15 April 2008


Renaissance Man, Alvaro de Soto former Under-Secretary General whose concluding memo on the Israeli-Palestinian question raised many issues, is not likely to remain idle for too long. A refined writer with a knack for turning a literary phrase into a straight arrow, Alvaro is no doubt drafting a book project on his life as a "bird of passage" who was first brought by Don Javier Perez de Ceullar as the only Peruvian, kept by Dr. Boutros-Ghali as a media adviser and maintained by Kofi Annan as a sensible Special Representative in Western Sahara, Cyprus and -- last but not least -- the Palestinian question. And there's the rub. Stay tuned.


Those following the first press encounter for Chief Investigator Bellemare noted the effective presence of Ashraf Kamal, an experienced hand, at his press side. Ashraf, who had represented staff issues for years had served temporarily with former Investigator Brammertz, only to return to Headquarters as Spokesman for the outgoing President of the General Assembly, Sheikha Haya of Bahrain. Having joined the new team, he is expected to stay in the Monteverde compound in Mount Lebanon while effectively keeping in touch with colleagues in New York. Good Luck Ashraf.


A somewhat triumphant sounding communique announced on 8 April that African Union and U.N. Special Envoys Salem Salem and Jan Eliasson, will be in Sudan for a week (one week - Bravo!) to "conduct consultations with officials of the Government of National Unity." To avert any misunderstanding, it is pointed out that these consultations are "a follow-up of recent informal consultations" (so, now it's formal!) held with "regional partners and members of the International community in Geneva last month". There was no indication who such "partners" were and how really relevant they were to accomplishing any progress. What we know is that an effort to bring to Geneva a key rebel figure (who resides in a nearby European country) failed despite threatening him with expulsion. And whom would the twin dynasaurs meet in Sudan? Not the President nor any real power, but with Sudan Chief Negotiator (read designated procrastinator) Nafie Nafie (which means in Arabic "Useful the Useful"), a Senior Assistant to the President Minnie Minnieawi (how impressive) and the Foreign Minister, the lonely Deng Alors (most likely a Southerner in temporary Northern clothing!). What will they discuss? "The way forward," according to the official statement. Way to go, Jan.


During a solemn commemoration of the Rwanda massacre, a short thug-looking man noisily pushed his way as he arrived towards the last few minutes huffing and puffing his way to be seen next to other African ambassadors. He apparently caught the last few words of a female representative of the survivors who had lamented the silence of the international community in 1994 and expressed her hope that massacres will not be allowed elsewhere, like in Darfur. The thuggish-looking jumpy short man took exception -- there should be no reference to Darfur, he opined to a lowly functionnaire before pushing off elsewhere. Who was he? Possibly a diplomat. Possibly a body guard. Possibly both.


"Winnie the Pooh Doesn't Know What to Do
Got a honey jar stuck to his nose
He came to me asking help and advice
But from here no one knows where he goes
So we asked him to find from the owl if he's there
How to loosen a jar from the nose of a bear?
So help me help if you can.
We're back to the days
Back to the ways
of Whooo...oooooh!"
-- The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band


When they catch a chinchilla in Chile
They cut off its beard willy nilly
With a small razor blade
Just to say they have made
A Chilean chinchilla chin chilly.


Despite their tragic state of affairs, Palestinians have communicated their own jokes about a leading member of the ruling Authority, Rouhi Fattouh, who was caught attempting to smuggle 3,000 cell phones on the Allenby Bridge between Jordan and Israeli-occupied territory. Fattouh, who took over as Interim President upon the death of Mr. Arafat, is a senior adviser to President Abbas, who reportedly requested an investigation. Email messages in Ramallah suggested that Mr. Fettouh has been awarded the Nokia medal at the VIP level in appreciation of his innovative ways of using his official status to ensure wider corruption amongst the fraternity running the West Bank.


Many things for the Chef to worry about. Chicken Tikka Masala as we know it is reportedly endangered on account of a shortage of assistant cooks who would know the difference between Nindaloo, Korma or Pasanda. Although on occasion, one can get away with a curry in a hurry, but to keep going one needs a sous-chef aware of the intricacies of the kitchen.


"I call on men around the world to lead by example: to make clear that violence against women is an act perpetrated by a coward and that speaking against it is a badge of honour. I call on Member States around the world: the responsibility, above all, lies with you. I call on all of you to pledge with me: United We Shall Succeed."
-- Secretary General Ban Ki-moon


Despite the announcement that an "experienced gender official" was chosen to head the U.N. Fund for Women (UNIFEM), some third world women's networks complained that the U.N. Secretariat had bowed to pressure in making the appointment. While the UNDP Administrator, who makes the decision in consultation with the Secretary General, indicated that Ines Alberdi of Spain was the top choice after a "comprehensive and extensive process." However, DAWN -- a network of third world researchers and activities in women issues -- circulated a statement that the number one on the short list was its founding member, Dr. Gita Sen. Clearly, a need for consensus is crucial for a Fund that provides financial and technical assistance to promote women's rights and gender equality. Perhaps the appointment of an Indian was made less likely with the appointment at the same time of an Indian expert Ajay Chhiber as Assistant Administrator of UNDP and head of its Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific. Also, the selection of Ms. Alberdi may have been helped by the fact that her country is the biggest contributor to the Fund.


A welcome change in U.N. presence in Cyprus may accompany some positive movement towards an agreed accommodation between Greek and Turkish communities. The paralysis over the last few years was mainly due to factors within the island and with neighbouring countries. But seeming U.N. incompetence made the situation look worse. Outgoing representative Michael Muller, a relatively junior staffer whose assignment got to his head after he leapfrogged during Mr. Annan's tenure, was totally boycotted by the Turks who considered him entirely on the Greek side. Newly-appointed Special Representative Taye Zerihoun is an experienced level-headed international civil servant, well-liked and highly-regarded by his colleagues and officials of countries with whom he worked. His last mission was in the Sudan where his talents could have been better utilized. Let's hope he'll get his chance in Cyprus.


A "secret" meeting was arranged in Geneva to persuade Darfur leader Abdel Wahed Mohammed Nur to soften his negotiating position. U.N. envoy Eliasson was there, supported by some representatives of Security Council Permanent members. In raising the pressure, Nur, who currently resides in France, was threatened that he could be looking for somewhere else to stay if he stuck to his position. His response was that it will be very unlikely for a country like France, with an established culture of freedom, to force him out. Eliasson and his heavy-handed associates did not have a Plan B.


Balkan operator, current General Assembly President Srjan Kerim, looks somewhat subdued these days -- possibly as the time approaches for the election of his successor. Recent ceremonial events showed him somewhat somber and not very attentive to his hair style. His attempts to get more funds for travel and entertainment and transport did not yield required results, particularly since already over $280,000 are allocated for his expenditures. He initially claimed that the amount was not adequate "to allow him the proper discharge of his duties." Under repeated media queries, his office explained that there is an arrangement between his regular employer, a P.R. firm, and his government to cover most of his requirements. As to his demand of a credit card and similar perks, he explained that he did not really seek them but "merely enquired about his entitlements and obligations." Well, come September, he won't have any -- not even that enforced view overlooking the East River. Bonjour Tristesse.


For a while, it seemed that U-2 lead singer Bono was courting specific personalities within the U.N. system as part of a Public Relations Feel Good campaign. Possibly to break out of that impression, Bono has been making specific efforts to indicate that he supports causes not individuals; he is in the fight against poverty, not just at media-covered receptions. Let's welcome Bono as pro-UNO.


The titles of the post keep changing but its task remains the same: handling relations among the increasing number of U.N. agencies, Funds, Programmes, Offices -- constituting a loosely linked galaxy. The post has been vacant since over a year when its incumbent left. The process has started then slowed down for a while then recently picked up again with a short list, headed by an Austrian diplomat who had served in his mission to the U.N. some years ago. Apparently, no experience or knowledge of inner U.N. workings is necessary these days; only influential recommendations.


Leaving the post of Special Representative in Lebanon unattended, particularly during these challenging times, has further eroded the U.N. stature in Beirut. While Mr. Pedersen performed a credible job, gaining respect by all parties, a prolonged vacancy may not only eclipse the political dimension of the U.N. effort, but would reflect negatively on the incoming representative. In that regard, we hear that the process is moving ahead and the frontrunner is Belgium's Ambassador to the U.N., current Security Council member, Johan Verbeke, who was likely to be changed with the change of government in Brussels.