25 June 2004


Let's hope the experiment works. Now that the "old" European offices were recklessly closed under the banner of reform, some staff were moved to a "Regional U.N. Information Centre for Europe." The office space is not yet ready but experienced and dedicated staff from some of the closed offices are trying their best. They are led by Hassan Fodha who as Paris Director has impressed four successive Secretaries General. His deputy is Andreas Niklisch who served in Vienna and Prague. Others include one of the most competent Information officers, Ana Tello from Lisbon and Carlos Jimenez from Spain. Another Madrid staffer, the bright and brilliant Sonsoles Massa handles the administration. A remarkable addition is an electronic website team trying to cater to most European languages. Clerical help is accumulating. An official car is on its way. (Remind me to tell you about the story of the car some other time.) The location is not far from the European Commission. Earlier this year the Secretary General ostensibly opened the new premises launching a regional European initiative. In fact, the party was held at the entrance hall -- a "photo-op" to be pursued, hopefully not much later.


Handpicked by Kofi Annan to become High Commissioner for Refugees over other candidates proposed by the Dutch government, Ruud Lubbers is being officially investigated for sexual intimidation. Already three women from within the office have come forward plus one from the outside. The former Prime Minister is not taking such sexual accusations lying down. He is making threatening noises which apparently drew a telephone call from Mr. Annan. While an angry comment by Chief Inspector Neer thought that "the man was bringing discredit" to himself, the man himself, who is not very popular amongst the HCR staff, seemed confident enough to tell an audience at a recent festival in Amsterdam that he intended to stay until 2005. What does he know?!


It may turn out that the head of the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight needs to be investigated. Dileep Nair, known to some skeptics as the "Bore from Singapore," could provide some excitement after all -- though not the type helpful to him or the Organization he is supposed to safeguard. Fox News and NY Post, both owned by "our friend" Rupert Murdoch (whose only daughter married a wonderful young doctor from Ghana) -- were on the case. They claimed he was accused of demanding kickbacks and sexual favours in return for promotions inside his office. It maybe recalled that Dileep is investigating another senior U.N. official, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers for sexual harassment. Is it payback time?


The funeral of President Ronald Reagan was not only an American event, but attracted international participation. Prominant heads of state and world leaders who had dealt with him, including Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher and Perestroika leader Mikhail Gorbachev, made a special appearance. Former President George H. Bush, who had served as Reagan's Vice President, made an emotional and touching speech in which he recalled the former President's wit: When asked how did his meeting with Bishop Tutu go, he answered "So-So." President Bush also made an emotional tribute on behalf of the U.S. It was also an occasion for Reverend John Danforth who officiated to display the qualities that led his colleagues in Congress to call him St. Jack. In a collective move of nostalgia, the American people seemed to bid a fond farewell for a leader who "Did not have a mean streak in his bones." Millions of Americans paid their respects in their own way, whatever they were, as his body was flown to be buried at sunset in his beloved California.


Just before commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Rwanda Massacre, a fire broke out on 2 April at the "Evidence Office" of the U.N. Tribunal, destroying computers and folders. Asked about lost material, a spokesman assured everyone that "no key documents were lost" and the fire was "most likely" caused by an "electric fault" according to Roland Ammoussogo. By the way, whatever happened to Monsieur Bizimangu?


New York Times U.N. Correspondent Warren Hogue, historically accommodating to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, asked him an unusually tough question at a 28 April press conference about reports on "Kofigate," Food for Oil, mentioning his son Kojo. Apparently taken by surprise, though generally prepared for a similar query from other quarters, Mr. Annan went into a somewhat detailed response about his son working for Cotecna, mainly in Nigeria and Ghana, but that neither Kojo nor Kofi had any knowledge of the lucrative contract accorded to the Geneva-based company which had placed his young son on its Board of Directors. Some felt that the response could have been handled with a focused reference to the investigating committee. Anyway, it was noted that the Times carried no reference to the question or answer. The motto on the masthead of the Times is: "All the News That's Fit to Print."


During a press conference just before the invasion of Iraq, Security General was asked about the concept of accepting military action to topple oppressive regions. He had announced just before the Kosovo war that no dictator should be allowed to hide behind the U.N. Charter. So the lady putting the question wanted to know if that would allow for an attack on Saddam Hussein. Mr. Annan gave a general response but pointed out a study sponsored by Canadians on the "Responsibility to Protect." He recommended it as very interesting reading. However, when the report reached U.N. Headquarters, the report was kept under wraps. At least one member of its panel has indicated that the Canadian sponsored report was being blocked by a senior Canadian in the Secretariat. Could that be true? Or is she again being fingered out by competitors for influence?


A pillar of U.N. Television, Steve Whitehouse, retired at the end of May. He produced most of the feature films, not only on peacekeeping but on every aspect of human endeavour. A field man at Headquarters and Headquarters man in the field, Steve carried his heart on his sleeve, working jovially and closely with his colleagues. One farewell gift was a T-shirt announcing: "Retired -- if you want to talk to me you'll be charged consultation fees." But he got more than just a T-shirt: the sincere affection of his colleagues who enjoyed working with him when working for and at the U.N. was really fun. Steve will be joining his wife who is on a mission in Kosovo.


A suddenly announced new flag of Iraq received wide condemnation in the Arab world and within Iraq. The Governing Council had approved a design by a brother of one of its members, Nasir Chaderji who responded angrily to queries on the colours' purpose and propriety and hung up on pan Arab daily Asharq Alwsat. Two blue lines supposedly reflected the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the white background a desire for peace, a yellow line a reference to the Kurds and a crescent a symbol of Islam. In a suspicious neighbourhood, it was claimed that the flag overlooked the Arab dimension of Iraq. Some even claimed it looked suspiciously close to the Israeli flag. Most observers wondered why a transitional body would feel an urgency to issue a new flag. The old one was Iraq's traditional one since the establishment of the state. Saddam Hussein added -- in his own handwriting! -- the words "Allah Akbar" (God is Greater) to display Islamic credentials after his war with the Islamic Republic of Iran. It seems very few Iraqis are flying the new flag. The former Army General who took charge of Fallujah not only displayed the old one but maintained a related insignia on his shoulders as he started his new mission. Iraqi officials still use the old one.


A commemoration of World Press Freedom Day was held at U.N. Headquarters on 3 May with the participation of the Committee on Information and Media representatives. Shashi Tharoor, Under Secretary General for Public Information chaired a two-fold meeting -- a ceremonial one addressed by the Secretary General and a substantive one where professionals reviewed the type and extent of coverage of international news. Jim Ottaway Jr., President of one of the most effective groups defending free press, Toni Jenkins, President of U.N. Correspondents Association and Danilo Turk, Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs, made interesting remarks. At one point, there was a discrepancy in the figures relating to press casualties while Kofi Annan mentioned that 36 journalists died in 2003, Jenkins used the figures of Rapporteur sans Frontieres indicating there were actually 42 killed, 766 arrested, and 1,460 physically attacked.


Ahmed Al Sheikh was appointed as Chief News Editor of Arabic Satellite Al-Jazeera to succeed Ibrahim Hilal who rejoined BBC World Service. Sheikh, who was the originator of a program "Islamic Law in Daily Life," was one of the original group that moved from the Arabic service of the BBC to start Al Jazeera. He exerted special influence as one of three members of the editorial board.


"Unfortunately, being a bad spokesman is not a crime, "former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson referring to former Iraq Information Minister Al-Sahhaf who was interviewed then released after the fall of Baghdad.


Anyone visiting the UNCA Club at U.N. premises may bump into a baby in a blue stroller curiously observing hurried reporters under the watchful eye of his mother. He is Ian Williams Junior, toughing it up on the footsteps of his father whose career ranged from organizing labour unions to speech writing for a leader of the British Labour party. In between, Ian Senior had a drinking competition with Chinese Premiere Chou En Lai and an argument on English literature with Mone Moa. Although Junior is not able to talk yet, he would readily smile when he hears a spokesman's announcement on the speaker.


Alexander "Misha" Broz is likely to be appointed as Ambassador of Crotia to Indonesia. For those with institutional memory, he is the son of Joseph Broz Tito, who in the mid-sixties formed an influential non-aligned movement. His designation to Jakarta will be welcomed by President Megawati whose father Sukarno was a close partner of the Yuglosav leader, who had a daughter from a first Russian wife and two sons from a Croatian one; the eldest lost his way and the second, Alexander, grew into a remarkably successful man with solid character. He is married to a Serb and has one daughter, Alexandra, who is very popular in Zagreb commercials. Very few outside his country would recognize his background -- he introduces himself as Broz -- not Tito.


The U.S. Ambassador designate to the U.N., former Senator John C. Danforth, is an ordained Episcopal minister known around Washington as St. Jack. Highly regarded by both Democrats and Republicans, the former Missouri Senator for 18 years is already mentioned as a possible Secretary of State in a new Bush Administration. A moderate Republican, he demonstrated his negotiating skills -- and special access within Washington -- in arranging an agreement for the thirty year old conflict in Southern Sudan. His appointment was welcomed as a practical indication that President Bush intended to enhance his dealings with the U.N. As Reverend Danforth officiated recently at the funeral of President Reagan, some observers prayed that he would bring the fear of God into the hearts of some senior U.N. officials who seem to treat the Organization as their personal property. It is said that ruthless sailors only remember the Almighty during a storm. Maybe the current crisis facing the U.N. and its Mr. Annan would bring about some true compassion for worthy causes (as opposed to photo opportunities) and wider justice for dedicated staff (as opposed to those not working yet networking). Perhaps "St. Jack" can help. Let us pray.


The recent Security Council resolution adopted unanimously was a victory for the unity of its members. It also reflected readiness by other governments, particularly France, Germany, Russia and China to accommodate President Bush who in turn displayed special efforts to meet his interlocutors half-way. Behind it all, however, it was a discreet yet clear achievement for U.S. Representative to the U.N., John Negroponte, who does not blow his own horn and goes around doing his job and getting results. As the new Ambassador to Iraq as of July, he had high stakes in getting the right resolution. And he did. In effect, he helped draft his own future international instructions.


The formidable American statesman James Baker has finally resigned from his assignment as the Secretary General's Special Representative on Western Sahara, according to informed diplomatic sources. The former Secretary of State during former President Bush, who argued the case for current George W. Bush to the Supreme Court, may have decided that he has spent enough of his time on a non-promising venture while dealing with mediocre, though extremely accommodating, characters at U.N. Headquarters. In addition to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is likely to leave for the World Bank next year, Secretary Baker was one of the very few highly placed Republicans who were pleading Kofi Annan's case with the current U.S. Administration. A likely candidate for that post for Western Sahara is Alvero Soto, who is not fully occupied on Cyprus.


According to an internal survey reported by N.Y. Post, many U.N. staff fear reprisals from their bosses if they step forward with information or report allegations of corruption. The recent poll shows the staff has little faith in the leadership's commitment to ethics and integrity. Interestingly, a N.Y. Times correspondent followed the next day with a "damage control" piece ending up with an accommodating quotation -- thus proving the point made by the survey. Claudia Rosette commented in the Wall Street Journal that unlike, for example, Ronald Reagan, who would push for change, Kofi Annan prefers issuing reports.


In a letter from Kabul, British satirical biweekly Private Eye reported on the private life of international community members in the Afghan capital. It claims that only 16% of the $4.5 billion pledged at the Tokyo conference goes to the government; the rest in the hands of NGO; a term used to refer to "the well heeled" international staff of the U.N. and aid organizations who reportedly spend time shopping for wide screen tvs and laptops at a new Sony Centre. "Most other shopkeepers only ever glimpse them as they are driven past in one of the $75,000 Toyota Landcruisers most of them owned by the U.N. -- known here as the Toyota Taliban," the letter says, adding that the cruisers ferried them from office to restaurant to guest house. It continues: "There's a swimming pool at a central U.N. compound and regular parties and barbecues. Memories of a party held by the DHL courier group last November, when an opium pipe was passed around by U.N. staff, are still fresh. If boredom strikes, aid workers might also sign up for Tai Chi and Argentinean tango lessons."


Michael McCann, Chief of U.N. Security, will be leaving by the end of June. The honest, capable, and sensitive New Yorker has earned the respect and admiration of all those who followed his decade of spade work at the U.N. A courteous professional with the perceptive eyes of a hawk, McCann overseas major conferences and summits, including the 50th Anniversary, the Millennium summit, as well as daily operations in the glass box premises. A farewell party given for him on 17 June was attended by a wide range of friends and colleagues. Speculation about his successor range from names lke Eric Boswell of the U.S. State Department Security Service to former N.Y. Police Commissioner Kerek, who just completed a stint in Iraq. For the time being, however, everyone wishes Chief McCann success in his new life, where at least he could spend some time with his family in Queens.


Former long time Kuwait Permanent Representative Mohammed Abulhassan may not last long as his country's Information Minister. He ran into difficulties with a parliamentarian group and reportedly submitted a preemptive resignation to the Prime Minister, effective end of June. Meanwhile, he sued a Kuwait daily paper for publishing a statement by a parliamentarian describing him as an "untruthful coward." In his court papers, Abulhassan stated that he is a prominent personality, a first-rate nationalist whose accomplishments could be denied only by an ignorant ingrate. Rumours about his return to New York are discounted. The new Ambassador Nabeela Al-Mulla has already made an impressive impact. As the first Arab U.N. Ambassador, she is an accomplished -- and popular -- diplomat who is not easily pushed around.


It is Africa's turn to preside over the General Assembly this year in its 59th session. On 11 June it was agreed that Gabon's Foreign Minister, Jean Ping, will take over from Julian Hunte the Foreign Minister of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. While small countries preside, big countries prevail.


"As six African leaders gather again for a G-8 Summit, we can expect to be portrayed in some quarters as mendicants. This is not the intent or fault of our hosts. We can argue about who is to blame for that perception -- and we Africans are far from blameless -- but on this all surely can agree: Africans will be object of compassion and contempt until such time as we have become demonstrable masters of our destiny," Thabo Mbeki, President of South African.


Kassymzhomart Tokaev, Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, visited New York in early June to launch his autobiographical book "Meeting the Challenge." In it, the distinguished statesman who has served also as Prime Minister gives a personal and political account of the genesis of Kazakhstan as well as an insightful portrayal of the country's road to independence. The reader has ample opportunity to look at events surrounding the collapse of the Soviet Union and the early years of the newly established post-Soviet states. Having attended every General Assembly session since 1992, the Foreign Minister reflects thoughtfully on the crucial importance of international cooperation in support of U.N. objectives. He also provides a number of interesting anecdotes. His visit was effectively prepared by Kazakhstan Ambassador Yerzhan Kazy Khanov.


Unusually, the summit of Arab heads of states in Tunis end of May did not solicit high level U.N. representation. The Secretary General, for the first time since his election passed; he was justifiably overseeing the Security Council deliberations over Iraq. Lakhdar Brahimi was clearly busy in Baghdad. When Mohammed Sahnoun, one of the Special Envoys for Africa, arrived in the Tunisian capital to represent the U.N., he was given normal courtesy but little else. As to a special message by the Secretary General, the former Algerian diplomat was advised that he can roll a number of copies and place them with a conference officer.


A great welcome to Juan Antonio Yanez-Barneuvo. The new permanent representative of Spain is in fact an experienced U.N. hand who represented his country with distinction in the eighties. A close adviser to Socialist party leaders, he served in the Security Cuoncil while also coping with other issues from public information to administrative reform. He then returned as Director General of the most respected institute for Spain's diplomatic civil servants. Clearly, Spain occupies a special place for so many cultures and continents: Latin, Iberian, Mediterranean, European and, above all, human. Juan Antonio Yanez-Barneuvo has reflected that unique blend with confident, accessible, and enlightened presence. He, and his country, will continue to make that presence felt in New York.


Feodor Starcivic who ran UNIC Delhi for over seven years will be retiring at the end of June. An experienced diplomat and communicator from Sarajevo, Feoder was at home in India, as he was even in the most risky spots. His dynamic efforts to promote U.N. issues reached out to every corner of his field area. A courteous colleague and tough manager, he gained the respect of his colleagues and the affection of his staff. As he retires to launch possibly a career in politics at home, he will be replaced by Shallini Diwan, former Director of UNIC Rome, a U.S. citizen of Indian origin. Ms. Diwan has in effect returned to the Department where she started as a press officer. Her work with UNICEF, FAO, Vienna and Rome has "widened" her perspective, giving her an overall U.N. representation, an experience which will come in handy in her new post. Good Luck.