15 October 2012


Accents are natural at the U.N. Where else would you have one word approached from such varied linguistic angles while all agree on its valid meaning. But this year's International Day of Peace on 21 September sounded particularly "Pisful." A "High-Level" debate (now, it's all "high-level"), organized by UNESCO and chaired by its Director-General Irina Bokova held one of the most boring meetings on any subject. Except for our distinguished Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who made an effort to pronounce it right to the full, accents in Serbian English, Indian English, Latino English, Kazakh English, Nigerian English, etc., seemed united for "Pis." There was further confusion about speakers or "presenters" of the so-called "debate" -- actually a series of prolonged monologues. Our beloved Michele Bachelet, listed first was "Under-Secretary General and Executive Director, U.N. Women" did not show up. Instead, a Ms. Puri from that dissembled office held forth; boring, almost irrelevant. Fortunately for her distinguished husband, she didn't use her married name. She injected her confused presentation with occasional vague smiles as if to indicate she was making a clever quip. The fellow who followed her could not be heard between a whistling or distant microphone. Nigerian Nobel Laureate for Literature Wole Soyinka, with his trademark widespread white hair and rimless spectacles seemed more pensive than inspirational. Clearly, he was not inspired. There was also Forest Whitaker, "UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation, Founder of Peace Earth Foundation, Co-Founder and Chair of the International Institute for Peace." Very impressive -- except that the Foundation and Institute were not known for any special impact, if they existed at all. The real puzzle was someone with the name of Nasser David Khalili to whom the following is attached: KCSS, KCFO - Founder, the Khalili Collections and Chairman, The Maimonides Foundation!" Who is he, really? And why invoke the outstanding name of Maimonides, one of the greatest humanist teachers in history? Among the opening addresses after a video on "Waiting for Peace," His Excellency Darkhan Mynbay, Minister of Culture and Information of Kazakhstan, lost the crowd the moment he delved into his written text. Several admonitions to "Pis" went unnoticed. One bright moment. Listed Speaker Sheikha Mozah, Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Development (and a UNESCO Special Envoy) did not participate. Whatever the reason, she was spared the agony or embarrassment of participating in such a counter-productive gathering. Good for her.


Kofi Annan has a great sense of humour when relaxed. But not when he's nervous or self-conscious. During an interview to introduce his book with Comedy TV Channel star Jon Stewart, he made the point that if the Security Council agreed on action in Syria, what would it be? He stated he was against sending more lethal weapons to all sides. He was still hopeful that a peaceful outcome could be reached; God help us if not. On whether he still believed the U.N. could be a frtuiful useful reference for settlement of disputes, the former Secretary General and Peacekeeping head stressed that a decision by the big powers was needed to lend credibility to U.N. action. Were it not for interjecting giggles, it sounded like a very serious interview, not a comedy program. But then, someone once said that history repeated itself, once as a tragedy and then as a farce.


Indications of brewing problems for UNRWA in Lebanon are growing. There seems to be a campaign against the relatively new Field Director -- who apparently is not making adequate efforts to reach out and gain credibility among the refugees. He is giving an impression of not being helpful to those refugees who were forced to leave Syria. It is mentioned that destroying the UNRWA office in Ain El-Hilwi camp near Saida was to send a somewhat loud message to the new Director.


During the annual prayer for the new General Assembly Session at the Holy Family Church, the master of ceremonies -- an Irish-sounding priest -- introduced Ban Ki-moon by saying he will not repeat this year his mistake of last year when he designated him as the Secretary General of the United States. Mr. Ban took it in stride, then went on to make an impressive statement about having seen the best and worst of human behavior. That reminded some of the introduction Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali when he was elected by the General Assembly. An official introduced him similarly. Dr. Boutros-Ghali smiled briefly before seriously taking the oath of office. He had been earlier described in the Arab press as the "prop behind Arab surrender to the U.S." Later, like four years later, it was the U.S. that single-handedly pushed him out.


While speakers at the Holy Family prayer on 16 September on the opening of the General Assembly Session kept referring to the new President Vuk Jeremic, most of those present assumed he was in the forefront of attendance. First few rows in the church were reserved for official guests. Since the Serbian official's face was not yet familiar to most, he was assumed to be seated next to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. That is, until the last few minutes when the time came for his "comments" as listed in the typed program. Nothing was said. Proceedings went straight to benediction and farewell.


Friends of Sri Lanka's former Ambassador to the U.N. Prasad Kariyawasan will be interested to know that after his return home, he was appointed as High Commissioner (Ambassador) of his country to India. Given close links between the two neighbouring countries and sensitive historical events, the post carries special importance. Those who observed him handle very carefully the military events in his own country when he was Permanent Representative in New York are confident he will handle his new assignment with the same competence and dignity, representing all Sri Lanka to all India. We wish him best of luck.


To put the world right in order, we must put the nations in order; to put nations in order, we must first place family in order; to put a family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our HEARTS right.
-- Confucius


During the General Debate, an elegantly dressed adviser to a Prime Minister chatting up a female delegate in the row immediately behind him, then offering his business card...A formerly pompous Special Envoy, shabbily dressed with an oversized blazer carrying a large bag, posing uncertainly at the corner of 45th Street and 2nd Avenue...A delegate representing a broke Palestinian Authority staying at the Four Seasons, the most expensive seven star hotel in New York...French outgoing President Nicholas Sarkozy walking briskly on Park Avenue and 51st Street, surrounded by bodyguards busy whispering into their sleeves.


The Masked Avenger tried. A couple of Canadian comedians called U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon just before the opening of the General Assembly debate. Pretending to be Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, comedian Marc-Antoine Auditte informed an anxious Mr. Ban that he will not be able to attend the high-level meeting. Asked if there was an insurmountable obstacle, the pretender responded that he was in fact too busy combing his hair with Crazy Glue.
It was then that our distinguished leader sought to double-check: "Excuse me. Am I speaking with Prime Minister Harper right now?" he asked.
- "Eh..." was taken as an awkward no!


Australian media was thrilled about a meeting between their own Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Egypt's newly-elected President Mohamed Morsi, former Moslem Brotherhood leader. It was not the main topics of the conversation that mattered. It was the body language. As Brother Morsi arranged his appearance being seated across from the first female head of government, he straightened his jacket, then moved both hands southward to centrally re-arrange his testicles. Obviously, YouTube was there; and from there to the puzzled, amused, or curious population Down Under.


"Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?"
-- Mae West


1. "You're going to the wrong wedding
2. "I am fat; but you're a bully"
3. "Don't think of elephants."


Residents of Turtle Bay, New York, enjoyed the rhythmic arrival of expatriate Nigerians arriving at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza to celebrate Nigeria Day on 6 October. Old and young, Nigerians of all factions and regions were united in raising the proud flag of their great country. Most of them seemed to dance their way, especially when they first arrived in groups, well organized, without seriously disrupting traffic. They then congregated and spread around the Plaza, swinging with music, chattering in their varied regional accents. The young sounded very American, while cheerfully raising the flag of their country of origin. It was a pleasant and welcome celebration worthy of their traditional culture.


Cartoon by Habib Haddad Al-Hayat


Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe, who sings more with her sexy body than her voice, has an underground following amongst Arab men. Politicians everywhere are jealous of her casual ability to unite a dissembled region behind her. Whispering songs like "Kiss my WaWa" were portrayed on every TV channel. In her daily life, Haifa talks very seriously, sometimes about the struggle for liberation. But when it comes to music, she seems to be every frustrated Arab man's dream. A brief report in a Beirut daily indicated that a very distinguished participant in the U.N. General Debate last month managed to persuade her to travel with him to New York with the help of a one million dollar cheque and a villa in an unidentified location. On hearing that report (most likely a "vicious rumour" of course!), some observers noted that His Excellency did not show up at morning meetings, except the first day when he had to. He politely apologized to those seeking appointments that he had incessant and demanding hard work to do.


After serving as Spokesman with Kofi Annan and Ladhkar Brahimi on Syria, Ahmad Fawzi will be returning home by mid-October. He gave his full efforts to both missions, having retired a couple of years earlier. But his family patiently awaited in the Netherlands, his wife and two lively lovely daughters really missed him while no longer term arrangements were being offered by the U.N. Ahmed was a valuable asset to "Mission Impossible," coping creatively with very skeptical media. His contribution will be more clearly missed as the U.N. Mission gets into even more difficult territory.


A film scheduled to be shown at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Former International Civil Servants (AFICS) in New York last June was about the U.N. Interpreters. Federico Riesco, former Assistant Secretary General for Conference Services, was to introduce it. Time ran out, however. A new date was set. Wednesday 17 October at 2pm in the Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium. Be there. In case you care to join others later for wine and cheese, you could proceed to (AFICS) office at DCI-580. Don't forget to bring along $5.00 dollars. You'll get a welcome handshake -- and, perhaps, a smile.



Singer Christina Aguilera was welcomed at the U.S. State Department with obvious admiration by Secretary Hillary Clinton who offered her -- among other things -- an award in recognition of her help to fight poverty. Ms. Aguilera, dressed for the occasion, is a World Food Program "Ambassador" whose obvious qualifications help her accomplish -- together with business tycoon David Novak -- remarkable results. A statement indicated they both raised $115 million to provide 460 million meals to hungry children. No supporting proof was given, but Ms. Aguilera and Mrs. Clinton were reported by the London Daily Mail to have become "bosom buddies." Why not? Enjoy.


The U.N. Women Training Centre announced a Gender and Aid Effectiveness E Workshop for Civil Society Organizations, NGOs and academia. This moderated online course aims to provide knowledge for better understanding the changing aid end policy-making environment and develop capacities in how to monitor aid flows and evaluate their impacts and will include forums and practical exercises on how to apply the principles of aid effectiveness to promote gender equality in our own organizations, how to make a meaningful gender analysis of aid flows, how to engender budgets and how to develop an advocacy strategy for your own organization. It will start on October 22nd and end on November 23rd, 2012, and it is directed to practitioners working in civil society organizations, in NGOs, int he academia. A total of 20 full scholarships are available and will be granted to selected candidates. This self-paced course that will be developed in English includes activities that aim to promote reflection on participants' daily practice. A minimum of 5 hours per week are needed for the different synchronic and asynchronic activities included in this course. To participate in this e learning course, candidates need to:
* Be an active member of the Training for Gender Equality CoP.
* Be working in a civil society organization, NGO or academic institution.
* Be endorsed by their organizations/institutions, including availability of resources (access to internet and computers, printing materials, etc.) and time to adequately comply with the course activities.
* Motivation and a clear view on how to put into practice acquired knowledge and skills.
* Have working knowledge of English language.
* Access to internet
* Programmes to read printed documents. For example, Microsoft Office and PDF documents.
* Facilities to print documents.


A long dormant U.N. University may get a wake-up call. Professor David Malone, once Deputy Permanent Representative of Canada, and a popular reference on the U.N. among media reporters, has been appointed as Rector of the U.N. University in Tokyo. The appointment is usually made by the U.N. Secretary General in Consultations with the UNESCO Director General. The Japanese authorities cover a substantial part of the budget. U.N.U., the first U.N. operation in Japan, was spearheaded initially in the Seventies, along the lines of a now-dormant but then active, U.N. Institute Training and Research (UNITAR). Former U.N. Under-Secretary General for Public Information Yasushi Akashi was very instrumental in passing it through the U.N. Assembly.


Ban Ki-moon said it all in French. And his French has greatly improved with imposed practice. He now sounds more at ease with French texts. As the two U.N. working languages are English and French, he may be encouraged to use both more often. As a tribute to his welcome -- and fun -- effort, we reproduce his statement on 27 September at the annual Francophone dinner:

Je suis très fier d’être parmi vous.

Je vous remercie de m’avoir convié, à nouveau cette année, à la traditionnelle Réception francophone. Sachez que j’ai apprécié, avec toujours beaucoup d’enthousiasme, au cours des cinq années passées, chacune de nos rencontres.

Elles m’ont permis à chaque fois un peu plus, d’appronfondir mon niveau de français et d’apprécier toujours mieux les nuances de cette belle langue.

Comme vous le savez, le français n’est pas ma langue maternelle, mais je suis fier de me dire francophone et francophile.

J’ai eu du mal à apprendre le français. Il y avait tellement d’expressions bizarres!

Quand j’ai commencé à apprendre le français, j’ai réalisé qu’il y avait beaucoup de faux amis : des mots qui sonnent comme en anglais mais ne veulent pas dire la même chose.

Par exemple, en anglais, « bra », ce n’est pas du tout la même chose que « bras » en français. Quand quelqu’un m’a parlé de mon bras pour la première fois, j’ai eu un choc, j’ai cru qu’on me prenait pour une dame!

Quand on utilise un mot français en anglais, il prend tout de suite des connotations intéressantes.

Si j’ai rendez-vous avec un représentant de la France, très bien, mais si je le dis en anglais, on va penser qu’il est galant, ce rendez-vous! Pareil pour « tête-à-tête », d’ailleurs.

Cette semaine, mon calendrier est rempli de « rendez-vous » avec beaucoup d’entre vous.

Quand je pars le soir et que ma secrétaire me dit « à demain », je réponds toujours « à deux pieds »! Je me demande aussi parfois pourquoi une note verbale est « verbale », vu que c’est un document écrit.

Le plus difficile, en français, c’est de faire la liaison entre les mots. Par exemple, dans « faux amis », il y a un « z » entre les deux amis. Je trouve que là, ça devient une liaison dangereuse!

J’ai parfois des difficultés avec les expressions familières. En Suisse, où je me suis rendu il y a quelques semaines, tout le monde disait « tout de bon »! Et les jeunes, quand ils se séparent, ils disent « à plus » au lieu de se dire au revoir.

Moi, j’aurais envie de dire « à moins » -- à moins que ce soit un faux ami!

On pourrait s’amuser longtemps à comparer les salutations en usage dans les différents pays francophones, mais ils ont -- nous avons -- tellement d’autres choses en commun.

Nous avons en commun des aspirations universelles à la paix, au développement et aux droits de l’homme. Nous avons en commun la ferme détermination de les réaliser. Et nous avons en commun la volonté d’œuvrer ensemble à l’édification d’un monde meilleur.

Nous sommes de vrais amis, et même de vrais vieux amis.

Entretenons cette amitié, et notre partenariat, pendant de nombreuses années encore.

Je vous remercie.


"It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of power corrupts those who wield it; and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subjected to it."
-- Aung San Suukyi


At the U.N. North Lawn building, there was an unexpected encounter away from Paris. At about 10:00am on Wednesday, 26 September, France's new President Francois Hollande, arrived to attend a high-level meeting on the African Sahel. Accompanied by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and aide Yamina Benguigui. Standing in the lobby, smiling to no one in particular, just under the tapestry of China's Great Wall, was the mother of his children, now estranged former Presidential candidate Segolene Royal. She had arrived for another "civil society" gathering. Surprised reporters accompanying the President's party looked curiously as Monsieur Hollande swiftly made his way to the meeting room. Still smiling to no one in particular, she explained that each now had their own responsibilities. His team explained that his current female companion was visiting a New York museum. No greetings were exchanged. Not even a "Bonjour."


For some intriguing reason, a limited number of diplomats are watching developments in the race for President of the Republic in South Korea. Until now there was the daughter of a former dictator who ran the country for about two decades until he was assassinated in 1979 and a relatively obscure opposition party candidate. A new entry in mid-September was Professor Ahn Cheol-Soo, a 50 year old professor who is a former medical doctor and currently a software millionaire/philanthropist. Anyone who thinks that the field is already crowded may have to wait until close to election time in December. There is growing gossip, but then let's wait and see. Ahh Sed-Soo!


"We are having this press conference later than usual...because I am coming from the first bi-lateral meeting of this (General Assembly) Session, with a very demanding global icon. Guess whom? I am speaking about Kami, the South African. I have just come from Sesame Street Studio. Kami is the first HIV-positive muppet. We are working with her and the rest of the muppet family to advance our work on global health."
-- U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon


"Hold up.
I ain't tryin to stunt, man.
But the Yeezy jumped over the Jumpman."
-- Rapper Kanye West


"How could this happen? I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cost. Where did I go right?"
-- Zero Mostel in The Producers



Habib Haddad Al-Hayat


A wise old man lived in an oak
The more he saw the less he spoke
The less he spoke the more he heard
Why can't we all be like that bird?
-- Kamel Salibi


A prince who is himself not wise
Cannot be well advised.
-- Niccolo Machiavelli


The New York Times' dining section carried the following headline: "Don't be afraid of the eggplants." Would that include eggheads?!


In one famous play, a poor Mexican farmer tells a parrot giving instructions: "Excuse me, Excellency, I thought you were a parrot. In real life, a parrot came to the rescue of its owner, a shop keeper in Taif Saudi Arabia. When a thief slipped in, the parrot started screaming, 'Thief, Catch the Thief!' The stunned intruder rushed out only to be hit by a passing car. After being taken to the hospital, it was discovered that he was in the country illegally. The same ambulance took him to the airport. So, give a Pappagallo its due, Excellency!"


Former Director of U.N. Personnel, Mohammed Habib Gherab, who died in Tunis, was one of the first North Africans to join the U.N. Secretariat. As a young fighter for his country's independence, he started as a member of the Cabinet of the formidable Mongi Slim who worked with Prime Minister Tahar Ben Ammar at the negotiated process that led to independence under the leadership of Si Habib Bourguiba. He was appointed in various ambassadorial posts, becoming the longest serving Ambassador of Tunisia. He was also the longest serving head of U.N. Personnel from 1969 to 1979, when he was designated as the first Secretary General of the U.N. Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy from 1979 to 1981. Being new to the U.N. and surrounded by young ambitious compatriots, Mr. Gherab was perceived as accountable for unusual cases that somehow impacted on the reputation of the county he loved so much, yet had a heart of gold and tried his best to deal with accelerating problems of swiftly increasing Secretariat staff while trying to contain some of his free-wheeling team. Through it all, he never lost his sense of humour and his warm smile. May his soul rest in Peace. We all belong to God to whom we all return.