25 June 2004
RUNIC - EUROPE:
Let's hope the experiment works. Now that the "old" European offices were recklessly closed under the
banner of reform, some staff were moved to a "Regional U.N. Information Centre for Europe." The office
space is not yet ready but experienced and dedicated staff from some of the closed offices are trying
their best. They are led by Hassan Fodha who as Paris Director has impressed four successive Secretaries
General. His deputy is Andreas Niklisch who served in Vienna and Prague. Others include one of the most
competent Information officers, Ana Tello from Lisbon and Carlos Jimenez from Spain. Another Madrid
staffer, the bright and brilliant Sonsoles Massa handles the administration. A remarkable addition is
an electronic website team trying to cater to most European languages. Clerical help is accumulating.
An official car is on its way. (Remind me to tell you about the story of the car some other time.)
The location is not far from the European Commission. Earlier this year the Secretary General ostensibly
opened the new premises launching a regional European initiative. In fact, the party was held at the
entrance hall -- a "photo-op" to be pursued, hopefully not much later.
Handpicked by Kofi Annan to become High Commissioner for Refugees over other candidates proposed by
the Dutch government, Ruud Lubbers is being officially investigated for sexual intimidation. Already
three women from within the office have come forward plus one from the outside. The former Prime
Minister is not taking such sexual accusations lying down. He is making threatening noises which
apparently drew a telephone call from Mr. Annan. While an angry comment by Chief Inspector Neer
thought that "the man was bringing discredit" to himself, the man himself, who is not very popular
amongst the HCR staff, seemed confident enough to tell an audience at a recent festival in
Amsterdam that he intended to stay until 2005. What does he know?!
NO BORE FROM SINGAPORE:
It may turn out that the head of the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight needs to be investigated.
Dileep Nair, known to some skeptics as the "Bore from Singapore," could provide some excitement after
all -- though not the type helpful to him or the Organization he is supposed to safeguard. Fox News
and NY Post, both owned by "our friend" Rupert Murdoch (whose only daughter married a wonderful young
doctor from Ghana) -- were on the case. They claimed he was accused of demanding kickbacks and sexual favours
in return for promotions inside his office. It maybe recalled that Dileep is investigating another
senior U.N. official, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers for sexual harassment. Is it
A FAREWELL TO PRESIDENT REAGAN:
The funeral of President Ronald Reagan was not only an American event, but attracted
international participation. Prominant heads of state and world leaders who had dealt with him,
including Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher and Perestroika leader Mikhail Gorbachev, made a special
appearance. Former President George H. Bush, who had served as Reagan's Vice President, made an
emotional and touching speech in which he recalled the former President's wit: When asked how did
his meeting with Bishop Tutu go, he answered "So-So." President Bush also made an emotional tribute
on behalf of the U.S. It was also an occasion for Reverend John Danforth who officiated to display
the qualities that led his colleagues in Congress to call him St. Jack. In a collective move of
nostalgia, the American people seemed to bid a fond farewell for a leader who "Did not have a mean
streak in his bones." Millions of Americans paid their respects in their own way, whatever they were,
as his body was flown to be buried at sunset in his beloved California.
FIRE IN THE EVIDENCE OFFICE:
Just before commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Rwanda Massacre, a fire broke out on 2 April
at the "Evidence Office" of the U.N. Tribunal, destroying computers and folders. Asked about lost
material, a spokesman assured everyone that "no key documents were lost" and the fire was "most
likely" caused by an "electric fault" according to Roland Ammoussogo. By the way, whatever happened
to Monsieur Bizimangu?
NOT FIT TO PRINT?
New York Times U.N. Correspondent Warren Hogue, historically accommodating to U.N. Secretary
General Kofi Annan, asked him an unusually tough question at a 28 April press conference about reports
on "Kofigate," Food for Oil, mentioning his son Kojo. Apparently taken by surprise, though generally
prepared for a similar query from other quarters, Mr. Annan went into a somewhat detailed response
about his son working for Cotecna, mainly in Nigeria and Ghana, but that neither Kojo nor Kofi had any
knowledge of the lucrative contract accorded to the Geneva-based company which had placed his young son
on its Board of Directors. Some felt that the response could have been handled with a focused
reference to the investigating committee. Anyway, it was noted that the Times carried no
reference to the question or answer. The motto on the masthead of the Times is: "All the
News That's Fit to Print."
"RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT:"
During a press conference just before the invasion of Iraq, Security General was asked about the concept
of accepting military action to topple oppressive regions. He had announced just before the Kosovo war
that no dictator should be allowed to hide behind the U.N. Charter. So the lady putting the question
wanted to know if that would allow for an attack on Saddam Hussein. Mr. Annan gave a general response
but pointed out a study sponsored by Canadians on the "Responsibility to Protect." He recommended it
as very interesting reading. However, when the report reached U.N. Headquarters, the report was kept
under wraps. At least one member of its panel has indicated that the Canadian sponsored report was
being blocked by a senior Canadian in the Secretariat. Could that be true? Or is she again being
fingered out by competitors for influence?
STEVE WHITEHOUSE - CONSULTANT:
A pillar of U.N. Television, Steve Whitehouse, retired at the end of May. He produced most of the
feature films, not only on peacekeeping but on every aspect of human endeavour. A field man at
Headquarters and Headquarters man in the field, Steve carried his heart on his sleeve, working
jovially and closely with his colleagues. One farewell gift was a T-shirt announcing: "Retired --
if you want to talk to me you'll be charged consultation fees." But he got more than just a
T-shirt: the sincere affection of his colleagues who enjoyed working with him when working for and
at the U.N. was really fun. Steve will be joining his wife who is on a mission in Kosovo.
IRAQ NEW FLAG -- WILL IT FLY?
A suddenly announced new flag of Iraq received wide condemnation in the Arab world and within Iraq.
The Governing Council had approved a design by a brother of one of its members, Nasir Chaderji who
responded angrily to queries on the colours' purpose and propriety and hung up on pan Arab daily
Asharq Alwsat. Two blue lines supposedly reflected the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the
white background a desire for peace, a yellow line a reference to the Kurds and a crescent a symbol
of Islam. In a suspicious neighbourhood, it was claimed that the flag overlooked the Arab
dimension of Iraq. Some even claimed it looked suspiciously close to the Israeli flag. Most observers
wondered why a transitional body would feel an urgency to issue a new flag. The old one was Iraq's
traditional one since the establishment of the state. Saddam Hussein added -- in his own
handwriting! -- the words "Allah Akbar" (God is Greater) to display Islamic credentials after his
war with the Islamic Republic of Iran. It seems very few Iraqis are flying the new flag. The former Army General who took
charge of Fallujah not only displayed the old one but maintained a related insignia on his shoulders
as he started his new mission. Iraqi officials still use the old one.
WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY:
A commemoration of World Press Freedom Day was held at U.N. Headquarters on 3 May with the
participation of the Committee on Information and Media representatives. Shashi Tharoor, Under
Secretary General for Public Information chaired a two-fold meeting -- a ceremonial one addressed by
the Secretary General and a substantive one where professionals reviewed the type and extent of coverage
of international news. Jim Ottaway Jr., President of one of the most effective groups defending free
press, Toni Jenkins, President of U.N. Correspondents Association and Danilo Turk, Assistant
Secretary General for Political Affairs, made interesting remarks. At one point, there was a
discrepancy in the figures relating to press casualties while Kofi Annan mentioned that 36
journalists died in 2003, Jenkins used the figures of Rapporteur sans Frontieres indicating there were
actually 42 killed, 766 arrested, and 1,460 physically attacked.
AL JAZEERA NEW EDITOR:
Ahmed Al Sheikh was appointed as Chief News Editor of Arabic Satellite Al-Jazeera to succeed
Ibrahim Hilal who rejoined BBC World Service. Sheikh, who was the originator of a program "Islamic
Law in Daily Life," was one of the original group that moved from the Arabic service of the BBC to
start Al Jazeera. He exerted special influence as one of three members of the editorial board.
QUOTATION OF THE MONTH:
"Unfortunately, being a bad spokesman is not a crime, "former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson
referring to former Iraq Information Minister Al-Sahhaf who was interviewed then released after the
fall of Baghdad.
THE TRAINING OF IAN JUNIOR:
Anyone visiting the UNCA Club at U.N. premises may bump into a baby in a blue stroller curiously
observing hurried reporters under the watchful eye of his mother. He is Ian Williams Junior,
toughing it up on the footsteps of his father whose career ranged from organizing labour unions to
speech writing for a leader of the British Labour party. In between, Ian Senior had a drinking
competition with Chinese Premiere Chou En Lai and an argument on English literature with Mone
Moa. Although Junior is not able to talk yet, he would readily smile when he hears a spokesman's
announcement on the speaker.
Alexander "Misha" Broz is likely to be appointed as Ambassador of Crotia to Indonesia. For those with
institutional memory, he is the son of Joseph Broz Tito, who in the mid-sixties formed an influential
non-aligned movement. His designation to Jakarta will be welcomed by President Megawati whose father
Sukarno was a close partner of the Yuglosav leader, who had a daughter from a first Russian wife and
two sons from a Croatian one; the eldest lost his way and the second, Alexander, grew into a
remarkably successful man with solid character. He is married to a Serb and has one daughter,
Alexandra, who is very popular in Zagreb commercials. Very few outside his country would recognize
his background -- he introduces himself as Broz -- not Tito.
"ST. JACK" TO THE U.N.:
The U.S. Ambassador designate to the U.N., former Senator John C. Danforth, is an ordained
Episcopal minister known around Washington as St. Jack. Highly regarded by both Democrats and
Republicans, the former Missouri Senator for 18 years is already mentioned as a possible Secretary of
State in a new Bush Administration. A moderate Republican, he demonstrated his negotiating skills -- and
special access within Washington -- in arranging an agreement for the thirty year old conflict in
Southern Sudan. His appointment was welcomed as a practical indication that President Bush intended
to enhance his dealings with the U.N. As Reverend Danforth officiated recently at the funeral of
President Reagan, some observers prayed that he would bring the fear of God into the hearts of some
senior U.N. officials who seem to treat the Organization as their personal property. It is said that
ruthless sailors only remember the Almighty during a storm. Maybe the current crisis facing the U.N.
and its Mr. Annan would bring about some true compassion for worthy causes (as opposed to photo
opportunities) and wider justice for dedicated staff (as opposed to those not working yet networking).
Perhaps "St. Jack" can help. Let us pray.
A NEGROPONTE ACHIEVEMENT:
The recent Security Council resolution adopted unanimously was a victory for the unity of its members.
It also reflected readiness by other governments, particularly France, Germany, Russia and China to
accommodate President Bush who in turn displayed special efforts to meet his interlocutors half-way.
Behind it all, however, it was a discreet yet clear achievement for U.S. Representative to the U.N.,
John Negroponte, who does not blow his own horn and goes around doing his job and getting results.
As the new Ambassador to Iraq as of July, he had high stakes in getting the right resolution. And
he did. In effect, he helped draft his own future international instructions.
JAMES BAKER RESIGNS:
The formidable American statesman James Baker has finally resigned from his assignment as the Secretary
General's Special Representative on Western Sahara, according to informed diplomatic sources. The former
Secretary of State during former President Bush, who argued the case for current George W. Bush to the
Supreme Court, may have decided that he has spent enough of his time on a non-promising venture while
dealing with mediocre, though extremely accommodating, characters at U.N. Headquarters. In addition to
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is likely to leave for the World Bank next year, Secretary Baker
was one of the very few highly placed Republicans who were pleading Kofi Annan's case with the current
U.S. Administration. A likely candidate for that post for Western Sahara is Alvero Soto, who is not
fully occupied on Cyprus.
STAFF DOUBTS LEADERSHIP INTEGRITY:
According to an internal survey reported by N.Y. Post, many U.N. staff fear reprisals from their
bosses if they step forward with information or report allegations of corruption. The recent poll
shows the staff has little faith in the leadership's commitment to ethics and integrity. Interestingly,
a N.Y. Times correspondent followed the next day with a "damage control" piece ending up with an
accommodating quotation -- thus proving the point made by the survey. Claudia Rosette commented in
the Wall Street Journal that unlike, for example, Ronald Reagan, who would push for change,
Kofi Annan prefers issuing reports.
PRIVATE EYE: THE TOYOTA TALIBAN:
In a letter from Kabul, British satirical biweekly Private Eye reported on the private
life of international community members in the Afghan capital. It claims that only 16% of the $4.5
billion pledged at the Tokyo conference goes to the government; the rest in the hands of NGO; a term
used to refer to "the well heeled" international staff of the U.N. and aid organizations who
reportedly spend time shopping for wide screen tvs and laptops at a new Sony Centre. "Most other
shopkeepers only ever glimpse them as they are driven past in one of the $75,000 Toyota Landcruisers
most of them owned by the U.N. -- known here as the Toyota Taliban," the letter says, adding that
the cruisers ferried them from office to restaurant to guest house. It continues: "There's a swimming
pool at a central U.N. compound and regular parties and barbecues. Memories of a party held by the
DHL courier group last November, when an opium pipe was passed around by U.N. staff, are still fresh.
If boredom strikes, aid workers might also sign up for Tai Chi and Argentinean tango lessons."
SECURITY CHIEF LEAVING:
Michael McCann, Chief of U.N. Security, will be leaving by the end of June. The honest, capable, and
sensitive New Yorker has earned the respect and admiration of all those who followed his decade of spade
work at the U.N. A courteous professional with the perceptive eyes of a hawk, McCann overseas major
conferences and summits, including the 50th Anniversary, the Millennium summit, as well as daily
operations in the glass box premises. A farewell party given for him on 17 June was attended by a wide range
of friends and colleagues. Speculation about his successor range from names lke Eric Boswell of the U.S.
State Department Security Service to former N.Y. Police Commissioner Kerek, who just completed a stint
in Iraq. For the time being, however, everyone wishes Chief McCann success in his new life, where at
least he could spend some time with his family in Queens.
Former long time Kuwait Permanent Representative Mohammed Abulhassan may not last long as his
country's Information Minister. He ran into difficulties with a parliamentarian group and reportedly
submitted a preemptive resignation to the Prime Minister, effective end of June. Meanwhile, he sued a
Kuwait daily paper for publishing a statement by a parliamentarian describing him as an "untruthful
coward." In his court papers, Abulhassan stated that he is a prominent personality, a first-rate
nationalist whose accomplishments could be denied only by an ignorant ingrate. Rumours about his
return to New York are discounted. The new Ambassador Nabeela Al-Mulla has already made an impressive
impact. As the first Arab U.N. Ambassador, she is an accomplished -- and popular -- diplomat who is
not easily pushed around.
NEXT ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT:
It is Africa's turn to preside over the General Assembly this year in its 59th session. On 11 June it
was agreed that Gabon's Foreign Minister, Jean Ping, will take over from Julian Hunte the Foreign
Minister of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. While small countries preside, big countries prevail.
AN AFRICAN SPEAKS OUT:
"As six African leaders gather again for a G-8 Summit, we can expect to be portrayed in some quarters
as mendicants. This is not the intent or fault of our hosts. We can argue about who is to blame for
that perception -- and we Africans are far from blameless -- but on this all surely can agree: Africans
will be object of compassion and contempt until such time as we have become demonstrable masters of our
destiny," Thabo Mbeki, President of South African.
TOKAEV ON KAZAKHSTAN:
Kassymzhomart Tokaev, Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, visited New York in early June to launch his
autobiographical book "Meeting the Challenge." In it, the distinguished statesman who has served also
as Prime Minister gives a personal and political account of the genesis of Kazakhstan as well as an
insightful portrayal of the country's road to independence. The reader has ample opportunity to look at
events surrounding the collapse of the Soviet Union and the early years of the newly established
post-Soviet states. Having attended every General Assembly session since 1992, the Foreign Minister
reflects thoughtfully on the crucial importance of international cooperation in support of U.N.
objectives. He also provides a number of interesting anecdotes. His visit was effectively prepared
by Kazakhstan Ambassador Yerzhan Kazy Khanov.
REPRESENTATION IN TUNIS:
Unusually, the summit of Arab heads of states in Tunis end of May did not solicit high level U.N.
representation. The Secretary General, for the first time since his election passed; he was justifiably
overseeing the Security Council deliberations over Iraq. Lakhdar Brahimi was clearly busy in Baghdad.
When Mohammed Sahnoun, one of the Special Envoys for Africa, arrived in the Tunisian capital to
represent the U.N., he was given normal courtesy but little else. As to a special message by the
Secretary General, the former Algerian diplomat was advised that he can roll a number of copies and
place them with a conference officer.
NEW OLD SPANISH AMBASSADOR:
A great welcome to Juan Antonio Yanez-Barneuvo. The new permanent representative of Spain is in fact
an experienced U.N. hand who represented his country with distinction in the eighties. A close adviser
to Socialist party leaders, he served in the Security Cuoncil while also coping with other issues
from public information to administrative reform. He then returned as Director General of the
most respected institute for Spain's diplomatic civil servants. Clearly, Spain occupies a special place
for so many cultures and continents: Latin, Iberian, Mediterranean, European and, above all, human.
Juan Antonio Yanez-Barneuvo has reflected that unique blend with confident, accessible, and enlightened
presence. He, and his country, will continue to make that presence felt in New York.
CHANGE IN DELHI:
Feodor Starcivic who ran UNIC Delhi for over seven years will be retiring at the end of June. An
experienced diplomat and communicator from Sarajevo, Feoder was at home in India, as he was even
in the most risky spots. His dynamic efforts to promote U.N. issues reached out to every corner of
his field area. A courteous colleague and tough manager, he gained the respect of his colleagues and the
affection of his staff. As he retires to launch possibly a career in politics at home, he will be
replaced by Shallini Diwan, former Director of UNIC Rome, a U.S. citizen of Indian origin. Ms. Diwan
has in effect returned to the Department where she started as a press officer. Her work with UNICEF,
FAO, Vienna and Rome has "widened" her perspective, giving her an overall U.N. representation, an
experience which will come in handy in her new post. Good Luck.