Ya Rab!

This is the picture posted today on one of the front pages of the U.S. State Department website:

Shot of Tahrir Square - on US State Dept website - Apparently an AP photo

[The front page, here, has changing content — if this picture doesn’t turn up immediately, just enter the word “Egypt” in the search box on the opening page. The use of this photo is a real message — one of a series sent from Washington today.]

The U.S. has steadily firmed up its position over the past week on the need for a transition in Egypt — which it says should start now. Now, President Obama said on 1 February, after Husni Mubarak announced he would serve until the next scheduled elections in September. Now, the spokespersons of both the White House and the State Department said on 2 February. And, that was yesterday…

Also yesterday, a U.S. special envoy, former Ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner was recalled to Washington after a couple of days talk in Cairo, with Husni Mubarak and with his newly-named Vice President, Egypt’s Intelligence Chief General Omar Suleiman. There was no reason for him to stay, sources in Washington commented, after a horrendous day of attacks on protesters in Tahrir Square on Wednesday. Wisner is now briefing the administration in Washington.

Overnight, pitched battles continued in Tahrir Square. Protesters repetetively shouted “Ya Rab” (roughly equivalent to “Oh, God”), in unison, as a rallying cry as they rebuffed attacks. At around 4 am Thursday, there was an assault from snipers posted on the rooftops of surrounding buildings who shot at protestors with live fire. There were a number of deaths.

Thursday was marked by a coordinated campaign of attacks, arrests, confiscation of equipment and intimidation — conducted apparently by the military — against journalists + foreign journalists, and against international + Egyptian Human Rights workers.

Human Rights Watch’s Joe Stork, who is in Cairo, told Al-Jazeera English that “it’s the government’s responsibility to protect the right to freedom of assembly, but this government has abjectly failed in this responsibility”. In fact, Stork said, there’s every reason to think that the government party has been behind the violent attacks on anti-Mubarak demonstrators in recent days, and he suggested that the role of the governing party is what we should be looking at — the Army, he said, is only part of this. “The Army role has been very ambiguous, very passive, and reflects the criminal negligence of the government”.

Stork said that one thing HRW would be “taking a very close look at now is what has been happening to those people who have been identified as organizers of the present protests, people like Ahmad Maher, who has been detained, one of the group who set up the ‘We are all Khaled Said’ page on Facebook”. Khaled Said, a 28-year-old blogger, was accosted by plainclothes policemen while sitting at a cafe in Alexandria, and was brutally beaten to death within hours, apparently in the entry halls of nearby buildings, and his bloodied and broken body was dumped not far away (see our earlier posts here).

The administrator of the “We are all Khaled Said” Facebook page, Wael Ghonim, an Egyptian national who works abroad as a marketing executive for Google, just happened to be in Egypt for a conference when the protests broke out. He was taken away by the police days ago, and has not been seen since. He is still missing.

On Thursday, State Department Spokesperson P.J. Crowley said at his regular daily press briefing that the detentions of journalists etc. “do not seem to be random events”. He did note that the U.S. Embassy has been “using its security officers” to make contacts with their Egyptian counterparts to keep track of what is happening and to gain their release.

A day earlier, P.J. Crowley made a clear distinction between the anti-Mubarak protestors and the pro-government mobs that suddenly rushed into Tahrir Square and mounted hours of sustained and deadly attacks on the protestors, who defended themselves.

Crowley stated Wednesday that “what’s imperative is that officials in Egypt heed what the Egyptian people are demanding. These are demonstrations that have been very compelling. These are demonstrations that underscore the aspirations – the unfulfilled aspirations, of the Egyptian people. And these demonstrators are not going away. This is gathering momentum. They are sending a clear message … let me differentiate between those who can bring forward their perspective on current events as opposed to the thugs that we saw on the streets today who have – clearly trying to intimidate those people who have been peacefully protesting and expressing their strong views about a different kind of future for Egypt”.

About the pro-government mobs, Crowley said: “we don’t know who unleashed these thugs on the streets of Cairo. They’ve been identified as supporters of the government. But whoever they are, they need – there needs to be accountability here. This was clearly an attempt at intimidating the protesters who have been communicating to the government and insisting on change”.

And, Crowley noted, “the violence today just underscores how urgent the situation is. The longer that this goes unresolved, the greater the danger of further violence”.

The newly-named Vice President, General Suleiman, said today that an investigation would be mounted into who was responsible for unleashing the pro-government mobs on Wednesday, and that they would be found and punished. He said he had been having a dialogue with the opposition, but it was not possible to determine who, exactly, he had been speaking to. Nor, by his own account in a later television interview, did it seem like much of a dialogue.

An Al-Jazeera reporter in Washington noted Thursday evening that while General Suleiman had called, today, for foreigners to stop giving advice to Egypt, the State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley later said that the U.S. is “continuing to give advice to our Egyptian partners about the demonstration tomorrow”, Friday. Protest organizers have been saying that Friday’s demonstrations would be Mubarak’s “Day of Departure”.

ABC TV news has today compiled + updated a list of “all the journalists who have been in some way threatened, attacked or detained while reporting in Egypt. When you put it all into one list, it is a rather large number in such a short period of time”. This list is published here.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has prepared which its own list, which is posted here.

Meanwhile, ABC’s Christiane Amanpour (formerly of CNN) was granted an interview with President Husni Mubarak today. According to reports, Mubarak told her that he wants to leave office — and is fed up after 62 years in public service — but, he said, if he resigns today, there’ll be chaos. Mubarak has, however, demonstrably failed to prevent chaos in the past ten days…

One of the commentors on Al-Jazeera English said tonight, however, that Mubarak said the same thing in 1981, after the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Mubarak said then that he was only going to serve one term, in order to restore stability.

Later tonight, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “We condemn in the strongest terms the attacks on reporters covering the situation in Egypt. This is a violation of international norms that guarantee freedom of the press and it is unacceptable under any circumstances”.

Clinton added “We also condemn in the strongest terms attacks on peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, foreigners, and diplomats”.

She noted that “freedom of association, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press are pillars of an open and inclusive society. It is especially in times of crisis that governments must demonstrate their adherence to these universal values”.

And, Clinton said, “the Egyptian government must demonstrate its willingness to ensure journalists’ ability to report these events to Egypt and to the world”.

, ,

UNSG BAN Ki-Moon — the same old same old

From Inner City Press, a great photo with an equally good caption:

Ready for questions, but only if they like them, some say“…

UNSG BAN Ki-Moon with the UN spokesperson Michele Montas by his side

UNSG BAN Ki-Moon speaking at microphone with UN spokesperson Michele Montas standing by his side — and holding her own little microphone.

Read reports of UN evasiveness and indignant attempts at reporter intimidation here.

The truth is, this document with names, grades, and nationalities of UN staff members — and only UN staff members, not consultants or dollar-a-day or any other types — has always been closely held, and accessible only to UN Human Resources Management and others above the P-5 level.

Disarmament restructuring to be discussed today in UN General Assembly

A sub-spokesperson for the President of the UN General Assembly told journalists on Thursday that “informal consultations of the General Assembly plenary on the Secretary-General’s proposal to realign the Department of Disarmament Affairs are scheduled for tomorrow [Friday] afternoon. Consultations on the realignment of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations are scheduled for Monday afternoon.”

Journalists at the UN’s regular daily NOON BRIEFING asked questions:

Question: In terms of these restructuring talks, is there an end date envisioned? There have been consultations almost every week. Do you know about..?

Special Assistant: No, we just have to see how things go, how things unfold. I know that on the Department of Disarmament Affairs meeting, last week or the week before, a first draft framework resolution was presented and they’re coming back with a revised version. That’s what they’re going to discuss in their consultations tomorrow. And on DPKO, they’re just going to begin discussions on elements for a draft framework resolution.”

There were also questions the day before, at the 7 March regular NOON BRIEFING:

Question: … On DPKO, there’s a report from Pakistan that Jean-Marie Guéhenno’s visit there is both a visit to visit a troop-contributing country but also to brief and discuss the proposal to split the DPKO in two? So, I’m wondering if one, you can give us a status report on where that stands, but also whether DPKO is in fact lobbying — who’s doing either the lobbying or the persuasion effort on Member States for the reform or splitting of DPKO?

Spokesperson: Well, as you know, there are, if you listened two days ago to the briefing by the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, there are two facilitators working right now on this. And a lot of the effort is being done right here in New York. And you can get more information, the President of the General Assembly now has the lead on this whole issue and they should come up eventually, in the next few days, with a framework resolution.

Question: I guess what I was most interested in was any effort in terms of out in the field, reaching out to capitals? I didn’t know that Mr. Guéhenno’s visit to Pakistan involved discussing…?

Spokesperson: Well, I cannot confirm that. I do know that he went there to meet with one, as he’s meeting others, to meet a troop-contributing country.”


By nightfall, ReformtheUN had very efficiently sent out an email briefing on what happened in the GA consultations:
Disarmament Reform Resolution Delayed” — New York, 9 March 2007 – The General Assembly held informal consultations on the Secretary-General’s proposal to restructure the Department of Disarmament Affairs (DDA) today, 9 March. The co-chair’s intention reportedly was to gain approval for the draft text of a supportive ‘Framework Resolution’ on the reform. The majority of delegations speaking at this afternoon’s meeting offered the co-chairs (permanent representatives of Norway and Sri Lanka) their support for the draft resolution in its current form, including some states who maintained minor reservations with portions of the text. The desire to show support for the Secretary-General and move forward with DDA reform overrode their textual concerns – this was the view of European Union, Non-aligned Movement, and CANZ (Canada-Australia-New Zealand) member states.
At least three delegations were at the stage of proposing qualifications for the individual who would be appointed to head the new office of disarmament affairs (relevant experience, an international profile, and gender should be considered, said these delegations; one emphasized the importance of an ‘early, transparent selection’). Two delegations, however – the US and France, reportedly – were not ready to accept the text and asked the co-chairs for another revision and more time for discussion. But because the co-chairs’ mandate from the President of the General Assembly is expiring, they planned to take the text and today’s reactions to it to President Al Khalifa on Monday (12 March). She could extend their mandate to facilitate discussions on the text or take another route. The reasons for the two states’ objections were not specified, and both emphasized that the Secretary-General should be given the space to carry out his managerial and administrative duties.” — ReformtheUN.org Latest Development, Issue #177

According to the draft resolution provided through a link from ReformtheUN, the diplomats are talking about welcoming the establisment of an Office for Disarmament Affairs within the SG’s office, and the appointment of a High Representative for Disarmament — at the USG level — who will report directly to the SG while “being part of the policy decision-making structure of the Secretariat”. This Office for Disarmament Affairs, and the High Representive, would work alongside the existing Department for Disarmament Affairs, which would keep its existing structure and functions.

So, this proposal appears to add another layer of bureaucracy, instead of streamlining it…

Turmoil continues at UN – while SG tries a tiptoe approach

More results from the SG’s meetings at UNHQ/NY, as announced by the spokesperson: “The Secretary-General met today with Heads of Funds and Programmes to discuss the need to ensure staff mobility…The Secretary-General told the Executive Heads he has decided to open a number of positions in his own office to expressions of interest from staff in all Funds and Programmes, in addition to Secretariat staff. He hoped the Funds and Programmes would respond with reciprocity to this initiative. The Executive Heads welcomed the Secretary-General’s initiative, and promised to respond in a reciprocal manner by examining ways to open positions in Funds and Programmes to Secretariat staff…The meeting followed Secretary-General’s announcement on Friday that he would lead by example on staff mobility with a new practice of circulating positions in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General on iSeek, the intranet site for Secretariat staff. He invited all qualified Secretariat staff, in both headquarters and the field, to submit expressions of interest. And he asked all Secretariat senior managers to follow suit and promote mobility among their staff in the same manner.  The Secretary-General thanks the Executive Heads for their support and cooperation in the work to transform the UN family so it can deliver as one.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Times reported that “U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon leaves Wednesday for his first international trip, a 10-day swing that will take him to Paris (a pledging conference for Lebanon’s reconstruction); Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (an African Union summit, where he will push for international peacekeeping efforts in the Darfur region of Sudan and in Somalia); to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (to review peacekeeping action).  While he is gone, the U.N. bureaucracy is likely to issue a collective sigh of relief: Advisers to Mr. Ban say he will not make or announce any personnel changes while on the road, because he will be focusing on the work at hand.  But staff on the 38th floor, which is already starting to reflect the new boss, will continue to work on the complex task of selecting personnel for department heads and other key posts. Contracts for the 60-odd assistant secretaries-general and undersecretaries-general expire at the end of February.  ‘My intention is to finish, if possible, all the appointments at one time,’ Mr. Ban told reporters last week, raising the tantalizing image of moving vans lumbering through the U.N. compound’s gates and circling the fountain where black limousines usually idle.” http://www.washtimes.com/world/20070122-121332-2534r_page2.htm

Why do journalists take such pleasure in the thought of UN staff being fired?

Turmoil continues at UN – no appointments expected until restructuring decided, spokeperson tells press

The UN spokesperson gave the following information to journalists at the UN’s regular Noon Briefing at UNHQ/NY on Thursday:

“Question: There are indications that in the framework of restructuring that the Secretary-General is proposing that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations be divided into two separate parts –- planning and operational. Can you confirm or deny that? 

Spokesperson: Well, I can only say that there is a restructuring project being discussed right now, and, as I’ve said before in this room, there are consultations underway among Member States on the issue of the structure of certain departments. Bilateral contacts are being made with Member States to get their input on this. 

Question:  Just a follow-up on the restructuring question. Is it correct that the Secretary-General has essentially abandoned the idea, under pressure form the “G-77’, of merging the Department of Political Affairs and the Department for Disarmament Affairs?

Spokesperson: I don’t think he has abandoned anything right now. As I said, consultations are taking place, and aside from the “Group of 77” he is meeting with a number of other groups on the subject.

Question: And also the Chief of Staff is meeting the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) this morning, right? Is he briefing them on these restructuring ideas? Is it possible to get a readout on what that briefing is?

Spokesperson:  I will try to get if for you. I think it is just an internal discussion. As you know, the Secretary-General has on his plate a number of issues that he is examining with policy officers in the United Nations, and they are examining those issues.

Question: A follow-up on that: Is the Chief of Staff serving as a liaison between the G-77 and the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General himself is also having direct talks with some Member countries, so this is an effort on the part of his team.

Question: I believe you were in the Oval Office on Tuesday. Did you hear any talk about appointments at the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  No. That was not discussed.

Question: Does the fact that the discussions are ongoing on the restructuring of departments at the United Nations mean that appointments to various posts will be put on hold? Should we not expect any more appointments until all that is sorted out?

Spokesperson:  You cannot expect any appointments until that is sorted out, yes. That’s the answer. 

Question: On the question of restructuring. Has the Secretary-General said why he thinks it would be a good idea to merge Disarmament and Political Affairs? Is he going to make that case, or is he just going to see whether Member States are going to support the idea? 

Spokesperson:  I think he is going to make that case and try to convince…

Question: Can you say what methods he will use to convince..?

Spokesperson:  Well, I was not personally part of the consultation process, so I don’t know what was discussed or what has changed. You will know more about it pretty soon because there will be a decision taken on that.

Question: Secondly, in addition to the disarmament unit, there is also talk about abolishing the fairly new Peacebuilding Office, which has just barely started to function. Does Mr. Ban see that Office as a disappointment? It was touted as one of the major successes of Kofi Annan’s reform agenda.

Spokesperson:  I don’t know how far the process will go or how many groups and departments would be affected by the restructuring. But as I said, you will be the first ones to know.

Question:  But that Office was created only in 2006, and, I mean…

Spokesperson: I don’t think that Office will go away.

Question: You don’t think it will go away?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  But do you think it will continue to function as a separate unit?

Spokesperson:  We will see how it will function.”

Turmoil at the UN as BAN asks top officials to submit resignations

The spokesperson announced on Friday that the Secretary-General had, on Thursday, “requested all Assistant and Under-Secretaries-General, except those whose appointments are subject to action/consultation by or with the appropriate intergovernmental bodies, to voluntarily offer their resignation from the appointments they are holding.  This would allow the Secretary-General the flexibility he needs in forming his new team.  He will review the offers of resignation and may decide to retain the experience of some senior officials to assist him in the discharge of his responsibilities. [emphasis added…]

On Wednesday, the spokesperson noted that the officials had until 15 January to turn in their resignations.

Last Friday, the spokesperson explained that: “For your information, about 60 USGs and ASGs under the Secretary-General’s direct authority have received that letter.  [On 9 January, the spokesperson said that “actually, 58 people received the letters, and most of them are from Headquarters]  All those officials who turn in their resignations will continue to serve in their current positions until the Secretary-General has completed his review and has taken a decision on each specific case…This is a process that will take some time.  Right now, we are dealing with the USGs and ASGs, who are most of them here in the building, right here in the Secretariat.  And it’s a process that will take some time.  As you know, there are more than a hundred USGs and ASGs, and it will take some time.”

Asked by a journalist if the “dollar-a-year” envoys would keep their jobs, the spokesperson said that they would for the time being.  

[On 9 January, there was this exchange: “Journalist:  One last question.  This is about one of the dollar-a-year individuals.  I think, you said that Iqbal Riza did not get a letter, because his mandate -– or someone in your office said that his mandate… Is his mandate with the UN finished?  Is he still a dollar-a-year guy?  Or did it end with the Alliance of Civilizations?  Spokesperson:  I’ll check on that.  I know you brought this question up.  Question:  And there seems to be some report that he is still in the building Spokesperson:  I can find out for you, yes. (The Spokesperson later added that Iqbal Riza was still a dollar-a-year employee.)”]

The spokesperson noted that the decision “affects senior officials at headquarters, but not in the field; the missions in the field would continue to function regularly.” 

On Friday, she added that “For the time being, what is being aimed at is restructuring the Secretariat, and decisions are going to be made first on the Secretariat…[while] you have missions in the field that have to continue functioning, and you have a number of things that have to continue to function in the field.  It’s one step at a time.” 

Apparently, this means that it’s ok, however, if headquarters will not functioning, however — as it surely will not be, with the future of almost all top officials hanging up in the air for an indefinite period from now…

It’s also interesting to learn that so many of the top officials are based at UNHQ/NY. 

Asked later when James Morris will end his term as Executive Director of the World Food Programme, the spokesperson said that Morris will step down on 5 April 2007; the next day, Josette Sheeran, a U.S. State Department official and also former editor of the Washington Times, will take over from Morris.

The Independent newspaper (London) reported, in a profile of SG Ban published on 1 January, the day he took office, that “There are plenty of senior officials from the Annan reign, meanwhile, who want desperately to remain in their posts and are on tenterhooks.” 

In a press conference on 11 January, SG BAN explained that, “to ensure tight management, I plan to conclude a compact with all senior managers, including the Assistant Secretaries-General and well as the Under-Secretaries-General, for their performance targets. They should submit their performance targets, and the performance management board will review their performance at the end of the year or at the end of their contract date…”

SG BAN also told journalists: “I think there seems to be some unsubstantiated misperceptions on the appointments of senior officials in the United Nations. My policy on appointing senior officials above the rank of Assistant Secretary-General, and in particular in the case of Under-Secretaries-General, is based on, first of all, the merits of the person concerned, with due regard to gender balance as well as geographical distribution. You seem to have the impression that I have been distributing posts to some major P5s [permanent five members of the Security Council], or major developing countries. It may look so, but you see, I have been receiving many recommendations from many countries and many different sources, including from individuals. I have gone through carefully, reviewing all the candidates concerned. I have gone through some background checks. I have asked many people, to listen to their own views how capable and what kind of merit one has and whether, in particular, one is a team player. I regard one of the virtues and one of the important elements is whether one works as a team player. I think that is very important for me to harmoniously organize and perform the duties of the Organization as a whole. We have many distinguished candidates. It has been very difficult. It is very difficult to select one or two persons among so many qualified candidates.  Of course, due consideration sometimes has to be given to some important countries, like the P5, because they also have made very important contributions. But even though I would receive some applications from the countries which you are mentioning, I would have gone through a very careful and thorough review on the qualifications of the persons: whether one really has the qualifications and whether one is really a team player. That is my basic policy on that…”

It’s still way too early to tell …

…whether or not new SG BAN KI-MOON is unable to break away from old traditions, as the NY Sun suggests in an article today.  In the first place, it would be almost impossible for even the canny BAN, and even with his sharp South Korean-led transition team, to be well-versed, yet, in the UN’s “old traditions”.  BAN’s nomination of a Mexican, Alicia Barcena, to head the U.N. management team, is cited by the NY Sun as one example.  

The NY Sun is reporting that “Ms. Barcena, who was the chief of staff for a former U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, got an early boost in the early 1990s, when she became an aide to the Canadian oil tycoon and U.N. environmentalist Maurice Strong. Before resigning in the aftermath of the oil-for-food scandal, Mr. Strong served as Mr. Annan’s personal envoy to the Korean peninsula.  Mr. Ban told the London Times recently that in his official capacity as South Korean foreign minister, he met Mr. Strong only a few times. Nevertheless, diplomats saw Ms. Barcena’s appointment yesterday, to a position in which she will be responsible for internal changes, as a gesture toward Mr. Annan’s old circle of friends.  Staffers expressed disappointment that Ms. Barcena received a promotion just a day after the president of the U.N. staff union, Stephen Kisambira, met with Mr. Ban and called for a ‘fundamental change in the mind-set of senior management,’ demanding an end to a relationship between staff and management that has been based on ‘dominance, disregard, and fear’.”  http://www.nysun.com/article/46082

The former UN spokesperson announced at the UN’s daily Noon Briefing for journalists on 23 October 2006 that “from our end, the people who will lead on that issue [the transition to the new SG] are the Chef de Cabinet, Alicia Bárcena Ibarra; and Robert Orr, the Secretary-General’s Director of Strategic Planning.  In this task, Barcena apparently made a good impression on BAN.

The influence of Canadian Maurice Strong through a number of UN Administrations has been somewhat of a mystery.  He was the first Senior Adviser named by Kofi Annan after he became UNSG ten years ago.  And, there was a recent unexplained [the former UN spokesman said he didn’t have to explain this, it was private] Kofi Annan-Maurice Strong walk-in-the-woods with no aides present, somewhere in Asia, just before Annan left office.  The one thing that can be said with some certainty is that Strong has a remarkable international network of “friends”. 

One commentary that I read mentioned, interestingly, that Kofi Annan had good relations with the U.S. Democratic Party, while BAN KI-MOON also had links to the Republicans.   While readers in the rest of the world may not care about the intricacies of American politics, the UN is still based in New York, the American media by default has become the main concern of the UN bureaucracy, and Washington is still the major contributor to the UN budget — even though it forced through a reduction in its scale of assessment from 25% to 22% of the regular budget, and from 30% to 25% of the Peacekeeping budget.

Maurice Strong and Ted Turner (whose cash donation resulted in the establishment of the UN Foundation) are only part of the many layers of influence affecting UN.  George Soros had a strong link to just-departed Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown.  And, there are many, many others.  Who affects what in any given situation probably more closely resembles a diagram of atomic molecules bouncing around.

In any case, a baby-faced Briton, John Holmes, who is reportedly [the NY Sun says so, for example, in the article cited above] close to Prime Minister Blair, and who is also currently UK Ambassador to France, has also just been named to head the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OHCA), replacing the Scandinavian Jan Eliasson. 

One important imminent decision concerns who will head the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), which is currently being “led”, if that term could properly be used, by Jean Marie Guehenno of France.  

On this, The NY SUN article reports today that “Americans have traditionally overseen the U.N. bureaucracy [this means the Department of Management, in recent years — not long ago, the traditional American post was heading the Department of General Assembly Affairs; so-called UN “traditions” are actually quite ephemeral] , but as soon as Mr. Ban emerged as the front-runner for secretary-general last year, America, which supported his candidacy, told the Korean diplomat it was seeking the leadership posts of other top U.N. offices.  America particularly had its eye on the increasingly powerful peacekeeping department, which for decades has been led by French officials, or the political affairs department, which traditionally has been considered British domain.  Mr. Ban is said to be weighing several structural changes. One option is to split the peacekeeping department into an operational arm and support and logistics arm; another is to unite peacekeeping with the political department; and yet another to mix in an office currently charged with disarmament, which may add to its roster the responsibility of dealing with terrorism and proliferation…But U.N. officials say the signals from Washington about which of the offices it seeks aren’t clear, as Mr. Ban is making the major decisions.”

As reported here yesterday, there is already a de-facto division of DPKO into two branches — one headed by Assistant Secretary-General Hedi Annabi of Tunisia, who had been in the Department for years and had risen through the ranks; the other one headed by relative new-comer Jane Holl Lute [and guess where she came from?  According to an official UN bio, Ms. Lute Immediately prior to her appointment with the United Nations, Ms. Lute was “Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the United Nations Foundation and the Better World Fund; the entities established to administer Ted Turner’s $1 billion contribution to support the goals of the United Nations“].  She is a former U.S. Army officer [official UN bio: with a Ph.D in Political Science from Stanford University, and a J.D from Georgetown University, who also served frin 1991 to 1994 as director of European Affairs in the National Security Council staff at the White House], for whom a second Assistant Secretary-General post was created, to handle day-to-day operations, including sexual exploitation and abuse scandals.  

It is not her fault, however, that the administrative division of DPKO into two parts has done little or nothing to improve either the management of the Department, nor the handling of its scandals.

In a press conference on 11 January, SG BAN was asked directly by a journalist about his appointment of Alicia Barcena:

Journalist:  Can you please explain the appointment for the position of UN management, Ms. Bárcena, the selection process that you went through specifically with her, and how that selection can explain concerns out there that this individual does not have the financial wizardry and other skills that perhaps her predecessor, Mr. [Christopher] Burnham, had, to ensure that the Organization is moving along financially in the right direction, and also to assure the global taxpayers that they are getting their money’s worth with your selection of managers, and staff itself, to ensure that your staff ? many of whom have complained about issues, from accountability to the justice system and other key areas to ensure that there is proper accountability within the Organization ? how does that person fit that particular role?

SG: If you want to find a perfect person who would be able to know everything about what is happening in the world, it may be impossible. Even for the post of Secretary-General, you may not be able to find a perfect person. I do not claim to be a perfect person, to know everything that is happening within the UN system.   As for the post of Under-Secretary-General for Management, one can have strength in finance; one can have strength in human resources; one can have strength in overall management leadership. I have valued her longstanding management experience while she was working as Vice-Minister in Mexico, while she was working as Deputy [Executive Secretary] of ECLAC and while she has been working as Chef de Cabinet. The post of Chef de Cabinet is one of the most important positions in the United Nations system, who deals with almost all aspects of the United Nations, advising the Secretary-General. Therefore, I have full confidence that Ms. Bárcena will perform her duties more than anybody else, than her predecessors.”

Daunting is a word used frequently by the British royal family – and BAN KI-MOON

But new SG BAN KI-MOON used it on his first working day at UN Headquarters in New York today, in a typical UN “tour d’horizon” - “I start my duties at a daunting time in international affairs, starting from Darfur to Middle East, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, many other crises that trouble our world from defending human rights and the need to step up our efforts to implement, to reach the target by 2015, the Millennium Development Goals”…

Millennium Development Goals!  It’s all well and good to want to work for a better world, but it’s also important to be very clear and to speak the truth on this – the Millennium Development Goals are so much preposterous pretentious nonsense.  There is no way to know how many people actually live on less than one or two dollars a day (in some countries, that may be worse than others — how can poverty be calculate in dollars?)  And, there is really no way to know whether or not that number will be halved by the year 2015 — weren’t some world leaders embarrassed when asked to pledge to commit to this goal?  This Millennium Development Goal business is group think, group speak, and strategic communications at its very worst.

The UN has spent a fortune on propagating this pious nonsense, and they should just stop — but of course, they cannot.  Too much has already been invested.  So, it is already a foregone conclusion: victory will be declared, one way or another.

Asked about one of the most famous or infamous executions in history, last Saturday morning (of course it was Eid), the new UNSG said that: “Saddam Hussein was responsible for committing heinous crimes and unspeakable crimes against the Iraqi people and we should never forget the victims of those crimes.”

He then added, diplomatically but also pragmatically, that “The issue of capital punishment is for each and every member state to decide.” 

Just to make sure he had covered all bases, he said that “As a Secretary-General, at the same time, while I am firmly against impunity, I also hope that the members of the international community should pay due regard to all aspects of international humanitarian laws.”

A few minutes later, pressed again on the issue by journalists, he repeated: “I said that capital punishment, the death penalty, is the issue for each and every Member State to decide. At the same time, I would hope that the international member states would pay due regard to all aspects of international humanitarian laws.” 

The spokesperson said at the UN Noon Briefing in New York Wednesday, in response to further questions, that the SG “supports the Universal Declaration and the traditions of human rights bodies and international courts. But he represents at the same time the views of 192 Member States, who disagree on this issue… Asked about a moratorium on the death penalty, the Spokeswoman noted that the matter was the prerogative of the General Assembly, and the Secretary-General would push forward whatever the Assembly agreed to on that matter.”  

SG BAN spent a large part of the day on Tuesday meeting UN staff. 

UN staff outside of headquarters were tuned into UN internet webcasts of a public meeting in which BAN KI-MOON noted that “staff morale has plummeted” in recent years.  He attributed this, however, mainly to “harsh and sometimes unfair criticism” of the Secretariat — on areas from lack of accountability to ethical lapses…He vowed to make meritocracy his watchword on human resources, while allowing for geographical representation and gender balance; set career development as a top priority, using training, mobility and evaluation; and encouraging staff mobility, not only between departments at Headquarters, but also between New York and the field.  -Mr. Ban said he would look to senior managers to inspire, motivate and bring out the best in staff, and he urged all staff to be forthright in expressing their views, even when they are discussing shortcomings or problems at the UN.  He said that he was “by nature a steadfast believer in the value and virtue of dialogue, no matter how high the perceived barriers..it is through dialogue that we can and will found common ground to change the working culture of the Organization, restore trust in one another, and learn to speak in one voice.”

The meeting was transmitted by video-conference to UN offices and duty stations outside Headquarters, including Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Beirut, Brindisi, Geneva, Nairobi, Santiago and Vienna.

On Sunday, just hours before his term of office officially began, BAN KI-MOON pledged “a program of reform of the Secretariat to provide continuity along with change.”

The new SG’s new spokesperson, Michele Montas, said in an interview with UN Radio that she was offered the position on Sunday – just hours before it was publicly announced: “I have absolutely no reason to think it is going to be easy but I said yes immediately,”  

She also said that she believed “The essential role of a spokesperson is to give access to information which is not really available otherwise.”

BAN KI-MOON is now the Secretary-General of the United Nations

The Associated Press (AP) is not sleeping.  UN Correspondent Edith Lederer writes in a piece published this morning that Ban Ki-moon takes the reins of U.N.: “UNITED NATIONS – South Korean diplomat Ban Ki-moon became the United Nations’ eighth secretary-general on New Year’s Day as the organization faced a tough array of global issues — from escalating violence in Darfur to the AIDS pandemic.  The 62-year-old career diplomat, who grew up during a war that left his country divided, has promised to make peace with North Korea a top priority.  He will travel there when necessary, he has said, and has cautioned that the reclusive communist nation must be talked to — not just punished with sanctions for its nuclear weapons program.  The United States is certain to press Ban to expand management reforms [!!!] at the United Nations, which outgoing Secretary-General Kofi Annan began.  The 192-member General Assembly, which controls the U.N. budget and oversees its management, has been reluctant to institute changes [the GA is not totally stupid] that Annan and many experts say are essential to modernize the 61-year-old world body.  In a speech after taking his oath of office Dec. 14, Ban said he will work to build ‘a more peaceful, more prosperous and more just world for succeeding generations’. His first priority, he said, will be to restore trust in the United Nations, whose reputation has been battered by the oil-for-food scandal in Iraq, corruption in the U.N.’s purchasing operations and sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers.  ‘I will seek to act as a harmonizer and bridge-builder,’ Ban said. ‘And I hope to become known … as a secretary-general who is accessible, hardworking, and prepared to listen attentively.”  [except for the hardworking part, that will be something really new — almost everyone in the UN, every last person, is hard working, but to what end?  Mostly, they are spinning their wheels, or pleasing their banally evil bosses, or their banally evil bosses bosses — producing reports of output is the main activity, at least, until “strategic communications came along.]  Ban officially became secretary-general at the stroke of midnight, but no official ceremony was scheduled.  He won’t get to move into his official residence — an 85-year-old neo-Georgian town house on New York’s fashionable Sutton Place — due to renovations, the first since 1950.  The General Assembly recently approved $4.9 million to modernize the residence’s heating, air conditioning, plumbing, kitchen and security. The work is expected to take about nine months.  Ban defeated six other candidates for U.N. chief and won final approval from the General Assembly in October. Since then, he has been meeting with a wide range of people inside and outside the U.N. to prepare for the job.  On Sunday, Ban announced his first two appointments. He named veteran Indian diplomat Vijay Nambiar as his chief of staff, and award-winning Haitian journalist Michele Montas [see below] as his spokeswoman.  Ban said in a statement Sunday that he will make more appointments in the coming days. The most important will be his choice for deputy secretary-general — widely expected to be a woman from a developing country.  The new secretary-general’s first day at U.N. headquarters will be Tuesday, when he plans to meet with U.N. staff after an official welcome and sit for his official portrait.  Ban will be the first Asian to lead the organization in 35 years. It also will mark a milestone for South Korea, which only joined the United Nations in 1991 and still has U.N. troops on the tense border with North Korea.  http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070101/ap_on_re_us/un_new_secretary

[There is still a UN peacekeeping operation on the Korean DMZ — its only members are U.S. forces, however — and they produce regular reports, too.]

Michelle Montas to be new UN Spokesperson

Hours ahead of the actual transition to his administration, “Incoming UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday appointed veteran Indian diplomat Vijay Nambiar as his chief of staff and award-winning Haitian journalist Michelle Montas as his spokesperson, ” the Associated Press is reporting.  “The appointments were the first by Ban, who officially takes the reins of the United Nations on New Year’s Day. In a statement, he said he intends to make further appointments in the coming days.  ‘Today’s appointments will serve as a solid basis for establishing my team and pursuing a program of reform of the Secretariat to provide continuity along with change’,” Ban is quoted as saying.   AP reports that “Nambiar, a former Indian ambassador to the United Nations, has served since March as special adviser to outgoing Secretary-General Kofi Annan on a wide range of issues, including as a contact with the 192 UN ambassadors.” http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1167467633509&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

Michelle Montas, who has long been frustrated by a string of short-term contracts for UN Radio, where she worked in French, is also the widow of murdered Haitian journalist Jean Dominique.  Both Montas and Dominique worked together at a radio station in Haiti (Radio Haiti Inter) that Jean Dominique had come to own.  Both Montas and Dominique had had to flee Haiti for their lives (Montas was deported, apparently, and Dominique followed her into exile), but returned when it was possible.  Both were opponents of the Duvaliere dictatorship, and early supporters of Reverend Jean-Bertrand Aristide — who is suspected of involvement in Jean Dominique’s assassination in 2000, a cruel betrayal.  “When his [Jean Dominique’s] longtime friend René Préval became president in February 1986, Dominique became an unofficial adviser. He continued to air his news and comment show ‘Inter actualités’ and an interview programme ‘Face à l’opinion.’ He made many enemies by harshly criticising the country’s moneyed elite, the former Duvalierists, the army, US policy towards Haiti and most recently, certain figures in Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party, ” according to Reporters Without Borders, which also reports that “His wife, Michèle Montas, says he was killed ‘because nobody could tell him what to do or say.’ He was especially dangerous, she says, because ‘he was going to stop a lot of people making a lot of money’ but ‘he didn’t have files on people,’ as some believed. ‘He was just good at picking up scraps of information and extracting meaning from them.’ His daughter Gigi recalls how some people lost their jobs after replying to his blunt questions in interviews”… Reporters Sans Frontiers also reports Montas as saying: “We live in an atmosphere of impunity in which the criminals always get away with their crimes. But this time they won’t.” (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=3223). 

The murder has never been solved, and Montas herself fled Haiti again in 2003 — again under threat of death. 

An official UN biography issued in March 2006, at the time of his appointment as Special Adviser to UN SG Kofi Annan, with the rank of Under-Secretary-General, says that “Mr. Nambiar … will both follow important issues for the Secretary-General and be able to represent him in New York and elsewhere at a high level.  Here in New York, he will help in liaising with Permanent Representatives.  He will be a member of the Policy Committee.”  Previously, the UN Biography says, Mr. Nambiar was “Deputy National Security Advisor to the Government of India and Head of the National Security Council Secretariat.  He previously served as India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York (May 2002-June 2004).  Earlier as Ambassador of India, he served successively in Pakistan (2000-2001), China (1996-2000), Malaysia (1993-1996), and Afghanistan (1990-1992).  He was earlier Ambassador of India in Algeria (1985-1988).  During the course of his professional career in the Indian Foreign Service, he had served in numerous bilateral and multilateral appointments in Beijing, Belgrade and New York during the 1970s and 1980s.  He was Joint Secretary (Director General) handling East Asia in 1988 during the period of the historic visit of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China.  He also dealt with multilateral affairs at the headquarters in New Delhi during the early 1980s.  He was involved at the delegation level in numerous UN and non-aligned summit and ministerial conferences since 1979.  Mr. Nambiar joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1967 and spent his early years in the diplomatic service specializing in the Chinese language serving in Hong Kong and Beijing.  He also served during the mid-1970s in Belgrade, Yugoslavia…

The post of Chef de Cabinet — the person who decides who gets to see the UN SG, and what documents are put on his desk, among other duties — has alternated, in recent decades, between an Indian (Virendra Dayal was the last previous Indian) and a Pakistani (Iqbal Reza — who famously shreded documents related to the Oil-for-Food scandal.  Reza nearly lost his job with the UN in 1987 or 88, when the Iraqi Mission raised hell because Reza had shown “commercial” satellite photographs to Iran’s UN Mission, apparently with the idea that this kind of “commerical” satellite imagery could be used to provide assurances for monitoring an eventual cease-fire war between Iran and Iraq.