15 February 2007


"The true measure of the success of the U.N. is how much we deliver for those who need us most."
-- New Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon


A visit to a grand mosque could not have been a surprise to World Bank Chief Paul Wolfowitz. Istanbul is not only the capital of a predominantly Moslem country but the historic seat of the Caliphate of the Ottoman Empire. Between every mosque and mosque lies a mosque. Also, having served as U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, the most populous Moslem country, Dr. Wolfowitz must have known that entering a mosque required taking off his shoes. Why, then, would a $400,000 a year man wear worn out socks that displayed protruding toes? The Turkish press was very glad to photograph, but the Turkish public wasn't impressed.


Some take a hint. Some need a nudge. But there are some who hang in there regardless. When the new Secretary General started to plan his new team, word went round suggesting voluntary resignations by those at Under-Secretary and Assistant Secretary General level. Gathering over a weekend in November, some were inclined to go along while others were determined to hear it "from the horse's mouth." As Mr. Ban took over in January, word went round again; then an official memo was sent officially requesting resignations. By end of January, 53 out of the 55 officials have complied. The remaining two include one on health grounds and another on principle.


On Saturday, 3 February, Secretary General Ban invited Under and Assistant Secretaries General to discuss his presentation of proposals to member states that following Monday. With his now trademark smile, he said he understood they all usually worked Saturdays and thus wanted to join them. An open -- and helpful -- exchange followed. When a specifically contentious topic was raised, there was a tense moment when most participants held their breath. It passed. But would its consequences linger?


A wider role is anticipated for Gere Pedersen, Special Representative of the Secretary General in Lebanon. With so many U.N. personalities and bodies playing a role, there is a risk of widened confusion: Mr. Larsen, claiming to follow up Resolution 559; UNIFIL commanders exploring their role after Resolution 1701; Judge Bremmentz investigating in light of Resolution 1595; the Executive Secretary of ESCWA officially holding the most senior role which is also a regional one; UNDP Res. Rep.; etc.; all these will require not a supervising boss but a political co-ordinator to report to the Secretary General in a coherent comprehensive way. We understand the decision has been taken but when it was about to be officially announced someone with influence intervened to block it -- temporarily. Meanwhile, Pedersen is practically performing this function by keeping in touch with differing parties in a very tense situation. He seems to be holding up well.


Over twelve posts at the Secretary General's office were announced on the Internet, starting with the D-2 of Speechwriter (it was a D-1 by the way, until Mortimer got a promotion combining it with "Communications Director"). Some staff are encouraged by the public invitation while others are wondering whether these posts are already spoken for and are merely announced as a formality. The advice is go for it. Apply and find out.


In the dark, people grope for whatever they can't see; indeed they see shadows and explain them in their own way. While trying to find out more about the incoming team with the new Secretary General, several birdwatchers in the U.N. building have been looking closely about those close to Mr. Ban, those whom he invites and listens to. There are growing references to Mr. Kim Won-Soo who seems to be around a lot. We are told he has been a long-time trusted adviser to Mr. Ban who came with him from the Foreign Ministry in Seoul. As the Secretary General has every right to appoint his immediate staff, it may be worthwhile to let everyone know that Mr. Kim has been appointed Deputy Chef de Cabinet and announce it at a briefing, to avoid those exaggerated whispers about a mystery man.


Canada and Norway apparently have a new kind of tourism: killing baby seals. They call it hunting; and it's a sport.

Is an armed man who shoots to kill helpless joyful baby seals a sportsman? Why would he do it? Just for fun? To prove his manhood? Is it really an advanced "developed" society that allows such barbaric murder of innocent wonderful-looking creatures? Is there no law against such barbaric sport? If not, are these truly civilized countries?


Could Spaceship Earth rest for 5 minutes? A grass root movement by a number of professionals in Europe circulated a proposal to have a "5 minute electric rest" for the Planet on 1 February 2007.

"This is not about saving 5 minutes of electricity," the organization said. "It is about getting the attention of the media, politicians and ourselves. Five minutes of electrical downtime for this planet does not take long, costs nothing, and will show all political leaders that global warming is an issue that needs to come first and foremost in political debate."

Why February 1st? This was the day when the new U.N. report on global climate change came out in Paris. "This event effects us all and provides an occasion to show how important the global warming issue is to us. If we all participate, this action can have real media and political weight," the organization continued. The group suggested 7:55pm to 8pm in Paris and 7:55pm to 8pm in the U.S. Eastern seaboard. We dutifully complied. Let's hope Mother Earth felt slightly better.


Mexico's former "Presidente" Vincente Fox may have had other priorities on his mind -- or perhaps just tired and forgetful when, in a speech to a public group, he stressed the urgent need for action on "coitu." Most likely, he was referring to the climate change agreement internationally known as the "Kyoto" accord. He may have been influenced by the name given at the time of that conference to the Fund for Climate Change (FUCC), a favourite of our former friend Jan Pronck.


A front page positive story ran in Beirut's main daily An-Nahar about new Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The paper reported at length about the open financial disclosure saying Mr. Ban was the first U.N. Secretary General to make his income public. He and his wife own their home. His financial evaluation is between one and two million from very clear sources of income. The paper's front page headline read: "Ban Ki-Moon is First Secretary General to Declare His Finances." It pointedly said that Mr. Annan had refused to divulge his financial situation on the claim that the Secretary General was not technically a staff member. Those responsible to send feedback from Lebanese papers either overlooked the story or failed to send it.


Very good feedback from Paris-based reporters about the performance of new Spokeswoman Michelle Montas during the Secretary General's recent visit to Paris. Not only French journalists but those from other nationalities who cover international activities felt she did her best to be helpful besides being very pleasant. Secretary General Ban attended a special conference to raise money to help in the reconstruction of Lebanon and shore up the prospects of Prime Minister Siniora's government. It was the first contact by some Lebanese media with Ms. Montas. They liked her.


Mukhtar Lamani, a former Moroccan diplomat at U.N. Headquarters, gave a recent example of honest performance when he announced that he was quitting his assignment as the representative of the League of Arab States in Baghdad. There was no Arab vision for handling the deteriorating situation in Iraq and he did not see how he could accomplish "anything positive and serious" from just hanging around. God knows, Lamani most likely needs the salary much more than those masquerading as special envoys, deputy specials and assistants to special specials. But he has his dignity, his concern for the tragedy in Iraq, and the credibility of his missions. He deserves our respect and best wishes.


Pity that Ali Baba is moving closer as his team of admirers had left the neighbourhood. Although the name now is restricted to a mere restaurant which got space at a 46th Street corner, the mere mention of the name would have filled their hearts with nostalgia and their eyes with tears. Where have you gone, Omega Man?!


"What would you rather have in your garden -- an almond tree or an oil well?"
-- Jean Giradoux


"If it is not good for the bees, it would not be good for the beehive."
-- Marcus Aurelius


Very few people in England knew who Shilpa Shetty was until she was distastefully treated on a television Channel 4 show "The Big Brother." Shilpa, an Indian actress, handled herself with dignity and grace. She did not hit back. But the audience felt there were racial remarks about her and came to her side. With beauty and charm, she represented what was captivating in her Indian culture. By the end of January, she was crowned queen of the show by popular vote. She may have been less known in London, but she got the main headline in the Mumbai Mirror.


After nine years in New York, Kazakhstan Ambassador Yerzhan Kh. Kazykhanov will be returning to Almaty to take a new position as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. A popular figure in the diplomatic, intellectual and social community, Ambassador Kazykhanov has gained many friends for his country -- not only through varied social gatherings, but also by highlighting the main policies of his emerging dynamic country through seminars, lectures at influential groupings like Asia Society, and audio-video events on Kazakhstan's pioneering role in nuclear disarmament. The elegant partnership with his gracious wife Danara helped to reach out to influential women groups active in the international community. We wish them good luck in their return to their country's new capital, though we still hope to see them often in New York.


We were saddened by the death of Angela King, a dedicated international civil servant, a pioneer fighter for gender equality, an effective participant in the fight against Apartheid. Angela King led the United Nationsí efforts for the empowerment of women with knowledge, passion and courage as the U.N. worked to translate into practice the Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. A fervent champion of the equality of women and men, and womenís enjoyment of their human rights, she knew that all parts of the U.N. had a responsibility to uphold those principles -- including in the area of peace and security. Ms. Kingís advocacy and partnership with civil society paved the way for the Security Councilís landmark resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security -- the Councilís first recognition of womenís essential role in peacebuilding, peacemaking and peace negotiations. She was equally committed to championing the cause of women staff members in the United Nations, and their equal opportunities in the work place. Her work for gender equality crowned an almost 40-year career with the United Nations, during which she also served as Chief of the U.N. Observer Mission in South Africa at the time of the countryís first democratic, non-racial elections. She will be mourned with profound affection and respect by many friends and allies around the world. Our most sincere condolences to her family. May her soul rest in peace.