.N. Security again was boxed in; carefully, by the round and round, but boxed in nevertheless. No politico would be blamed, neither at the U.N. nor within the Algerian government.

It is generally agreed that the U.N. flag is less safe these days than before. But the greatest Security mechanism could not help an already eroded political image. If a Special Representative or Resident Co-ordinator is popularly perceived to be hostile or biased or suspect, Sir David Veness, Scotland Yard and Interpol combined could not help. Security people do their best. U.N. Security people have been known to be amongst the best. But with so many political envoys, often U.N. part-timers, running freely with their own agendas, the U.N. staff and the U.N. flag will be at a vulnerable risk.

Remembering our 19 August colleagues, Secretary General Ban reiterated a pledge to protect U.N. staff around the world. "We cannot eliminate risk, of course," he said, noting that our world has become increasingly dangerous every day. Grateful as we all are to his assurances, we will have to point out that his purpose could be accomplished more effectively if and when hard-working, dedicated Security staff are not singled out as exclusively delinquent on every politically convenient occasion, and when senior political envoys and special representatives are held more accountable, more clearly.

Sir David, like a true Knight in shining armour, took personal responsibility. Isn't there any other senior official accountable?