15 June 2006


Farce Fans need not despair. News from the grapevine is that the farce will continue unabated until the very last day. The newest series, we are told, will be entitled "Carry on, regardless." It happens when a bunch of hapless "cabinet" members struggle in vain to get even the simplest job done. For the benefit of non-Anglophiles, we would mention that "Carry on" was a popular British series about a team of self assured bunglers. It preceded a political farce entitled: "Yes, Minister."


Senior officials from Latin America and Europe getting ready for a group photo of their Viennese "Gipfel" thought it was just part of the show when a gorgeous suntanned brunette wearing an originally shredded bathing suit showed up. The five women leaders from Finland, Germany, Latvia, Chile and Nicaragua looked puzzled while most of the male contingent were about ready to applaud. Turned out she was a Lantino Greenpeace beauty anxious to draw attention to pollution to the environment in Uruguay. "Basta de papeleras contaminantes" declared her poster. Everyone took it with good cheer, particularly the security officer whose hands were all over as he took his time escorting her out.


Over dinner during Memorial Day weekend, one ambassador commented on the repeated refrain about the need to join the Secretary General's reform proposals by telling a story once narrated by Asian troubadour philosopher Jalal El Din Rumi.

A hard working decent man was passing by the town's centre with his donkey after a hard day's work when he heard a song and dance from a nearby group. He joined wistfully, looking forward to a joyful participatory evening. With no money to hide -- if they were thieves -- he felt that the most they could take was his time -- and he had plenty. Indeed, he would have fun; even some profit from those seemingly jolly fellows. Little did he know that the revelers had their eyes on the only property he had left: his donkey. They agreed to sing louder, drink harder and dance wider as one of them could slip away and untie it. With the mission accomplished, the wily group would start a code-worded song with a refrain: "Khor Beroft" -- the donkey's gone. So while the unsuspecting man was gradually prodded to join in the chorus, he did not discover that he was being deprived of his only possession.


Actually, the egg came before the chicken. Professor Brookfield of Nottingham University is telling us so and we might as well go along. The first chicken embryo was found in an egg and that's that. Thus, our colleagues in the Department of Sustainable Development need go no further researching whose economist's hand they have to explore before the other. The Environment Program will no more need to be caught between a retiring German and a succeeding German -- as by now both know their way between the trees in Dubai and the forest in Nairobi. And between them they laid an egg.


A pro-Saudi Beirut daily reported prominently that Mr. Terje Roed (Herring) Larsen was received by His Majesty King Khaled in Ryadh and conveyed to him greetings and best wishes from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. His Majesty, the report went on, expressed heartfelt appreciation for the most sincere greetings and, in turn, wanted Mr. Larsen to convey his own greetings and best wishes to the Secretary General. End of story. Now, that's investigative reporting.


As Rosemary Waters was about to leave the Staff Committee after years of presiding over it, she sent a request to the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to conduct an investigation of the Staff Union's accounts. Normally, Union accounts are audited by an independent auditor at the conclusion of each Council's terms and reports are issued to the staff. "However, in view of the need for the Staff Union to exhibit the highest standard of accountability and enable its members to have complete confidence in the Union and its activities," she stated that she felt "immediate action should be taken." A new Staff Committee was elected end May. Particularly since the beginning of that month, there was a flurry of financial and other maneuvering in an emotionally charged atmosphere. Ms. Waters sometimes uses the name of Rosemary Pugh; her husband Clarence works at the Security Unit. A General Service staff, she may be offered a Professional (P-3/P-4) post related to staff relations. It is hoped that the staff representatives retain their unity at these delicate times when other institutional bodies seem to be falling apart.


The day after Shirley Brownell's retirement, the former Chief of Press Section was still in the building, only doing something totally different. She was at the lobby overseeing a harmonious growth of beautifully arranged plants, with her Japanese neighbour. Shirley, who had worked in the press office for years intends to move to Atlanta where her children have successful prospects. She promised to return regularly to New York and, especially, resume her joint displays of green harmony.


One more "high level" meeting, this time "to unite the world against AIDS" did not seem to have much impact outside the compound of U.N. headquarters. It was supposed to review progress in achieving commitments made in 2001. "Renewal political commitment" is nothing more than recycling the old one. An attempt to "involve all sectors of the international community, governments, civil society and the private sector" was limited to a number of very sincere dedicated people mixed with a number of politically oriented characters invoking politically correct expressions. If expectations were not raised to such "high level," it could be said that a gathering to focus attention on a main killer across nations is extremely useful and timely. Certain participants were outstanding. A presentation by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of France, for example, was impressive, to the point and loaded with human fervour. Possibly because he is a medical doctor by profession, Mr. Doushe-Blazy spoke about what he knew first hand. Other "political" speakers were not similarly convincing. Some of them conveyed the sad impression that they were cynically exploiting real victims as props for their own photo ops. Also, issues were approached in a manner which would appeal mainly to specific mainstream media in New York, particularly when blaming Presidents and Prime Ministers of countries rather than mobilizing every resource against this medical challenge to generations around the world.


During 2005 there were more peacekeeping soldiers than in any other year of the past decade. On Peacekeepers Day, 29 May, medals made of crystal to symbolize the strength, fragility and purity of their lives were awarded to them posthumously. A "celebration" in New York coincided with detaining seven Nepalese soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While the Secretary General mourned the death of 33 soldiers including 8 Guatemalans and one Nepalese in the Congo, a release by the Peacekeeping Department listed 125 peacekeepers dead from 46 countries: 85 soldiers, 13 officers and 27 civilians. The Secretary General attended a moving occasion, leaving an afternoon event to Mr. Guehenno. The first peacekeeping operation, U.N. Truce Supervision Operation in the Middle East was established on 29 May, 1948. Hence the date -- approved by the General Assembly in 2002.


Well done, Bahrain. The Gulf Arab state that was a pioneer in co-education and a prosperous culture for thousands of years did the right thing by selecting a qualified woman to represent it as President of the forthcoming 61st session of the General Assembly. Ambassador Haya Rashad Al Khalifa who was elected on 8 June had served as the first Arab female Assembly President. Her operational team is being assembled and ready for taking over in early September. A spokesman, among others, will be selected by then. The director of her office will be an experienced Bahrani diplomat supported by the distinguished New York Ambassador Tawfeeq Al Mansur and his mission.


A welcome initiative by DPI Director Ahmad Fawzi finally came to light. Our beloved colleague Nadia Younes who was killed in the terrorist attack on U.N. Baghdad office will have her name given to the area where she held office meetings while DPI Director in New York. Room S-837C will be renamed Nadia Younes Conference Room. Well done, Ahmad.


Talk about Morocco offering U.N. retirees special privileges and immunities is being revived. It was raised a decade ago during a meeting of U.N. Centre Directors near Casablanca. Renewed interest in that prospect floated again when someone mentioned that Secretary General Annan may be interested in spending some time in the extremely hospitable North African country whose current king, like his late father, was a staunch U.N. supporter. Mr. Annan's brother is Ghana's Ambassador to Morocco.


If you like the Soccer Mondial, you have to love Edwege. A jury of players, referees and coaches elected the 24 year old Togolese as Ms. Mondial during a lively party near the French-German border. Prize money, about 2000 Euros, may not be that great, but she'll get to drive an open car for a year while having a free pass to watch all the games. She started by wearing the shirt of her country's team. She has no definite future plans, she said, except maybe become a journalist. Meanwhile, she'll be having the time of her life.


If you are unable to find some staffers or diplomats on any given day in June, it may be because they are huddling around a large TV screen watching a soccer football match. During the upcoming Mondial even heads of states are allowed -- possibly politically encouraged -- to display open support for their national team. Some of us who watched a game between Germany and Bulgaria in New Jersey during a previous soccer Mondial game saw the Bulgarian president take off his jacket and run to the field to argue a foul judgment with the astonished referee. Those who attended the General Assembly 2000 Summit heard that during an official dinner at the Delegates Dining Room, an engaging discussion among the Presidents of Senegal, Mexico and Brazil was about projecting the Mondial winner.


A proven manager with varied experience received her due promotion. Paula Refolo whose commitment to U.N. objectives shone through every task she performed as she rose through the ranks was just appointed Director of the Strategic Communications Division, Department of Public Information. She earned her promotion the right way: she worked for it. Her loyal dedication and professional competence blended with human warmth and enlightened understanding gained her respect and affection among her colleagues. She will certainly handle her new challenge with the same competence and confidence with which she did earlier ones. Bravo Paula.


A preliminary internal report about the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Dr. Mervat Tellawy, was leaked in Beirut to some Lebanese media. A stress on the negative side prompted Dr. Tellawy to explain her position, particularly in a full page interview at daily Al-Safir. When asked about her presumed domineering attitude, she responded that the report was mainly based only on hearsay and overlooked positive achievements. She said: "Staff will never see a manager like me who could be called by anyone on the phone," adding: "I meet every 15 days with heads of sections, meet every Monday those with individual problems. I found them a cafeteria, a nursery and promoted 35 staffers who had not been promoted for 18 years. I would say, very modestly, that they will never have a director like me; and I've never seen such ungratefulness."


After a three month delay, the post of Director, Information Centre in Beirut / Chief Information Service of the Economic and Social Commission For Western Asia was just announced. Candidates could apply from outside as well as inside the U.N. Apparently an attempt to impose on the Lebanese an interim official from Iraq who had unfortunate experiences in Yemen and Sudan has failed. In addition to media experience and knowledge of the U.N. system, a main requirement is communicating fluently in Arabic, English and French. That would knock off the Iraqi. Two ready contenders would be Ms. Radhia Ashoury, a former Fifth Committee delegate from Tunis now operating on a mission with Chief Investigator Serge Brammetz and Nabil Abou Dhargam, long time National Officer and sometime officer in charge of UNIC Beirut, currently acting as chief press and liaison officer for ESCWA's Executive Secretary. Many other applicants are expected in a very tough competition.


A U.N. envoy who sought to explore a back channel through a Lebanese personality was advised curtly and politely to use normal diplomatic means in seeking to meet a head of state in the region.


Man seeking beautiful nurse need be patient.


When Mr. Annan decided to visit Thailand in May to present an award to its "Development King," he should have expected that country's candidate for Secretary General to exploit it somehow in advancing his ambitions. Surakiart Sathirathai could have been easily persuaded, walking with the ever pleasant and congenial U.N. Chief that he would be next in line. According to Bangkok's Nation, a Thai Foreign Ministry website ran a lead picture of its own candidate with a caption that read: "U.N. Secretary General addresses high-level panel on his Majesty the King and Human Development at the Foreign Ministry." It was as if giving a strong hint that the succession was a done deal. Although the correct photo was eventually placed, the national paper read into the event a hopeful signal that Mr. Annan has "passed a clue." A clue? Very unlikely.


Apparently, there is a "non-profit polling project" called Afrobarometer. It tried to gauge how Africans view its version of Democracy. Found out that there is "a slow but steady deterioration in support for democracy, with particularly steep decline in Nigeria, Tanzania, Botswana and Uganda." It did not clarify what sort of "democracy" it was advocating but indicated that voters longed for "free elections, broader civil liberties and more responsive political leaders." Well. May be that is their own version for democracy, with or without an Afrobarometer.


A Saudi journalist was judged to receive two hundred lashes for writing an article criticizing another writer. Hamze Al-Mizyani wrote in Al-Watan about "Dr. Barak's misconceptions." An agitated Barak sued at Ryadh's public court which decided that lashing was in order. The issue was referred to a "violations committee" at the Ministry of Information. After a thorough study of related papers it appeared that what was published was not appropriate. It went beyond objective criticism and attacked Dr. Barak which belittled his stature, describing him with injurious terms," the eight man (for they were all men, of course) stated. Therefore the writer was charged 10,000 Rials and the editor of the paper 20,000. Coincidentally, the verdict came out around the same time as the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day.


In a presentation about "U.N. Mission in Lebanon," Special Representative Pedersen suggested an audience of intellectuals, diplomats and UNIFL officers a practical approach in handling emerging issues. He cautioned against raising expectations as to what the U.N. could do for Lebanon, stressing that positive results needed time. Pedersen seems to move discreetly, without undue fanfare but with adequate signals that the U.N. is ready and willing to help. Gradually yet effectively, the relatively young Norwegian diplomat is gaining ground, avoiding a media circus atmosphere that proved counterproductive for others.


Director General of World Health Organization (WHO) Dr. Lee Jong-Wook who led international campaigns against varied diseases died Monday 22 May while undergoing surgery for a blood clot in his brain. His Swedish colleague, Anders Nordstrom, has taken over until a successor is elected. In addition to his enthusiastic approach, Dr. Lee was known for his unassuming modesty. In the building on a Geneva hill overlooking mountains and lakes he was known to have cut off viewing privileges for senior officials who sought larger glass windows as status symbols. May God bless his soul.


While the international community was still lamenting the passing away of WHO Director General Lee Jong-Wook, a Japanese official announced the candidature of a Shigeru Omi to replace him. To begin with, it is doubtful that one more Japanese official could be elected to head one more U.N. Agency. There are already two Japanese heading specialized agencies: UNESCO and ITU, in addition to other senior posts at various U.N. offices, funds and programs. Also, there is a generally recognized period of proper consideration for the departed before dashing to take over their mantle. It reminds us of the story of an over ambitious man in a hurry who went to the big boss following the sudden death of a senior manager saying he wanted to replace him right away. The boss responded to the inconsiderate upstart: "I personally have no objection, but you should check first with the funeral parlor."


USG Gambari received an invitation from the U.S. First Lady, Mrs. Laura Bush, to brief her on his recent trip to Myanmar. The First Lady has become very engaged on this issue and has become a vocal advocate for the release of imprisoned dissident Aung San Suu Kyi. During the 5 June meeting with Mrs. Bush at the White House, USG Gambari urged continued U.S. support for the Secretary General's good offices in trying to promote human rights, democracy, and an all-inclusive process of national reconciliation in Myanmar. He was recently the first foreigner in several years to be allowed to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and the first high-level U.N. envoy in more than two years. In briefing the Security Council after his mission, USG Gambari stressed that U.N. diplomatic efforts should continue, despite the very disappointing news that Aung San Suu Kyi was not released after calls by Secretary General Kofi Annan and others for Myanmar's leaders to do so. To the surprise of many, Myanmar did, however, release another well-known prisoner this week, Su Su New, who had been imprisoned after criticizing labor practices in the country. Ms. Su Su New was one of three political prisoners whose release was called for by USG Gambari during his talks with Myanmar's leadership. (The other two being Aung San Suu Kyi and Mr. U Win Tin.)


"If I only had a little humility, I'd be perfect."
-- Ted Turner