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Algiers UN Bombing Commemorated in NY, Silent Walk and Finger Pointing

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, December 19 -- Eight days after the UN was bombed in Algiers, a ceremony was held in the lobby of UN headquarters in New York. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived from the airport and announced he had authorized solidarity payments to bombing victims' families, until the insurance comes through. In an indirect reference to the communique by Al-Qaeda in the Magreb, that the UN was targeted for seeming to do the bidding of the United States and France, Ban told UN staff that "we must make clear we are not there to represent the interests of any one group of nations over another." Afterwards, Ban sped to the Security Council on the second floor, to speak to a closed-door meeting about Kosovo, in which Serbia and Russian urged "the UN" not to "ignore international law," even at the bidding of a group of nations. Downstairs, UN system staff walked around the waterless fountain as onlookers peered curiously through the gate from First Avenue. As Ban said, there is a need for "explaining to the public and the media the role of the United Nations."

            But when one says "the UN," what is meant by it? The perception of being captured by one or two states spring largely for the archaic veto-power of the Permanent Five members of the Security Council. UN peacekeeping deployments, for example, take place only if none of the Permanent Five casts a veto. So while, once deployed, UN peacekeepers at least aspire to an ethos of internationalism, the existence of UN peacekeeping missions in some conflict zones and not others is a product of partisanship. What sound byte can explain this?

Mr. Ban speaks to staff in the lobby, before the silent walk

            The UN is also a workplace, an employer. The announcement of the march around the fountain was made by the head of the Staff Council of the UN Development Program, Dmitri Samaras, in his capacity as head of the UN International Civil Servants Federation, UNISERV. UNDP in Algiers also took major losses; to victims' families and survivors, of course condolences are due. Does the bombing mean that attempts to clean up corruption at the top of UNDP should stop? No it does not. And mid- and low-level UNDP staff are ill-served by the lack of public presence, and lack of accountability, of those at the top of UNDP. That is where blame lies.

            The finger is also being pointed, at least in quotes by unnamed UN officials, at Algeria, for not passing along confessions of threats against UN buildings in Algiers. A Staff Union committee has called for a "full and independent investigation" as to "whether there were warnings of a possible attack."  It will be important, including for the good of the staff, to publicly get to the bottom of the background to the bombing. The at least half-disclosed reports into the bombing of the UN in Baghdad is a case in point. But already this administration, through spokesperson Michele Montas, is predicting that security issues must remain confidential. But how's that working?

* * *

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540