How NOT to respond to attacks on one's leadership

There’s only one convincing way to respond to attacks on oneself and/or one’s leadership: to smile and give genuine assurances that you are going to give full consideration to the arguments of opponents, or the opposition, and in any case you will sure try to do better.

UNSG BAN Ki-Moon has just chosen a poor alternative.

The Washington Post’s Column Lynch has reported that BAN “mounted a highly emotional defense of his embattled tenure Monday, telling reporters at a news conference that allegations that he sought to undercut the independence of the United Nations’ main anti-corruption agency were ‘unfair’.”

BAN went even further, saying to journalists: “I’m a very reasonable, very practical man of common sense. I do not take extreme, unreasonable policies. I always do the right things, proper things … If anybody or if any member states with the U.N. system, or any colleague of mine within the UN Secretariat, accuses me on the issue of accountability or ethics, then that’s something I regard as unfair”. This report is posted here.

Matthew Lee has been all over this story, on his Inner City Press website, and has refers to these BAN comments as a “meltdown” moment.

Matthew’s post on the immediate issues is here.

Matthew’s post on the UN Staff Union’s open expression of discontent on 5 August resolution is here.

And, Matthew asks, “Is [just] being there enough?”

Sorry — this doesn't make sense: Ahtisaari wins what???? The Nobel Peace Prize?

What’s wrong with the Nobel Peace Prize Committee? They couldn’t find anybody better than long-time UN official Martti Ahtisaari to name as this year’s winner. Sorry, this just doesn’t cut it. This is the person who has most contributed to peace in the last year? Or even, let’s say, in recent years? Sorry, at best it could be said that Ahtisaari is a deal-maker. And the deals have to please the powers-that-be. He is a high-level functionary, looking out above all, and always, for his own career trajectory. And he just looks the other way whenever something is inconvenient — including the “human weaknesses” of his own staff. More recently this has come to be known as something else

And it is impossible to imagine him putting himself on the line for anything _ is this what we expect from Nobel Peace Prize winners?

Rather than rant, I will simply pick up a few excerpts from the NYTimes report on this Nobel Peace Prize announcement:

“In a book published by the Brookings Institution, Mr. [Gareth] Evans [former Australian Prime Minister and head of the International Crisis Group, which is a home for out-of-work but still ambitious policy makers who spend quite a lot of time rubbing each other’s backs] wrote that Mr. Ahtisaari ‘combines, to great effect, immense personal charm with a tough, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is approach to conducting negotiations’. The book quotes one of the negotiators in the Aceh conflict as saying: ‘His method was really extraordinary. He said, “Do you want to win, or do you want peace?£” ‘ Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said in an interview that she could not ‘think of a prize that is more richly deserved’. Mr. Ahtisaari’s role in Kosovo, she said, far exceeded his appointment in 2005 to represent the United Nations in ‘final status’ talks to determine the future of what was then a Serbian province. She said he was also deeply involved in the region during the 1996-99 Kosovo War.’He was part of a whole set of diplomatic maneuvers we had during the war itself, in terms of trying to sort out how to deal with the Russians and a host of issues to do with carrying out the actual ending of the war’, she recalled … Ms. Albright said Mr. Ahtisaari had been instrumental in creating ‘a glide path’ toward a final resolution that underpins Kosovo’s independence. ‘When I talked to him just last week, he thought things were moving in the right direction’, she said. ‘He has done a remarkable job’ … Mr. Ahtisaari[‘s] name was selected from a list of 197 nominees … In an interview on Friday that was published on the Nobel Foundation’s Web site, Mr. Ahtisaari said that the international community should not allow conflicts ‘to become frozen’ or intractable. ‘Every conflict can be solved’, he said…”
The NYTimes article can be read in full here

UNICEF takes a bold and brave stand … to avoid controversy, it says

From Haaretz today, this headline and sub-head: “UNICEF severs ties with Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev: UN children’s fund says company owned by mogul has been involved in building settlements in W. Bank“.

And from the text of the story: “UNICEF decided to review its relationship with Leviev after a campaign by Adalah-NY and found ‘at least a reasonable grounds for suspecting’ that Leviev companies were building settlements in occupied territory, a UNICEF official said”.

The report continues: ” ‘I can confirm that UNICEF has advised Adalah in New York that it will not be entering into any partnerships or accepting financial contributions from Lev Leviev or his corporate people’, Chris de Bono, a senior adviser to the executive director of UNICEF, told Reuters. ‘We are aware of the controversy surrounding Mr. Leviev because of his reported involvement in construction work in the occupied Palestinian territory’, de Bono said, adding that it was UNICEF’s policy to have partners who were ‘as non-controversial as possible’.” UNICEF could not say how much Leviev had donated as an individual. In his only known partnership with UNICEF, Leviev last year donated jewelry to a fashion event in France that benefited the French national committee for UNICEF, de Bono said…” The full report can be read in Haaretz here.

No new internal system of justice for UN staff until 2009

It appears that the UN’s highly-flawed system of internal justice will not be revamped until 2009. at the earliest. Here is an exchange from the UN’s daily Noon Briefing on Monday 5 November:

“Question: What reasons were given, with respect to not readying the new justice system until 2009?

“Spokesperson: What was the reason for not having the Administration of Justice — the new system — only available, only introduced from 1 January?

“Question: 2009?

Spokesperson: 2009… I think it’s simply a case of just preparations, working out the new system. As you see, even now it will take – just based on what one has heard already in the Sixth Committee, and if you read the ACABQ report then you will see that there is considerable discussion as regards both to the legal and to the administrative and budgetary aspects. So it’s just a simple question of, I think – simple as in quotations – working out all the details. And that will take considerable time…”

The mention of the considerable time it will take before the UN’s internal justice system is revamped is here..

SG son-in-law posted to Iraq

About ten days ago, it emerged that the SG’s son-in-law is being moved to Iraq. Journalists at the UN probed the move. Here are some excerpts from an exchange between Inner City Press’ Matthew Lee and UN Spokesperson Michele Montas at the UNHQ daily Noon Briefing for journalists on 19 October:

“Question: And there’s a report that I feel I just need to ask about, saying the son-in-law of the Secretary-General is being named the chief of staff of Mr. de Mistura in Iraq. One, is that true and two, was it a competitive process, or what’s the Secretariat’s statement on some questions that have been raised?

“SG Spokesperson: Well, it’s simply a matter between Mr. de Mistura, who had worked with Mr. Chatterjee in Iraq during the first Gulf War, and he asked him to be his chief of staff. It’s something that is strictly Mr. de Mistura’s decision. It would be a lateral move, not a promotion for Mr. Chatterjee, and as you well know, Iraq is an extremely dangerous environment to operate in. And we shielded the publication of any information that increases the risk to any staff member and to the mission as a whole is not very helpful.

Question: So you’re saying The Washington Post publishing this post puts people at risk?

SG Spokesperson: I’m saying what I said. Okay. Because the Secretary-General has always stressed the security needs of the people over there, particularly –- in any mission, actually –- but particularly in Iraq, where, as you know, the security conditions are particularly difficult. That’s all I said. Yes, any other questions?
The excerpt from an exchange between a journalist and a UN spokesperson on the posting of SG BAN’s son-in-law to Iraq is here.

Stefan di Mistura cuts a dashing figure, with his cognac-colored suede jackets and all, and he is certainly a ruthless political operative. Hiring the SG’s son-in-law as his chief of staff is really a no-brainer. What UN manager would not want to hire the SG’s son-in-law? That way, the mission will not be forgotten (in between crises, that is).
To anticipate the outrage, the guy won’t get a promotion, at least initially… And, a “lateral move” is easier to process, administratively, and does not need to go before the UN’s internal appointment and promotion boards, where objections could well be raised … though would any loyal career bureaucrat openly challenge such a decision?

I’m just wondering if there might not also be another calculation, at least from BAN’s (or his adviser’s) side: Putting his son-in-law in what is clearly possibly harm’s way, might it not be an attempt to set an example? The UN Staff Union has been adamantly opposed to sending UN staff to Baghdad since a bombing attack on its HQ there in August 2003 that killed Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello, one of the UN’s golden boys, and a member of the A-Team … as well as 19 other staff members.

The U.S. Administration is well aware of staff sentiment on this issue, and has not challenged it directly. But there is increasing pressure on SG BAN to “help” the U.S. out in Iraq now. The SG is clearly preparing to enlarge the UN staff presence there. And sending his son-in-law in the first wave might (or might not) be a way to soften the resistance. At any rate, putting the son-in-law in a dangerous (though high-profile) spot — without even giving him an immediate promotion (though he surely will get one in due time, if not in good order, if he isn’t blown to bits first) makes the PR job slightly easier. It will certainly also win points from the U.S. for SG BAN …

On his Inner City Press blog, Matthew Lee wrote, on 19 October: “For weeks it had been rumored, that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s son-in-law would get a high post with the UN in Iraq, and that Mr. Ban’s former colleague in the South Korean foreign ministry, Choi Young-jin, would be named Ban’s envoy to the Ivory Coast. About the latter, Inner City Press asked Ban’s spokesperson Michele Montas, after hearing from Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo that the envoy had been mutually selected. Ms. Montas had no comment at the time. Then on October 18, the Choi appointment was announced, and the following morning’s Washington Post carried a small item noting that Ban’s Iraq envoy Steffan de Mistura is naming Ban’s son-in-law Siddarth Chatterjee as his chief of staff. There are stories behind each, portions of which we’ll endeavor to tell in this end-of-week column. First, the UN’s story. On Friday Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas about Chatterjee’s appointment in Iraq, and she responded that it is strictly a matter between Mr. de Mistura and Chatterjee, that it is a lateral move and not a promotion, and that “we feel the publication of any information that increases the risk to any staff member and to the mission as a whole is not very helpful.”

Inner City Press asked, “Are you saying that the Washington Post’s publication puts the mission at risk?”

“I’m saying what I said,” Ms. Montas replied.

“An aside: Inner City Press often takes and presents UN Spokesperson Montas’ objections to the legitimacy of questions at face value. But in this case, we have reason to believe, and have decided to report, that the responsibility for the above-quoted dig at press freedom lies on the 38th Floor, and not the third (where the Spokesperson’s Office is housed). Apparently from the highest levels, attempts were made that this widely-rumored story not be published. But since it is journalistically legitimate, even imperative, to report on what some are calling possible nepotism in public institutions, security concerns would have militated against this assignment of the Secretary-General’s son-in-law to Iraq. “It’s a big world,” as one source fearing retaliation put it, adding that Chatterjee was initially going to be promoted from P-5 up into the “D” ranks, but that it was decided to forego this for now, to present the move as lateral.

“The subtext to Ms. Montas’ statement that this was a matter between Mr. de Mistura and Mr. Chatterjee is that these fearful insiders report that Mr. de Mistura made the appointment in order to curry favor on the 38th floor, just as, the sources say, he previously hired the son of Kofi Annan’s close aide Iqbal Riza. What makes it unrealistic to expect this story not to be explored is that de Mistura was so recently given the Iraq envoy post”. The Inner City Press post on SG BAN’s son-in-law being posted to Iraq is here.

UN apologizes for interpretation mistake

The Associated Press reported over the weekend that “The United Nations said an interpreter responsible for an erroneous report that Syria has a nuclear facility has been reprimanded and the organization has apologized to Syria’s UN Mission. Earlier this week, Syria denied that one of its representatives told the UN General Assembly’s committee that deals with disarmament on Tuesday that Israel had attacked a Syrian nuclear facility. It said the representative was misquoted, demanded a correction, and insisted that such facilities do not exist in Syria. The unidentified Syrian representative spoke in Arabic and the interpreter who worked from Arabic into French was fairly accurate, but the problem occurred when an interpreter translated the statement into English from French“, according to UN associate spokesman Farhan Haq.

AP added that “After more than seven hours of investigation Wednesday, UN officials agreed the Syrian delegate was misquoted. ‘There was no use of the word nuclear’, Haq said, according to the AP … ‘Action will be taken against that freelance interpreter to the fullest extent of the UN rules and regulations … The interpreter who was responsible for the unfortunate mistake has been given a note of reprimand. While it was indeed unfortunate, mistakes can occur, as in any other area of work’, Haq added Friday. ‘The Interpretation Service maintains high standards, and mistakes of this nature occur very rarely’, he said”.

The AP reported that “Haq also said an apology has been given to the Syrian Mission regarding the Tuesday interpretation error and accepted by them as an unintended mistake. The mistake made headlines in the Middle East and heightened concerns over Damascus’ nuclear ambitions.”
The AP report on the UN apology and note of reprimand to interpreter working from French to English is here.

There was no further mention of the UN press release which picked up from the erroneus translation. It is true that it would be too much to ask press release writers — who work for the UN’s Department of Public Information — to go back to check with the intepreters if something significant or shocking is said.

UN will take action against interpreter who mistakenly added the word nuclear to a Syrian statement

The UN, predictably, is moving to punish one of its staff members who is accused of making a mistake in interpretation from Arabic to English — which, as a result, caused apparent misinformation when picked up and published in a UN Press Release.

The UN spokesperson told journalists yesterday that “Action will be taken against the interpreter to the fullest extent of United Nations Rules and Regulations.”

Of course.

Staff members are not allowed to make mistakes. And, if they do, Off with their heads!

The maximum penalty under UN Rules etc. is summary dismissal.

The UN spokesperson also indicated that Syria has “informally” requested an investigation into what happened.

The UN spokesperson [Michele Montas] announced, in Thursday’s regular Noon Briefing for journalists at UNHQ/NY, that “there was a technical error in a press release that was issued on Tuesday about the work of the First Committee, which incorrectly cited a Syrian representative as mentioning a ‘nuclear facility’ in that country. In fact, the representative had simply mentioned ‘what happened on 6 September 2007 against my country’, and had not used the word ‘nuclear’ at all in that phrase. The mistake was due to an interpretation error, and a corrected press release has since been issued. We regret the error, and the department that deals with General Assembly affairs is looking further into the incident”.

Interpreters work for the Department of General Assembly affairs, while those who prepare the UN press releases work for the Department of Public Information.

Journalists asked a few questions, naturally:

“Question: On the Arab interpretation, how did you establish that it was an interpretation error, not… Because how can someone invent a word, or coin a word, when it was not uttered at all?

Spokesperson: Well it was established simply by comparing the two… the interpretation in English and the actual transcript of what he said in Arabic.

Question: Did you hear, I mean did the voice…

Spokesperson: Yes, of course, of course. Of course. It was thoroughly done yesterday. Okay. Yes. [The Spokesperson later added that that action will be taken against the interpreter to the fullest extent of United Nations Rules and Regulations.]

Question: Just as a follow-up to that, people looking at this story might have a lot of questions. One of them is, the UN prides itself on having very accurate interpretation and translation. What went wrong here is the first question. And the second question is that people looking at this might also think that maybe he actually said ‘nuclear’ and you guys are covering it up because they’re upset about this and you want to sort of cover up a bit of a diplomatic embarrassment on the Syrians’ part. What would you say to people who feel that way?

Spokesperson: Well, I would invite you, you are a reporter here -– a correspondent here -– I would invite you to go downstairs, get a recording and listen to it. And get your own Arabic interpreter and you will see that those words were not used.

Question: So you’re absolutely certain he did not mention the word ‘nuclear’?

Spokesperson: ‘Nuclear’ was not mentioned” …
Continue reading UN will take action against interpreter who mistakenly added the word nuclear to a Syrian statement

UN is looking for a few good Israelis

The first I heard of the Israeli push for its “fair share” of UN posts was in September 2000, just after the failed Camp David peace talks hosted by U.S. President Bill Clinton, and just before violent repression of demonstrations against Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Mosque complex ignited the Second Intifiada.

The Israeli campaign has been waged discretely, but without let-up, in the intervening years.

Now, the UN is responding, big time.

Is this the UN’s contribution to preparations for November’s “peace meeting” (if it is not going to be called a peace conference)?

The Jerusalem Post is reporting today that “The UN is looking for professionals to help in its humanitarian work, and ‘it’s clear that Israelis have the skills’, Stephane Dujarric, a representative of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, told The Jerusalem Post ahead of a recruiting drive at Tel Aviv University on Thursday. ‘In fields such as agricultural development, growing things in very difficult arid terrain, Israelis have the skills and the UN has the jobs’, he said.”

Why didn’t he mention security, or IT — two areas in which Israel excells? Perhaps Dujarric just doesn’t know about Israel’s prowess in those domaines … or maybe Dujarric just thought that might just be too controversial.
Continue reading UN is looking for a few good Israelis

Internal debate continues at UN on larger staff deployment in Iraq

Despite the fervent U.S. wish to have a larger UN staff presence ensconced in the Green Zone in Iraq — and UNSG BAN Ki-Moon’s wish to accomodate the U.S., irregardless of continued opposition from the UN Staff, the decision has not yet been made, as revealed by this exchange between the UN Spokesperson and a journalist at the Regular Noon Briefing on Friday:

Question: Has it been determined whether the security situation in Iraq is good enough for the United Nations to get back into it?
Spokesperson: Not yet”.

This Noon Briefing transcript is published here.

Panel named to investigate substance found at UNHQ

On Friday, the UN spokesperson announced the composition of “the fact-finding panel that will be tasked with investigating the circumstances surrounding the discovery of a substance [emphasis added – latest reports suggest it was not a dangeous substance, but can we really believe this?] at UNMOVIC premises two weeks ago. The panel will have three members. They are Dr. Stefan Mogl, who is the head of Chemistry at Switzerland’s SPIEZ national laboratory. He previously headed the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ laboratory. Dr. Susan Brown is the Director of the High Performance Computing Outreach Centre at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. She’s a chemical engineering and energy technology expert who served in Iraq with the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) in the 1990s. Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security David Veness will also serve on the panel. The panel, which will act under the direction of Mr. Vijay Nambiar, the Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet, is expected to meet for the first time next week. It will be tasked with ascertaining the circumstances under which the substances in question were brought to UN Headquarters, the reasons why the items were discovered only recently, and safety procedures in place and the extent to which they were followed. The panel will be requested to deliver a report to the Secretary-General by the end of October”.
UN news report here.