15 DECEMBER 2015


UN Agencies have announced that more than 60 million people worldwide have been forced to flee their homes because of conflicts, in search of safer refuge. These are not just figures; they relate to individuals like you and me who need and are entitled to dignity of life every minute of every day, and are left in the open to fend for themselves. That is perhaps why the proclaimed 17 Sustainable Development Goals with 169 targets seem to sound too farcical to believe.


For 27 years, Ambassador Roble Olhaye, who passed away in early December, represented Djibouti at the United Nations in New York, at the U.S. capital in Washington D.C., and in Canada. It was often a very delicate task, particularly as his geographically strategic country lies next door to active or simmering conflicts. He was, at the time of his death, the longest-serving ambassador to the United States and consequently held the post of Dean of the Diplomatic Corps. His cool courteous manner and informed, open approach won admiration of his diplomatic colleagues and his country, which offered him its highest reward. Mr. Olhaye served as President of the Security Council in 1994, and Chairman of the Sanctions Committee on Haiti. While a member of the Security Council Mission to Mozambique, he helped in the process of democratic elections held in 1994. As Dean of the African diplomatic corps in Washington, D.C., he received one of Djibouti's highest medals of honour for improving how the nation was viewed internationally. Mr. Olhaye is survived by his wife and five children. May his soul rest in peace.


This time, a man was replaced by a woman. Catherine Pollard of Guyana was designated by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to take over beginning December as the new Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management. Since 2014, Pollard served as Assistant Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, prior to which she served as Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management from 2008 to 2014. She was previously Chief of Staff in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and before that, the Director of the Peacekeeping Finance Division in the Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts. Pollard’s career at the United Nations began in 1989 when she worked with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as the Chief of National Execution Projects. In 1993, she joined the Department for Peacekeeping Operations, and then worked as Chief Budget Officer for the United Nations Operations in Yugoslavia and Central Headquarters. Thereafter, she served as Chief of the Budget and Finance Section of the United Nations Volunteers. During her 26 years with the United Nations, she has acquired a solid foundation of the United Nations culture, organizational and operational structures, global initiatives and reform efforts in accordance with the Secretary-General’s priorities and strategies. In each of her assignments at senior levels, she has helped to effect real improvements in management practices, moving away from the status quo.


Those who thought that Jamal Benomar, former envoy to Yemen, was Moroccan, were surprised to learn that he was actually from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. A "veteran senior UN leader" was how Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described him in a recent statement designating him as his "special advisor at the level of Under-Secretary-General." Insiders noted that Mr. Benomar had been suddenly replaced a few months ago in Yemen, before he was suddenly reinstated, although in a different capacity. Who was behind his dismissal, then, and his return now, is a matter of speculation. What is obvious, though, is that the UN Mission of Yemen has embarrassingly deteriorated. The reinstatement statement refers at length to his accomplishment "to facilitate the combined efforts of the international community," and the negotiations that led to the "transition agreement" in 2001, facilitating the Yemen National Dialogue Conference in 2013. Mr. Benomar had previously worked in the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Development Programme, as well as the UN Department of Political Affairs. He also served in Afghanistan. Before that, he worked at former U.S. president Jimmy Carter's center on mediation issues.


The UNWOMEN Training Center is mobilizing male and female supporters to join in specific activities to sharpen the focus on violence against women. A training workshop, "Looking Within," was held in Rome to deal with violence against women. Under the umbrella of the 16 Days of Activism to Eliminate Violence against Women and Girls, the UN Women Training Centre, in collaboration with the World Food Programme, delivered two workshops on Understanding Masculinity and Violence against Women and Girls. The workshops took place 1-4 December in Rome, Italy, for two days each. Upcoming events include the Advanced Participatory Gender Audit Facilitator Certification online from 8-24 March, and a face-to-face certification in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic from 4-8 April followed by another workshop entitled "Why We Care About Care" from 2 May - 7 July 2016.


On Friday November 20, the Consul General of Lebanon in New York, Mr. Majdi Ramadan, and his wife Mrs. Vanessa Raphael Ramadan, hosted a reception on the occasion of the Independence Day of Lebanon on behalf of the Consulate General of New York. The reception was held at the Grand Ball Room in downtown Manhattan and attended by many guests, both members of the Lebanese community and others. The art exposition set up around the room, as well as the Lebanese music and slideshows playing in the background created a warm atmosphere for much discussion, which paused only during the performance of the Lebanese and U.S. national anthems and a brief speech by the Consul General in which he reminded attendees not only of the celebration-worthy occasion that brought everyone together, but also of the difficult times underway, encouraging mindfulness and support by all.


On Wednesday, November 4, the UNSRC Symphony Orchestra held a Fall Concert at the Merkin Concert Hall. The UNSRC Orchestra is the community ensemble of the United Nations Staff. Conducted by Predrag Vasic with first violin Anne-Chris Visser, the orchestra performed "Overture in Italian Style" by Schubert, "Overture in 'the Hebrides'" by Mendelssohn, and Beethoven's "Two romances for violin and orchestra" and "Symphony No. 6 ('Pastorale')".


British singer Adele was New York's favorite visitor in November. While headlines reported terrorist attacks, catastrophic migration, and continued conflicts everywhere, the casual, unassuming British singer was received with open admiration at "Saturday Night Live" and on Jimmy Fallon's "The Tonight Show," where indeed Jimmy Fallon performed her comeback single along with The Roots and Adele herself. Her album, 25, broke all-time records by selling over three million copies within its first week, and five million by the third. Her popular song "Hello" reached more than 500 million hits on YouTube. A popular refrain in the song is about "calling from the other side." That prodded some typical New Yorkers to circulate a "fun-silly pun": Why did Adele cross to the other side? To say hello.


Revived folk songs were presented by Brandi Carlile at Broadway's Beacon Theatre, where together with a group of friends she celebrated Christmas in her own way, to the rapture of so many young followers. Reportedly, even President Obama likes one of her songs, "Wherever Is Your Heart," which reportedly is on his iPod.


"You can Dance in a Hurricane,
Only if you're standing in the Eye."
- From a song by Brandi Carlile


The elder diva appeared at the prestigious theatre of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, attended mostly by men and women of a certain age who knew her since she started in the late sixties with songs like "Chelsea Morning," which inspired future President Bill Clinton and his wife Hilary Rodham to name their daughter after her. However, Judy's performance this time was disappointing. She talked more than she sang; it was almost a monologue interrupted by songs unfamiliar to most of the audience, mostly ending with her shouting out a high-pitched "hooo." The audience, who mostly wanted her to sing her most famous songs like "Suzanne" had to listen patiently to her talking about how she met "a young man from Colorado called Robert Zimmerman who became known as Bob Dylan," how she lived on Hudson and 10th Street, how Leonard Cohen knocked at her door to introduce himself, and how she did not tell Leonard's son, Adam, that she had actually put him through college. One consolation was that she concluded by singing one of her known songs, Where are the Clowns.


The UN forces of Lebanon, UNIFIL, were caught in a political security case on whether immunity could be granted to a local staff member officially accused by the Lebanese government of spying. Beirut papers reported that while the suspects were held for investigation, certain UNIFIL officials - or at least the person directly involved - initially claimed diplomatic immunity in line with the Vienna Convention. A couple of days later, it was clarified that immunity did not apply in that particular case.


"Mi Verdad," a new highly popular song in Latin music, is a joint performance by the most popular Mexican pop group Maná and the marvelous Colombian-Lebanese singer Shakira. The song's video shows a very affectionate reunion while Shakira appears in her late pregnancy. "Mi Verdad" could be interpreted by performers or listeners in their own way, but for Shakira it would mean welcoming her newly born son: "tu eres mi amor, mi alegria, la verdad de mi vida, mi bebé que me calma el alma con risas; tu eres mi refugio y mi verdad." (Photo from shakiraapp.com)


Despite his eventual withdrawal from public attention, Maurice Strong, a loyal son of Canada and devoted internationalist, was a pioneer in mobilizing the international campaign on the environment. Having had an early experience as a young man at the New York United Nations Headquarters, he returned years later after acquiring wider and richer qualifications to initiate and eventually head the first major UNEP operation in Gigiri, Kenya. Mr. Strong was also a pivotal figure in the 1992 conference in Rio de Janeiro on environment and development, where he played a substantive role in drawing up a major agreement. He remained actively involved in UN issues, particularly climate change, where he was also a prominent pioneer working closely at the time with US Vice President Al Gore. It is a pity that Mr. Strong was not similarly awarded for his duly reported and equally unreported efforts. He returned briefly to the UN when Mr. Annan took over as Secretary-General to initially oversee the reform process, though he had to leave on an embarrassing administrative issue. He moved on, but never lost his interest in international work, nor did he withhold his support from UN activities, particularly in his favorite field. May he rest in Peace.


The designation of a new High Commissioner for Refugees has now been settled. Following an open indication of an effort by an outgoing Danish Prime Minister to get that post in Geneva, the Secretary-General moved to designate Filippo Grandi of Italy to succeed António Guterres as the new head. Mr. Grandi has over 30 years of experience in international cooperation, and has previously served as Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the Secretary-General's Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the UNHCR's Chief of Mission in Afghanistan and Chief of Staff in the High Commissioner's Executive Office at Headquarters, and vast UNHCR field experience.


Former international civil service staff received a note that during the latter part of December, retirees who are covered by Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield will receive a new insurance card in the mail with a new insurance ID number. This change is necessary to accommodate the 8-digit index numbers issued by the United Nations to new staff. This information is also available on the UN website. Retirees with Medicare may have noticed a discrepancy in their November 2015 benefit. Please note that the issue has nothing to do with the reimbursement of the Medicare premium. Detailed information on this will follow soon. Information also available on: the UN web page