15 May 2007


We don't know whether congratulations are in order. We've known it for years but did not mention it. Now the not so secret affair is at last officially no secret anymore. Shashi Tharoor and Christa Giles, we were reliably informed, just married. When Shashi was leapfrogged by Kofi Annan to head the Department of Public Information and while still officially married, he moved Christa with him to that Department, installing her (with a promotion?) on the same tenth floor -- just off the elevator (for ease of movement?). It was supposed to be hush-hush, but everyone in the Department was talking. No rules had been broken because technically they were not married, but it smacked of nepotism -- although nobody was certain who had more influence: Christa or Christo. With a series of negative press reports on senior officials (Riza's son; Nair's week-end appointment of a female staffer from P-4 to D-2; Lubber's sexual harassment case; Oil-for-Food, etc.), Tharoor's own divorce proceedings and some staff speaking out, a transfer was arranged to the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management. She was given an assignment as Secretary of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Indian Ocean! Ms. Giles is a Canadian citizen and thus after the marriage her spouse can now stay in the USA legally. But he may have to think twice before attending the Renaissance Club in Hilton Head. With all other options exhausted, Dubai may be the most convenient exit. Actually, he may do very well as a hedge fund manager, provided he realizes that others also will have to make some profit.


The farcical "Alliance of Civilization" has now been officially recognized with an appointment of the first "High Representative." It is none other than that Special Representative to stop Tuberculosis, former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio. We assume he will not let go of his TB title before making sure he sinks his teeth in the new one, whatever that entails. No "civilization" anywhere around the globe seemed to take notice except someone in the Secretary General's Spokesman's Office and the two ambassadors of Spain and Turkey in Lisbon who dutifully signaled their support in "Publico." In a consigned article, they assured the totally uninterested public that: "with his moral, intellectual and political qualities, Jorge Sampaio is the best man to guide this ship to a safe harbor." How higher can you get?


Marvel Comics Spiderman, the Hulk and Fantastic Four joined the ranks of "U.N. Ambassador" in the spring of 2007. They are to prepare for the 60th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights in 2008. That Declaration was made following a totally destructive World War II and a Holocaust. Whoever made this appointment may want to say that history moves erratically, once as tragedy and once again as a farce.


Ryan Crocker, the new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, was the official who met Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki in Sharm El Sheikh. Having served in Beirut and Damascus, he is knowledgeable about the region. He is also known to go beyond stiff diplomatic parlance, trying to lighten the atmosphere to facilitate a smooth exchange. That was probably why, when asked, he responded that the meeting was useful -- that he exchanged with the Foreign Minister email and phone numbers saying "I would say it was not a date." A reporter of Saudi-financed Al-Arabiya TV translated date into "atifiyyah," Arabic for "an emotional" or "romantic" meeting. That's some news to the cautious Iranian.


"There are a lot of lies in this world and the worst of it is that half of it is true."
-- Winston Churchill


"History repeats itself. Historians repeat each other."
-- Phillipe Guedella


"Scooby do be doo..."
-- Frank Sinatra


Much speculation about U.S.-Iranian contacts during the International Compact for Iraq gathering in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh. With little else to do beyond listening to written and circulating speeches, reporters were constantly on the watch for moves by the Americans, Iranians and Syrians. That's why it was noted that when Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki entered the dinner hall he saluted everyone by saying in Arabic "Salam Alaikom." Dr. Rice responded with the Arabic: "Marhaba," meaning "Welcome." Then she added: "Your English is better than my Arabic." How did she know?


Michael Meyer, a veteran Newsweek editor has been named Director of Communications and Speech Writing for the Secretary General. Meyer, 55, "has had a long and distinguished career as a journalist with Newsweek Magazine," U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said as she made the announcement. Meyer, an American, was European editor for Newsweek International after returning to the magazine in early 2001 following an assignment by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to work with the U.N. Mission in Kosovo. He previously served as Newsweek's Bonn / Berlin bureau chief covering the collapse of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, and was also Newsweek's lead reporter throughout the revolutions in Eastern Europe and the war in Yugoslavia.


A number of questions were raised by seasoned observers about the newly designated Rector of the U.N. University in Tokyo. That University is the only part of the U.N. system to have its global HQ anywhere in Asia. Why then appoint a European to succeed a European Rector? Other points mentioned were that the new appointee:

  • has no U.N. knowledge or experience;
  • no developing country or Asia experience;
  • his academic background and experience is also very narrow.
  • Finally, he is already 65 years old when he begins his term, and will be 70 when he completes his first term. This for an institution where he will have to implement a compulsory retirement age plan at 62.


In a rare appearance, Kofi Annan addressed both houses of the British Parliament on the Commemoration of Ghana's 50th Anniversary of Independence and 200 years since that country outlawed the slave trade. The outgoing Secretary General has always had a special place amongst British officials, not only because Ghana was part of the British Crown (as Gold Coast) but since his father was a special friend of Britain. Mr. Annan continued that family tradition. A British colleague commented once that if Mr. Annan had entered politics he would have certainly become amongst the leaders of the Labour party.


As predicted in an earlier UNforum issue, outgoing Deputy Secretary General Sir Mark Malloch-Brown will be working with billionaire philanthropist George Soros. He will be devoting his full-time as Vice-Chairman of the Open Society Institute. A letter from Mr. Soros indicated that his longtime friend and neighbour "will help create opportunities around the world through his wide network of contacts." It added that Sir Mark "will explore the development of innovative methods to use in the international capital markets to address the needs of developing countries, while creating unique investment opportunities for the fund." Since he left the U.N. in January, Sir Mark has been in Yale working on a book.


U.S. President George W. Bush took time out of his very very busy schedule to join the Kan Kouran West Africa Dance Company to draw awareness to the Malaria disease. Noting that the group was repeating the same rhythmic movement for a while, a jovial President took his own initiative in hand, that is by lifting his arms sideways right and left while shaking his body along with the music. The Company kept to their own moves until alerted by the Commander-in-Chief to follow suit. They did.


A new lawyer to help IBRD beleaguered chief Paul Wolfowitz (now they need lawyers!) who happens to be a former lawyer for former President Bill Clinton (Special U.N. Envoy for Tsunami!) during a sexual harassment case, must have extraordinary talent not only in the practice of law but in the usage of the English language. He told Washington newspapers that certain information was "exculpatory." Well. We Googled it and discovered that it meant "clearing of guilt or blame," "clean-handed," the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty. For example, in Thomas Hardy's "A Pure Woman," Tess's voice throughout had risen higher than its opening tone: "There had been no exculpatory phrase of any kind, and she had not wept." Or in Charles Dickens "The Mystery of Edwin Drood: "If they had been less plausible than they were, the good Minor Canon's mind would have been in a state of preparation to receive them, as exculpatory of his unfortunate pupil." With some Latin background, we would assume that the basic term is "culpa," like "mea culpa" -- and Dr. Wolfowitz is not yet ready for it. How unfortunate.


"Stories from the Field;" the Third Annual United Nations Documentary Film Festival, took place on Saturday, 21 April, and Sunday, 22 April, at Tishman Auditorium, The New School, 66 West 12th Street in New York. It featured film screenings, panel discussions, workshops and award presentations. This year, the Festival more than doubled its previous entry records, receiving over 200 films, and featuring 30 countries on five continents. Launched in 2005, 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 outside filmmakers. The Festivalís theme, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, remains the same. To compete, films must reflect one or more of the eight goals: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development. The Festival is a way to highlight some of the people and cultures in areas with a United Nations presence throughout the world, and discover what these groups are doing to overcome challenges such as poverty, hunger, disease, civil unrest, human trafficking and injustice. It also serves to show how United Nations programmes and services are helping communities to develop civil society, participation and a better quality of life for their people; and to afford those in the field -- United Nations workers, community leaders and the people they serve -- the opportunity to share their stories.


The year 2006 was "the most savage and brutal" year on record for journalists with 100 media professionals across the world killed, according to a statement by the International Press Institute. This year, 2007, may not bring better news. By Spring, 22 journalists had been killed, 14 in Iraq and one in each of Mexico, Peru, Turkey, Afghanistan, China (?), Eritrea, Somalia and Haiti. In 2006, Iraq again topped the list with 46 journalists killed followed by 10 in the Philippines, 7 in Mexico, 5 in Sri Lanka, 4 in Pakistan and 3 in Afghanistan. There were four killings of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa. Restrictive laws suffocated the media in Zimbabwe; while the prosecution of journalists in Ethiopia has almost silenced independent journalism. Severe media problems exist in the Gambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo where one journalist was killed; there were also police raids on media outlets in Kenya and Nigeria. In the Australasian and Oceanic region, the coup in Fiji highlighted the fragility of press freedom. In the Americas, 17 journalists were killed, including two in the Caribbean. Mexico, with seven journalists killed, remains the region's most dangerous country and Cuba, with 25 journalists imprisoned, is the biggest jailer. There were two deaths in Venezuela, where the government is undermining private media, particularly broadcasting. In the United States, a series of criminal cases involving protection of journalists' sources reinforced calls for a federal shield law. In Colombia, three journalists were killed for reporting on various issues.


It is generally known in the Middle East that the Syrian government considers Terje Roed Larsen persona non grata. Similarly, the self-obsessed Norwegian is suspect in the Arab world as a proxy for Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Sharon Peres. Former Secretary General Annan was unfairly booed during his November visit to Beirut when people discovered Larsen among his entourage. A decision of new Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to keep the man is a matter of speculation by most Arab diplomats. Anyway, there was a question of whether he will take him to Damascus. He did. How comfortable Mr. Larsen felt while being closely watched is his business. How useful he was during that visit is up to his nominal and actual boss. But it was noted that while he was granted a visa like the rest of the U.N. team, when it came to the nitty gritty stuff, all was handled in a tete-a-tete ninety minute meeting between the Secretary General and President Assad. Larsen was practically shut out.


Edward "No Stone Unturned" Mortimer wrote the following in the 19 April issue of Bitter Lemons, an Internet forum for varied perspectives on the Middle East: "The quartet was an anomalous arrangement. It resulted from an unusual initiative by Secretary General Kofi Annan who during his first term (1997-2001) had gradually and skillfully accustomed member states to a considerable exercise of discretion on his past -- making himself, more than any of his recent predecessors a diplomatic actor separate and to a certain degree independent from the other principal organs of the world body. Thus the U.N. as personified by him within the U.N. was not identical with "the U.N." to which all states including the other quartet members belonged."


One more book by London Times correspondent Adam Lebor. "City of Oranges: An Intimate History of Arabs and Jews in Jaffa" published by W.W. Norton in New York offers a timely reminder that the story of the Middle East is not just about peoples with clashing claims but people -- individuals and families -- struggling to make the best out of a difficult situation, their opportunities and allegiances restricted by the march of history and the hand of fate. It is the story of Jaffa, famed for its oranges -- the conquest and partition of a flourishing cosmopolitan city port where Jews, Arabs, Christians and Moslems once coexisted in peace and traded freely. Lebor studied in Jerusalem, reported from Israel and Palestine, and covered the Yugoslav war for London's Times and Independent. In his new book, he offers a view of Middle East history not from the top-down but from the bottom up. From the end of World War I in 1921 up through the present day Lebor follows the shifting fortunes of six families in Jaffa, the millennia old port once known as "City of Oranges," now absorbed in Tel Aviv, and those others encountered along the way. Walking the streets of Jaffa today where barbed wire fence once separated Jew and Arab, Lebor finds not reason to mourn but reason to hope.


The name of Abdel Aziz Kawari was mentioned for the post of Executive Secretary for the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Eastern Asia (ESCWA) in Beirut. The former Minister of Information of Qatar and its one time Ambassador to the United Nations in New York would replace Ms. Mirvet Tellawy who has made her farewell rounds. Kawari combines diplomatic experience and academic credentials with practical knowledge of the region. For a while, he was a regular columnist in several Arab newspapers. If confirmed in that post, he will be a valuable asset to the leadership team of Secretary General Ban. His fresh, confident and pragmatic approach would also be welcomed by ESCWA staff.