15 July 2007


An unusual reference by Hamas Prime Minister Haniyah upon the release of Alan Johnston to the possible release of Israeli captive soldier Gelead Shalit raised expectations that some deal was in the making. Hamas officials are not usually given to such congenial references. It sounded like a deliberate plug at a "strategic" opportunity. Haniyah said a fruitful outcome in that case would be "a reflection of our human values." It would also open a window of opportunity to tell the Israelis (and Americans) that Hamas could deliver in weeks what Abbas could not deliver in a year. Interesting.


A clever cover was created for the surprise visit by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to Afghanistan. Those observing his appointments on the 38th floor were puzzled that his whole U.N. business for Thursday and Friday (28 - 29 June) consisted of "meeting with the Korean Foreign Minister" and meeting with members of the Korean Parliament. To explain the absence from the 38th floor office, it was indicated that the discussion will be held at the Korean Mission. As some were getting ready to accuse Mr. Ban of catering too much to his Korean home, the surprise visit to Kabul was announced. This time, it appeared that it was the Korean dimension that catered to the Secretary General rather than the other way round. That was an example of why the Korean press dubbed Mr. Ban, while his country's Foreign Minister, as the "slippery eel."


If you think that marking 9 July as International Gun Destruction Day is somewhat odd, then think of the following farce: The U.N. official in charge of commemorating it is the only known U.N. gun enthusiast who has been officially investigated for accepting a gun from its manufacturer. Mr. Maria Costa, Director General of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODOC) in Vienna was only questioned when his former Chief of Security blew the whistle. One of those swift investigations typical of the Annan/Riza era rebuked him with a letter of vague reprimand. In a move that raised speculation on the real motive, Mr. Annan extended his contract, unusually, years beyond his own term. Instead of laying low on the question of guns, Costa is now posturing about their destruction -- in Colombia!


Our distinguished Secretary General has adopted the "surge." Initially the term was mentioned by the U.S. President for Iraq. Yet, Ban Ki-Moon has picked it up and expanded on it. There is a "surge" in establishing peacekeeping missions, he pointed out at a certain point. There will be at least a 35 percent or 40 percent "surge," he advised the press in Geneva. This has been managed by "a small Department" and there have been serious problems -- lack of accountability, mismanagement, sexual abuse cases. That's why the Secretary General would like to make it more efficient by dividing it (meaning that "small" Department) into two. "There is no exact term as to who is under and who is above."


"SRSG Ashraf Qazi forcefully condemned yesterday's bombing of the historically significant Al-Khillani Mosque in the heart of Baghdad." WHERE IS Ashraf Qazi anyway? What is he doing? Is the Special Representative of the Secretary General in Iraq actually in Iraq? How much time does he spend there? Whom does he see? Who talks to him? Has he ever realized how useless he has been? Does he have any qualms about cashing in on a salary of an Under Secretary General while being ridiculously irrelevant? Wake up, Qazi, it's time for siesta!


Suddenly it has become very "chic" to be "pour Darfur." After years of "benign neglect," political gatherings over that destitute region are mushrooming and political players are tripping on one another to display enthusiasm or "do something." A recent meeting in Paris called by the new President was a specially attractive media event. It did not matter that no Africans attended -- neither the Sudanese government, nor its neighbours. As long as Eliasson, Ahlstrom, Guehenno et al were there, progress could be claimed. Those "nowhere" characters were busy talking about the nuanced difference between CPA and DPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement and Darfur Peace Agreement, respectively). A "Road Map" may not be far behind. Obviously, the suffering people of that destitute terrain are totally unaware of that creeping irrelevance.


While Robert Orr managed to fend for himself to remain in the Secretary General's office under the banner of Climate Change, Professor Ed Luck seems to have made his own inroad. Searching for a suitable cover title, those advising the Secretary General proposed giving Mr. Luck the task of Special Representative (or something similar) for the "Responsibility to Protect." While it may be too complicated to explain, it refers to a proposal two years ago by a predominately Canadian group on peacekeeping highlighting the need to intervene in order to protect minorities, promote democracy or defend human rights. No one could argue against that, especially if the designation is vaguely worded.


The helpless Chef de Tandoori almost broke down in tears during a recent questioning by members of the influential Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ). While being asked for required answers for approval of the budget, he kept shifting his head (and sometimes his shoulders) as if looking for breathing space. He did not seem to have anything substantive to add, even with the prodding of some potentially helpful members. There is widespread talk that he is so despondent these days he may soon find himself next to his friend, the former Chef de Cebab.


British actor Michael Caine described in the London Sunday Times his early days in Hollywood waiting to act in a film with Shirley MacLaine. While staying in the hotel, he met some screen idols of the time, including John Wayne who gave the aspiring actor the following advice: "Remember -- talk low, talk slow, and don't say too much."


...is someone who knows how to play the bagpipes, but doesn't.


Slightly Tipsy Diplomat to Driver: Take me to the U.N.
Driver: We are at the U.N., Sir
Slightly Tipsy Diplomat: Very well. But next time don't drive too fast.


"I don't even know what street Canada is on." ...Al Capone
"A successful man is one who makes more money than his wife can spend. A successful woman is one who can find such a man." ...Lana Turner
"If you look at your passport photo, you will realize how much you need your holiday." ...Earl Wilson


Who said peace is not profitable. Just talking about it with a group of students would make you $160,000 richer. Ask the surprised students of the University of Colorado. They found out that their administration had to shell out that amount of money (when it is fundraising for survival) so that outgoing U.N. Secretary General could tell them that they have to work together for peace. Lend your shoulder.


An announcement from somewhere in Africa that former Secretary General Kofi Annan will be working for Bill and Melinda Gates and the Rockefeller Foundation to make Africa "Green" raised a number of chuckles at U.N. Headquarters. If Mr. Annan, now a resident of Switzerland, was not that helpful in the Greening of Africa during his ten year tenure, why and how could he make a difference now? A more cynical view was that it was all a media gimmick and the only "Green" that will grow would be in Mr. Annan's bank account. That's harsh. Mr. Annan had worked for forty years at the U.N. and -- except for the scandal-ridden second term as Secretary General -- had performed an admirable job as head of Personnel and Treasurer. Grandstanding aside, he is entitled to every penny acquired legitimately -- whether green or ashanti gold.


The new Under Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, Mr. Sha Zukang, took over his new functions on 22 June. He is the first Chinese national to take over one of the most substantive departments in the Secretariat. After all, it supposedly symbolizes one of the main twin objectives of the United Nations. That move reflects growing influence by China which for years was limited to overseeing conference services. Those who know the new Under Secretary General in previous capacities have only high praise for his management experience and political acumen. He now has the opportunity -- and challenge -- to prove it.


The Permanent Representative of France to the U.N., Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, is scheduled to leave his post in September. A new representative of that Permanent Security Council member is likely to start with the new session of the General Assembly. The diminutive ambassador, who arrived on 3 December 2003, may hope to go to Washington, succeeding his former predecessor in New York, who is now a special adviser to the new French President Nicholas Sarkozy. But there may be other influential seekers for that crucial post in the U.S. capital. Ambassador de la Sabliere did not have the impact that most of his predecessors had on U.N. political life. Most likely he had to go along with the prevailing atmosphere, but admirers of his country and its symbolic unique culture were not too impressed. They hope that his departure would signal a more creative role and would also be a prelude to the disappearance of another disappointing French diplomat: Jean-Marie Guehenno.


Almost no one in the building at U.N. Headquarters knows what Ocampo looks like. Annan's appointed Under Secretary General for Social Development has a large title but little presence. Now that he is about to leave, we have spotted him, though not in New York. He was in Vienna attending some pro forma function actually run by his ever smiling Director Guido Bertucci. Ocampo was seated (very politely) looking round as if anxious to find out what he should do next. We only found out who he was because one of the recipients of a farcical "good management" prize went to a Sheikh from Dubai; so Dubai TV covered the event with elaborate pump. Ocampo provided the circumstance. Now that we recognize his face, we'd say hello as we say good-bye.


An experienced diplomat with case knowledge of U.N. intricate work will be taking over soon as Japan's Permanent Representative to the U.N. Ambassador Yukio Takasu, who served in the mid-nineties as U.N. Treasurer during a very delicate period, continued to deal with international issues after his return to Tokyo, which led him to visit Headquarters regularly, keeping in touch with key players and current issues. His presence in a regular assignment in New York is a gain for both his country Japan and the U.N.


Judge at the International Court of Justice and Egypt's former Permanent Representative, Nabil El Araby, was a recent guest on Al-Jazeera TV's "Special Visit." Responding to an obviously well-prepared list of questions, he spoke about his first stint in New York as an UNITAR fellow in the sixties, his participation at the Camp David negotiations, and the elaborate legal battle over Taba and Sharm El-Sheikh. Reserved as ever, he merely responded to queries on the fine line he had to straddle between the utterances of President Sadat and his personal relationship with brother-in-law, Arab media Oracle Muhammad Hassanein Haikal. While Ambassador El Araby did not reveal any secrets, he obviously gained the respect of the reporter Sami Kleib, who concluded by saying he had forgotten to ask about the origin of his name, translated as "the noble Arab," but that the diplomat's behaviour offered an adequate explanation.


As predicted by www.unforum.com a year ago, former Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch-Brown has been appointed a minister in the newly formed U.K. cabinet of P.M. Gordon Brown. The man who within one year saved Secretary General Annan from an almost certain disgraced exit has been appointed Minister for Africa Asia and the U.N. He is the only one from outside the British political parties to join the Government. He will become a Peer and sit in Labour benches. While there are several members in the new Brown cabinet who are friendly to the U.N., including of course the Prime Minister, we know that MMB will always be there to support the Organization. We would also wish him good luck in his new incarnation.


A welcome addition to Reuters' U.N. office, Patrick Worsnip, who covered some of the toughest spots like Teheran during the hostage crisis and Beirut during the civil war, has arrived in New York. His solid journalistic credentials and proven political experience is a welcome addition to the U.N. accredited correspondents.


Let's face it. The irrepressible Ian Williams ("the deadline pundit" who passes off occasionally as "the rum punch pundit") scooped everyone on the Alvaro de Soto's end of mission report. He made the best out of it, starting with a hard-hitting cleverly written story in the British Guardian. Since then the Secretary General's office has been trying to find out who leaked the report, assuming rightly of course, that our Peruvian "bird of passage" could not have done it himself. In earlier times, Ian and Alvaro were not on the best of terms. Problem is that there is no one at the Secretary General's office with enough inside contacts to find out. The predominately Korean team has not yet discovered its way around the labyrinth and if they are counting on the clueless Chef de Tandoori they will have to wait forever. We hear that an enterprising DPI staffer volunteered to help as a prelude to moving upstairs. That would be worth another leaked report. The competition for finding out the leaker could be a take off on a W.C. Fields quip. The first prize would be for Ian to spend one week at the 38th floor; the second prize would be two weeks.


Increasing the number of qualified male trainers in gender training for security personnel is one of the key conclusions of an online expert-group discussion hosted by United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW), the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). The recommendations of this e-discussion are released on the eve of a three-day "training of trainers" in gender equality for personnel from various U.N. peacekeeping missions. This workshop is organized by the U.N. Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and held at UN-INSTRAW headquarters in Santo Domingo. During the three-week virtual discussion carried out in April, more than 140 specialists from around the globe exchanged field experiences and discussed how to make gender trainings more effective for security sector personnel such as military, police and prison staff, peacekeepers and the justice system. "Many of the security institutions -- military, police, peacekeepers -- are dominated by men," pointed out Carmen Moreno, UN-INSTRAW Director. "How can they fulfill their mandate of protecting both men and women if they are blind to gender issues? Knowing more about how differently men and women experience conflict helps security personnel respond better to gender-based violence and prevent sexual abuse," continued Ms. Moreno. The virtual discussion on gender training for security sector personnel took place as part of an on-going joint project which focuses on the development of a hands-on toolkit for practitioners on how to integrate gender issues into security sector reforms. Upon the experts' request, the organizing institutions are now considering setting up a permanent platform on gender training for security personnel in order to sustain the exchange of knowledge and practices.


A Centre for Accountability of International Organizations (with the welcome acronym of CAIO) was just announced in Geneva. CAIO "was formed in response to a demand from Staff Associations, Staff Unions and a recognition from the Geneva and International Legal Community of system problems within the U.N. and international organizations: the lack of legal protection for international Civil Servants and third parties who are victims of civil and criminal wrongs," according to its declaration, which listed the following goals:

  1. To promote means to ensure international organizations are held properly accountable for their actions, and to prevent the abuse of privileges and immunities.
  2. To promote the development of criteria necessary to ensure the accountability of international organizations.
  3. To promote transparent and effective means to ensure the rights of those having dealings with international organizations (including employees) are properly respected.
  4. To promote the implementation of measures to ensure international organizations conform to their obligations under international and national law.
  5. To support initiatives aiming to improve the standard of legal protection provided for those having dealings with international organizations.


Microsoft's Bill Gates is no more the richest man in the world. He has been overtaken by Mexican-Lebanese business executive Carlos Slim whose "America Movil" communications venture rose 26.5 percent over the last quarter. That gave him a $9 billion edge. Until earlier this year, Gates was estimated at $56 billion, while Slim counted at $53 billion. Now, our rich cousin has gotten richer, that is, at least $6 billion ahead of Kofi Annan's new employer. We have usually opted for another Mexican-Lebanese, the gorgeous Selma Hayek. But with Movil moving ahead single-handedly with such an accomplishment, we salute Don Carlos with a special tribute. Carlos Slim Helu started with 5000 Mexican pesetas from his father, an immigrant from Lebanon.


Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has appointed Choi Soon-hong of South Korea as Chief Information Technology Officer at the level of Assistant Secretary General. He will be responsible for all substantive and operational needs on information and communication technologies of the United Nations. This will involve developing, maintaining and monitoring the implementation of effective tools and strategies to modernize the organization. Mr. Choi has 30 years of technical and management experience in the public and private sectors. He has a PhD from George Washington University, having joined the International Monetary Fund where he served as its Head of Information Technology Services since 2004. He has lectured and researched in the fields of strategic management and innovation. Recent research interests include globalization, technology competition, digital society, knowledge sharing, and ICT for development. He will join as of September 1.