15 OCTOBER 2015


Agreement was reached on the five new Non-Permanent Members of the Security Council for the year 2016 - 2017 with regional consensus: Egypt, Japan, Senegal, Ukraine, Uruguay. The significance of the choices are that they are dealing with the selection of the next U.N. Secretary-General as Ban Ki-Moon's term ends next year. The other remaining Permanent Members of the Security Council remain: Angola, Malaysia, Spain, New Zealand and Venezuela.


U.N. insiders with institutional memory would recall that a certain Under-Secretary General for Administration and Management in the early 2000 years tried to divert the U.N. Joint Pension Fund to investment firm PIMCO which he later reportedly joined. The move was blocked by alert insiders who mobilized to draw the Secretary-General's attention about serious risks to the staff, retirees and him personally (for more information, go to www.unforum.com Sitemap). Well, recent financial press reports indicated that two ex-employees of PIMCO have raised a case, accusing it and its sister company Allianz Global Investors, of mis-using their employees' retirement savings funds. "The "joint company pension scheme was stuffed with overpriced PIMCO and Allianz mutual funds, while employees' contributions were being used to prop up risky new funds," according to a claim filed in a California Federal Court. In addition to its financial difficulties, PIMCO's founder and former chief is suing other Board members of financially under-cutting him. Imagine what would have happened to the U.N. Staff Pension Fund if that stealth attempt by that U.N. senior influential official at the time was actually implemented. Keep calm and carry on -- with open eyes.


The impact of Pope Francis' visit to U.N. Headquarters was particularly obvious when he addressed Secretariat staff, lauding the spirit of international civil service and describing their dedicated work as the core of the Organization's effort. When the Pope and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon took their place facing the assembled energized crowd drawn from all cultures, backgrounds, and ranks, one or two -- particularly one -- senior official assumed that he would be given a prominent visible spot until those inspired by the advocate of humility, equality and dignity all spread themselves accordingly.


Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali habitually prided himself for having youthful health. Reporters enquiring about his age were challenged to compete in a 100-yard dash. He did lose weight when clashing with his alternatively friend/foe Dr. Madeleine Albright, who also happened to have the same unintended consequence. Generally, however, "BBG," maintained excellent shape as he took over as head of "Francophonie" and continued to lecture and write books in addition to heading a Human Rights Commission. We were reliably informed, however, that our former chief was hospitalized in Paris early October after a fall on his back. He underwent substantive surgery. Thoughtfully, Ban Ki-moon telephoned to express his best wishes. We too wish him speedy recovery and look forward to a 100-yard dash in the very near future.


Swiftly yet quietly, Bangladesh U.N. Permanent Representative in New York made a farewell visit to the Secretary-General. The name of Ambassador Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen has just been mentioned in the exploding scandal involving the arrest of former General Assembly President John Ashe. Gradually, reported details of the investigation indicated that Chinese businessman "Ng" subsidized funding for all activities by the Bangladesh Representative and President of the High Level Committee for South-South Co-operation. A meeting on that issue was reportedly held last August in the gambling town of Macao, where Mr. Ng sought to enhance his stature by establishing an international conference center. No accusations were mentioned against him. It may not be related, but he left swiftly and quietly without making the usual round of farewells, nor staying to attend, as usual, the deliberations of General Assembly committees, particularly those specifically devoted to South-South collaboration.


Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his wife were spotted in New York by a colleague about 10pm Monday, 28 September, while coming back from dinner on the western side of 2nd Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets -- one block away from the U.N. Mrs. Tsipras seemed to be in a jolly mood, hopping her way back to their hotel while her husband seemed happily holding hands and laughing. Perhaps they should have tried to teach fellow General Debate German Chancellor Angela Merkel how to do a Greek dance.


It was not only Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Coldplay who were making international music timed with the opening of the U.N. Assembly. They did have Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a number of delegates head to Central Park on Sunday, 27 September, for a day-long "Global" concert against poverty (though some agencies suggested that in addition to singing they could have easily raised $1 million to help the poor of the world. Several other artists spread around Manhattan, though with less ambitious claims. A Greek evening by Eleftheria Arvanitaki and Alkistis Protopselti at Town Hall, a Spanish Flamenco evening at the Metropolitan Museum, followed by African folklore night by artists from Mali.


Someone is certainly listening. The question usually is who? When over 140 heads of state and governments arrived in New York for the U.N. 70th Anniversary General Debate, there was talk about which hotels they were staying at and who's tailing whom. It was mainly uninformed gossip as most big powers have the means to monitor telecommunications where, when and with who they really want listening. Still, it was repeated that U.S. President Obama did not stay at the Waldorf Astoria Towers this year, as he and other U.S. Presidents have stayed over 69 years, because the hotel was bought recently by a Chinese company with links to Beijing. That would allow them to monitor the Presidential moves instantly. The U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. actually remained at the Waldorf but apparently her chatter and mini-dress hopping would not be of similar interest. Instead, POTUS stayed at the nearby Palace Hotel which is officially owned by the King of Brunei, but actually run by a South Korean conglomerate. Thus, Beijing's loss was actually Samsung's gain.


Approaches by a number of countries to extend the current U.H. High Commissioner for Refugees to continue handling a growing worldwide migration crisis have been apparently turned down by the Secretary-General. It seems political pressures to keep him were balanced by other political pressures to nominate a particular successor. Therefore, as the post of U.N. Commissioner of Refugees will be available soon, with the departure of former Portuguese Premier Antonio Guterres, a number of candidates, mainly European, have been lobbying for the post, particularly during the presence of heads of state and governments at U.N. Headquarters. The President of the 70th Session of the General Assembly is discreetly, yet clearly, supporting his compatriot, former Denmark Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who was once photographed worldwide when U.S. President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron were taking a "selfie" next to her (with a disgruntled FLOTUS) during the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Other candidates include an Italian (former UNRWA head Grandi) and an eternal German candidate for any senior U.N. post -- Achim Steiner, who had managed to take over UNEP in Nairobi. Geneva, of course, would be closer to home. The UNHCR post was first held by the legendary figures Prince Sadvuddin Alha Khan and Mrs. Opalia, both from Asia, then went downhill with a Dutch former Prime Minister during Mr. Annan's time, who was urged to resign after embarrassing scandals of groping women. Mr. Guterres helped restore part of the UNHCR's reputation, despite unprecedented escalation of refugees amidst a growing lack of funds. Current lobbying for the post is crucial: a new leader could make or break UNHCR. More crucial is the fate of about 60 million people displaced around the world today.


"You're sleeping with us. You're voting against us."
A street sign in Paris, carried by prostitutes in front of France's National Assembly, debating a proposal against prostitution customers.


Each head of the U.N. office of Internal Oversight Services has had a different evaluation of their role and image of their impact. The post was launched by Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali with enthusiastic support by U.S. Permanent Representative Madeleine Albright (during their harmonious period). It was effectively built by Professor Paschke of Germany, yet brought into some question when a "bore from Singapore" during Kofi Annan's time accomplished significant results yet spoiled it by a dubious promotion of one of his female colleagues from General Services to a D-2 senior post. Regrettably, others who followed had similarly mixed reviews and did not seem to maintain or upgrade a credible "halo" that would allow them to judge or evaluable others successfully. The latest one, Carman Lapointe, was neither here nor there, neither seen nor heard from, except negatively in a case of a whistle-blower. Early October, the Secretary-General indicated his intention to designate Heidi Mendoza, Commissioner of Audit in the Philippines, to that 5-year post. She built a reputation as a solid, dynamic auditor.


Senior visiting officials attending the U.N. General Debates must have realized how seriously senior U.N. Secretariat officials take World Toilet Day. Although it was designated last year for 19 November, apparently every day at the U.N. compound is World Toilet Day. If and when visiting any men's or women's room around the General Assembly, every toilet paper roll has that declaration inscribed on it. Plus, it could be recycled too.


While the Secretary-General and General Assembly President use offices behind the General Assembly podium for swift meetings, the back side behind the meeting hall has a lounge, which is often used for informal meetings between participating visitors. For several years, one aspiring diplomat used to hang around that lounge to sniff any potential deeds or unusual handshakes. Very few seemed to use it this year. If anything, they would hurriedly shake hands with whomever while rushing to the discreetly marked toilets.


"And may these characters remain
When all is ruin once again"
These lines were inscribed by Irish poet William Butler Yeats at the Tower he built at Ballylee, an almost destroyed structure which is now being rebuilt to commemorate the poet's 150 year anniversary. The "Thoor" has a special significance in local folklore since Mr. Yeats had announced: "I declare this tower as my symbol. I declare this winding, grinding, spicing terrain as my ancestral star."


One of Yeats' almost forgotten lyrics: "I went out alone
To sing a song or two
My fancy on a man,
And you know who.
Another came in sight
That on a stick relied
To hold himself upright;
I sat and cried.
And that was all my song -
When everything is told
Saw I an old man young
Or young man old?"


A decade ago, a satirical popular French song by Jacques Dutronc announced Parisian insecurity at having "Sept cent millions de chinois...Et moi, et moi, et moi." He was worried about his lifestyle, "mon petit chez-moi, mon mal de tete, mon point au foie," adding to assure himself: "J'y pense et puis j'oublie. C'est la vie." Well, this summer, the Mayor of Paris indicated that the number of Chinese visitors to the City of Light exceeded two million. They were clearly visible around town as they moved in joint groups and clearly-marked busses as they explored the Tour Eiffel, the Champs-Elysees, Place de l'Opera, and special touristic souvenir shops and restaurants in-between. Despite habitual skepticism about groups of foreign visitors, the general response has been somewhat welcoming. With the current financial crisis, "deux millions" Chinois bring in welcome ready cash. As Monsieur Dutronc says toward the end of his song: "J'attends mon cheque de fin de mois. J'y pense et puis j'oublie. C'est la vie."


A Security Council membership for Egypt during 2016-2017 is almost certain. It is generally agreed that every other year one Arab state from Asia then another from Africa rotate in taking that seat within a geographical regional arrangement. As Jordan (taking over Saudi Arabia's designated seat) partially represented Asia, Egypt does not seem to have any competitor from North Africa. Yet, President Sissi is not leaving anything to chance. During his participation in the U.N. General Debate in New York, the General made sure during his meetings at the U.N. compound or at the Palace Hotel where he stayed to ensure an impressive vote when it comes to the Assembly, most likely late October. While the President himself is spearheading the effort, together with Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry, the experienced touch of former U.N. colleague Fayza Aboulnaga, the currently Presidential National Security Advisor, would offer valuable help -- discreet as always.


Apropos Ms. Aboulnaga, many of her friends were seriously concerned when hearing about the tragic stampede during the recent Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca when over 1,000 victims lost their lives and many others seriously wounded. Our Egyptian former colleague had indicated that she would be among the participants there this year. After a number of hurried enquiries, it became clear that she had accomplished her devoted prayers and returned safely home. A blessed Hajj, Hajjah Fayza.


A special festival for extraordinary cuisine was held in Mougins, France, during the third week-end of September, attended by a selection of renowned world chefs. It just happens that some of the best known French chefs came from the little town on the mountain near Cannes at the Cote d'Azur. It was a tasteful occasion to commemmorate Chef Roger Vergé, its native son, who achieved global fame and passed away last June, after actively helping to launch a "Gastronomie" week-end ten years ago. Attendance was free -- if you were able to get there.


The ceremony of raising the flag of Palestine at the U.N. was treated with the historic symbolism it deserved. The President of the General Assembly Session, the Secretary-General, the President of the Palestinian Authority made a remarkable presentation, stressing the inestimable rights of the Palestinian people and expressing hope for the future. While U.N. Security officers did their best to keep the ceremony flowing despite enthusiastic rushing crowds and wide media coverage at the Rose Garden, there was confusion about who to let in closer to the pole. The interpretation of Mr. Abbas' brief and concise speech was left to Palestine Observer representative Riyad Mansour who tried his best. Actually, Dr. Mansour deserves special credit for his effective role in accomplishing symbolic steps, although several others tried to claim it. By the way, whomever helped in raising the flag forgot to spread it wider, away from its rope.


With military intervention by Russia in Syria, including passage through Iraq, a number of Iraqi admirers started spinning folkloric tales about Russian President Vladimir Putin, speculating he could be of Iraqi origin. It claimed that his father's name was "Abu Tin," who was named as such because he sold figs (Tin) in the southern Iraqi town of Nasiriyah, then emigrated to Russia, where he married and had a son he called "Abdelamir," which in Russian was interpreted as "Vladimir." Iraqis claiming a link to prominent world figures is habitual in Iraqi folklore. Before Mr. Putin, a number of Iraqis "traced" links to Winston Churchill, Stalin, de Gaulle and Nasser, who was obviously linked to Nasiriyah too.


As usual around the opening time of the General Assembly Debate, the National Day of Saudi Arabia was celebrated on 22 September on the joint invitation from the Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the U.N., Ambassador Abdullah Al-Mouallimi with his wife Mrs. Sahar Hajjer, and the Consulate General in New York, Mr. Khaled Sharif with his wife, Mrs. Sarah Fudaak. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his Deputy Jan Eliasson were among the many diplomats, international civil servants, Saudi nationals, and other guests at the Waldorf Astoria Grand Ballroom, where featured life in that country and its international role were displayed and information kits delivered to interested guests.


The garbage crisis in Lebanon has hit UNDP staff there. The main protest group "You Stink" named certain UNDP Beirut staff as part of the garbage problem. They mentioned one name in particular as colluding with a couple of garbage companies to seek exaggerated profit. A detailed note was sent to UNDP Headquarters in New York -- in case anyone there really cares.



"Borrow money from pessimists --
They don't expect it back."


Many visiting senior officials brought along family members, including sons and daughters who sought to explore at least the Turtle Bay neighborhood. While having dinner at a popular steakhouse, we overheard a young woman sharply telling her male companion: "Why do you keep looking at your phone for messages - why do you have to keep texting while we're having dinner in New York?"


France's former Presidential candidate Segolene Royal, who once lost the election to President Sarkozy but won the hearts of women and respect of men, participated with the French delegation to the U.N. General Debate headed by President Francois Hollande. Although President Hollande was an awkward target of wide media coverage of his female relations, including a woman who moved in then left the Presidential residence, and wearing a helmet on a scooter to visit another, Ms. Royal remained above it all -- although she was his companion for decades and mother of his children. Her appearance in New York in the same delegation as Minister of Energy and Environment -- however low key -- led veteran observers to wonder whether the beleaguered Monsieur Hollande came around to realize that Madame Royal is truly royal among other contending women.


"You can observe a lot by watching." Such advice was famously attributed to Yogi Berra, a Major League Baseball catcher, manager and coach who became a popular legend of an every day New Yorker. Lawrence Peter (known generally as Yogi) Berra, who passed away early October, spoke casually without having to explain himself. Yet whatever he pronounced suddenly went around like local wisdom. "It ain't over till it's over;" "It's like deja-vu all over again;" "It gets too late early;" "It's so crowded nobody goes there anymore;" were spread like confetti at gatherings. On retirement, he said there may be two different Berras -- "one who's me and the other you read about who is a kind of a comic strip character -- I don't know that Yoji because he isn't me." Yet, he was stuck with a public perception even when he chose to stay secluded at home in Montclair, New Jersey. On bidding farewell to him, most New Yorkers recalled his famous quote: "When you reach a fork in the road, take it."


MAMDOUHA BOBST: A discreet generous contributor whose name, together with her husband, adorns university and hospital wings, including one on New York's East River Drive and New York University Square, Mamdouha El-Sayyed Bosbst, who passed away recently, devoted her life to help others. While starting her diplomatic life in New York after arriving from Tripoli, north Lebanon, she met her soul-mate and eventual husband Elmer Bobst, a wealthy philanthropist who was a prominent financial advisor during President Nixon's years; then jointly and quietly extended their support to worthy causes. They were so inter-related that while Americans claimed Mamdouha as one of their own, the Lebanese claimed Elmer. As a courtesy, her name remained in the U.N. Directory of Delegations as an "Advisor" to the Permanent Mission of Lebanon until only a few years ago as the quality of that representation changed.

JOAN BUNCHE (16 December 1931 - 24 June 2015): Joan Bunche died peacefully and unexpectedly at home on 24 June 2015. After retiring from two decades with the UN Development Programme where she was a Policy Analysis Officer in the Bureau for Policies, Programmes and Evaluation, she did what she liked most -- exploring the joys of life in New York and the world with friends, from the ocean and mountains to good food to theatre to archaeological sites. Her last trip took her to Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos. Before she died, she was planning another walking holiday in Europe. But every day she was ready to enjoy her city -- on foot -- with her routine starting with a donut at Eli's and always eager to try and see new things.

After graduating from Vassar and completing an MA in Sociology from Columbia, she started work in publishing. But she soon joined the United Nations. In her working life, she found her own way to pursue the goals that were the life work of her late father, Ralph Bunche: international understanding, peace, human dignity and equality. The experiences she cherished most were the Voter Registration campaign of the 1960s in Mississippi, and the UN Observer Mission in South Africa in preparation for the country's first democratic elections in 1994. She also served as a member of the AFICS/NY Governing Board for nine years and remained active in the Assistance Review Committee of the AFICS/NY Charities Foundation.

Joan was a very private person, famous for refusing to admit her age. She was in fact right to do so because she defied any categorization. She was her own person. That was her charm and what I and my family will miss, along with her unique style, generosity and warmth.

She is survived by her brother Ralph Bunche Jr., sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews and their children, as well as many many friends.
Contributed by Sakiko Fukuda-Parr

MARION (MAY) DAVIDSON (1938 - 2014): May Davidson, a native of Scotland, died of cancer on 1 October 2014. As my invaluable assistant of some 15 years, she embodied all the qualities one would wish for in a colleague. I first knew her as the indispensable mainstay of my great friend and mentor Ralph Bunche, until his death in 1971. I inherited Ralph's job and at the same time I inherited May.

I was occasionally criticized for deliberately keeping a very small staff, and May, with her efficiency, imagination and intelligence, made it possible for me to keep the Peacekeeping Department as lean as I wanted it. She could tackle anything that came her way. And when a crisis came up and we were functioning on no sleep, and dealing with different time zones, it was May who kept things on track. She was unflappable under any circumstances, a no-nonsense performer who could read people like a psychic and sort out the really useful ones from the frauds.

May was always available when most needed, but she also knew when to step back. Her natural abilities brought her great responsibility. And yet, in my four decades of UN service, I saw how so many smart women like May were condemned by the system to remain stuck at the General Service level. It began with the academic degree requirements she and others did not possess. I myself never had a university degree, but somehow, in those early days in 1945, this discrepancy was brushed aside. By the time May came along, the rules were irreversible.

May told only a handful of friends that she was ill. She wanted no visitors, no sympathy, and apparently left the world without a fuss. I am certain that her reticent Scottish soul would not have wanted it any other way. As a Scot myself, I understand her quiet departure very well.
Contributed by Brian Urquhart, Former Under-Secretary-General for Special Political Affairs, to U.N./AFICS Bulletin