15 October 2006


A tough article appeared in the London Sunday Times of 1 October entitled "Is There Blood on His Hands?" by Adam Lebor, an author, novelist and Times correspondent in Budapest who had closely covered the war in Bosnia, particularly Srebrenica. After indicating that Kofi Annan's retirement in December will be marked by plaudits, Lebor says that "beyond the honorifics and the accolades lies a darker story: of incompetence, mismanagement and worse." In addition to highlighting shortcomings in the massacres of Rwanda and Bosnia, he refers to "the greatest financial scam" under Annan's watch, the Oil-for-Food venture, reports of sexual misconduct among certain officials and peacekeepers; the writer dwells on the "doctrine of command responsibility." Accusations could be launched based on one of three shortcomings: that a commander ordered atrocities; that he failed to stop them despite being able to; or failed to punish those responsible. The case rests on the second assumption: that in Rwanda 1994, Srebrenica 1995, and in Darfur since 2003, those at the U.N. knew war crimes were occurring or about to occur but failed to stop them despite having the means to do so. The Sunday Times article (accessible at timesonline.co.uk or adamlebor.com) was the introduction to Mr. Lebor's new book "Complicity With Evil."


We received an audio visual email from a U.N. colleague where a German navy officer is surveying the waters as he hears men shouting: "We are sinking." The man seemingly in charge asks pensively what was really going on. The response comes again: "We are sinking; we are sinking." After a brief pause, the German inquires: "What are you 'sinking' about?"!


The hit team already started spreading the news about the successor. Not only about the shape of Mr. Ban's head nor his allegedly boring company (as compared to the wit of the serpent charmer). First, they spread an item about the appointment of his former assistant in the Korean Foreign Ministry as Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights. Most recently, the media were given one story to follow: that Mr. Ban's "sons" were already working as U.N. staff. Wasn't that against U.N. rules? Actually, it is his daughter, who is working at UNICEF. And actually it isn't against the rules if the sons or daughters were there before his takeover. For he is selected by the General Assembly upon the proposal of the Security Council -- unlike other staff who are appointed officially by the Secretary General. That is, it will be improper if the sons were appointed after his arrival but not before. However, it will be prudent for Mr. Ban to handle this matter wisely, to avoid giving up early ammunition to his detractors. He will find out who they are soon enough.


When the Security Council agreed on Ban Ki-Moon as the next Secretary General, a statement by the Spokesman was issued that the current Secretary General welcomed the decision, had the "highest respect" for him and expressing the hope that the General Assembly "will be able to reach a decision on this important matter in the near future." Although the Assembly's agreement is almost a foregone conclusion, it seemed as if that "matter" was still pending and would take some time to reach a decision "so that the incoming Secretary General designate will have time to prepare fully for his assumption of office on 1 January." That was 9 October. It concluded that the Secretary General will do everything possible to ensure a smooth transition. It was noted that the statement was not issued by the Secretary General personally but by his Spokesman. More interesting, despite a reference to "the pleasure" of having worked together when the South Korean presided over the General Assembly, Mr. Annan, who almost specializes in personal contact, did not telephone Mr. Ban. Was he still in denial? Did he seriously expect his protege to win?


That man once went to Nanntucket
To hide all his cash in a bucket.
But then his woman, Nann,
Ran away from the man.
And as for the bucket,
Nann Took It.


A soldiers checkpoint is his castle. In a desolate spot on the Southern Lebanese border with Israel, UNFIL's Indian contingent has a few wooden one-man cubicles on top of a hill nearby a village entrance. While Security Council members, the "strategic cell" in Peacekeeping, or the Force Commander, may believe that they run the field show, some soldiers may feel otherwise. One of them has sprayed on the door of his post: "Singh is King." By the way, the writing is on the inside -- presumably for a lonely Mr. Singh to feel good.


A statement attributed to the Secretary General-designate is causing concern among staff representatives. The International Herald Tribune of 4 October quoted Ban Ki-Moon as saying that one of his top priorities as Secretary General would be to overhaul the U.N. Secretariat. "The U.N. staff lack a sense of mission," he reportedly said. "There is criticism that they lack integrity and are weak in ethical standards." He will lead by example, he added, giving them "hands-on guidance." Exemplary leadership and guidance are most welcome. What is worrying the staff is that their future boss is lumping them together with integrity problems raised about current management. Already the staff have suffered from misbehavior of certain senior officials nominated by the current Secretary General. Negative reporting on Food-for-Oil, sexual harassment, violations of staff rules with impunity. Now their reputation is at stake with the man who will be deciding on their future working conditions. It may be advisable for Mr. Ban to acquaint himself closer with staff issues; otherwise staff and future management will be in for a long, difficult ride.


One man's job is another man's tribute. A prominent cartoonist, Bahgoury, of Cairo's Al-Ahram, wrote that he will miss current Secretary General Kofi Annan. He has had a field day drawing him in various forms not always complimentary, though always professionally correct. It was like a political satirist missing a source. However, the U.N. fellow in Cairo who had managed to get there -- with no media experience -- makes it look as if the main Egyptian daily was devoting its editorial to praising Kofi Annan. Who knows, after January he might start sending feedback on how he is exclusively devoting his effort to promote the next Secretary General.


A journey through Greek gastronomy was introduced at the Delegates Dining Room by Ambassador Adamantios Vassilekis. On Tuesday, 9 October, Greek music filled the air at the U.N. fourth floor where the dynamic ambassador had arranged not only for top Greek Chef "Karasma," but also for some joyful folk dancing. A crowd enamoured of Greek culture enthusiastically joined in -- some even dancing between the aisles. Ifkharisto Poli, Adamantios.


Despite an airplane accident hitting a high-rise building a few blocks away on East 72nd Street and despite heavy rainfall, the residence of Spanish Ambassador Juan Antonio Yanez-Barnevo overflowed with well-wishers on Wednesday, 10 October, Spain's National Day. Having served two terms in New York, the Ambassador has added new friends to old ones, always propelling his great country into the mainstream of diplomatic activities where he was, whether as a member of the Security Council, or as an active diplomat observing and influencing the international scene.


Again, the irrepressible Jadranka Mihalic did not get the post. Announced upon the retirement of Lyutha Al-Mughairi, the D-1 level job of directly supervising the U.N. Information Centres received an array of applicants, including one hot shot who just received a P-5. The outcome points to the director of U.N. Information Centre in South Africa Ms. Christina Koerner, who had served in the Department's Publications sector before going to Harare in Zimbabwe. Ms. Koerner, who has been away in the field for a while, has a very challenging task, particularly regarding the status of Centres in light of the failed European experiment. However, she can count on the support of her colleagues to work as a team.


We will all miss Larissa Sidarova, our colleague in the Information Centres Services who retired last month. At a farewell lunch party, friends of Larissa flooded the 10th floor, enjoying the good food, good cheer, and the fortunate absence of you know whom. Larissa, in her cheerful tones, never met a friend she did not hug. "I love," "I adore," are her usual refrains. "I hate" is reserved only for the one who really deserves. Larissa will return to Moscow where her sons, her pride and joy, will ensure that she will be visiting her friends in New York from time to time.


When Iranian President Ahmadinejad strayed from the Intercontinental to the Hilton to meet with a group of Iranian expatriates, there was a question and answer period. A Teherani New Yorker stood up to elaborate on the status of U.S.-Iranian relations wondering whether they had improved or deteriorated. Possibly to prove his credentials, the questioner said he had attended a similar meeting with the President last year and -- by coincidence -- was seated in the same chair. It was then that Mr. Ahmadinejad interrupted him saying that he recalled precisely that the man's seat had been, in fact, one row over. He then turned around, smiling, to murmurs of "Mashallah" for his good memory.


By all counts, Jayantha Dhanapala ran a decent dignified campaign. In seeking to become U.N. Secretary General, the former Under-Secretary General from Sri Lanka raised issues of principle rather than personal questions and refused to be drawn into "dirty tricks." Like other candidates, he has many qualifications and some handicaps. But he highlighted the positive. He lost, of course. But he kept his dignity intact. He also preserved the good name of his country.


French politics is getting a lively lift of music. While presidential campaigners are visiting Washington, Brussels and other world capitals, the first woman contender Segolene Royale is gaining popular strength among the young trendy night owls. There is even a new song for her playing at discos, radios and suburban clubs. "Ce, Ce, Ce, Segolene," a reggae tune by an all woman group sings about the prettiest girls in the Elysee palace. Bon Chance, Sego.


In a desperate attempt to surge ahead of itself, the New York Times is allowing some strange sounding expression. In a front page story on Mogadishu, Jeffrey Gettleman wrote about "a back drop of beautifully crumbled ruins from battles now over." Gettleman doesn't seem to get it. How could ruins in an inhabited city look beautifully crumbled? There were PEOPLE living there, for God's sake! Their homes were destroyed, they became refugees, most of them jobless, living below poverty level. And here comes Gettleman from New York -- or wherever -- to wax poetic about the new rule courts by finding beauty even in destruction. That Islamic grouping must have made their regional and international deals after the former warlords fled to the sea or joined them. One signal is the positive media treatment by international media. There is no problem with praising their stabilizing role, but "beautifully crumbling ruins" went too far. Its almost similar to that other expression -- on the same front page of the same paper -- that radicalism has "metastasized." Was that word "fit to print?"!


An argument in France about the first user of such a "now you see it, now you don't" expression has gone from President Chirac to impressionist poet Arthur Rambaud. While a major daily newspaper thought it was the President ("who is to body language what Shakespeare is to English literature") another -- or possibly the same paper with a different writer -- reverted to Rambaud's Le Coeru Vole (The Stolen Heart). "O flot abracadabrantesques. Prenez mon Coeur, quil soit lave" (Take my heart which will be cleansed). Much time, space and thought was given to a creative expression. Parisian intellectual elite loves that sort of debacle. But for us at U.N. New York Headquarters, we witnessed abracadabrantesque performances almost daily for the last decade. Thank God its almost over.


In a satirical take-off on Mr. Annan's planning and decision-making, London's Private Eye in September carried a "Lebanon Round-up" where in one item Mr. Annan confirmed that after his thorough search a certain country has agreed to send troops to lead the projected U.N. force in Lebanon. "We are very grateful to Israel" Mr. Annan is quoted (sic) as saying, for agreeing to send soldiers with the U.N. force which "made Israel the obvious candidate to lead it." In another item, Mr. Annan was indicating that as part of his brokered ceasefire, Hezbollah has agreed to hand over its weapons to Hezbollah. "Once the handover from Hezbollah to Hezbollah is complete, then peace in the region can be assured, said Kofi."


FAO's Ceres Medal, named after the Roman Goddess of Agriculture, was awarded to Queen Sofia of Spain. It was in recognition of her efforts to raise living standards of rural women in developing countries. Roughly 70 percent of the world's 854 million hungry people live in rural areas. The gracious Queen never hesitated to visit emergency and rehabilitation operations, particularly in the wake of national disasters, such as hurricanes or earthquakes. She volunteered to help in countries like Bangledesh, Guatemala, Chile, Columbia, Mexico. That discreet effort was only one aspect of the dedicated effort by the Queen of Spain who is the daughter and sister of Kings of Greece.


Following the General Assembly meeting adopting the appointment of Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General-designate received well-wishers at the nearby Indonesian Lounge. Among the first to rush was a group of current Under-Secretaries General and senior officials looking forward to finding out their prospects. When Peacekeeping Chief Jean-Marie Guehenno introduced himself, Mr. Ban addressed him in French saying: "Oui, en vas travallez ensemble." That confirms an understanding that the French has requested keeping Peacekeeping as "encouragement" for their positive vote, although it may not necessarily be Mr. Guehenno, but another French nominee. A similar understanding is thought to have been reached with the British on another senior post.


The original hit team of the current Secretary General found an occasion to get together following the General Assembly approval of Ban Ki-Moon. The shameless self-promoter and the Chef de Cabeb must have needed each other's consolation as the older order changeth. Some consultation may also have been exchanged, possibly on how to put Mr. Annan behind them and seek to impress the new sovereign of the realm. Who knows. Perhaps the Sherpa could revert to his clownings days as a court jester and the faded Chef could introduce a new blend of Cabab with Korean Kimchie.