15 December 2007


A few months ago we were told that the "Elders" had come to the rescue in Darfur. A photo opportunity was duly provided whereby an ever benevolent looking Bishop Desmond Tutu, an ever vaguely smiling former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and others we don't recall descended on the Sudan under the name of the "Elders" -- a rehashed idea of assembling some former senior officials into an authoritative policy impacting group. One of its founding members, former Secretary General Annan, was missing. Anyway, we never heard of that group since. What did they accomplish in Sudan? Did anyone there listen to them? Where are they now? Are they too busy to let us know? Only God knows. And that's good enough at least for our South African Bishop.


Five years ago, the Annan / Tharoor team thought they were about to control the Internet. During two "summits" attended mostly by some despotic heads of state seeking ways of blocking the new medium, there were negotiations, consultations, and maneuvers raising so many subsidiary questions but mainly aiming at taking over the authority for naming the growing number of websites; who authorizes the use of dot com or dot org? Now it is a California-based non-profit outfit called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). The political complaint is that the U.S. government has a voice in it and thus an edge over the guidance of domains. Countries with growing Internet activity like Brazil, India and Europe agree on the need for a more independent oversight, but disagree on how to do it. Enter anti-Internet forces, who use that claim as an excuse to block electronic communications altogether. Most professional users around the world agree that ICANN has done a very good job and that throwing the control up in the air to an unpredictable wide circle will only result in chaos and confusion. Yes, there are a number of problems to be confronted, like cyber crime, identify theft, pornography, ethnic bias. But these have little to do with assigning name domains. Some suspect that a number of authoritarian rulers, who have tried before, are persistently seeking a pretext to gain control. That's what they tried in Geneva and Tunis through an alliance of bureaucrats and autocrats. They failed. But they will try again.


Director Paula Refolo accomplished an impressive defense of the complex budget of her Department of Public Information. Entrusted by her Under-Secretary General to appear before the Financial and Budgetary (Fifth) Committee, she prepared her homework well enough to respond conclusively, patiently and clearly to queries by interested member states. Ms. Refolo's experience in handling various Assembly Committees on her way up the career ladder came in handy. The impressed Chairman of the Committee personally conveyed his appreciation of the way she presented herself and represented the Department.


Jan Beagle, Assistant-Secretary General for the Office of Human Resources Management has been appointed as Deputy Director General of the U.N. European Office in Geneva. After being long targeted, mostly unfairly, by a number of staff representatives, she now has an opportunity to make her own mark in a more welcoming atmosphere. Ms. Beagle has several old friends there in fairly helpful places and she would certainly make an effort to gain more friends once she gets there. Part of the problem in New York was she was not even given a chance. She was condemned and boycotted without the benefit of a dialogue or a healthy hearing. In Geneva, she could have a fresh start. Obviously, a first step would be to gain the full confidence of the Director General.


Ambassador Hassan Fodha, who formerly headed the U.N. Paris office under three Secretaries General spent a week in New York meeting former colleagues and senior diplomats. He also happened to attend the correspondent's annual luncheon for the Dag Hammarskjold's Scholarship Fund. Having served as Oman's ambassador in Geneva, Mr. Fodha joined the U.N. first in Brussels then in Paris where he was regularly entrusted with contact at the highest level between the Secretariat and the French government. He headed the newly-established European Regional Information Centre in Brussels before retiring to the academic field.


Korean member of Parliament Sim Joe Duck is no stranger to insider readers. He single-handedly advanced a "toilet revolution" in earnest defense of 2.6 billion individuals who urgently need proper relief. This November the World Toilet Association held its first conference in Seoul under the vigilant leadership of Mr. Duck (or Mr. Sim as long as you don't confuse him with another toilet enthusiast, Mr. Jack Sim of Singapore). Our Korean Sim (or Mr. Duck if you don't confuse him with Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo) was elected President unanimously. "The restroom revolution will provide hope and happiness to mankind" he promised. Known by now as "Mr. Toilet," Mr. Sim Duck, who was graciously received in New York this summer by the Secretary General, has built a toilet-shaped house in his hometown. According to an Associated Press dispatch, South Korea has sought to establish a "toilet culture" to improve restroom facilities "for hosting international events." It now holds annual contests to select the most pleasant facilities. Winning entries included a proposal with abundant natural light and plants; a boot-shaped building; and special bathrooms in South Korean naval ships. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General, has declared 2008 the U.N. International Year of Sanitation.


Why doesn't the President of the General Assembly help solve the dispute about the name of his country rather than make all the noise about opening the door of his office to a view of the East River. A recent news dispatch reported that Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) remain far apart in a dispute over the former Yugoslav republic's name, the U.N. mediator on the issue said in Skopje. "Progress in this latest round of talks was in getting ideas and views," Matthew Nimetz told reporters after meeting with President Branko Crvenkovski, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki. "This is not an easy issue and the positions here and in Greece are well known," he added.


Five rotating members of the Security Council were elected for a two year term, that is 2008 and 2009. They are: Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Libya, and Vietnam.


One U.N. Pakistani official in Kosovo must have been behaving very badly. His attitude drove the locals to describe him and his friends as "invaders" like those foreign forces that occupied the country over the centuries. While a few pompous Pakistanis would find it a joke to brag about, the leaders of that mission should make every effort to win back the host population, even if they have to send away the offensive Pakistani, regardless of who in Peacekeeping/New York is backing him.