Last week, Joseph Torsella, the U.S. ambassador for U.N. Management and Reform, took a stand for sobriety at Turtle Bay, publically scolding unnamed diplomatic colleagues for negotiating U.N. budgetary matters under the influence of alcohol.
This week, he's confronting the diplomatic hangover.
Insulted by the slight -- and sensing it was directed at African delegates -- the U.N.'s African countries coalesced behind a plan to limit budget negotiations to the U.N.'s working hours, refusing to entertain marathon negotiations late into the night and weekends to close contentious deals. On Thursday, Russia -- which traditionally cracks open a celebratory bottle of vodka at the close of budget negotiations -- lent its support to the Africans.
At this stage of the negotiations, the African move is likely to have limited effect on the talks -- though it will likely reinforce the bloc's public image as obstructionist on matters of budgetary reform. But the strategy is likely to slow the pace of budget talks in its final stages, meaning that less important business may get done before the session adjourns on the eve of Good Friday.
The tensions over spending are symptomatic of a deeper divide between the U.N.'s richest and poorest countries. Developing countries resent the fact that the United States and other major powers dominate the U.N. Security Council and exercise outsize influence over the U.N. Secretary General and the bureaucracy. For them, the U.N. Fifth Committee -- which controls the budget -- provides their most important source of power and influence and they often suspect Western-backed reforms initiatives are aimed at undercutting that influence.
The United States has been struggling to push through a range of reforms aimed at controlling U.N. spending and opening the body's books to greater scrutiny. But they have confronted a wall of diplomatic resistance, played out in frequent procedural maneuvers aimed at delaying and deferring key business. During crucial December budget negotiations, America's negotiating partners, primarily from the developing world, failed to show up to meetings to discuss key U.S. priorities -- including an initiative to impose a pay freeze on U.N. staffers -- and in some cases arrived a bit tipsy, according to U.N. diplomats.
In response, Torsella delivered a March 4 statement to the U.N. Fifth Committee expressing concern about the conduct of diplomats during the final stage of the marathon December budget talks.
"Mr. Chairman, we make the modest proposal that the negotiating rooms should in the future be an inebriation-free zone," he told delegates at the meeting. "Let's save the champagne for toasting the successful end of the session, and do some credit to the Fifth Committee's reputation in the process."
The intent of the speech seemed to be to shock, or at least embarrass, the U.N. delegates into taking ongoing budget talks more seriously and to wrap up the current round of business -- which includes 16 items dealing with everything from air travel costs to the publication of internal U.N. audits -- before the Easter holiday. Torsella said the United States would "take all appropriate steps to achieve this, including working outside of normal working hours and making the necessary arrangements to facilitate parallel meetings as required."
Some diplomats now fear the appeal may have backfired.
Torsella's statement has infuriated U.N. delegates, not only among developing countries, but among some of Washington's wealthy allies, who are eager to rein in spending. "The whole negotiating atmosphere was really poisoned by this," said one Western diplomat. "People are very angry. They won't openly confront Torsella, but they will react."
The danger, said one diplomat, is that offended delegations will seek to "gum up" the negotiating proceedings and undermine Torsella's efforts to secure a handful of deals aimed at cutting travel spending, reining in peacekeeping costs, and instructing the U.N. procurement office to deliver more cost-effective services.
The United States sought to assure the membership that it appreciated the hard work of the majority of budget negotiators, but that it saw a need for improvement.
"We respect the work of the Secretariat and the majority of Fifth Committee delegates who are, across all regional groups, hard-working and serious," said Kurtis Cooper, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. "At the same time, we welcome all efforts to improve the working practices and professionalism of the Fifth Committee, which was the intent and focus of our statement."
Few diplomats deny their colleagues have had a few shots of whisky and vodka during the U.N.'s marathon budget sessions. And Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin, made it clear he was not amused. "There should be no drinking during business sessions. And I'm going to give very clear instructions to that effect to my delegations."
But they say Torsella's statement and subsequent press leaks exaggerated the excesses, unfairly tarnishing the reputation of the entire U.N. diplomatic community and prompting Foreign Ministries to ask their missions: "What the hell is going on there?"
Torsella, they complained, never approached governments privately to raise concerns about diplomatic misconduct, raising suspicions that the former Philadelphia politician was seeking to raise his own profile.
In the process, said one senior diplomat, Torsella had contributed to creating a perception that was out of touch with reality: grueling weeks of arduous negotiations culminated in a 30-hour diplomatic marathon on Christmas Eve last year. With U.N. shops closed, delegates ordered in pizza, cakes, and whisky. "I have not seen one negotiator that was drunk. I haven't seen a bottle of alcohol on the negotiation table," the diplomat said. "I know my American colleagues are frustrated about the way it works, and the lack of results. But in my view, alcohol is not the problem."
In an effort to calm diplomats, Fifth Committee Chairman Miguel Berger of Germany, sought to assure delegates that he appreciated their hard work and professionalism. "We have seen a broad public coverage on how budget negotiations are supposedly conducted in the Fifth Committee," he said. "As chair I would like to state that the public perception created does in my view not reflect the professional and dedicated work that is done by this committee."
"Many colleagues are sacrificing their family life," he added. "It is for this reason that I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to you, the delegates of the Fifth Committee, for the work you have done and the long hours invested in the negotiations, and for the results achieved."
In the meantime, delegates, have been sharing a recent New York Times letter to the editor which cited a 2007 review of a book by Barbara Holland called the Joy of Drinking that extolled the role of drinking in American political life. Two days before the U.S. Constitution was written, the 55 delegates to the U.S. Constitutional Convention "adjourned to a tavern for some rest, and according to the bill they drank 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 8 of whisky, 22 of port, 8 of hard cider and 7 bowls of punch so large, it was said, ducks could swim around in them. Then they went back to work and finished founding the new Republic."
The tavern, one diplomat gleefully recalled, was located in Philadelphia, Torsella's home town.
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For nearly two and a half years, the United Nations has sought to skirt responsibility for a ravenous Haitian cholera epidemic that killed at least 8,000 Haitians -- and sickened several hundred thousand more -- since the first outbreak was detected in October 2010, downriver from a sewage outlet used by a contingent of Nepalese blue helmets.
Today, Ban Ki-moon phoned Haitian president Michel Martelly to inform him that the United Nations has no intention, or legal obligation, to pay compensation to the families of Haiti's cholera victims.
"In November 2011, a claim for compensation was brought against the United Nations on behalf of the victims of the cholera outbreak in Haiti," Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters on Thursday. "Today, the United Nations advised the claimants representatives that the claims are no receivable pursuant to section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations."
Nesirky highlighted the U.N.'s role in trying to contain the spread of cholera, saying it has worked closely with Haitians "to provide treatment, improve water and sanitation facilities and strengthen prevention and early warning."
"The secretary general expresses his profound sympathy for the terrible suffering caused by the cholera epidemic, and calls on all partners in Haiti and the international community to work together to ensure better health and a better future for the people of Haiti," Nesirky said.
The Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti filed the claim on behalf of the families of 5,000 victims, and is preparing claims on behalf of thousands more. Brian Concannon, the director of the organization, told Turtle Bay that the U.N. should be held liable for "negligent failure" to screen peacekeepers from a country known to have cholera and for the "reckless disposal of waste into Haiti's largest water system."
Concannon said that while the United Nations has signed a status of forces agreement with Haiti that shields it from suits brought by Haitian courts, the global body has an obligation to provide "an alternative mechanism" for victims to seek redress. His group is now preparing to pursue a case in a national court -- either within Haiti, the United States, the Netherlands, or Belgium -- to persuade a judge not to enforce the immunity agreement on the grounds that the United Nations has not lived up to "its side of the bargain."
"It's round two," he said.
The United Nations peacekeeping department has long maintained that a series of studies failed to present irrefutable evidence that U.N. peacekeepers were responsible for the outbreak. They argued that it would be more productive to invest the U.N.'s resources into trying to contain the spread of the disease rather than determining who was responsible for introducing cholera into Haiti for the first time in more than 100 years.
Following protests from Haitians, Ban commissioned a panel of independent medical experts to "investigate and seek to determine the source of the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti." The four-member team, headed by Dr. Alejandro Cravioto, head of the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research in Dhaka, Bangladesh, provided strong circumstantial evidence hinting at a U.N. role but stopped just short of pinning the blame on the Nepalese peacekeepers.
The panel concluded, as Turtle Bay reported at the time, "that the disease was introduced into the Haitian population by human activity in the Meye Tributary, a branch of the Artibonite River, and quickly spread throughout the river delta, infecting thousands of Haitians along the way. At the time, Nepalese peacekeepers were stationed at a camp in Mierbalais, along the banks of the Meye, fueling suspicion that the waste of an infected peacekeeper had flowed into the river."
But the panel argued that the other forces contributing to the spread of the disease -- poor sanitation and a dysfunctional health care system -- were so varied as to make it impossible to identify a specific culprit. "The independent panel concludes that the Haiti cholera outbreak was caused by the confluence of circumstances as described above, and was not the fault of, or deliberate action of, a group or individual," read the report.
A U.S. cholera expert at Tufts Univeristy, Daniele Lantagne, who was a member of the U.N. panel, told the BBC last October that further scientific evidence pointed more conclusively towards the Nepalese peacekeepers. She said it is "most likely" that they were the source of the outbreak.
Jonathan Katz, a former Associated Press reporter who covered the cholera outbreak, said the U.N. has "spent the last year and change saying" they can't talk about the cholera epidemic because the claims case was pending. But now, he said, the U.N. maintains that it won't even consider the claim.
Katz, who authored the recent book on the Haiti relief effort, The Big Truck that Went By, said U.N.'s refusal to confront responsibility reflects a deeper concern that establishing precedent could open the door to a slew of lawsuits against the United Nations around the world.
"The United Nations is concerned about the precedent this would set for U.N. peacekeeping and the other work they do around the world," he said. "I can imagine a long line of people going around the world that would love to go after the United Nations."
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Have U.S. conservatives really lost the war on the International Criminal Court?
A decade ago, President George W. Bush's U.N. envoy, John Negroponte, threatened to shut down U.N. peacekeeping missions from Bosnia to Guatemala if the U.N. Security Council failed to immunize American peacekeepers from prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Bush administration threatened to cut aid to America's military allies if they failed to sign pacts -- known as Article 98 Agreements -- vowing never to surrender a U.S. citizen to the Hague-based court. John Bolton, the Republicans' fiercest foe of the court, declared the day he reversed the Clinton administration's decision to sign the treaty establishing the court his happiest. "I felt like a kid on Christmas day," he wrote in his memoir. The very future of the international tribunal appeared to be at risk.
Today, the Security Council routinely passes resolutions expanding the scope of the international court and few pay it any notice. Last year, the Security Council cited the ICC in resolutions nine times, including in a December resolution -- 2085 -- that requires peacekeepers in Mali to support "national and international efforts, including those of the International Criminal Court, to bring to justice perpetrators of serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law."
It's not that conservatives are ready to embrace the ICC. Fears that the court may one day turn its sites on America's allies in Jerusalem have been reawakened by the Palestinian Authority's warnings that it may file a complaint with the tribunal over Israel's settlement policies. But conservatives have shown considerably less interest in the court's other investigations, particularly in Africa.
Last month, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a formal investigation into alleged crimes in Mali, citing "deeds of brutality and destruction" by armed insurgents who seized control of several towns in northern Mali early last year. The prosecutor recently put Malian government troops on notice that they could potentially face prosecution for rights abuses too. The court has also been stepping up pressure on the Libyan government to surrender slain Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's former intelligence chief, Abdullah Senussi.
France's U.N. envoy Gérard Araud told Turtle Bay that the "routine" references to the global court constitute "recognition of the ICC as a key actor" on the international stage, one that is helping to end "impunity for the perpetrators of the worst atrocities." Given the court's early struggles, the broad acceptance of the tribunal, even by its big-power critics, is nothing short of "amazing," he said.
Still, it may be premature to declare victory for the ICC.
The court has opened 18 cases and jailed six people, including the former president of Ivory Coast, but it has so far succeeded in convicting only one war criminal: Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, who was sentenced last summer to 14 years in prison for recruiting child soldiers. Three of the Security Council's veto-wielding members -- China, Russia, and the United States -- have never joined the tribunal, fearing that it could potentially subject their nationals or those of their allies to prosecution by a court beyond their control. The council's two most important initiatives in support of the court -- the authorization of prosecutions of Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir and of Qaddafi and his inner circle -- have gone nowhere. And the council has done little to use its influence and power to compel the Sudanese or the Libyans to cooperate with the court.
"We are seeing increasing evidence that the ICC is -- and is seen as -- a permanent fixture in the international firmament," said James Goldston, a former coordinator of ICC prosecutions who now serves as executive director of the Open Society's Justice Initiative. "Too often, however, states' support for the ICC has been uneven -- strong when Security Council referral to the ICC is a way for the council to show resolve, weak when the ICC needs political backing to do its work."
The council's embrace of the ICC as a political cudgel has evolved against a backdrop of mounting anxiety -- and, in some cases, outright hostility -- toward the court in Africa, where most of the tribunal's prosecutions have played out. In Kenya, the country's national assembly passed a motion in 2010 urging the government to withdraw from the treaty body establishing the ICC. The move followed the prosecutor's announcement that the court would pursue charges against six Kenyans, including a presidential candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta, for crimes against humanity. These sentiments have fueled charges that the court has become an instrument of big-power bullying, not a forum for justice. "The structural issues that lead many to suggest double standards are real," Goldston said. The fact that three powers are not parties to the ICC, and have the power to refer cases, is an "inherent problem." At the same time, he added, "I think the current moment is a period in which the court is getting more traction."
In Washington, the court faces far fewer of the fiery broadsides and political threats that marked the conservative campaign to gut it in its infancy. "It's clear that things have softened since" the early years of the Bush administration," said Kenneth Anderson, a professor at American University's College of Law, noting that many American conservatives have "lost interest" in the tribunal. As long as the ICC prosecutor does not try to prosecute U.S. and Israel officials -- the "last true red lines" -- it will likely remain that way, he said. "The United States has made its peace on both sides of the political aisle with the existence of the International Criminal Court and with the functioning of the ICC as long as it doesn't get too close to the United States," Anderson added.
In some ways, the the Security Council's routine references to the global court reflect the degree to which it has become an accepted institution. In the end, even President Bush made his peace with the court, standing aside in March 2005, when the Security Council adopted a resolution ordering an investigation into massive crimes by Sudanese authorities in Darfur, Sudan.
The Obama administration has shown even greater sympathy for the court, but its backing has been limited and discrete, primarily coming in the form of allowing references to the ICC in Security Council resolutions and voting in favor of the 2011 resolution opening the prosecution of Qaddafi and his associates. The White House's commitment has been selective, according to observers.
"I think the United States is interested in constant engagement with the ICC if it serves their purpose. It's very ad hoc," said Christian Wenaweser, Liechtenstein's U.N. ambassador and the former president of the ICC's assembly of states parties. "They supported a Libya referral [when Qaddafi was in power] but they did not support any statements that would require the Libyans to cooperate with the ICC. They went with the approach of letting the Libyans do it themselves."
Wenaweser said he agrees that the increased ICC-related activity at the Security Council indicates that the organization is becoming "part of the mainstream political discussion," but he added that it's harder to make the argument that it reflects "stronger political acceptance or support by the Security Council."
Brett Schaefer, a U.N. expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, agrees. He said that the Obama administration's cautious approach to the court has given conservatives little cause for alarm.
"There was a lot of concern when the Obama administration came into office that it would implement a significant shift in U.S. policy towards the court," Schaefer said. "But instead, the shift has been quite moderate." The United States, he said, has cooperated in limited circumstances with the ICC prosecutor, increased rhetorical backing for the court, and permitted Security Council references to the court that don't cross American red lines.
"For the most part the policy's settled. It's because of that that the concerns conservatives had in 2008 and 2009 have been lessened," Schaefer said. But if ICC investigations clash with American interests in places like Afghanistan or the Middle East, he added, it could lead to a revival of U.S. opposition -- not only from conservatives, but also from Democratic lawmakers and the wider public.
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If you felt your life was on hold the past week or so, as the U.S. election entered its final stretch, take comfort -- so was the rest of the world, at least at the United Nations. The U.S. political campaign placed a number of U.N. foreign-policy priorities, including Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran, on the backburner.COMMENTS (0) SHARE: Share on twitter Twitter Share on reddit Reddit More...
But within hours of President Barack Obama's reelection, the United States had begun to turn its attention to deferred business, agreeing Wednesday, for instance, to set a date for resumption of negotiations on the establishment of a new arms trade treaty.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, used his congratulatory message to President Obama to draw Washington's attention to four key priorities -- ending the bloodshed in Syria, restarting the Middle East peace process, promoting sustainable development, and tackling climate change -- requiring greater American engagement.
There are a number of areas, including arms control and possibly climate change, where the administration may show renewed vigor in a second term, according to U.N. observers. But they cautioned that movement on a second-term agenda would start slow, given the months it will likely take to put a new foreign policy team in place. The king, said one observer, will be the same, but the royal court will be new.
The administration will face the first test of its standing at the United Nations on Monday, when it will participate in its first competitive election for a seat on the Human Rights Council, facing off with Germany, Greece, Ireland, and Sweden for three Western spots on the U.N.'s main rights body. Washington has been aggressively campaigning for the post, seeking to avert an embarrassing loss. "People are nervous about it; they don't think it in the bag," said one U.N.-based source.
Observers said they did not foresee the administration pursuing a particularly ambitious agenda at the United Nations. Richard Gowan, an expert on the United Nations at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, said he saw little likelihood that the U.S. would move, for instance, to join the International Criminal Court, push for ratification of the Comprehensive [Nuclear] Test Ban Treaty, or press for expansion of the U.N. Security Council. "Just as Obama was burdened with excessive expectations at the start of his first term I think quite a lot of leaders may have excessive expectations of what he will do now that he is reelected," Gowan said.
So, what will a second term Obama administration pull off the backburner and pursue with renewed vigor? Read the full list here.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
When Superstorm Sandy's surge swept up on the shores of Manhattan's east side on Monday, Oct. 29, the United Nations went off the grid.
A 14-foot wall of salty floodwater poured from the East River into the landmark building's basement, disabling the electrical and cooling system, and shutting down the computer server that links the U.N. Secretariat staff with diplomats, foreign missions, and the press.
A backup database in New Jersey was unable to reconnect the U.N.'s nerve center in New York with the outside world.
The result was that the United Nations, the world's premier humanitarian relief organization, was largely invisible as a punishing storm inflicted significant pain on a wide swath of America, just outside its own front door.
"Disaster preparedness is one of the planks of the United Nations.... We try to walk the talk," Denmark's U.N. ambassador, Carsten Staur, said in a budget committee that turned into a forum for blasting the U.N.'s response in the days following the storm. "It is clear that this has been a blow to any kind of U.N. authority in that field that we can't even manage our own business when it comes to a situation like this."
Governments' criticisms of the U.N. response to Hurricane Sandy reflected a deeper discontent over the fading public role of the United Nations in the world, highlighted by the almost total lack of coverage by the media during the storm.
Turtle Bay, which reported the breakdown following the storm, was unable to secure an answer to even simple question: whether the U.N. General Assembly, which had a cover of plastic sheeting torn off by the hurricane, had any leaks. It would more than two and a half days before senior U.N. officials briefed the press on the matter.
The vacuum was highlighted by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's absence, and his spokesman's almost total lack of public outreach during the first days of the storm. (Ban issued his first statement on the storm on late Thursday afternoon, almost three days after the center of the storm punched through lower New York City.
"We all feel that the United Nations has disappeared from the screen for quite a long time," said Algeria's U.N. envoy, Mourad Benmehidi, who was speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries. "I still have the sentiment that we were out of touch: no mention of the United Nations for six, seven days."
Some officials said one of the reasons the foreign diplomatic community was so angry was that they blamed U.N. management for the destruction of dozens of diplomatic vehicles inside the compound.
A Singaporean diplomat said that the U.N. Office of Central Support Services had sent U.N. delegations an email on Ocobter 24 instructing them to park their cars in the U.N.'s lower basement area, because construction was going on above them. "A subsequent email advising missions to move their cars from the basement there was only received on Monday, at which time it was impossible or hazardous for our mission staff to travel to the United Nations," said the diplomat.
Germany's deputy U.N. ambassador, Miguel Berger, said that the U.N. had sent the email to the wrong email address. "We lost two cars in the garage and afterward we found out the mail address, the mail which was direct to the German mission was a mail address that is non-existent."
Yukio Takasu, a former Japanese diplomat who serves as the U.N.'s undersecretary general for management, and Gregory Starr, the former State Department security chief who serves as U.N. undersecretary for safety and security, defended the U.N.'s handling of the crisis, while acknowledging that some mistakes had been made.
But their fairly upbeat briefing yesterday, which highlighted the sacrifices of U.N. staff in getting the building back and running, only angered the delegates. "I don't agree with the self-congratulatory assessment of Mr. Gregory Starr," Benmehidi said. "Let's be more humble in addressing this situation."
"Today, is the time for anger management," he said.
Benmehidi said that the U.N. had not only been cut off from the world, but from the diplomatic community in New York. "The only email my mission received is from Marjorie Tivens, in charge of relations with the missions in the city of New York." Tivens, who happens to be Mayor Michael Bloomberg's sister, is an employee of the city, not the United Nations.
Staur sought to reinforce the Algerian delegation's point, saying that the U.N. secretariat had made no effort to harness the support of the U.N.'s 192 governments to relay communications to the diplomatic community on behalf of the organization. "That that didn't happen was basically, I think, a total breakdown of communication."
He said the U.N.'s leadership had also utterly failed in using the storm as an opportunity to show the institution's compassion to its victims. He said the U.N. headquarters itself -- which has just completed a $1billion-plus renovation intended to be a model of sustainable design -- "was supposed to be a state-of-the-art example of how to build, because we wanted the U.N. to display how to do things. That basically has not been the case."
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The U.N.'s newly renovated landmark building on First Avenue was still reeling Wednesday from the impact of superstorm Sandy, which flooded Turtle Bay's third basement with several feet of water, paralyzing the building's electronic nerve center and preventing many U.N. staffers from returning to their offices. The U.N. issued an emergency bulletin today that said the building is due to open tomorrow, though offices above floor 17 will not be accessible.
The white tent that serves as the official delegates entryway to the United Nations General Assembly was ripped to shreds by the gale force winds. A large white sheet of plastic that stretched over the U.N. General Assembly dome is also stripped away, creating the impression, if not the reality, that the world's parliament had been cracked open to the elements.
The United Nations slowly emerged from storm today, as some U.N. officials either worked from their computers and Blackberrys at home, or returned to a network of U.N. offices beyond the main compound that had better withstood the storm's punch. But the U.N. secretariat's server appeared to be misfiring even today, as multiple emails sent to U.N. officials were returned to sender hours later.
The Security Council scheduled its first post-storm meeting in a temporary conference room on the U.N. compound north lawn building, which has served as Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's office throughout the $1 billion-plus restoration of U.N. headquarters.
The Security Council extended the mandate for African Union peacekeepers in Somalia before it was due to expire today and adopted a statement promoting the role of women in peace and security.
But there were no plans to address some of the council's more pressing issues, including the Syrian ceasefire that never really took hold over last weekend. "I don't thing there will be much substance today," said one council diplomat.
The U.N. Development Program is "slowly beginning to return to normal," said Heraldo Munoz, an assistant secretary general at UNDP, who returned to work at his office across the street from U.N. headquarters. "We have several people working, mainly people living in Manhattan, but we are in communication with those people who could not make it and are working from their homes."
The flooding at U.N. headquarters has inflicted "severe damage to the building's communications infrastructure," he said. "There was flooding that affected the machinery and power that cools the computer machinery" that runs the building.
Another U.N. diplomat said that the Secretariat's "information and communications technology and electrical infrastructure are very, very damaged. UNDP's and UNICEF's are in much better shape. There will be many questions about this in the coming days."
The U.N. has previously been closed on the occasional workday, including on 9/11, when U.N. staff were evacuated amid fears that terrorists would attack the diplomatic center. But U.N. officials said today that they could not recall another episode when a natural disaster had forced the U.N. Secretariat to shutter its doors for so long, three days so far.
As of this morning, U.N. security continued to prohibit all but repair crews from entering headquarters.
Much of the U.N.'s diplomatic community remained partially cut off from their colleagues, communicating with Blackberrys that stopped working for much of the day on Tuesday.
Many U.N.-based diplomats, particularly younger, mid-level staff who don't reside in official residences, live in lower Manhattan, which suffered a massive blackout, or in the suburbs of Westchester County, which also saw significant losses of electricity.
"The impact for me has been total isolation," said one European diplomat posted at the United Nations. "I've been totally stuck in a powerless building.... I have very little insight to what's been going on" at headquarters.
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Photo courtesy of Heraldo Munoz
Senior U.N. officials may inspire awe, or perhaps fear, among the thousands of U.N. worker bees whose fate they control.
But they would hardly be considered international rock stars.
At least, that is, until now.
Singing Norwegian brothers, Bard and Jegard Ylvisaker, who host the variety show Ylvis, have produced a highly polished music video that sings the praises of the U.N.'s former emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland of Norway, who is currently serving as Human Rights Watch's European chief.
OK, actually, it makes fun of him.
"Gray Hair. Glasses. Suitcase. Humble. Clever. And constantly working for peace," Jegard sings in the parody homage. "Uganda. Congo. And the Oslo treaty plan. Oh my God, what a plan.'
"When hand grenades are flying there's just one man you can trust," he wails. "When there's war and all is hell; send in Jan Egeland. The United Nations superhero man."
Let's have a look:
P.S. Ban Ki-moon, if you are reading this maybe you need to talk to Psy and bring a little Gangnam Style to Turtle Bay.
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The Masked Avengers, the notorious Canadian radio disc jockey duo, have struck again. Their latest victim: U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
The comic team of Marc-Antoine Audette and Sebastien Trudel is best known for tricking former GOP vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, three years ago into participating in a six-minute conversation with a fake French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Yesterday, in the middle of the U.N. General Assembly session, the duo placed a call to Ban, claiming that Canadian President Stephen Harper wanted to talk to him. Ban's staff pulled him out of a meeting to take the call.
Speaking in halting French, the fake Harper apologizes for not showing up for this week's General Assembly debate, explaining that he had another priority to attend to: "I was combing my hair with crazy glue," he explains in French.
"Excusé moi," Ban responds, sounding confused. "Is this Prime Minister Harper speaking?" he asks in French.
"Yes, hello, Stephen Harper speaking," the fake Harper responds, speaking now in English. "How are you Mr. Secretary General?"
"How are you, how are you?" Ban answers, sounding relieved to be speaking in English. But his confusion returns when the fake Harper appeals to the world's top diplomat to use his diplomatic skills to convince the head of the National Hockey League, Gary Bettman, to return the Quebec Nordiques (who were sold to Denver and have become the Colorado Avalanche) to Canada.
"Actually, I was calling you because the U.N. has to give the support to the return of the les Nordiques," Fake Harper explains.
"Pardon?" Ban asks.
"I was calling about the most important subject for us," Fake Harper says.
"Oh, I do not understand what you are saying," Ban says. "About what?"
"It's about the hockey team the Quebec Nordiques you have to speak to Gary Bettman to bring them back. Now it's a big situation."
A U.N. spokesman, Farhan Haq, confirmed that "the Secretary General did receive such a call and he very quickly realized it was a prank. He took it in the way it was intended -- as a joke."
"In this week of all weeks there are so many calls coming in from all over the world and from many delegations, and it was perhaps not the best use of his time, but these things can happen," Haq said. "It's obviously not supposed to happen and we will be listening out extra hard in future for poor French accents on the line from Canada."
In 2008, Audette posed as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and got a call through to Sarah Palin, just days before the U.S. election. Speaking in an exaggerated French accident, saying she would make a great president one day, and that he shared a passion with the governor for hunting.
"I just love killing those animals. Mmm, mmm, take away life, that is so fun," Fake Sarkozy told her.
"You know, I look forward to working with you and getting to meet you personally and your beautiful wife," Palin told Fake Sarkozy, referring to Carla Bruni. "Oh my goodness, you've added a lot of energy to your country with that beautiful family of yours."
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The murder of U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other American nationals in Libya this week drove home the point that America's Foreign Service officers, far from their reputation as pencil-pushing bureaucrats, often confront enormous personal risks in the field.
In a rare act of bipartisan unity, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and ranking member Richard Lugar (R-IN) issued a resolution commending the fallen Americans and arranged a memorial with a photograph of Stevens, who had once served as a congressional aide to the committee.
"It's a stark reminder that anywhere in the world, those people representing our country in the foreign service are on the front lines," Kerry told my Washington Post colleague Karen DeYoung. "It's more dangerous than it has been in a long time because of radical, extreme religious exploitation and terrorism."
But members of Stevens' profession have more often been the object of ridicule and criticism in Washington, particularly among conservatives who have viewed career Foreign Service officers as too sympathetic to the Democratic Party, too willing to sell out American interests, and reluctant to follow orders from Republican presidents' political appointees.
Barry Goldwater, the patron saint of the American conservative movement, once suggested that the only way to fix the State Department is by "firing the first six floors" below the Secretary of State's 7th floor office.
Even in the midst of the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, conservative commentators have lashed out at America's ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, a career officer whose previous posting was in Pakistan, for rumors that she had ordered U.S. Marines not to carry live ammunition, according to a report in Mother Jones. The allegation, drawn from conservative blogs was untrue, according to the Marine Corps, which issued a statement saying "reports of Marines not being able to have their weapons loaded per direction from the Ambassador are not accurate."
The memoirs of the Bush administration's most conservative foreign policy figures, including John Bolton, who would later apply Goldwater remedy for reform to the United Nations, and Douglas Feith, reveal deep suspicions regarding the political inclinations of Foreign Service officers. "The essence of my complaint about the State Department [is] the refusal of officials there to look to their president as their touchstone," Feith wrote in his book War and Decision.
In his memoir Surrender is Not an Option, Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, derided State Department Brahmins for promoting a culture of "clientitis" and conspiring with so-called EUroids -- European Union diplomats -- and other foreign diplomats to hatch agreements that served the aims of diplomacy more than American interests.
"State careerists are schooled in accommodation and compromise with foreigners, rather than aggressive advocacy of U.S. interests, which might inconveniently disrupt the serenity of diplomatic exchanges, not to mention dinner parties and receptions," Bolton wrote.
In the president election, Texas Governor Rick Perry, found a ready target in the Foreign Service. "I'm not sure our State Department serves us well," Perry told Fox New host Bill O'Reilly in a radio interview in November 2011. "I'm talking about the career diplomats and the Secretary of State who, all too often, may not be making decisions, or giving advice in the administration that's in the country's best interest."
In Washington, this week, the embassy attacks provided policymakers with an opportunity to reflect on a profession which is not always understood or fully appreciated by the public, and which is frequently vilified for being insufficiently patriotic.
"All over the world, every day, America's diplomats and development experts risk their lives in the service of our country and our values, because they believe that the United States must be a force for peace and progress in the world, that these aspirations are worth striving and sacrificing for," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday, noting that the names of America's fallen diplomats are inscribed in marble in the State Department lobby. "Alongside our men and women in uniform, they represent the best traditions of a bold and generous nation."
Susan Johnson, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, said remarks like Perry's underscore ignorance about the role Foreign Service professionals play in serving American interests. "There are those few who have the suspicion that you're sympathizing more with foreigners than with Americans," she said. "There is a view that these [foreigners] are people who hate America and therefore we should be shooting them, killing them or at best having nothing to do with them."
Johnson said she hopes the tragedy in Libya will help us "put behind the outmoded image of diplomats as striped-pants cookie pushers."
Diplomacy has always been politically fraught in a country founded on fears of foreign entanglements, a sentiment that rose to a fevered pitch during the Joseph McCarthy era, when American diplomats were investigated for suspected sympathies with the Soviet Union. The profession has carried personal risks for Foreign Service officers since William Palfrey, a former aide de camp to Gen. George Washington, who was lost at sea in 1780 while en route to serve to serve as America's consul general to France. The American Foreign Service Association keeps an online list of the names of U.S. diplomats killed in the line of duty. Generations of American diplomats during the 19th century were stricken down by cholera, yellow fever, and small pox serving the cause of diplomacy abroad.
While diplomats still succumb to the ravages of tropical disease, American and other Western diplomats have been targeted by terrorists since early 1979, when Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S. embassy. That same year, America's ambassador to Kabul, Adolph Dubs, was assassinated -- the last ambassador (before this week's events) to die violently on the job. In October of last year, U.S. ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford was withdrawn from Syria on the grounds that it was too dangerous.
Even in Libya, which is a nominally pro-Western government, foreign diplomats have been the target of terrorist attacks since April, when armed groups exploded a roadside bomb alongside a convoy carrying the U.N.'s top representative, Ian Martin. In June, armed groups attacked a British convoy carrying Britain's ambassador to Libya, Dominic Asquith. The ambassador was unharmed, but two British guards were injured.
"I got the first attack on the international community back in April, but mine was only a little IED (Improvised Explosive Device)," said Martin, who headed the U.N. mission in East Timor during the violent siege of 1999.
Former U.S. diplomats say that the American public generally doesn't appreciate the risks diplomats face and the importance of their work in serving American interests. And they said diplomats like Stevens -- an Arabic speaker who arrived at his posting (via cargo ship) as a special envoy to the anti-Qaddafi insurgency in Benghazi.
"Chris Stevens, whom I knew, really represented the very best of the foreign service," said Edward Djerejian, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria and Israel and founding director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. "The capabilities of people like this is in the Foreign Service are precious for the country and they are not well understood or really appreciated."
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I've been reading Kofi Annan's upcoming memoir, Interventions: A Life in Peace and War, and just ran across a fascinating passage describing a friendly luncheon, well maybe not so friendly, the then-U.N. chief had with the Supreme Court justices during a visit to Washington, D.C.
Justice Stephen Breyer had invited Annan to sit for "salads and sandwiches" with the Supremes, apparently part of a local D.C. tradition for famous visitors.
The conversation turned to the establishment of an International Criminal Court, which was established in 2002 to prosecute individuals for massive crimes, including genocide and war crimes. And it quickly grew contentious.
"I'll be damned if I'm going to let my son be dragged before some foreign kangaroo court to face judgment," said one of the judges, who is not named, but is said to have a son who had served as a U.S. Army captain in Iraq. (Justice Antonin Scalia's son, Matthew, served as a U.S. Army captain in Iraq.)
Annan appeared to have been taken aback by the reaction, saying that while he knew that many American politicians and commentators were hostile to the court he was surprised to here it put so bluntly by a Supreme Court Justice.
"I tried to reassure the irate justice about the procedures that were in place to stop frivolous prosecutions; that the ICC would act only when there was a credible accusation and the state in questions was unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute the matter," Annan wrote. "He was unconvinced."
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Richard Grenell, the foreign policy and national security spokesman for Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, announced his resignation yesterday, giving up the kind of high-profile political job he had coveted through much of his professional life.
Here at the United Nations, where he served for 8 years as the Bush administration's press spokesman, Grenell's political fall set off some reflexive expressions of glee from insiders, who had been stunned by Grenell's appointment and initially thought he'd been ousted for posting inflammatory and derisive tweets targeting everyone from Michelle Obama to Calista Gingrigh.
But as people began to realize that Grenell may have been forced out of his job because of opposition from social and religious conservatives -- not on his merits or lack thereof but because of his sexuality -- a twinge of guilt set in. "I take back the snarky comment," said one U.N. insider, who initially hailed news of Grenell's political demise with a laugh. "He had to resign ... because he is openly gay!"
In a statement posted on Jennifer Rubin's Right Turn Blog, which broke the news, Grenell said he decided to resign because "my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign." He thanked Governor Romney "for his belief in me and my abilities and his clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team."
R. Clark Cooper, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said Grenell made his decision because it is "best for the Romney campaign" if it was unfortunate that "the hyper-partisan discussion of issues unrelated to Ric's national security qualifications threatened to compromise his effectiveness on the campaign trail...."
"Ric was essentially hounded by the far right and far left," he said. "The Romney campaign has lost a well-known advocate of conservative ideas and a talented spokesman, and I am certain he will remain an active voice for a confident U.S. foreign policy."
Grenell is a well-known, if not terribly popular figure at the United Nations, where he served as spokesman for every one of President George W. Bush's U.N. envoys, including John Negroponte, John Danforth, John Bolton and Zalmay Khalilzad. The son of Christian missionaries from the Church of God, Grenell preferred the role of political enforcer to that of the foreign policy wonk, routinely accusing reporters of anti-Republican bias.
Grenell regarded his famously combative relationship with the press -- detailed in this Village Voice article -- as a badge of honor, and Bolton and other foreign policy conservatives rallied to his defense when his tweets -- he once accused Vice President Joe Biden of using botox -- raised questions about his judgment and maturity.
"During his time at the U.S. Mission to the U.N., he showed discretion and good judgment, and did an excellent job representing our country during often very difficult circumstances," Bolton said in a statement. The Washington Post reported that Bolton sought to persuade Grenell not to resign. Romney's campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, meanwhile, said "We are disappointed that Ric decided to resign from the campaign for his own personal reasons. We wanted him to stay because he had superior qualifications for the position he was hired to fill."
But Grenell's foreign policy tenure was not without controversy.
In February 2003, a Mexican reporter at the U.N. published a story claiming that Grenell had pushed Mexico's U.N. ambassador, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, to "hurry up" his remarks to the press so that Negroponte, who was waiting in the wings for a chance to address the media, could speak. "Who cares what Mexico has to say?" he reportedly said.
The report set off a diplomatic storm in Mexico, where it was widely reported, and Negroponte, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico seeking the country's backing for the Iraq war, had to smooth things over with the Mexican envoy. At the time, there were rumors that the comments had been picked up on a reporter's tape recorder. But a recording never materialized, Grenell categorically denied it, and the U.S. State Department issued a statement defending him.
After leaving government, Grenell continued to monitor events at the U.N., tweeting and writing an occasional op-ed piece for Fox News or the Huffington Post that savaged Susan Rice's tenure at the United Nations and mocked the press as going to soft on her. "If she won't voluntarily resign then she should be fired," he wrote in one Fox News op-ed.
He even found time to take an occasional pot shot at me. After I retweeted a story by my colleague Glenn Kessler taking issue with Romney's characterization of Russia as America's principal geostrategic foe, Grenell fired back with a tweet comparing us to Sergeant Shultz in the 1960's sitcom Hogan's Heroes, and linking to a YouTube video with him relaying his classic line "I know nothing."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
As the late Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces prepared to crush the Libyan uprising last summer in Benghazi, Britain, France, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and other allies moved quickly to reinforce the beleaguered rebel forces.
With military supplies, training, advice -- and of course the backing of NATO war planes -- this coalition of governments provided critical support to change the course of the conflict, ultimately leading to Qaddafi's downfall.
The U.N. Security Council's arms embargo was primarily intended to constrain Qaddafi's capacity to use its massive oil wealth to import new stocks of weapons and foreign mercenaries to help put down the rebellion. But it also placed restraints on the supply of weapons to the rebels, prompting the Security Council to later introduce an exemption -- providing significant cover for governments seeking to arm the rebels.
A new report by a U.N. panel of experts responsible for monitoring the arms embargo in Libya sought to itemize a list of military supplies -- everything from sandbags to shouldered propelled rockets -- that flowed into Libya after the U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Libya in February 2011. The list, however, is incomplete because NATO and some of the insurgents' chief military backers, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have refused to provide a full account of their contributions.
The report identified numerous attempts by the Qaddafi regime "to secure arms deals and use mercenaries from neighboring countries," citing reports in the Globe and Mail about a July 2011 visit to Beijing by Libyan officials seeking to purchase military supplies from three Chinese arms manufacturers. (China denied that the talks led to any deals.) The panel also cited reports that much of Libya's military capacity had been reconstituted after 2004, following years of Western and U.N. sanctions, with the aid of Western European countries and ex-Soviet states (The panel also noted that is conducting an ongoing investigation into Qaddafi's use of mercenaries, adding that so far it had found "no conclusive evidence.")
But the 78-page report provides insights into how the international community combined diplomatic pressure, military airpower, and clandestine arms deliveries, to topple a regime. It would not be surprising if some of those countries considering backing the Syrian campaign to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad in Syria are drawing from the same playbook.
The United States
Though U.S. airpower proved decisive in crippling Qaddafi's defenses, the United States maintains that it provided only non-lethal military support to the rebels. The report notes that on February 6, the United States provided the panel with a list of its contributions, including 8,000 uniforms, 8,000 boots, 5,825 load-bearing vests, 2,850 bullet proof vests, 1,975 military helmets, and "items for defensive positions (sandbags, Hescos...)."
The Italian government notified the panel on February 14 that it supplied 10 military trainers, 10,000 uniforms, 5,400 helmets and 2,800 leather boots.
On February 9, the United Kingdom informed the panel that it supplies the rebels with 6,000 sets of body armor and no more than 20 military personnel. The British action, according to the report, was intended to "provide a military assistance team to the Libyan authorities for the purpose of providing operational assistance, training and mentoring on security issues, including reform of the armed services, counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency."
In April 2011, the French government notified the United Nations that it had sent a small team of military advisors to Libya to provide the National Transitional Council with "support and advice on ways to organize its internal structure, manage its resources and improve its communications." In June, it went further, notifying the UN that it had "airdropped self-defence weapons for the civilian populations that had been victims of attacks by Libyan armed forces." The panel's report contains no detailed list of these contributions as the French asked it to keep the details confidential.
The panel said that it has obtained information that several flights operating from Tirana, Albania, transported military materiel to Benghazi over a three day period in September, 2011. The case remains under investigation.
One of the more tantalizing revelations in the panel report is the suggestion that Darfuri rebel groups, including members of the Zaghawa tribe and fighters from the Justice and Equality Movement, may have backed Qaddafi's counterinsurgency campaign. The panel said that while it was not able to "definitely corroborate" numerous reports of the military role in the conflict, ‘the accumulative strength of intelligence gives substantial credibility to these findings." No to be outdone, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, extended overflight rights over Sudanese territory to NATO, according to senior U.N. diplomats, and allegedly supplied arms to the insurgents, according to the panel. The panel cited claims by the Benghazi rebel defense ministry that Sudan provided "small arms and light weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades," and transported other supplies to Bengazhi on two Ilyushin-76 aircraft. "According to media reports, on 26 October, the President of the Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, gave a speech in Kasala in which he acknowledged weapons deliveries from the Sudan to Libya and that the weapons had reached revolutionaries in Misratah, Al-Jabal Al-Gharabi and Zawiya." The Sudanese government did not reply to the panel's request for information.
In March 2011, Qatar notified the United Nations that it would participate in NATO enforcement of the U.N.-authorized no-fly zone over Libya, contributing "a number of military aircraft, military transport aircraft and helicopters." Qatar categorically denied media reports that "it had supplied the revolutionaries with arms and ammunition," saying only that it had "sent a limited number of military personnel to provide military consultations to the revolutionaries, defend Libyan civilians and protect aid convoys." The only weapons and ammunition it had furnished was for the use of Qatari military advisors in self-defense.
But the Qatari contention had one big hole in it. In July, 2011, a Swiss television station discovered spent Swiss ammunition used by the Libyan revolutionaries. The Swiss ammo had been exported to the Qatar armed forces in 2009 by a Swiss arms company, FGS Frex, and made its way to Libya. Confronted by Swiss authorities, who noted that Qatar was prohibited from re-exporting the ammunition, the Qatari ambassador appeared to have confirmed its role in the supply of ammunition. "The ambassador of Qatar explained to the Swiss representatives that the ‘transfer of the aforementioned ammunition to the Libyan opposition was a misadventure in the course of his country's support of the NATO operation in Libya.' He reassured the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs that ‘Qatar took the appropriate measures to prevent similar errors in the future.'"
The United Arab Emirates
The panel provided few details about alleged arms transfers by the United Arab Emirates, partly because it is conducting an ongoing investigation into the matter, and partly because the Gulf state refused to provide the panel with a list of its contributions. On March 25, "the United Arab Emirates notified the [UN] Secretary General that it would participate, within the framework of the international coalition, by providing military aircraft. No notification was given regarding transfers of weapons or ammunition or provision of military personnel." The panel visited the UAE to inquire about its role in arming and advising the Libyan insurgents. The government insisted that it had acted in conformity with UN resolutions and under the umbrella of the NATO operation" to protect civilians. "They did not provide more precise information and said that NATO would be in a better position to answer those questions."
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's role in Libya was decisive in crippling Qaddafi's military defenses and providing support for insurgent offensive operations. While its air campaign is not the subject of the panel's inquiry, the report notes that it wrote to NATO "asking it to provide a detailed list of military materiel, including weapons and ammunition, sent by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates or any other country that participated in the NATO operation and information regarding the number and roles of military personnel sent by those countries to Libya since the imposition of the embargo. While NATO acknowledged the receipt of the panel's request for information on 25 January 2012, no answer has been provided to date."
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After months of discord, the U.N. Security Council last week coalesced around a diplomatic initiative led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, presenting a rare show of unity in the face of President Bashar al-Assad's bloody repression of anti-government protesters.
But has the deal brought the world any closer to a democratic future under a leader that enjoys popular support? A 6-point political settlement, authored by Annan and endorsed this week by the U.N. Security Council, is ambiguous about the fate of President Assad.
And it has done little to change the realities on the ground, where the Syrian government has continued to secure military gains against an armed opposition that is running desperately low on ammunition.
"All the evidence ... points to Assad thinking basically that there is a military solution to this crisis, that given time and space he can crush the dissent," said one council diplomat. "We don't buy that. We think they squash it in one place, as they did recently in Homs, it pops up somewhere else, as we saw in Damascus."
But the official said that Assad's continuing defiance could provide a "hook" to bring the matter back before the Security Council, where it can adopt tougher measures against the regime.
The U.N. Security Council members, including U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, have trumpeted the council's latest statement as a modest step that offers the best hope of ending the violence in Syria, opening the floodgates for humanitarian assistance and starting talks on a political transition, something that both sides have so far refused to do.
But for many outside observers the promise of sterner action remains uncertain, particularly given veto-wielding Russia's support for Assad, and it may too late to alter the course of development through diplomacy.
"This is a plan which, if it had been put on the table six weeks ago, would have offered Assad away out for the regime. But it has much less reason to bargain at a time where the regime is scoring successive military victories," said Richard Gowan, an expert on the United Nations at New York University's Center for International Cooperation. "The problem is that the Syrian military is continuing to create facts on the ground and Annan and the Security Council are inevitably struggling to keep up."
The Washington Post editorial page put it more bluntly on March 22: Annan's initiative, it reasoned, "will likely provide time and cover for the regime of Bashar al-Assad to continue using thanks and artillery to assault Syrian cities and indiscriminately kill civilians. That's exactly what the regime was doing Thursday -- pounding the city of Hama, where at least 20 people have been reported killed in army attacks in the past two days."
U.N. officials are convinced that Assad cannot end the uprising through military means, and that he will ultimately need to bargain the terms of his political future. "If he thinks he can weather this storm...he [has made] a serious misjudgment," Ban Ki-moon recently told a small group of reporters over lunch. "He cannot continue like this. He has gone too deep, too far."
In the meantime, Annan has urged the armed opposition's foreign sympathizers, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, not to supply anti-government forces with weapons and other military supplies. Annan urged Russian President Dmitry Medvedev over the weekend to press Assad to accept his peace proposal, and reportedly met with top Chinese officials in Beijing on Sunday to secure a similar commitment.
Annan told the Security Council earlier this month that Assad's initial response to his diplomatic entreaties have been "disappointing." But he placed hope that a united Security Council could turn the diplomatic tide.
"The stronger and clearer the message you can collectively send," he told the council in a closed door briefing on March 16, "the better the chance that we can begin to shift the worrying dynamics of the conflict."
Engineering such a change may be complicated by Assad's own calculation of the personal dangers of peace. "There are risks for him in that he may fear he will lose on the negotiating table what he through fighting," said Gowan. "He may have concluded it is simply best to create a military fait accompli."
"The argument one hears advanced is that the damage to his political base has been so great he cannot survive long in office even if he wins on the battlefield," Gowan added. "Where as long as the fighting continues he has the upper hand, and so will never back down."
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Diplomats, by trade, are not naturally funny people.
And the lofty "permanent representatives," as the most senior U.N.-based ambassadors are called, are often among the least funny.
They can come across as a bit too earnest, overly confident, even pompous, and they are usually pitching a cause that doesn't translate well into snappy one-liners. While they may possess masterful negotiating skills they're rarely quick enough on their feet to parry a lethal jab from a hardened comic. And frankly, how does one offer up a riposte when the national honor has been mocked?
But every season, there they are, lining up for appearances on Comedy Central's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, confident that they can take advantage of a massive audience that could never be reached through a U.N. press conference.
But they commit comedy at their own peril.
Ask Switzerland's U.N. ambassador Peter Maurer, who got skewered by the Daily Show's faux news reporter John Oliver over his country's neutrality during World War II. ("Mr. Ambassador, is that neutral anger, or real anger?") Or Nassir al-Nasser, Qatar's then U.N. ambassador, who got visibly tense when Oliver challenged his pronunciation of "Qatar" and asked him what his country was doing to de-stabilize the Middle East. ("I'll just pause now to gauge the tension. Yep, that's tense; that is very tense indeed.")
Then there's the big screen, where the South Park creators have made a habit of lampooning U.N. officials or diplomats, including Hans Blix, the former U.N. weapons inspectors, who was thrown into a shark tank by Kim Jong Il in Team America: World Police and torn to pieces for a laugh.
But you get the point.
No one is a choicer prey for a comic than a diplomat, particularly one that speaks with a foreign accent, represents a country with a funny name, and can't take a joke.
But not everyone falls victim.
Remember how the British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, playing Ali G coaxed the former Egyptian U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali -- "the geezer" he called him -- to say, and spell out, the French word for human excrement -- "merde." But Boutros Ghali prevailed by playing along, offering his opinion on the funniest language -- "maybe Arabic" -- and patiently explaining why Disneyland can't become a U.N. member: "it's not an independent state."
Susan Rice emerged relatively unscathed in her bout with Stephen Colbert, but not before he got in a zinger about the effort to contain Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs. "Excuse me for interrupting you, but I enjoy it," Colbert said. "Iran is still working toward a nuclear weapon. [North] Korea got their nuclear weapon. I'm just as scared of both of these people. How are we stopping them? I mean, I know sternly worded letters are the bread and butter of the U.N. But maybe we should start typing them in all caps to let them know that we are really angry."
Last week, the Palestinian U.N. envoy, Riyad Mansour, tried his hand at sitting with Oliver, in a skit entitled "Who wants to be a member of the U.N.?" Mansourplayed along with the jokeas Oliver set some "preconditions" for the interview. "First this entire interview must be conducted with the 1967 vocabulary. Is that groovy with you?"
"Groovy? It is agreeable with me. Yes," Responded Mansour.
It moved onto a negotiation over who would control the studio's thermostat. (Thanks to Mondoweiss for the transcript.)
John Oliver: "...is it hot in here?"
Riyad Mansour: "It's fine."
John: "So you're not hot? Because I'm definitely hot."
Riyad: "I am not."
John: "OK, look, Ambassador, I think before we do anything, we are gonna have to come to a provisional status agreement on the temperature in this room."
Riyad: "If you want to lower the temperature, it's fine with me."
John: "But who's going to control the thermostat?"
Riyad: "The thermostat ... should be shared by all of us."
John: "Don't even think about dividing this thermostat."
Riyad: "We will not divide the thermostat, but it should be accessed by all those who cherish it and think that it is a holy place that should be accessed to everyone."
John Oliver [voiceover]: "After three and a half hours of laborious negotiations, we finally came to an agreement."
John: "We agree that at an unspecified time in the future, we will announce a summit to discuss the possibility of discussing a negotiation towards an agreement on temperature. Yes?"
John: "Shake hands for the camera. Thank you, Ambassador, this is a historic day."
Riyad: "Yes indeed."
So, how did Mansour fair for the first half of the program? He remained on message, keeping the focus on Palestine's bid for U.N. membership. And he didn't lose his temper. It helped that Oliver went a little easy on him, avoiding any awkward questions about suicide bombers or rockets from Gaza. So, let's see how he did in the game show portion of the interview.
John: "Hi Riyad where are you from, Riyad?
Riyad: "I'm from Palestine."
John: "Palestine? I've never heard of that. Ok, so question number one: What does U.N. stand for?
Riyad: [Long pause] "United Nations."
John: "That's correct. That's correct, Ryad, Congratulations. That's great. So, how do you think it's going so far?
Riyad: "We're doing good."
John: "Ok... It's the bonus round. You've come all this way. Now do you take what you've won so far ... or do you take what's inside the mystery box"
Riyad: "I take what's inside the mystery box."
John: "He's going to go for the mystery box. Ok good luck. [Opens box and removes a card with the verdict.]
John: "Riyad, oh I'm sorry it's a veto from the U.S."
Riyad: "If we're vetoed once well come back again."
John: "That's the spirit. He'll come back again, next time."
Indeed, if there's a comic willing to poke fun at him, he probably will.
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Syria has failed to act on a request by the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, to visit the country to meet with top government officials and assess humanitarian conditions in the country.
Amos, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, has been pleading for several months to be allowed into the country to determine the extent of the country's humanitarian crisis. She renewed the request on Friday, after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, asked her to travel to Syria to assess the situation.
The move come as the Syrian government has stepped up its violent crackdown against demonstrators and opposition groups, shelling restive towns, in particular Homs, in a brutal campaign aimed at crushing resistance.
"I am deeply disappointed that I have not been able to visit Syria, despite my repeated requests to meet Syrian officials at the highest level to discuss the humanitarian situation and the need for unhindered access to the people affected by the violence," said Amos, who is traveling in the region.
Last week, a U.N. commission of inquiry ruled that top Syrian officials committed "widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity," and need to be held accountable for their actions.
Amos said that the government's refusal to approve humanitarian assistance "prolongs" the suffering of Syrians and that the U.N. stands ready to help get assistance to those in need -- once the governments permits it.
The violence has driven up to 200,000 people from their homes, and forced another 25,000 to seek refuge in neighboring countries, according to U.N. estimates. "Given the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, with an increasing need for medical assistance, food and basic supplies, improving access, so that assistance can reach those in urgent need, is a matter of the highest priority."
The effort to get relief into Syria comes as the death toll has been steadily rising, with the U.N. announcing Tuesday that more than 7,500 people have died since the government launched a violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrators back in March 2011.
"The Syrian government has manifestly failed to carry out its responsibility to protect its people," B. Lynn Pascoe, the U.N. undersecretary for political affairs told the Security Council on Tuesday. "On the contrary, it has subjected residents in several cities to indiscriminate bombardment by tank and rocket fire, killing its own people in ways reminiscent of the Hama massacre perpetrated by the Syrian government in 1982."
"Unfortunately," Pascoe added, "the international community has also failed in its duty to stop the carnage, and actions and inactions to date have seemed to encourage the regime in its belief that it has impunity to carry on wanton destruction of its own civilians."
Pascoe said that Syrian security forces "launched a merciless bombardment of residential areas in Homs" on Feb. 26. "We are now into the fourth week of the terrible attacks on major neighborhoods in this city. The situation for the people trapped inside them is increasingly dire. According to human rights organizations, more than 5,000 civilians have been prevented from fleeing by government forces."
Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary general who was named as the U.N. and Arab League special envoy for Syria, is scheduled to arrive in New York today for several days of talks. He will address reporters along with Ban this evening.
Diplomats say that Annan will try to secure a commitment to travel to Damascus to meet with President Bashar al-Assad and to persuade him to accept an Arab League proposal for a political transition.
The United States, meanwhile, has "drafted an outline for a new U.N. Security Council resolution that would demand access for humanitarian aid workers in besieged towns," Reuters reported.
Security Council diplomats, however, said that it is unlikely the 15-nation council will begin serious discussions on the resolution until after the Russian presidential election on March 4. Russia has already vetoed two resolutions condemning Syria's crackdown, and has refused to permit any outside role that doesn't come with the backing of the Syrian government. As yet, there has been no discussion in New York about a controversial plan, initially raised by France, to establish humanitarian corridors in Syria along its borders with Turkey and Jordan.
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She called him duplicitous.
He said she needed to watch her "expletives" and behave a bit more Victorian.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and her Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, have been slinging insults at each other as their governments have sharply diverged over crises from Libya to Syria.
So what does Rice really think of her big power sparring partner?
"Look, we've had a little fun," she said, recalling how she once projected an image of Churkin's face inside the head of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas character on the wall of the Security Council. "On a personal level, I think I am not ashamed to say [we] have a lot of fun together. We fight, we laugh and sometime we're in agreement and sometimes we're not."
In recent weeks, the American and Russian envoys have mostly been fighting over their sharply diverging approaches to Syria, where the U.S. is supporting an Arab plan to nudge President Bashar al-Assad from power, and Russia is backing its own competing initiative that would preserve a role for the Syrian leader in any political settlement.
On Monday night, Foreign Policy's editor in chief, Susan Glasser, AfPak channel editor Peter Bergen and I sat down with Ambassador Rice at an event organized by the New America Foundation to discuss her views on her Russian counterpart, Russia and China's double veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria this past weekend, and her prospects for becoming the countries next U.S. secretary of state -- if President Barack Obama wins reelection.
Here we've compiled a few highlights from the event, starting with a replay of some of the diplomatic wrangling that proceeded Russia and China's historic double veto, which killed off a Western- and Arab-backed resolution condemning Syria's repression of demonstrators and endorsing an Arab League plan for a political transition in Syria.
Rice maintained that the there was a moment when it looked like the council had secured agreement during "roller-coaster" negotiations, only to see China and Russia backtrack. "I thought at a few points it was doomed to fail but "we ultimately…hammered out what we thought was a compromise that could be sold in everybody's capitals. We were careful in how we framed that with the press. It was something literally all of us needed to send back for guidance…we all hoped we might be in a position to get a yes after that."
That was not to happen.
Russia's foreign ministry declared the draft unacceptable on Friday morning, privately informing their counterparts that they would propose some amendments. But Moscow only formally presented the amendments to the council as it prepared to hold a scheduled vote on its resolution. A last minute meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Munich on the sidelines of a security conference failed to close the gap. "The amendments that were tabled were widely viewed as not only too late but wrecking amendments, amendments that would have gutted the heart of the resolution," said Rice. "It was clear at that stage that we were at an impasse and it I was equally clear that with the killing intensifying on the ground and reaching the horrific levels that it did on Saturday that there was no way the council was going to do as the Russians had sought which was too delay this vote."
But even in the minutes leading up to the vote, representatives from key Arab and Islamic governments, including Egypt and Pakistan, made their final effort to lessen the blow, pressing China to break ranks with the Russians, according to Rice."Just before the vote, a throng of Arab ambassadors encircled the Chinese ambassador, [Li Baodong], and were pleading with him not to stand with the Russians in vetoing the resolution."
Ambassador Churkin recently told me that as a Russian diplomat it is not easy to ditch close allies, and that Moscow was more loyal to its friends than others. Many in the international community, he said, appreciated Russia's stance. But Rice contended that Russia and China will pay a steep political price for its decision to block the Arab League initiative. "I think you've heard the prime minister of Qatar [Hamad bin Jassim and [Arab League Secretary General Nabil] Elaraby both speak of the damage that they believe Russia has done in vetoing the resolution potentially perhaps, probably giving Assad a license to kill," said Rice. "I do think that when the dust settles and when there's a democratic government in Syria they will not forget recent history anymore than the Libyans have forgotten recent history. It will be a very different landscape that the Russians and Chinese are looking at and they may look back on this…as something they wish they could take back."
"This was the Arab members all together coming to the Security Council for something quite specific, it wasn't the use of force it wasn't sanctions, it was blessing a political transition and I think we certainly thought that was an initiative that was worthy of strong international support and U.S. support in the council," said Rice. "The fact that it was blocked by an ever more isolated Russia and China may in the short term serve to embolden Assad but I think over the…middle to long term will in fact weaken him and embolden the region to stand ever stronger in favor of their goal which is a democratic transition."
In defending its decision to cast a veto, Russia has maintained that it had acted to halt the West from using the Security Council, as it had in Libya, to bring about regime change in Syria. Churkin contends that the West abuses the Security Council in Libya by using a resolution crafted to protect civilians to overthrow an internationally recognized government. Rice disputed that claim.
"First of all, using Libya as an excuse to do the wrong thing on Syria is completely disingenuous. We made very, very clear -- I made very, very clear -- in laying out to the Security Council what this authority would entail. The protection of civilians, as mandated and drafted, in what became Resolution 1973, was going to involve air strikes against [Muammar] Qaddafi's command and control centers, air strikes against moving columns, air strikes against any asset of the regime that would threaten civilians. We discussed this at great detail and we, in fact, debated language that laid all of that out in great specificity so that countries could not claim that they didn't know exactly what they were granting when passing that resolution," said Rice. "We wanted the council to make a clear eyed decision. If they hadn't supported this it wouldn't have happened…But in voting for it, or not opposing it, the council gave a clear-cut green light. Now there may be some cynical folks who say that perhaps the Russians and the Chinese were trying to give the coalition -- NATO, and Western and Arab powers -- enough room to hang themselves and they're frustrated that that wasn't exactly the outcome. I don't know. But I do know it was very clear what they were voting for and the outcome was one that was potentially foreseen ... although I understand that you have to be somewhat nuanced to see it. But the resolution and the actions of NATO really were genuinely to protect civilians, they were not designed for regime change…What transpired was that, in addition to the NATO air campaign to protect civilians, [there was] growth and transformation of the opposition. They cohered ultimately into a sufficiently capable multi-front force to ultimately topple Qaddafi."
The U.S.-Russian rift over Syria has drawn some comparisons in Washington to the diplomatic paralysis that plagued U.N. diplomacy at the height of the Cold War. Rice challenged that comparison, saying that while the two powers different sharply over important issues, they have worked closely on a range of others. "I don't think…the difficulties we have had in the wake of the Libya vote are necessarily indicative of a return to the Cold War. In so many ways we're past that. In my three years, the council has passed very important and broad-reaching sanctions against Iran [and North Korea]. We have together supported the emergence of an independent South Sudan. We have without rancor or difficulty backed important U.N. missions in Afghanistan and Iraq [among many other issues]. There are going to be issues that are difficult. We've had our share of those of late and they…divide us and even get rancorous. But I don't think is a fair characterization of the body of work that we've been doing over the last several years and I expect will be doing going forward."
Speaking of issues that divide, I asked Rice about the prospects that the Security Council could be used to rally greater economic pressure on Iran. I told Rice that I'd recently asked Churkin if he would consider new sanctions against Tehran and he said: "No chance, no chance, no chance…ever." Asked if Churkin is right, Rice said that it may be difficult to reach agreement. She explained that Russia and China, frustrated that they had imposed U.N. sanctions, were infuriated that the United States and Europe followed up with their own sanctions that in some case harmed their own commercial interests.
"There is a certain logic to their point of view," Rice said."We don't agree with it. But there saying ‘why should we adopt strong sanctions in the council, agree to adhere to them, only to be hit upside the head with a bunch of national measures that we didn't subscribe to? How many times are we going to play this game?'"
So have U.N. sanctions against Iran run their course?
"Never say never," Rice said. "But I would say, barring something unforeseen, I think it will be a little while before there is an appetite for further action" at the United Nations.
Finally, Rice was asked if Obama wins reelection, should we expect to see her serving as his new secretary of state? She said: "I love my job and I think the only person who can answer that question is President Obama. I will do what I am asked to do or what I'm not asked to do. So, we'll see. But it has been an enormous privilege and a whole lot of fun to serve again and to serve at the United Nations, which is never dull and I feel very fortunate to be doing what I'm doing."
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined senior Arab and European diplomats at the U.N. Security Council in denouncing Syria's violent crackdown on civilians, and urged President Bashar al-Assad to yield power.
The Security Council meeting represented an extraordinary scene -- with the secretary general of the Arab League rebuking a fellow Arab state and calling for outside pressure to nudge an Arab leader from power.
It provided a boost -- though by no means a certain one -- to the Western and Arab effort to press Syria's most powerful remaining supporter, Russia, to permit the adoption of a Security Council resolution endorsing a plan for a political transition in Damascus.
"The Arab League has come to the council seeking support of the international community for a negotiated, peaceful political solution to this crisis and a responsible, democratic transition in Syria," Clinton told the council. "We all have a choice: stand with the people of Syria and the region or become complicit in the continuing violence there."
Full speech after the break.
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Madeleine Rees, a former U.N. human rights official and the inspiration for one of the heroines in the film The Whistleblower, was wrongfully dismissed from her job with the Geneva-based U.N. Office of the High Commission for Human Rights in March 2010, according to a ruling by the U.N.'s administrative disputes tribunal.
The ruling comes at an awkward time for the United Nations, which has been struggling to determine how to react to last month's release of a major motion picture that recounts one of the darkest periods in modern U.N. history: the story of how U.N. peacekeepers became implicated in the trafficking of eastern European women into sexual slavery in Bosnia.
While Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's administration bore no responsibility for the abuses in Bosnia, it did play a role in firing Rees, who is portrayed in the film by Vanessa Redgrave as one of the most outspoken and courageous defenders of the rights of trafficked women in Bosnia. U.N. officials said her dismissal had nothing to do with her role in Bosnia, but concerned questions about her performance in a subsequent job.
After a round of internal debate, Ban invited the film's director, Larysa Kondraki, to screen the film for an audience of senior U.N. officials and member states at U.N. headquarters.
U.N. officials had hoped to use the event, which would include a panel discussion with the director, to highlight the steps that the U.N. has taken to address the failing in Bosnia.
Ban wrote last month in a letter to the director that he "was saddened by the involvement of the international community, particularly of the United Nations, in the abuses connected with the trafficking of women and their use as sex slaves, as highlighted in the movie." He noted that the U.N. has imposed a "zero-tolerance" policy on sexual misconduct and that he intended to make combating such abuses a priority. "I want to assure you that we shall embrace the challenge your film places before us."
As the U.N.'s top human rights officer in Bosnia, Rees led a fierce internal battle against the U.N.'s top peacekeeping brass to rein in sexual trafficking and to ensure that U.N. blue helmets weren't inadvertently complicit in these crimes by barring them from patronizing brothels where the girls worked. The film recounts her role in recruiting a former Nebraska cop, Kathryn Bolkovac (played by Rachel Weisz), and encouraging her to pursue investigations into the involvement of U.N. peacekeepers in sex trafficking.
Rees left Bosnia in 2006, when she was transferred to Geneva to head up the U.N. Women's Rights and Gender Unit. But she clashed with the new leadership team, including Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, who was appointed by Ban, and her deputy Kyung-wha Kang, a former top Korean diplomat and aide to Ban who was appointed by Kofi Annan in his final months in office.
Rees filed a grievance last year, arguing that she had suffered "irreparable harm" to her professional reputation and career at the U.N. after she was unjustly demoted in 2009 and finally pushed out of her job altogether in March 2010. The U.N. High Commissioner's office denied the charges, saying she had been reassigned to a new job after senior managers voiced repeated concerns about her performance, and that they did not renew her contract after she refused to accept another job she had been offered.
Judge Coral Shaw, a justice in the U.N. Dispute Tribunal, ruled that the U.N. had acted unlawfully in reassigning Rees to a new post, and that the U.N. should rescind the decision as well as its subsequent decision not to renew her contract.
"The judicial procedure is not yet completed, and there may be an appeal -- therefore we can't comment at this point," said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the High Commissioner's office, to Turtle Bay. But he added, "The case has nothing whatsoever to do with the shocking events in Bosnia, as depicted in the film The Whistleblower, and its disingenuous to link the two. The case relates to Madeleine Rees' subsequent position as the Head of OHCHR's Women's Rights and Gender Unit in Geneva."
But specialists say that a series of bureaucratic steps -- including scant public reports on sex crimes and the establishment of a U.N. memorandum of understanding that places greater authority for disciplining peacekeepers in the hands of governments -- have made it increasingly difficult to assess the U.N.'s response to the problem.
"Member states are not reliable enough to do a good job on their own, especially in the early stages of a military investigation," Prince Zeid Raad Zeid al-Hussein, Jordan's U.N. ambassador and a former special advisor on sexual abuse in peacekeeping operations, told the New York Times. "We, the member states, have by and large failed to do what I had hoped we would do."
In recent months, the U.N. has faced a rash of new allegations of peacekeeping abuses. Earlier this month, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica issued an extraordinary apology to Haiti's President, Michel Martelly, for the role of Uruguayan blue helmets in the sexual abuse of a Haitian man in a U.N. base. Mujca said he was personally ashamed of the "criminal and embarrassing conduct of a few" Uruguayans and promised that they would be held accountable for their behavior.
A secret U.S. diplomatic cable, released by Wikileaks, disclosed that U.N. peacekeepers in Benin traded food for sex with underaged girls in Ivory Coast. The peacekeepers were sent back to their country, but little is known about their fate. The U.N. has also repatriated peacekeepers from Sri Lanka, Morocco, and other countries in recent years.
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Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was never a fan of John Bolton, the controversial U.S. ambassador to the UN who once suggested the organization would be know worse off if you blew up the top ten floors of its headquarters. But he kept his feelings to himself...until now.
In an interview with the Financial Times' Alec Russell, Annan said that Bolton was a lousy negotiator. "It was remarkable that for someone who has spent that much time at the State Department, and as smart as he was, he wasn't a very effective diplomat or even negotiator," Annan told the interviewer.
Annan recalled one moment when he confronted the combative U.S. envoy for bullying people. Annan said he was at a luncheon with Bolton and other U.N. Security Council when Bolton sought to kill off a discussion of some disagreeable matter. "'Uncle Sam is not going to like this.'" Annan recalled Bolton saying, according to the FT interview. " So I said, ‘Look, stop going around trying to intimidate people. Let them speak their mind, and you can put your views across, but don't try to intimidate them with Washington and Uncle Sam.' And of course, the Council members were all relieved to hear that."
The antipathy towards Bolton appeared more personal than ideological. Annan recalled George W. Bush and his wife Laura as "wonderful human beings," and said he held not grudge against another hardliner in the Bush Administration, including Donald Rumsfeld. "He made mistakes, some serious mistakes, but we all make mistakes. That doesn't make him worthless as a human being."
The remarks are hardly surprising, given Bolton's frequent criticism of Annan's stewardship of the United Nations. In his memoir, Surrender is Not an Option, Bolton mocked Annan's staff for having "floated the notion that he was a "secular pope."
"Being a Lutheran, I didn't even believe in religious popes, and I was absolutely determined there weren't going to be any more "secular popes" on the 38th floor," Bolton wrote. The U.N. Secretary General's office is located on the U.N.'s 38th floor, though the office is vacant until the renovation of the U.N. headquarters is completed. Bolton did not respond to phone and email requests for comment on Annan's remarks.
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Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was never a fan of John Bolton, the controversial U.S. ambassador to the U.N. who once suggested the organization would be no worse off if you blew up the top 10 floors of its headquarters. But he kept his feelings to himself … until now.
In an interview with the Financial Times' Alec Russell, Annan said that Bolton was a lousy negotiator. "It was remarkable that for someone who has spent that much time at the State Department, as smart as he was, he wasn't a very effective diplomat, or even a negotiator," Annan told the interviewer.
Annan recalled one moment when he confronted the combative U.S. envoy for bullying people. Annan said he was at a luncheon with Bolton and other U.N. Security Council when Bolton sought to kill off a discussion of some disagreeable matter. "'Uncle Sam is not going to like this,'" Annan recalled Bolton saying, according to the FT interview. "So I said, 'Look, stop going around trying to intimidate people. Let them speak their mind … and you can put your views across, but don't try to intimidate them with Washington and Uncle Sam.' And of course, the Council members were all relieved to hear it."
The antipathy toward Bolton appeared more personal than ideological. Annan recalled George W. Bush and his wife Laura as "wonderful human beings" and said he held no grudge against another hard-liner in the Bush administration, including Donald Rumsfeld. "He made mistakes … some serious mistakes, but we all make mistakes. That doesn't make him worthless as a human being."
The remarks are hardly surprising, given Bolton's frequent criticism of Annan's stewardship of the United Nations. In his memoir, Surrender Is Not an Option, Bolton mocked Annan's staff for having "floated the notion that he was a "secular pope.'"
"Being a Lutheran, I didn't even believe in religious popes, and I was absolutely determined there weren't going to be any more 'secular popes' on the 38th floor," Bolton wrote. The U.N. secretary-general's office is located on the U.N.'s 38th floor, though the office is vacant until the renovation of the U.N. headquarters is completed. Bolton did not respond to phone and email requests for comment on Annan's remarks.
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The U.N. has appointed a World Bank investigator with experience probing war crimes and fraud abuses from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Balkans as head of the U.N.'s premier internal anti-fraud unit, filling a personnel vacuum that has dampened morale and severely hampered the U.N.'s ability to combat corruption within its own ranks, according to internal U.N. memos obtained by Turtle Bay.
Carmen La-Pointe, a Canadian auditor who heads the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight (OIOS), announced the hiring of Australian investigator, Michael Stefanovic, in an internal memo obtained by Turtle Bay. She also announced the hiring of an American national, Dr. Deborah L. Rugg, to head up another Inspection and Evaluation division. Stefanovic will start up the job in August.
U.N. and U.S. officials hope the arrival of new team will bring stability and purpose to a department that has been plagued leadership gaps and severe staff shortages that have hampered the U.N.'s ability to police a far flung empire of political, humanitarian, and peacekeeping missions. The breakdown in the U.N.'s investigations division has posed political risks for the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki moon, who has faced criticism for doing too little to rein in corruption and reform the global instution, and the United States, which had faced criticism for moving too slowly to appoint a high-level U.S. management official to oversee U.N. reform efforts.
"The United States had previously raised concerns about the performance of the investigations division in particular, and we had urged it to more vigorously pursue fraud and misconduct," Joseph Torsella, the recently appointed U.S. ambassador for U.N. Management and Reform, said in a statement that was provided to Turtle Bay. "OIOS is poised to become the strong and independent watchdog it was intended to be."
A former Australian policeman, Stefanovic has served since 2006 at the World Bank, where he is currently manager of the External Investigations Unit, which investigates cases of fraud and corruption in the organization's global operations.
He previously worked as OIOS's chief resident investigator in Ivory Coast, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Before that, between 1999 and 2003, Stefanovic was employed as a war-crimes investigator with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. He also participated in a 2004 U.S. State Department mission that traveled to Chad, near the Sudanese border, to document allegations of genocide arising from the conflict in Darfur.
The U.N. internal investigations division has been hobbled by leadership lapses almost since OIOS was established in 1994 as a kind of inspector general's office. In 2007, an outside consultant claimed that the management culture in the investigations division was so dysfunctional that it should be shut down. The investigations unit has not had a permanent director since 2006, when its American chief, Barbara Dixon, stepped down.
Inga-Brit Ahlenius, a Swedish auditor who previously headed OIOS, sought to hire a highly regarded former U.S. District Attorney, Robert Appleton, for the post. Appleton, who served as the temporary head of a U.N. procurement task force, carried out some of the most aggressive anti-corruption probes in the U.N.'s history. But he also provoked the ire of influential governments, including Singapore and Russia, whose nationals were targeted by the task force.
Appleton's appointment was blocked by Ban's office on the grounds that Ahlenius had violated recruitment procedures that required female candidates be included on a short list of prospective candidates. Ahlenius countered that Ban has interfered in the independence of her office by preventing her from selecting her top deputies. Appleton has since gone on to file a discrimination grievance against the U.N. for blocking his appointment.Follow me on Twitter @columlynch.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's unbridled pro-Americanism has helped win over an Obama administration whose top officials once viewed him as weak and uninspiring, thus clearing the way for a likely second five-year term as leader of the United Nations, according to diplomats and previously unpublished U.S. diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks.
The U.S. communications show how Ban has secured the support of the full spectrum of Washington officialdom, from the most conservative Republican critics of the U.N., including John R. Bolton, who famously sneered that the U.N. could lose 10 top floors without missing a thing, to the Democrats' most vocal champion of multilateral diplomacy, Susan E. Rice, by delivering consistently on American priorities.
The confidential cables, obtained by Turtle Bay in partnership with the Washington Post, detail Ban's private exchanges with American diplomats from his 2006 election campaign through late 2009, when he began quietly building support for a second term. They show that if there has been any unifying thread of U.S. attitudes toward the secretary-general, it has been Washington's appreciation for his pro-Americanism.
When Ban first approached the U.S. Embassy in Seoul in 2006 to gauge support for his bid to become secretary general, U.S. officials had clear reservations. While acknowledging Ban was a "consummate diplomat," embassy officials expressed their concern that the South Korean foreign minister had neither held a job outside the Korean Foreign Ministry nor managed a substantial re-structuring of a large institution, according to a July 2006 cable.
But "on one credential we have no doubt," according to that assessment by the U.S. embassy in Seoul, Korea: Ban was unswervingly pro-American and could be counted on to offer a sympathetic ear when the U.S. came looking for something. "When we need something from the South Koreans -- ranging from sending Korean troops to Iraq to resolving bases issue for USFK [U.S. Forces Korea] -- we turn to Ban," according to the cable, classified by then U.S. ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow. "He has always been sympathetic and helpful. We have no doubt Ban's relations with the USG would be the same if he were the UNSYG."
Like any secretary-general, Ban has to balance a broad international coalition of political interests, and he has sought to accommodate the demands of other powerful U.N. players, including China and Russia. And he has not always seen eye to eye with the United States -- including in 2007, when he pressed the Bush administration to withhold a plan to impose sanctions on Sudan while he sought to negotiate the entrance of U.N. peacekeepers into the country.
But he has shown a special affection for the United States, proving himself to be among the most pro-American secretary-generals in the U.N.'s history.
In his first official meeting with one of Bush's U.N. envoys, Zalmay Khalilzad, Ban said that while U.S.-U.N. relations had gone through "a difficult period" in recent years, he believed that "without U.S. support for the U.N., nothing happens," according to a May 2007 cable. Ban went on to offer Khalilzad his services in trying to persuade skeptical countries to back Kosovo's independence drive, an initiative that was also backed by Britain and France. Ban assured that "he was ready ‘to assist the effort in any way possible.'"
Ban recognized that his effectiveness could be tempered if he was seen as too close to the Americans. In October 2007, he sought out Chinese support for a visit by his special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, to Burma, a trip the U.S. also favored. But he encouraged Khalilzad at a lunch to "keep a lower profile on pressing for the November 1 date while this plays out. Otherwise, he will seen as doing the U.S.'s bidding he said," according to the cable.
Obama's national security team was initial cool to Ban. During then Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign, a top foreign-policy advisor, Samantha Power, spoke disparagingly of Ban, characterizing his handling of the Darfur crisis as "extremely disappointing," in a Frontline interview. Ban ‘looks to be adopting the persona of many of his predecessors in that job, which is to be more of a secretary than a general. Darfur needs a general. Not a military general, it needs a diplomatic general, a political general, a moral general. It doesn't need a secretary."
"Is that all there is?" she told the New Statesman, a British magazine, before Obama was elected. "Can we afford to do without a global figure, a global leader?" U.S. officials have insisted that Power's comments do not reflect the views of the current administration, in which Power serves as a White House advisor on multilateral issues.
Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is said to have initially found Ban uninspiring, but she has been careful not to criticize him publicly. Before her current posting, Rice served in the Clinton administration, which had engaged in a bruising, and politically costly, campaign to block former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali from serving out a second term. She did not want a repeat, and did not want to do anything to weaken the U.N. chief at a time the U.S. was seeking to reengage with the United Nations, according to U.N.-based diplomats.
On June 29, 2009, India's U.N. ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, in a private meeting with Rice, voiced concern about articles in the United States and Britain that sharply criticized Ban's tenure. "Rice said the criticism had not come from the U.S. government; it was not helpful for the function of the U.N. We don't need a lame-duck secretary general, said ambassador Rice; there is too much to get done," according to a July 2009 cable that was previously published by WikiLeaks.
Ban eventually secured Rice's backing as he proved supportive on issues the Obama administration cared about. In May 2009, Ban agreed under prodding from Rice to reject a call (by a U.N. board of inquiry he had commissioned) to carry out a far-ranging investigation into alleged excesses by Israel and Hamas during the 2008-2009 Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip. On Iran, Ban has been equally accommodating, publicly criticizing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and privately sending tough messages to the Iranian regime.
According to one cable, he even urged the Americans to go it alone in addressing Iran's nuclear threat if efforts by the permanent five members of the Security Council, plus Germany, continued to stall. "The SYG said it is good to continue with the P5-1 structure for now, but if its effectiveness wanes, the U.S. should be prepared to take the reins," according to the confidential June 2009 cable.
Despite the Obama team's initial misgivings about Ban, they have since come around, recognizing a diplomat generally deferential to American demands who sincerely believes in the virtues of U.S. leadership. U.N.-based diplomats say that Obama himself indicated during a White House meeting in March that he would support Ban's bid for a second five-year term at the U.N. when his term expires later this year.
"First of all, he hasn't declared his candidacy nor have we declared our view," Rice told reporters earlier this month. "But I will say that the United States has worked very constructively and effectively with the secretary-general on a range of issues and we have certainly welcomed and supported his strong leadership on Libya, Cote d'Ivoire, and other issues of late -- and we have a good working relationship with him."
Ban is as much a product of the American century as any American national figure. During the Korean War, Ban and his family were displaced by the North Korean invasion of the south, and forced into a life of hunger and destitution, surviving on U.S. food donations. Among his most cherished memories is a student visit to Washington, memorialized in a class photo with John F. Kennedy. As a diplomat, he served three tours in the United States; as foreign minister, Ban vigorously pressed his government to support the United States, including by participating in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 alongside its historic military ally. When U.S. forces killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, it was Ban who sent a personal note to the State Department applauding the act.
"Ban understands completely American people, values and government. More important, he is naturally sympathetic to all things American," according to one July 2006 cable. "This is quite typical of well educated Koreans of his age. Their formative experience was the Korean War, and they remain convinced that the U.S. is a benign power, with shared ideals and goals for the region and the world."
Ban also recognized the importance of the United States in his own professional advancement. As he campaigned for U.N. chief in 2006, Ban informed U.S. diplomats that "all interlocutors assessed that the most important voices were from the United States and China." But he feared that China would not make an explicit endorsement, instead taking the position that any one of four East Asian candidates "were qualified and acceptable," according to the July 2006 cable. "Ultimately, Ban opined, the race would hinge on the position of the United States and China. In a July 18 conversation, he for the first time voiced concern that, if the U.S. stayed non-committal much longer, his candidacy could falter," according to the cable.
This time around, Ban appears to have locked in support, not only from the United States, but from China, Russia, and other key Security Council members. A phrase the Americans used back in July 2006 to describe Ban's rise rings true today. "A consummate diplomat, Ban finds himself at the top of his chosen career largely because of his ability to get along with others."
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In her years as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine K. Albright popularized the jeweled brooch as an instrument of foreign policy: a sly use of a fashion accessory to deliver messages to America's friends and foes.
Now Albright's habit of encoding diplomatic messages in a pin has become an inspiration for other foreign diplomats. The Interpreter blog at the Lowy Institute, a foreign policy think tank based in Sydney, Australia, is accepting nominees for its second annual Madeleine Awards. The top prize will be awarded for the "best use of symbol, stunt, prop, gesture or jest in international affairs," according to a posting by one of The Interpreter's bloggers.
Albrights' coiled gold snake pin -- which she donned after then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein called her a serpent -- began a tradition of using jewelry to telegraph her mood or convey a harsh or friendly diplomatic message.
For instance, she pinned on a wasp, like the one she wore in a meeting with then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, when "she wanted to do a little stinging and deliver a tough message." Balloons, flowers and butterflies signaled optimism about the prospects for fruitful negotiations. She drew from a fleet of multicolored turtles to indicate frustration over the slow pace of Middle East negotiations. The grief that followed the Al Qaeda terror attack against two U.S. embassies in East Africa was communicated with a golden angel.
Albright's nearly 300 pins have already been the subject last year of museum exhibits in New York and Washington and of a book by Albright entitled Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection, not to mention numerous newspaper articles and radio and television spots. But the organizers of the Madeleine Award want to encourage nominees to create their own personal style for drawing attention to their nation's cause.
Last year, the Madeleine was awarded to government ministers from the Maldives who dressed in scuba diving suits and held a cabinet meeting on climate change under water. But another early entrant was Nepal, according to Graeme Dobell, founder of the prize, for "dispensing with a centuries old tradition of having five virgin girls bid the head of state goodbye as he left on a foreign visit." Indeed, Dobell, noted, "you can become a Madeleine contender for not doing something symbolic."
Frankly, I think the awardees have missed one of Albright's most memorable diplomatic stunts -- one that may not have improved relations between the U.S. and its long time adversary Cuba -- but which probably helped Albright become US Secretary of State. Let's just call it her "cojones" moment.
On February 24, 1996, two Cuban Air Force MIG-29 fighter jets shot down a pair of unarmed Cessna planes operated by members of an anti-Castro exile group, setting the stage for the Clinton administration's most serious confrontation with Cuba at the United Nations.
Shortly after the incident, Madeleine K. Albright, then the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., oversaw a presentation of radio intercepts of one of the Cuban pilots boasting, in the English translation, "We took out his balls." Referencing the Spanish word for testicles, Albright delivered perhaps her most memorable quote.
"Frankly, this is not cojones; this is cowardice," she told reporters. Albright's statement put her on the political map in Washington and aided her in securing her next job as the country's first female secretary of state. U.S. President Bill Clinton would later say her cojones remark constituted "probably the most effective one-liner in the whole administration's foreign policy."
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The new Republican-controlled House leadership sent a clear message that it intends to place the United Nations at the center of its foreign policy mission, stepping up scrutiny of U.N. spending, setting conditions for continued U.S. financial support, and casting a spotlight on the shortcomings of the U.N.'s human rights council.
The new chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R-FL), arranged for the hearing to begin with a group of prominent critics describing the U.N.'s failings.
Lethinen, who had traveled to Florida to tend to her ill mother, did not attend the long-anticipated session. But in a prepared statement read by Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH), who chaired today's session in her place, Lehtinen vowed to reintroduce legislation that "conditions [U.S. financial] contributions -- our strongest leverage -- on real, sweeping reform, including moving the U.N. regular budget to a voluntary funding basis. That way, U.S. taxpayers can pay for the U.N. programs and activities that advance our interests and values, and if other countries want different things to be funded, they can pay for it themselves."
Lehtinen also pledged to conduct new investigations into allegations of corruption and mismanagement at the U.N. and to insure its interest align with American foreign policy goals. "U.S. policy on the United Nations should be based on three fundamental questions: Are we advancing American interests? Are we upholding American values? Are we being responsible stewards of American taxpayer dollars?," according to her opening statement. "Unfortunately, right now, the answer to all three questions is ‘No.'"
Ros-Lehtinen's funding proposal echoed a similar plan put forward by John R. Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Bush Administration, to make funding to the U.N. multibillion administrative and peacekeeping budgets entirely voluntary. The U.S. is currently responsible for paying about 22 percent of the U.N. administrative budget, and about 27 percent of the U.N.'s peacekeeping costs. The initiative is not supported by the Obama administration, which suspects it would garner little support in the 192-member organization and isolate Washington at a time when it is seeking to mend its diplomatic relations with foreign governments.
Today's hearing included testimony from four U.N. critics, including Brett Schaefer, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Robert M. Appleton, a former U.N. anti-corruption investigator, and two supporters of the United Nations, Peter Yeo, a former Democratic staffer on the House foreign affairs committee who works for the U.N. Foundation, and Mark Quarterman, a former U.N. lawyer who served as chief of staff into last year's U.N. probe into the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
It touched on many of familiar political hot button issues -- including concerns about corruption associated with U.N. development programs in outlaw regimes -- that had largely receded from political discussion about the U.N. in Washington during the first years of the Obama administration. Democratic and Republican representatives also raised concern about the large number of resolutions adopted by the U.N. Human Rights Council's that criticize Israel's rights record.
Yeo defended the U.N.'s role in advancing U.S. foreign policy objectives, citing the U.N.'s organization of a U.S.-backed independence referendum in South Sudan, and its support of democratic elections in Ivory Coast, where the U.N. has energetically pressed the country's defeated incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, to step down from power. He also cited the passage last year of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran; U.N. support for the U.S.-backed political transition in Afghanistan; and the U.N.'s struggle to "stabilize and reconstruct earthquake shattered Haiti, a country with close ties to America."
"The U.N. is not a perfect institution, but it serves a near perfect purpose: to bolster American interests from Africa to the Western Hemisphere and to allow our nation to share the burden of promoting international peace and stability," he said. "We must pay our U.N. dues on time, in full, and without threats of withholding our contribution. When we act otherwise, we send a strong and provocative signal that we are more interested in tearing down the U.N. than making it better."
In response to calls by Ros Lehtinen to withhold funds to the UN, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told Bloomberg News last week that he would travel to Washington in the near future to persuade Congressional leaders to maintain financial support for the United Nations. "I think their priorities and my priorities are the same," he told Bloomberg. "The only complaint they may have is the lack of much faster progress than they might have expected."
Ban's effort to promote the U.N. cause was not helped by Richard Falk, a U.N. special rapporteur, who claimed in a post published on his personal blog that the United States engaged in "an apparent cover-up" of the facts behind the 9/11 terror attacks in New York and Washington. Falk also faulted the U.S. media for being "unwilling to acknowledge the well-evidenced doubts about the official version of the events: an Al-Qaeda operation with no foreknowledge by government officials."
In response, U.S. ambassador Susan E. Rice condemned Falk's remarks as "so noxious" he should be ousted from his U.N. job. "Mr. Falk endorses the slurs of conspiracy theorists who allege that the September, 2001, terrorists attack were perpetrated and then covered up by the U.S. government and media," she said.
Addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva today, Ban also blasted Falk, noting that the controversial American rights advocate was appointed by the council itself, and that he has no authority to fire him. "The council decides whether they continue their jobs," he said. But he said "I want to tell you, clearly and directly: I condemn this sort of inflammatory rhetoric. It is preposterous -- an affront to the memory of the more than 3,000 people who died in that tragic attack."
"Let us be frank. This body has come under criticism from various quarters," Ban continued. "For the human rights council to fulfill its mandate, it must be seen as a place ruled by bias or special interests. It cannot be a place that targets some countries, yet ignores others. It cannot be a place where some members overlook the human rights violations of others so as to avoid scrutiny themselves."
Ban came under fire from Appleton, a former U.N. investigator who led some of the most aggressive anti-corruption investigations ever at the United Nations. Appleton claimed that the U.N's ability to effectively investigate corruption has been undermined by Ban and his top advisors. "I am often asked why there is no will in the organization to pursue such cases, or address them when misconduct is identified," he said in prepared statement. "The short answer is that investigations that uncover fraud and corruption bring bad news, and bad news is not welcome news. The approach of the leadership of the organization is to minimize such issues, and keep them from public view."
Appleton, who was selected twice by the U.N.'s chief oversight official to run the U.N.'s internal investigations, had his appointment blocked by Ban's office on a technicality. Ban's advisors defended the move on the grounds that no female, or non-American, nominees were included on a short list of candidates. Appleton has since filed a grievance with the United Nations on the grounds that he was denied the job because he was an American male.
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It wasn't supposed to end like this.
Canada, our right-minded, unabashedly internationalist northern neighbor, had won every race for a seat on the U.N. Security Council since the international body's founding in 1945 -- and for good reason. Canadian diplomats practically invented U.N. peacekeeping (the Canadian currency features a picture of U.N. peacekeepers), and smart sanctions are a decidedly the county's creation as well. Most recently, five civilians and two Canadian Mounties, including the top U.N. police commissioner, lost their lives while staffing the U.N. mission during the January earthquake in Haiti.
Despite all this, Canada got whooped in its latest bid for a seat on the 15-state council, beaten not only by a formidable European power like Germany but also by a tiny European country, Portugal. If Canada is the United Nations' greatest advocate, Portugal has at least one strike against it: Lisbon was an enthusiastic backer of the single most unpopular act in the U.N.'s modern history: the Iraq War. What makes the loss even more grating is that the election places four European countries (five if you count Russia) on the 15-nation council, a stark regional imbalance that should have given any non-European contender a boost in an organization where the former colonial powers are viewed with suspicion.
So what gives?
Put simply, Canada offended a lot of people. It lost African votes by redirecting foreign aid to Latin America; it annoyed China by criticizing the country's human rights record and delaying a high-level visit to Beijing for more than four years; and it irritated Middle Eastern governments by backing Israel more fervently and scaling back aid to Palestinian refugees. And on top of it all, Canada has scaled down its peacekeeping commitment in recent years.
In other words, not everyone thinks that Canada is the model U.N. citizen it once was.
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, Arizona's Republican governor Janice Brewer accused the Obama administration of subjecting U.S. immigration law to U.N. review, saying it was an example of "internationalism run amok and unconstitutional."
But Obama is hardly the first American president to consult the United Nations. In fact, Republican administrations have been subjecting policies on immigration, detention treatment, and a host of other human rights issues to some form of scrutiny by the U.N. and other international bodies for years.
Brewer was protesting the Obama administration's inclusion of a provision highlighting the Department of Justice's efforts to challenge a controversial Arizona immigration law, SB 1070, which expands police powers to detain anyone suspected of being an illegal alien.
Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes accused Denver's Mayor John Hickenlooper, his Democratic rival, this week of "converting Denver into a United Nations community" through the advocacy of bike ridership, according to the Denver Post. The scheme -- which involves a city program that promotes rentals of a fleet of 400 red bicycles at key transportation hubs -- is "very well-disguised, but it will be exposed," the Denver Post quoted Maes saying at a political rally. "This is bigger than it looks on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms."
Clearly, Maes hasn't been to the United Nations lately. Last year, the U.N. tore out several rows of bicycle racks in its three-level parking lot to make way for a massive renovation of the U.N. headquarters building. While most of the parking space -- about 75 percent -- was preserved for the fleets of diplomatic limos that transport foreign dignitaries to work here, the bike section was eliminated entirely because of concerns of bikers being struck by falling debris, according to U.N. officials.
"It just vanished," said Louis Charbonneau, a U.N.-based Reuters correspondent and Vice President of the U.N. Correspondent's Association who commutes by bicycle from his home in Astoria, Queens. "If somebody thinks the U.N. is trying to make everyone turn to bicycles, well it's not quite like that over here. The U.N. just made life extremely difficult for bicyclists."
In May, Charbonneau protested the lack of bike racks on behalf of the U.N. press corps in an email to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman's office. "It is sad to see that the U.N. is making clean transportation more difficult at a time when the hosting city is laying miles of bike lanes and some companies are even installing showers to encourage their workers to bike to work," he wrote. "It definitely undermines the message of the Secretary General of making environment a priority of his mandate."
In response, Ban's office said that the secretary-general "is aware of the situation and he is acutely aware that the renovation project is forcing everyone to make adjustments. He is also aware that work is underway to make sure the needs of cyclists like your-self are met. As you know, the Secretary-General is determined to make the renovated U.N. headquarters a much greener building that will reduce energy consumption by 50 percent and that will run the facilities in a much more sustainable way. Good and safe bike parking has to be part of this."
The U.N. subsequently informed Charbonneau and others that the U.N. had in fact moved the bike racks, setting them up on the far reaches of the U.N. compound, about four blocks away from their offices. One row was out in the open, leaving the bikes exposed to the elements during rain and snow storms. Another row of bike racks was stowed behind a barricade, mingling with piles of metal scraps. Bike riders had to navigate a maze of scaffolding and debris to get to the racks. Some had their bicycles subjected to sniffing dogs before they could enter the U.N. grounds. "It was a junkyard," Charbonneau said.
After months of negotiations, a compromise was reached and the bike racks were moved to a more convenient, and covered, location near the main entrance to the U.N. headquarters. Charbonneau praised a small group of U.N. officials who worked hard to accommodate the bicyclists. But the peace didn't last.
Late last month, U.N. security guards blocked Charbonneau from bringing his bike onto the U.N. premises, saying they had been instructed not to allow bikes into the main entrance. "I told them let's walk over the 50 yards and I'll show you the bike racks," he said. "They refused." Again, Charbonneau protested the new restrictions, and the U.N. informed the security guards that bikes could in fact be parked in the new bike rack.
The controversy surrounding the bike program in Denver has little to do with the United Nations. In attacking the Denver bike program, Maes claimed it was part of a strategy by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, an organization he suggested was promoting bicycle use on behalf of the United Nations. "These aren't just warm, fuzzy ideas from the mayor," Maes said. "These are very specific strategies that are dictated to us by this United Nations program that mayors have signed on to," the Denver Post quoted him saying.
Marty Chavez, a former Mayor of Albuquerque who serves as ICLEI's U.S. executive director, says the organization supports the U.N.'s Agenda 81, which promotes the principle of economically sustainable development. But he says it has no affiliation with the United Nations. "We're not a creature of the United Nations or a member of the U.N.," he said. His group advises most American major cities, including New York, Washington D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles, on how to reduce consumption of greenhouse gases. "We would prefer seeing the delegates riding their bikes to work in the morning. I could see the U.S. ambassador riding her bike from the Waldorf Astoria," he said. "As for this fellow running for governor we assume the next target of his attack will be unicycles and tricycles: they have an unnecessary additional wheel."
Editor's note: The original version of this post mistakenly referred to the ICLEI's executive director as Marty Perez. His name is Marty Chavez. Turtle Bay regrets the error.
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A top former U.N. investigator who was passed over for the top job in the U.N.'s investigations division has filed a grievance before the U.N.'s personnel disputes tribunal accusing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his top advisors of discriminating against him because he is an American male, and demanding about $1.4 million in damages and wages, according to the complaint.
Robert Appleton, a former federal prosecutor in the United States who once headed a U.N. task force that probed about 300 cases of potential wrongdoing, claimed that Ban's refusal to endorse his nomination for the senior U.N. anti-corruption job on two occasions, primarily on the basis of his gender and nationality, "constitutes a discriminatory practice, directly contrary to the Charter of the United Nations."
The complaint, which was filed Monday in the U.N.'s administrative disputes tribunal, marks a deepening of a political crisis over Ban's handling of the U.N.'s anti-corruption efforts. It will subject the case to a review by U.N. judges who have frequently clashed with the U.N. leadership over its treatment of staff. Last month, the tribunal awarded $700,000 to a former senior U.N. official who contested the U.N.'s refusal to promote him to a more senior job.
The administrative battle comes more than a week after the U.N.'s outgoing chief of internal oversight, Inga- Britt Ahlenius of Sweden, wrote a sharply worded end-of-assignment report that accused Ban of undercutting her independence and interfering with her effort to hire Appleton. The confidential report, which I reported on first for the Washington Post and Turtle Bay, accused Ban of "deplorable" and "reprehensible" behavior. She also accused Ban of leading the U.N. into an era of "irrelevance" and "decline."
Today's filing marks the first time Appleton has weighed in on the matter. Appleton headed the U.N. Procurement Task Force, which conducted a series of aggressive investigations into wrongdoing from 2006 through 2009. The task force's probes have resulted in 17 misconduct findings against U.N. staff and triggered several criminal investigations by federal prosecutors. The task force also cooperated in a federal probe of Vladimir Kuznetzov, a Russian diplomat, who was convicted in 2007 of money laundering in connection with a kickback scheme.
The task force infuriated governments, including Singapore and Russia, whose nationals it targeted. In late 2008, Russia sought unsuccessfully to push for the adoption of a resolution that would have prevented the U.N. from hiring Appleton or any member of a white-collar criminal team. The task force, which was intended to be temporary, was shut down at the end of 2008, but its expertise was supposed to be preserved in the U.N.'s investigations division.
Martin Nesirky, the U.N.'s chief spokesman, declined to comment on the Appleton case, saying "consistent with our practice, it would be inappropriate to comment on a case pending before the Dispute Tribunal." A senior U.N. official, who recently briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, said that no political pressure had been applied on Ban to block Appleton's hiring. U.N. officials said the appointment was blocked because Ahlenius had manipulated the recruitment process so that Appleton would get the job.
Angela Kane, the U.N. under secretary-general for management, claimed last month that Ahlenius's account contained "many inaccuracies, misrepresentations and distortions." Ahlenius, she noted, "did not comply with established U.N. rules and policies" designed to ensure the integrity of the recruitment process. "The Secretary-General and his team consider these instruments key to building a modern U.N. that strives for excellence and reflects our diverse membership - including true gender balance. Indeed, the Secretary-General has appointed more women to senior positions than ever before in the Organization's history."
But another senior U.N. official hinted that there might be other reasons for the U.N.'s decision to reject Appleton, and suggested that he had outlived his usefulness to the United Nations. "There is only one American in the whole wide world who can run the investigations division?" the official said in a recent interview. "I certainly don't believe that."
The U.N. Charter states that the "the paramount consideration in the employment of the staff and in the determination of the conditions of service shall be the necessity of securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity. Due regard shall be paid to the importance of recruiting the staff on as wide a geographical basis as possible." In practice, U.N. secretaries-general have always relied heavily on key member states to recommend candidates for top posts. Many of the top jobs, including the heads of the departments of peacekeeping and political affairs, are generally reserved for candidates from the United States, Britain and France.
The power struggle between Ban and Ahlenius has its roots in an ambiguous mandate that provided her office with "operational independence" but placed it under the authority of the secretary-general, and makes it dependent on the U.N. secretariat for funding. Ban's advisors maintain that while Ahlenius had the authority to propose a shortlist of three candidates for the job, Ban had the ultimate authority to pick the winning candidate.
Appleton's complaint cites administrative instructions that bolster Ahlenius's claim that she had the sole authority to hire her own top advisors. David Walker, a former U.S. controller general who chairs the U.N.'s Independent Audit Advisory Committee, noted that her "operational independence" provides that "the Under Secretary General for Internal Oversight Services will have authority to appoint all staff members whose appointments are limited to service with the office up to the D-2 level." Appleton's post was a D-2 job.
Appleton argues that the U.N. leadership had an obligation under the U.N. Charter and various General Assembly resolutions and staff directives to give him "full and fair consideration" for the job. He cited a 2008 General Assembly resolution saying that employment "should be based on merit, and that no person should be refused employment based upon race or gender or any other impermissible purpose." But Ban issued a bulletin imposing a rule that he be allowed to appoint senior staff in the investigation's division in January 2009, after Ahlenius had selected Appleton for the job, according to Ban and Ahlenius.
"There is no such rule that women be considered for every D2 position...it is a singular effort to operate outside the rule of law for their own political purpose and even more incredibly to do so retroactively," Appleton asserts. The process, according to Appleton's claim, calls into question Ban's top advisors' respect "for the most basic principles of the organization, and the fundamental rule of law. They should be held accountable for these acts."
Appleton also claims that a senior official in the U.N. Office of Human Resources Management made an "inappropriate attempt" to persuade Ahlenius to consider unqualified candidates for the job, including a U.N. staffer who was married to one of the senior official's subordinates, implying a conflict of interest. U.N. official's said that the candidate's spouse was a personnel officer in the U.N. peacekeeping department, not in the Office of Human Resources, and that there was no conflict of interest.
Appleton writes that the protracted hiring process, which played out over more than two-and-a-half years, has caused him financial hardship and damaged his reputation. "The applicant has been subjected to the embarrassment of having his candidacy discussed by the organizations officials in the public media for a continuous and extended period of time, promoting the false perception that the process was not legitimate or transparent; thereby impugning his own character."
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Angela Kane, the U.N. under secretary-general for management, launched a vigorous defense of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's leadership this week, saying an attack on his tenure by the U.N.'s outgoing anti-corruption chief, Inga-Britt Ahlenius, consisted of "many inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and distortions." But in making her case, Kane provided a misleading fact of her own.
In an effort to underscore Ban's commitment to the advancement of women in the U.N.'s top ranks, Kane suggested that the secretary-general had broken new ground by hiring women to run U.N. peacekeeping operations.
he took office, there were no female SRSGs [special representative of the
secretary-general]," Kane wrote in a detailed
statement that was sent to U.N. reporters Wednesday night. "Today there are
It is true that no woman headed a U.N. peacekeeping operation at the time Ban was named secretary-general. It is also true that Ban has placed more women in top peacekeeping missions than any of his predecessors. Ban has appointed women to head the U.N. missions in Central African Republic, Cyprus, East Timor, Liberia and Nepal.
But it is not true that there were no female heads of mission before he took office. Six female special representatives have headed U.N. peacekeeping missions since the early 1990s, including Carolyn McAskie, a Canadian who headed the U.N. mission in Burundi from June 2004 until April-2006, six months before Ban took office. The first woman to head a U.N. peacekeeping operation was Margaret Joan Anstee, a British national who ran the U.N. mission in Angola from 1992 to 1993. Anstee is author of the book Never Learn to Type: A Woman at the United Nations.
Other women who headed U.N. missions include Heidi Tagliavini, a Swiss national who ran the U.N. monitoring mission in Georgia from 2002 until 2006; Ann Hercus, a New Zealander who ran the Cyprus mission in 1998 and 1999; Elisabeth Rehn, a Finnish national who ran the U.N. mission in Bosnia from 1995 through 2001; and Angela King, a Jamaican who headed a U.N. mission in South Africa from 1992 until 1994.
The U.N. leadership has sought to place Ban's record on gender at the heart of a power struggle between himself and Ahlenius, the outgoing Swedish director of the U.N.'s internal oversight division. Ahlenius released a blistering end-of-assignment memo in which she accused Ban of seeking to undermine her independence, in part by blocking her efforts to hire a former Connecticut prosecutor, Robert Appleton, for the agency's top investigations branch. Appleton, who headed a U.N. task force probing procurement fraud at the United Nations, had offended powerful governments, including those of Russia and Singapore, whose nationals were the target of his investigations. Ban's top advisor's blocked the appointment, citing the absence of a female candidate on the shortlist of candidates.
In the past week, Ban has enlisted his top officials, including chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, and Kane, to challenge Ahlenius's assertions, and to present a defense of his record on reform. At the same time, he has moved to put the Ahlenius affair behind him, announcing plans this week to replace her with a former World Bank auditor general, Carmen LaPointe-Young. LaPointe-Young will begin her U.N. job in December.
The high-level effort reflects concern that the revelations might damage Ban's standing at a time when governments will begin to consider whether to approve him for a second term at the end of next year. So far, Ban appears to enjoy the backing of key powers, including the United States, Britain, China, France, and Russia. But his standing among key constituencies -- including prominent human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, former top U.N. officials like Louise Arbour, and pro-U.N. intellectuals and writers -- has been waning. James Traub, a Foreign Policy columnist who wrote a favorable book on former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, last week proposed Ban be denied a second term.
In a lengthy memo, Kane sharply criticized Ahlenius's stewardship of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, blaming her for leaving 76 posts unfilled and failing to comply with U.N. hiring rules. "Though we cannot speak to the full range of motivations that might lie behind this report, we welcome the opportunity to share the larger story of our work to build a 21st century United Nations that is faster, more flexible, and more effective in delivering on a growing array of global challenges."
Kane then went on to defend Ban's record, claiming that Ahlenius's report "does not contain any allegation of blocking or obstructing any investigation. Neither does it contain any concrete allegation of corruption." The report does, however, highlight concerns by U.N. staff that senior U.N. officials are not held accountable for wrongdoing. One case, which is not specifically mentioned in the report, involves a decision by the U.N. leadership not to pursue disciplinary charges against Alan Doss, the U.N.'s special representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who was found by Ahlenius's office to have improperly interfered with the U.N. hiring process at the U.N. Development Program on behalf of his daughter.
Kane also charged that Ahlenius's efforts to hire Appleton "did not comply with established U.N. rules and policies and noted further that she failed to rectify these basic shortcomings despite repeated requests. Naturally, the secretary general ensured that such a flawed decision making process did not stand. Operational independence of OIOS does not exempt the office from compliance with U.N. rules." But Ahlenius maintains that a 1995 administrative instruction gives her strict authority for hiring. It states that the under secretary-general shall have powers of appointment, promotion, termination similar to those delegated by the secretary general" to the major U.N. funds and programs. The heads of those organizations have authority to hire their own top advisors.
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Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name Elizabeth Rehn. FP regrets the error.
The Obama administration has condemned WikLeaks' decision to publish more than 91,000 U.S. military documents related to the war in Afghanistan, saying the disclosures undercut American security and endanger the lives of U.S. troops and informants. It neglected to mention that when it comes to the release of sensitive U.N. documents, Washington and WikiLeaks have been allies.
For five years, the U.S. government and WikiLeaks have each posted several hundred internal U.N. documents, including scores of confidential investigation reports on corruption, mismanagement and sexual misconduct by U.N. staff and peacekeepers at headquarters and in the field. The leaked reports have discussed highly sensitive U.N. anti-corruption probes from Haiti to Congo, and detailed audits of U.N. procedures for purchasing everything from jet fuel to office equipment.
To be clear, the U.N. documents do not disclose war-time military and intelligence secrets, but they do contain lots of raw, unsubstantiated rumors and, allegations whose publication have the power to expose wrongdoing but also to damage reputations. They also show that the interests of Washington policymakers and WikiLeaks sleuths are sometimes more closely aligned than you'd think following days of White House denunciations.
The U.S. government led the way in disclosing internal U.N. audits and investigations reports back in 2006, a year before WikiLeaks went online in January 2007. President George W. Bush's ambassador for management and reform, Mark Wallace, at the request of former U.S. ambassador John Bolton, posted hundreds of reports from the U.N.'s Office of Internal Oversight Services on corruption and mismanagement in U.N. peacekeeping missions and other U.N. operations. Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has followed suit, posting a large trove of audits from 2009 and 2010, including examinations of logistic operations for U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sudan and the financial controls for the renovation of U.N. headquarters.
"Transparency and accountability in government and international institutions is a best practice and of great importance and WikiLeaks previously has been a force for good in the area," Wallace told Turtle Bay. "Certainly there is a distinction between transparency and accountability in public institutions and secret military information, where people's lives are at risk."
In January 2009, WikiLeaks announced the release of more than 600 U.N. documents, touting the disclosure as a major event. In fact, most of the reports were already publicly available on the U.S. website, and some had been reported in the press. For instance, WikiLeaks claimed that it was the first source to publish an internal report on corruption in the U.N. peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Two years earlier, I had published a story in the Washington Post on the Congo report, based on a leaked copy I had obtained, though I had not been authorized by the source to post the entire report. But the U.S. government subsequently posted a redacted version of the full report on its own website, well before WikiLeaks did so.
Following its creation in 1994, the U.N.'s internal oversight office had rarely released copies of its internal audits and investigations, arguing that it needed to maintain strict confidentiality to do its work effectively. The investigation into the U.N. Oil-for-Food program in Iraq, headed by former Fed chairman and Obama advisor Paul Volcker, forced the U.N. to release its internal audits for the first time.
The move led the U.N. General Assembly to pass a landmark resolution in February 2005 requiring the U.N. secretariat to provide copies of internal U.N. reports to representatives of the U.N.'s 192 member states. Inga-Britt Ahlenius, the outgoing head of the Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), initially opposed the release of the documents. But she later embraced the policy, and now says she favors the U.S. decision to post the documents. But she said the decision generated intensive unease within the U.N. leadership.
"I believe it is fair to say that -- with a few exceptions -- the secretariat has not been enthusiastic," Ahlenius wrote in her end-of-mission-report, which was leaked to Turtle Bay. She wrote that the top U.N. brass have voiced "sharp criticism" of the "negative consequences" the disclosure had on the United Nations. "OIOS reports in our opinion should be made publicly available. The U.N. is a publicly funded organization: it should provide the stakeholders -- the member states, and ultimately the citizens and taxpayers of the world -- access to OIOS reports."
The decision to release the U.N. documents has been welcomed by reporters and accountability advocates, who say it will contribute to greater oversight of the U.N.'s administration. "It exposes this kind of institutional hypocrisy: When leaks are in our interests, we're for them, and when they are not, we're against them," said the Government Accountability Projects' international reform director, Bea Edwards.
Edwards, whose organization represents U.N. whistleblowers, said, "there is a habit [among U.N. officials] to release documents here and there when it serves someone's purpose politically." Edwards said she recognizes that the U.S. and WikiLeaks have an obligation to redact the names of individuals named in reports to ensure that witnesses don't face retaliation and that a target of an investigation is granted due process protections. "The best approach is that there be an orderly and sincere effort at transparent disclosure."
The U.N. declined a request to comment on the release of the OIOS documents. But a senior U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, defended the need for a certain degree of confidentiality in managing a complex diplomatic institution like the United Nations, where foreign governments expect that they can engage in confidential discussions on a broad range of delicate international issues. "There is a time for transparency and there is a time for secrecy," he said.
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.