15 June 2008


How would you feel if you were the Permanent Representative of Spain and lost a seat on the Human Rights Council by one vote? How would you feel if you found out that two votes had been declared invalid? Furthermore, how about when you found out that such mix-ups in such close votes rarely happened? It is a tribute to the personal character and professional poise of Ambassador Juan Antonio Yanez-Barnuevo that he kept his cool while making a firm message. An explanatory note by the outgoing General Assembly President, Balkan political operator, did not clarify matters; indeed, it added to the confusion. Regardless of the real outcome, it is a tribute to Spain and its capable ambassador that it competed equally with two permanent members of the Security Council, U.K. and France, and almost made it. Maybe next time.


It was a French source that proposed and a French source that withdrew the proposal. Just after the agreement of Lebanese politicians in Doha, Qatar, a draft presidential statement for the Security Council referred to Resolution 1559 (2004), 1680 (2006), and 1701 (2006), relating to Lebanon. Those particular references disappeared in the final statement the following day. Asked about the change, Council President for the month, the U.K. Ambassador, vaguely mentioned something about "inside baseball". That led to speculation that some higher authority in Paris had intervened with a magic wand to maintain only a general reference to "relevant" resolutions.


Here is a sample of a pathetically thin cover for an artificial "mission". Under the title of "U.N. Advisor to head to Sahel for Conflict Prevention Mission," an official communique announced that the Secretary General's "Special Advisor" Jan Egeland will travel to Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger from 2 - 6 June "on a mission aimed at drawing attention to an array of challenges facing these and other countries of the Sahel region of Africa -- and the need for international assistance to help States cope with them preventively so they do not lead to conflict in the long run." Notice IN THE LONG RUN. Very farsighted indeed when more pressing conflicts like Darfur, Somalia, Eritrea-Ethiopia, are hardly solved. Further, we were told that "among the key issues Egeland will explore in his meetings with officials and visits to rural areas are the social pressures caused by climate change, as well as other risk factors such as the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the region." RURAL AREAS, SMALL ARMS, ABRACADABRA. To give the mission added cover it is stated that "Egeland will be joined by staff of the U.N. Department of Political Affairs, the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and a scientist from the Earth Institute at Columbia University." Remind us again now: is Mr. Egeland doing some work for Columbia on some African questions? Or perhaps we were thinking of another Columbia professor who is an advisor on Millennium Goals.


Despite his theatrical mumbo jumbo, Rome wouldn't buy. Instead of acting as the ambassador representing all Italy and all Italians, Marcello Spatafora chose to dance to the tune of some selected Italians, neglecting others. His impact in the Security Council has been minimal, to say the least. Perhaps he will be allowed to stay on for a few more months, for "la bella figura", after which he will be packing.


Not all is well between administrative people at U.N. Headquarters in New York and UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. A decision to charge rent to UNESCO was reciprocated by charging whatever was left of U.N.-used rooms in Paris. As if an earlier foolish decision to close the U.N. Information Centre in Paris was not enough injury. The loss of supportive staff, institutional memory, and effective presence has to be completed by clearing out any further sign of U.N. presence. That seems to be the determination of some in New York. The irony is that they are using one or two French minions to implement it.


"The most beautiful clothes that can dress a woman are the arms of the man she loves. But for those who haven't had the good fortune of finding that happiness, I am there."
-- Yves Saint Laurent


You would think you heard all angles of the Darfur crisis until you find out there is still more to learn. In Birmingham, England, Sudanese poet Tijani Haj Issa stood at the podium of a small club to recite some of his poetry. The crowd was not impressed. About 50 young Sudanese men threw chairs and destroyed the monitoring camera. He had started with a poem entitled "I am Umm Durman," a reference to a main suburb of the capital, Khartoum. After order was restored, the young man explained that Mr. Tijani's poetry was an insult to Darfur.


That's what happens when a sexy actress attends too many gatherings in Davos. She starts pontificating about the affairs of the world as if she owns it. She -- or he for that matter, if it's a male singer -- will seriously believe that the world can't wait to hear those views. There is also that tendency to use what is considered hip or "it" or "now" words like "Karma". It was that particular word that did in Sharon Stone. Thousands of victims from earthquakes and hurricanes happen, she opined in Cannes (out of all places), were suffering because of bad Karma -- as if they deserved it. Only this time Ms. Stone -- who seems to have lost her special showing even in Davos, had to pay in the way that she understands best -- cutting down her contract with Christian Dior. That was HER bad Karma!


Apparently, someone at Headquarters decided that it was about time to implement Resolution 54/64 taken on 6 December 1999, nine years ago -- about multilingualism. That means speaking with many tongues, as many of our distinguished colleagues do. Alerted to that apparently vital requirement, the Secretary General entrusted that task to none other than former Japanese diplomat Kiyotaka Akasaka, who had been appointed in 2007 as Under Secretary General for Communications and Public Information. In order to avoid any misunderstanding (or additional rental subsidy?), it was made clear that the new functions are additional to his current responsibilities as head of the Department of Public Information. Good luck with that new daunting task.


The inter-Senegalese rift between Senegal's President Wade and FAO's Director General Diouf seems to have expanded further. At the opening of the Food Summit in Rome where Jaques Diouf, clad in his national dress, played a starring role as its proactive host, Mr. Wade timed a very critical statement to say that FAO treats poor countries like beggars. That was an escalation from a few weeks ago when he made some hints about international food organizations. Now the heat is on. Could Mr. Diouf be running for President when his FAO term expires? Was Mr. Wade making an "offensive defense" of his own backfiring food policies? As a third party instigating in the wings? Who knows.


A good young soldier from Nepal has made his way to become a distinguished General. A platoon commander of the Nepalese contingent in UNIFIL, Lebanon in 1979, has just been appointed Force Commander of the U.N. Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). In between, Major General Paban Jung Thapa has done his tour of duty with other U.N. Peacekeeping missions, particularly UNPROFOR in former Yugoslavia. His choice is not only a tribute to his experienced qualifications, but it also reflects common sense amongst those who pushed for his selection. The Secretary General who made the appointment deserves credit for it. What he now needs is a serious political mediation to allow that mission to operate successfully.


In Spanish, it means wings. It is an effective charitable foundation launched by artist and exquisite singer Shakira to obtain financial support from Latin American governments and business leaders to help social development projects for destitute children. One sure sign of progress was her ability to bring in one of the richest men in the world, Carlos Slim Helu, voted by Fortune magazine last year as THE richest. Although the artist is from Colombia, and the tycoon from Mexico, they are linked by their Lebanese heritage. Shakira's father came from the town of Zahleh in Mount Lebanon, while Slim's family hails from the town of Jezzine in the south.


New immigration rules will require foreign soccer players coming to the U.K. to be able to speak English. This seems like blatant discrimination given that we make no such demands of home-grown players.
-- Robert Shrimsley in The Financial Times


A memorial was inaugurated in the Southern Lebanese village of Ibel el Saki to commemorate UNIFIL soldiers who had died in their line of duty. Villagers assembled on Saturday 17 May at the Orthodox Church to pray for the six Spanish soldiers and 21 Norwegian soldiers who had served there since 1978. Several Norwegians have married women from their area of operations, creating a special bond between U.N. troops and the local population.


It's sad, but almost true -- but not entirely accurate. The London-based Economist had a hard-hitting, brutally factual headline on the fighting in Lebanon. Mostly couched in diplomatic terms, mainstream media reported "influences" by one side or another. The fact is that Hezbollah is supported and financed by Iran and that the governmental group was openly supported by the United States. To be fair and accurate, however, Prime Minister Siniora is nobody's stooge. He is his own man. Even towards the U.S., he once suggested to Dr. Rice not to come to Beirut during the 2006 Israeli attack and most recently declined to visit with President Bush in Sharm El-Sheikh (Egypt), stressing that real support by the U.S. for Lebanon could be demonstrated through real pressure on Israel to withdraw from Shebaa farms. As to Hezbollah, although it boasts about its close links to Teheran, its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has a much wider base of support despite his organizational links. He could be described in varied terms, but "stooge" he is not.


From Mediaset Television to the Ministry of Equal Opportunity, Mara Carfagna remained as exquisitely attractive as always. When Prime Minister Silvio Berlesconi was running in the elections, he boosted that women in his party were much more beautiful than those with his opponents. True to his word, a real surprise for any politician, he produced "La Bella Mara" in his new Cabinet. A former model, television reporter, and competitor for Ms. Italy in 1997, she is naturally the most visible member of the new government. Her favourite designer, Giorgio Armani, is beyond himself praising her blend of classic style with modernist appearance. Perhaps the Prime Minister would consider bringing her along to the forthcoming General Debate session of the Assembly in September. Considering that the presiding officer will be a Guatemalan rebel priest, bellissima Bella could bring much needed cheer to the somber crowd.


Heredotus explaining the purpose of history: "This is the showing of the Inquiry of Heredotus of Halicarnassos, to the end that neither the deeds of men may be forgotten by the lapse of time, nor the works great and marvelous which have been produced some by Hellenes and some by Barbarians, may lose their renown; and especially that the causes may be remembered for which these waged war with one another."


One of the most popular colleagues at the U.N., Dr. Sudershan Narula, has retired. Though still nearby at Roosevelt Island, most staff miss her human warmth and charming smile as she was treating their painful and not-so-painful medical concerns. As Chief of Medical Services, she gave everyone the distinct feeling of sympathetic treatment. Dr. Narula, who started as a young medical doctor in India, kept in touch with relevant staff issues as a Director in the Office of Human Resources Management. Her capacity to listen and her gentle sense of humour made her a popular favourite. Now that she retired, many of her former colleagues would wish to have her not only as their doctor but as a personal friend.


A political majority in Lebanon may be pro-U.S. while the opposition pro-Syria/Iran. But everyone is pro-France. No Lebanese can talk objectively about French politics. It's almost an internal affair. During its 25-year mandate, the official expression of overseas territories, "outre-mere" was converted by some, especially in the mountains, as "notre-mere" our mother.

That's why the visit of President Sarkozy to Beirut early June had a very special meaning. It was not only the first visit by a foreign head of state to the new Lebanese president, after the ruler of Qatar who brokered the deal. All the senior officials of France, from the Prime Minister to the Foreign Minister to powerful representatives of the business community and civil society joined. They were welcomed by all Lebanon, allied and conflicting groups assembled at the airports and later at the presidential palace.

Lebanese politicians would take from their French counterparts what they would not accept from many others. There is nothing analytical or logical about it. It's a French-Lebanese thing -- whatever it is.


A western point in the Delegates Lounge has turned into a discreet corner for watching the European Soccer championship. A wooden separation just before the doors that open to the terrace has about twenty chairs, usually full from about 2:30pm to 4:30pm, when a sports channel broadcasts the games live either from Austria or Switzerland, the alternate hosts. Except for the gathering of delegates of all ages and ranks, a newcomer would hardly notice any unusual excitement, perhaps giving the impression of a group of informal consultations. An occasional applause will indicate that one side has scored. One Thursday afternoon, for example, a match between Poland and Austria went with almost not an utterance with both ambassadors present. There was obvious excitement as Poland scored its first and only goal. However at almost the last minute, as those sipping their cappuccino at the other end realized, there was loud applause as Austria got the equalizer. With dignity intact, the ambassador and his assistants made their satisfied way to the exit.