15 March 2006


The confused looking head of U.N. Peacekeeping Department unintentionally added to the confusion during a Security Council review of reported sexual exploitation by peacekeepers. Jean Marie Guehenno assured members that his strategy focused "ultimately on remediation." That of course is gibberish. It is neither English nor French nor even Franglais. No one figured out what he meant. Neither, most likely, did he. He looked as confused leaving the chambers as he did when he came in.


Although the people of Tokelau voted mid-February against self-government, determined diplomats on the Decolonization Committee will keep soldiering on. The failed referendum exercise, we were told in a hardly-noticed press statement, "highlighted the continuing need for all people of all Non-Self Governing Territories to be allowed the right of self determination". Work, therefore, is still unfinished. There are 16 other sunny islands -- or at least atolls -- to pursue. Those include renowned and emerging Caribbean destinations. Already, a hard-working team has started exploratory missions to Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Some are eyeing the Caymans, which had turned down self-government and split from Jamaica at independence. A new Ritz-Carlton there could be a convenient focal point. These and similarly intricate issues were no doubt thoroughly reviewed -- with appropriate travel maps -- by the Decolonization Committee's Session which was opened on 23 February by the Deputy Secretary General who commended the group for its hard work and assured them -- to approving applause -- that their work remains unfinished.


Retired colleague Fred Eckhard re-surfaced in China. The former formidable Spokesman for Secretary General Kofi Annan left New York last summer to a retreat in the French Bretagne region. But not for long. According to Xinhua news agency, Fred will be a visiting professor at Zhejiang University based in Hangzhou, described as a picturesque city in east China -- a real change from the bustle of Room 226. Good luck, Fred.


The National Information Officer in Tunis seems to be unabashedly following in the footsteps of Shameless Shashi. After getting into trouble with his colleagues for overlooking their requirements to please his visiting frequent flier, he now assumed he was getting another posting which he tried to sell even before taking it over. Mentioned as a possible candidate for a temporary post of Press Officer for Chief Judge Serge Brammetz in Beirut, the Tunisian disciple contacted some national officials -- some mentioned he even sent memos -- indicating he was already selected and offering to be of service to them. Needless to mention that a U.N. civil servant is expected to have exclusive loyalty to the U.N. and to serve the head of his mission, not himself. But then, the young man is following by example of his boss. And no one is accountable.


Ms. Heuze should have known. The U.N. "Spokesman," the first name is Marie, in Geneva apparently felt she should have been told in advance about cuts by Italy in funding of U.N. agencies. Instead, she was only aware of the fact after a reporter called asking for a comment. The matter was swiftly brought to the attention of the Secretary General who will be writing the appropriate letter requesting some sort of an explanation. Ms. Heuze has been for years in the same post in Geneva, where no one seems to have heard of the principle of rotation. Check-up or shake-up.


The recent passing of Sir Freddie Laker, a British entrepreneur who started the Skytrain deserves a tribute. Sir Freddie introduced $100 one-way airfares between New York and London, shocking the major carriers on the route and starting an international fare war. He called the service Skytrain, packing seats as close as humanly possible on his DC-10s and eliminating every frill in order to cut overhead to the bone. If you wanted to eat on the 7-hour flight, you could buy a sandwich from the cart when it came down the aisle. There were no advance reservations or advance seat assignments, and in fact there was no reservations system at all. Tickets were purchased in person at the ticket office in New York or London, on the day of departure. In New York in the summertime, the line started forming before dawn each day, and tickets were sold on a first-come, first-served basis until they were gone. Those with tickets had a few hours to make it out to JFK for the flight. Those without were advised to try again the next day. That was in 1977. Skytrain flourished at first but expanded too rapidly into a global recession and collapsed in 1982, charging its larger competitors with predatory practices. In those 5 years, hundreds of thousands of people crossed the Atlantic who could not have afforded it otherwise. Many who had spent the summer backpacking in Europe began to congregate in London for a Skytrain flight back to the U.S. Each day there was a surplus of people waiting to buy tickets, most very low on cash and few with any other options for getting back to the states. After tickets for that day's flight were distributed, the surplus of would-be passengers carried over to the next day, and the line grew longer and longer. Eventually the line at the ticket office grew so long that the back half had to be relocated to the banks of the Thames River, where mostly college students queued up and an elaborate system for keeping track of one's place in line developed. The place was named "Tent City." Those of us who could not have crossed the Atlantic otherwise would wish to say thank you to Sir Freddie -- and wish him Godspeed in his newest voyage.


It appeared that the majority of Security Council resolutions during 2005 were related to Lebanon. During a recent conversation, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Seniora told Secretary General Kofi Annan that the Lebanese pay special attention to the U.N. because Lebanon was the Organization's best customer. Mr. Seniora speaks in business terminology by habit -- he was minister of Finance for almost a decade. Does that mean that finally and after a year of vacuum, the Lebanese government will designate a Permanent Representative in New York? The delay was mainly due to a disagreement on what to do with the current ambassador in Washington. The President wants to keep him until the end of his own extended mandate while the P.M. wants him out. According to Lebanon's balanced diplomatic appointments, if a Christian was in Washington, a Moslem has to be in New York. Apparently, an accord was reached to move the Washington Ambassador to Athens, allowing for an agreed "Moslem" for Washington, and thus revert to a "Christian" in New York. Very complicated -- and embarrassing for one of the most sophisticated countries in the Middle East. A compromise may be to designate one of three diplomats as an interim representative to the U.N.: Naji Abiassi, now in the Vatican; Antoine Chedid, head of U.N. Department in Beirut; George Siam, Ambassador in Turkey. The three ambassadors had served under different capacities in New York.


Your Valentine, Sweet Funny Valentine is not funny at all to Bajraj Dal activists in Mumbai. Nor to Davindra Rawat, their spokesman. "Our teams will be visiting parks where young men and women go so we'll teach them a lesson." Not just any lesson. Those fellows carry swords and loud speakers. Another militant party, Shiv Sena, burned love cards and destroyed gift shops to make a subtle point. In Bhopal, once famed for atomic leakage disaster, vigilantes roamed the street searching for any male or female "with a look of love" on their faces so they will force them to marry -- particularly if they (that is the male and female) pretended they had never met. You can't fool Bajaj Dal, nor Shiv Sena, let alone Davindra the spokesman. They were all on full alert to ensure that every aspiring young Indian shall have a miserable Valentine Day.


The kingdom of Bahrain will preside over the next session of the General Assembly by geographical rotation. While it is still early to predict, it is most likely that Bahrain will nominate a woman for that visible post, particularly during a session where many issues of public interest will be decided, like continued reform and the election of a new Secretary General. The frontrunner is Sheikha Haya, a capable diplomat, who was the first Arab female ambassador to Europe when she served in Paris where she made a noted impact not only amongst her colleagues but in enlightened intellectual circles.


So, Henry Ford III will be joining Ford Motor Company started by Henry Ford I. His cousin Elena Ford thinks its terrific. His father Edsel Ford is thrilled. Edsel was either named after a defunct Ford car or that car was named after him. Who knows. Henry III is under thirty and looking at creative horizons. Maybe he should meet Paris Hilton. In the Paris Hilton.


A documentary film festival will be held in New York in April. The Festival was originally conceived as a showcase for films produced by United Nations offices and agencies around the world. However, so many non-United Nations filmmakers expressed interest in joining the competition that it was expanded in 2006 to include works from the general public. Opening up to public competition, the Festival received 180 films from 16 countries on five continents. Nations represented include Burkina Faso, Canada, China, Germany, India, Iran, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the United Kingdom and the United States. "Stories from the Field: The Second Annual United Nations Documentary Film Festival," presented by the Media Communications Association- International, New York Chapter and the U.N. Department of Public Information, will take place on Saturday, 22 April, and Sunday, 23 April, at The New School in New York. It will feature film screenings, panel discussions with the filmmakers and award presentations.

"A" AND "B":

A student asked Albert Einstein the following question: "A" owned a chicken which was in fact kept for a long period at a ranch owned by "B". When that chicken delivered an egg, would it belong to "A" or "B"? Professor Einstein replied: It depends on who has a better lawyer.


The Pope was on his way to the Vatican when he noticed that policeman were cordoning him and pushing crowds trying to approach him. When His Holiness wondered why they were distancing people away from him, an officer explained: "For security reasons." The Pope responded: "Security reasons? Who told you I intended to hurt them?"


No. Its not a car. Its a country. In brief U.N. terminology, it refers to the Central African Republic. And it seems to need a lot of actual cars, automobiles that is, as refugees are leaving turmoil there at the rate of 200 per day to neighbouring Chad, another country whose name would mean something totally different to American voters, particularly in the state of Florida.


"If she was the mother of the woman's movement, then I am the woman's movement," quipped Emily Friedan -- as accomplished women activists from the 60s and 70s joined in paying respect to her mother, New York feminist icon Betty Friedan -- at the Riverside Memorial Chapel. Since she broke into the scene in the mid-sixties with her unique manifesto "The Feminine Mystique," Betty made the greatest impact on the life of women in the Big Apple, as her favourite city was dubbed at the time. Her leadership in founding the National Organization for Women galvanized previously inactive groupings, particularly young women in suburbia. She would personally lead specific campaigns that broke down barriers and opening doors for the underprivileged or disregarded women. Her appearances at U.N. NGO gatherings were events laden with surprises and results. Anyone mistaking the short casual woman with "a little old lady" did so at their own detriment. She never suffered fools gladly -- from either sex. She was "a force to be reckoned with and a force to bask in." A familiar character in Sag Harbor at the Hamptons in later years, Ms. Friedan fascinated, entertained, cajoled, taught and totally dominated anyone around her. She also gave hell to any waiter who did not pay adequate attention to his work and scared the hell out of anyone driving at night in her cranky car through the back streets of the Bay. While many deserted the movement for other personal or public prospects, Betty Friedan remained loyally committed to her cause until the last day of her 85 years. God bless her soul.


When the going got rough, the junior staffer was left to her own devices. A very delicate issue between very powerful parties; a tug of war between the U.S. representative and the chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement; a dispute of authority between the Security Council and the General Assembly; a letter from two U.S. Congressmen with a hint of advance knowledge by the Secretary General. And who left to brief the press on Friday 17 February? Frehiwot Bekele. The briefing chairs were all empty except for that one woman who had worked loyally in the Media Division with very little exposure. Suddenly she was alone in the spotlight answering questions of delicate political significance. Smiling to a point of a giggle she bravely fielded questions from hardened correspondents, who persistently wanted to find out about the underlying political tension and where it was heading. Generally, Frehiwot disarmed her baffled audience, allowing for some supportive friendly hugs on the way out. Why not promote her?


The Secretary General named former Ambassador Nambiar of India as his Special Adviser. Such an appointment for the remaining nine months of Mr. Annan's term in indicative on several fronts. A major question will be the campaign for a new Secretary General with a general inclination for someone from Asia. An experienced politician and diplomat like Nambiar from a major country like India which is seeking a permanent Security Council post -- will most likely have a marked impact on the campaign as it heats up, coincidentally with his designation. While working for and with Mr. Annan, he is not expected to shed his Indian dimension. It may be that he is expected to help in the kingmaking role as his country has no national candidate for that top post. Ambassador Nambiar may be the main senior Indian to observe in the U.N. Secretariat. He may well be India's Under-Secretary General in a new administration.


A much amended proposal for a rehashed Human Rights body has been receiving claims or disclaimers of authorship, depending on its chances or degree of support. In a letter to the New York Times on 1 March, General Assembly President finally comes out defending "my proposal" while Secretary General Annan indicated it was his initial idea. In between, several diplomats have been plugging their role in either pushing for amendments or discreetly blocking them. An outcome will confirm Napolean's quip that: Victory has many parents; failure is an orphan.


Arab heads of states who will meet in Khartoum, Sudan, next March have at least one newsworthy item on their agenda: who will be the Arab League Secretary General? Will it renew the mandate of Amr Moussa or would a country like Algeria officially raise the issue of rotation, which it floated two years ago but did not pursue. As the term of Moussa expires, some Gulf countries have expressed reservations in two areas. First, the United Arab Emirates was unhappy because the Arab League Secretary General did not follow up on the proposal by its then-ruler Sheikh Zahed to send a delegation to Baghdad offering Saddam Hussein to avert a war by leaving office and stay as an honoured guest in Abu Dhabi. The other more recent discontent was that Mr. Moussa did not forcefully oppose Iranian nuclear capacity perceived as a threat by neighbouring Gulf states. Until now there has been no serious challenger to Mr. Moussa, unless a grouping of powerful countries springs a formidable name at the last minute -- like that of Lakhdar Brahimi.


The new Minister of Foreign Affairs of Syria Dr. Walid Muallem was his country's ambassador to Washington where he maintained very good relations with key State Department figures. He will have Syria's U.N. Ambassador, Faisal Mekdad as his deputy. Former Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa was appointed as Syria's Vice President in charge of drawing and executing Foreign and Communications policies, all very interesting -- and indicative -- moves in a country facing very delicate challenges, particularly after leaving Lebanon, facing public accusations in the murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, having to cope with U.N. Resolution 1559, 1995 and other decisions taken by the Security Council. The name most frequently mentioned for the post of Ambassador to New York is that of Dr. Bashar Jaafar; who headed the International Relations Department in the Foreign Ministry before his current appointment in Switzerland.


From memorable movie lines:

  • "We go together; maybe like guns and ammunition go together."
  • "What I like about you is that you're rock bottom; it's a great comfort to know you can't sink any lower."
  • "Here is your life history in four words: big ideas, small results."


The post of Director, U.N. Information Centre in Beirut will be announced soon. It was slightly delayed awaiting an agreement by the government of Bahrain to the current incumbent who had been withdrawn several months ago. Most likely it will be at the original P-4 level and it will be open for external candidates. Meanwhile, Mr. Tharoor at Headquarters decided to send a six-month interim acting director; an Iraqi, unfamiliar with the U.N. system, who has already had problems in Yemen and Sudan. The Lebanese Foreign Ministry responded -- turning him down.


A new website was recently launched to assist media and other seekers of information on Jayantha Dhanapala, the candidate for post of U.N. Secretary General from Sri Lanka, Asia. A group of young volunteers have worked on it. Anyone could access it by clicking on www.JayanthaDhanapala.com. Authorizing such a straightforward, unpretentious and informative site reflects a welcome awareness by a leading candidate to the top U.N. post of the emerging role of electronic media. It is also in line with his open approach to inclusive participatory management.


More than 240 women from over 50 countries accused U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan of failing to promote women's rights and of neglecting gender equality in his U.N. reform plans. In an open letter to the Secretary General, the women said they were "disappointed and frankly outraged" that strengthening the U.N. machinery focusing on women is not a central part of the U.N.'s reform agenda. They also expressed deep concern "that the position of women in high-level U.N. posts has stagnated." The women are attending the 50th session of the Commission on the Status of Women and come from over 70 organizations. Charlotte Bunch, Executive Director of the Center for Women's Global Leadership, accused the U.N. chief of paying lip service to women rights. "Although we've had a lot of rhetorical commitment to women's rights, it still hasn't make it on to the big agenda of U.N. reform," she said at a news conference last Monday to highlight the letter.


For the first time in U.N. history, the staff union overwhelmingly handed Secretary General Kofi Annan a vote of no-confidence. Out of five hundred staff representatives, only two voted for Mr. Annan; all the rest were seriously concerned that his policy implied "a fundamental attack against international civil service". In November 2004, the staff came close to a no-confidence vote when Mr. Annan exonerated some of his senior staff from allegations of favoritism and misconduct. But at the time, last minute interventions persuaded key staff representatives to spare Mr. Annan personally. Now, the vote of no-confidence was unanimous. It followed a raucous meeting where for the first time the staff booed the Secretary General. A poignant moment was when a man stoop up to tell Mr. Annan, "I grew up here and I very much regret to say: we don't trust you." Ironically, Mr. Annan is the only Secretary General to come from the rank of U.N. staff.


Three candidates have been short-listed for the post of Assistant Secretary General in the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management: Margaret Kelly, a Director of that Department; Ahmad Fawzi, a Director in the Department of Public Information; and Ambassador Valeriy Kuchinsky of Ukraine. While Ms. Kelly and Mr. Fawzi have acquired intimate knowledge of the house as they rose through the ranks, Mr. Kuchinsky had served in an earlier tour of duty when the Soviet Union and the Ukranian Soviet Socialist Republic had specifically allocated U.N. posts for special assignments in New York. More on that in due course.


Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zaibari is the frontrunner for the newly-vacated post of his country's U.N. Permanent Representative. The current incumbent Samir Al-Sumaidai has been appointed Ambassador in Washington. A new Iraqi government is being formed, including a new Foreign Minister. The well-connected Mr. Zaibari is a suave Kurd who lived and worked abroad for years. .