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At the UN, Ban Ki-moon Tips Hat to the GA, Deals in the Works, Stories in the Air

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 16 -- Friday evening from the UN's basement by the East River emanated the sounds of the ritual kissing of the ring. Ban Ki-moon made an appearance, to present in person his proposal to split the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in two, and modify the disarmament affairs unit. As initially proposed, the changes were connection: eliminate one Under Secretary General slot at Disarmament, to create a new one with the Department of Field Support. But dissention about the downgrade has led Ban Ki-moon to now say that Disarmament, though renamed, will still be USG.

            In the hallway outside Conference Room 2, Pakistan's Ambassador Munir Akram said he expects Ban's disarmament proposal to move quickly now, while the peacekeeping split is still uncertain, and depends on meetings in the next week, on how the issue of "unity of command" is addressed. Amb. Akram points out that when UN peacekeepers need reinforcements, they shouldn't have to work through two department.  The ring-kissing wasn't just Mr. Ban's personal appearance, rather than like last time sending chief of staff Vijay Nambiar. It was also what allowed Amb. Akram to said, he will go to the Fifth Committee and to the advisory committee ACABQ. In the hallway a diplomat from the Middle East who proceeds only anonymously as he is not authorized to speak, said, "What a waste of time. There are people dying in the world, and we spend weeks talking about a supposed reform that makes no difference at all."

Mr. Ban in ACABQ: but where is the ring?

            Japanese Ambassador Kenzo Oshima, also in the hallway, used the buzzword of the day: revenue-neutral. He said that now probably another USG-level position has to go, and added that he hopes it's not OCHA, the Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs. "So does John Holmes," replied one wag, referring to the British diplomat already given that USG slot. Mr. Holmes did a meet-and-greet with UN correspondents on February 15, but his spokeswoman insisted that everything said was off-the-record. Alright, then. Room 226 it is, then. Just as baseball has its spring training, when the games don't count, a new UN official can in the first encounter stay entirely off the record. But then the season starts and the curveballs have more break to them.

* * *

Among the week's unanswered questions were whether UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak was once again blocked from visiting Guantanamo Bay. From Friday's typical transcript:

Inner City Press: The Council of Europe today announced that the US has refused to allow it to visit Guantanamo, and it said that it had to go with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak.  So, has he also been denied once again access to Guantanamo Bay?

Spokesperson:  I can check.  He had been denied before, but I can check if this is the case this time around, yes, Iíll find out for you.

Inner City Press: One other thing.  At the stakeout yesterday, Mr. Ban said that he has a shortlist for the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for the Prevention of Genocide.  Is that shortlist going to be released at some time?

Spokesperson:  I donít know at this point.  Iíll let you know.

[She later said that the process to find a new Special Adviser was continuing.]

* * *

   Among the flotsam and the jetsam of the week at the UN, among the  hallway stories, is the perhaps urban legend of Ban Ki-moon yelling at the head of Disarmament. As the yarn has it, he criticize the proposed downgrading and Mr. Ban expressed dissatisfaction, to be diplomatic, at the breach in the chain of command. Many, particularly the large Japanese press contingent, want to nail the story down. But some rooms in the UN tell no complete tales. These rooms are few, but they do exist.  They do not, however, include Conference Room 2. The aforementioned press pack descended like locusts or a well-trained scavenger team on the papers left on desks at meeting's end, trolling for a reason, any small squib to explain. Sadly, all that was left was one diplomat's cell phone, which a guard held on it, hoping it would right.

            For weeks, the name Jonathan Blankson had been in the air: an IT professional fired for using a fake diploma, an Internet university, a sham curriculum vitae. AP wrote it, first it must be said, but without the irony that Blackson invented, or at least rode herd over, the UN's "Galaxy" system, through which people apply for jobs. So the processor of resumes had a bogus one himself. There's more to the story, but this week that's enough.

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At the UN, Calls for Transparency and Short-Lists for Genocide Prevention Post, Russian Sporting, Salad Days

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 14 -- The place of human rights in Ban Ki-moon's UN was questioned on Wednesday. Acting on reports that the Kofi Annan-created Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide might be downgraded or merged out of existence, three non-governmental organization held a press conference at which they urged transparency and that short-lists be released of any possible successor to the current advisor, Juan E. Mendez. The NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, the Institute for Global Policy and Amnesty International, urged Ban Ki-moon to make public the report and recommendations of the Advisory Committee to the S-G on the Prevention of Genocide.

            Afterwards, Amnesty International's Yvonne Terlingen was asked if she had a copy of the report. She at first indicated that she did have a copy, then declined to provide a copy to requesting journalists, one of whom scoffed, "So the NGOs want transparency for everyone but themselves."

            At the subsequent UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokeswoman if that report, and another one by Mr. Mendez about the Ivory Coast, could be released. Video here, from Minute 14:53.  Four hours later, the spokesperson's office responded:

"regarding your question about NGOs urging the SG to consider making public the report and recommendations of the advisory committee to the SG on prevention of genocide: The SG has received the report and is considering its recommendations -- it is not presently public."

            As the report on the Ivory Coast, dated back to December 2005, nothing was said. The spokesperson did say, however, that Mr. Mendez won't be reappointed, because he has asked not to be. So will a short-list be released in this test case? We'll see.

Ms. Terlinger, 2d from left, 2006

            So who wants transparency at the UN? Inner City Press asked the spokesperson for a comment on the controversial settlement of the toxic waste dumping scandal between the Gbagbo government in Ivory Coast and Trafigura, the European dumper which, as Inner City Press first reported, was part of the UN Oil for Food scandal. It is a settlement between a private corporation and a member state, the spokesperson said, declining comment. Kofi Annan speechified on the topic, but the new Administration apparently views it as a "private" matter.

            Another request made on Wednesday was for a list of all UN Goodwill Ambassadors and "Dollar a Year" dignitaries. The latter requests dated back to the prior Administration, and has yet to be filled. At a press conference with UNDP -- click here for that article -- tennis player Maria Sharapova was named a Goodwill Ambassador. UNDP's Ad Melkert declined to provide a simple number on the volume of UNDP's payments in North Korea in 2005, a year for which the books are presumably closed. Afterwards, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was seen exiting the protocol room containing Ms. Sharapova with a broad smile on his face. In the hallway he told of his "sketchy" sporting career, including speed skating.  Inner City Press asked him for his favorite length. 1,500 meters was the answer.  There followed a story of breaking his leg in St. Tropez. Ms. Sharapova left with an entourage including UNDP's Communications Office staff.  At the UN these days it is all spin, all the time.  As one wag put it, commenting on recent fix-ups of the staff cafeteria, the only thing that's gotten more transparent at the UN is the salad bar, which is now under less opaque plastic.

            Wednesday also marked the first snow of the season in New York. The UN closed down its main walkway, shunting pedestrian entrants into the basement corridor by the library. Dignitaries arriving by car, denied access to the tent by the General Assembly, parked by the front door and entered along a thin and quivering path like on suburban yards everywhere. Many senior officials left at 3 p.m.. One long-time correspondent remembered back in anger at when, when the Rodney King verdict was read out in Los Angeles, the UN closed down and sent everyone home early. What was that again, about a human rights culture?

At the UN, Questions of Jobs Given Predetermined, Nepotism Admitted in Schori's Parting Shot

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 9 -- Jobs were the focus at UN Headquarters on Friday. At the two highest levels, there were comings and going, a few unexpected. Lower down the food chain, a question arose about 12 particular jobs which Ban Ki-moon said were open for application -- called "mobility" -- from anywhere within the UN system. More than five hundred have applied for the 12 jobs, but a rumor in the hall is that the winner were already selected, in some cases before the window to apply had even closed, on February 2.

            Chief of staff Vijay Nambiar took questions on Friday at noon.  Inner City Press asked him a senior official not mentioned -- Jan Beagle of the Office of Human Resource Management -- and about the status of the 12 "mobility" jobs. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: You already had a question I think that deals with ASG Jan Beagle, of whom the Staff Council passed a vote of no confidence, and I think was communicated -- she wasnít on the list of acceptances, nor on the list of that you read out of approvals.  So, one, if you could somehow say what your thinking is on that, and two, on the mobility posts that were posted on I-seek back on January 19th for people to apply.  How many people applied, and weíve heard -- there seems to be a sense among staff that some of those posts were already sort of given out -- whatís the status of the people seeking mobility at the staff level of the people who applied for those positions from D2 down to --

Chef de Cabinet:  I think there were in excess of 500 applicants, and I think they have been short-listed, and we are in the process of selecting the people for the 12 positions in the Executive Office.  And, I think this is unprecedented in many ways, so we hope that -- the selection process is following the normal procedure -- so I donít think, we hope to be able to come to a kind of a closure in terms of appointments soon.

The other one that you said -- I wouldnít want to deal with individual cases, but I would say that there we have laid out certain policy guidelines, and weíve been following them as scrupulously as can be done in these circumstances.

            Since Mr. Nambiar mentioned "short-lists" for the 12 jobs at issue, Inner City Press asked the Office of the Spokesperson for a copy of the short-lists. The response was laughter: if we don't give lists out for Under Secretaries-General, we sure don't for these positions.

            One of the position is that of speechwriter. It is entirely understandable that a Secretary-General would want to choose his own speechwriter without the formalities of the UN's job recruitment rules. But to pretend one is following those rules to pick a speechwriter casts doubts on the claim of fairness for the other eleven positions.

Mr. Nambiar

            There is also the rumor of officials from South Korea, still parked in neutral in DC-1 and DC-2, gunning for positions. Most seem to feel that they will not land in this high-profile 12 jobs, but rather elsewhere. We shall see.

            Other questions arose about which of the officials whose resignations were accepted will actually stay on at the UN. Mr. Nambiar responded that Ban Ki-moon will certainly want to keep some experience. But behind the question are the rules, that staff members can return to their jobs after services as political appointees. Or, as is said of Carlos Lopes, can seek jobs back in UNDP, playing the card of the former Administrator.

            Among those whose resignations were accepted were two of the putative bosses of scandal-plagued Guido Bertucci: USG Jose Antonio Ocampo and ASG Patrizio Civili. Inner City Press interviewed Mr. Ocampo in mid-December outside the South Korean mission -- click here for that story -- and Mr. Ocampo said he saw no substance to the charges against Bertucci. Now it is rumored that Bertucci might get Civili's post. Along with Beagle staying, that would set a certain tone.

            Mervat Tallawy, who fought tooth and nail to keep her post, including in conversation and lobbying of Inner City Press, lost it. Click here for the story on Tallawy More damning information had come in, but now is rendered moot, except as indication of how the UN works. But for that, see Inner City Press' four part (so far) series about the UN Pension Fund. Next week we are told that the Pension Board's audit committee will meet. The meeting should be public. Thirty-six billion dollars should not be doled out in secret. We will be returning to that topic next week.

            In a sparsely-attended press conference on Friday, outgoing UN envoy to the Ivory Coast Pierre Schori went off, denouncing the Gbagbo government and troublingly, some things more. Inner City Press asked Schori to confirm that his predecessor, Albert Tevodedjre of Benin, had shown nepotism in hiring, and tarnished the name of the UN and its mission. Video here. Schori did not disagree, noting that when he started he received no transitions memo, and noticed "many strange people" working in the mission, who took a long time to get rid of. We aim to have more on this.

            After Schori's briefing, four Ivorian mission representatives made their case to Inner City Press that the next UN envoy should be more attuned to Ivorian-ness. But how will that be accomplished? Through the votes on the Council of the U.S. and of China. It is a process we will cover, after the weekend is over.

            In an end-of-week burst of unexplained secrecy, a meeting on Children and Armed Conflict held at 3 p.m. on Friday in basement Conference Room 5 was deemed closed. The sign outside did not say so, and Inner City Press entered the room. Immediately the order to leave was issued, and the sign was changed. Inside, French Ambassador de la Sabliere was bragging about the achievements at the recent Paris conference. Why close this to the press? And so it goes at the UN.

At the UN, Haiti and Kosovo Predictions, Labor Mobility and Offshore Banking

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 8 -- At the UN, even the word "migration" has become controversial and is being worked around. Iran's deputy Ambassador, Mehdi Danesh-Yazdi, responding Wednesday to Inner City Press' question about migration for employment, said that the UN Commission on Social Development, which Iran chairs, has decided to avoid the word "migration." Instead they use the phrase, mobility for labor. But what's in a word?

            Barbados Central Banker Marion Williams said at the same event, in response to Inner City Press' questioning of why in Barbados there are six commercial banks, and 57 offshore banks, gave a long explanation about the mobility of capital, and the need to labor, and laborers, be more mobile. Migrate, do you mean? Video here.

            Wednesday Inner City Press asked the Office of the Spokesperson about reports that the UN's Deputy SRSG Ivo Petrov was told that the Abkhaz side would not attend upcoming talks in Geneva. Minutes later, a spokesman responded that there will be Abkhaz representation at the talks.

            This hearkens back to a threat never followed through on, by Russia to file complaints about the U.S. blocking the visa request of a Georgia-designated official for Abkhazia during last Fall's General Assembly, based on extraneous concerns. At the time, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he would be filing a complaint. But this appears to never had happened.

Martti Ahtisaari

            The Abkhazia issue also arose Thursday at the UN, as Martti Ahtisaari briefed reporters on his draft status proposal for Kosovo. Mr. Ahtisaari called Kosovo "sui generis" and distinct from Abkhazia, South Ossentia, Transdniestria, and Nagorno-Karabakh where, he said, separatists hardly need a Balkan precedent to do what they are going.

            Inner City Press asked Mr. Ahtisaari to explain a quote of his in The Guardian, that "Failure to act would lead to 'a weakening of the security situation' and a possible withdrawal of Nato peacekeeping troops, he said. 'If I was advising my government I would say to pull out.'" Mr. Ahtisaari explained that in the course of a long interview, he was thinking not of a possible veto -- if it comes, from Russia -- in the Spring of 2007, but of longer-term delay. Video here. Meanwhile it is predicted to Inner City Press by informed sources that the current Russian thinking is to abstain, and not veto. We'll see.

   Connecting this items is a simple economic analysis: as other countries have entered the European Union, those still outside find their ability to travel -- their labor mobility, so to speak -- increasingly curtailed. This harms their economic prospects in ways that the World Bank and IMF, which Mr. Ahtisaari stresses, are unlikely to make up for.

   At Thursday's noon briefing, beyond a colloquy with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, on which we are still working, Inner City Press asked questions about Haiti and WFP. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: Thereís a report of quote hundreds of protestors in front of the UN DPKO in Haiti.  So, Iím wondering, I donít know, there have been reports of this and we havenít seen any statement by MINUSTAH. One, is that the case, and two, if so, the report quotes a protestor saying the UN is part of the cause of the violence.  So, obviously, are you aware of that, and can you comment on it?

Spokesperson:  Yes, we are aware of it, but we cannot comment on it at this point.  There have been demonstrations over and over again for quite a few weeks now.  Itís nothing new, and nothing particularly that the Mission is reacting to.

Inner City Press:  You were here when Mr. Mulet said that everyone wants the UN in Haiti.  Obviously, itís not everyone, but what percentage is it?  Does the UN see the protest as representing an important part of Haitian public opinion or not?

Spokesperson:  Well, we have no way to assess that.  The Mission has not informed us of percentages.

Inner City Press: Well, I was wondering if you are willing toÖ what do you think?

Spokesperson:  I have absolutely no personal opinionÖ my personal opinion will stay with me, if you donít mind.

Inner City Press: I guess, just to follow it up.  If they do say something, maybe you could give me what they said here, or highlight it in some way, if MINUSTAH has some response to these protests?

Spokesperson:  Definitely, Matthew, I will.  As soon as we get an answer from them, weíll inform you.

Inner City Press: And, on the Secretary-Generalís schedule, Josette Sheeran is becoming head of WFP.  Is she still in the building?  Is there some way to get an opportunity, either at the stakeout or some other way, to ask her some questions?

Spokesperson:  We tried to have her, but, unfortunately, her schedule did not allow her to come, so thatís why.  We did try this morning.
Inner City Press: When was she, has there been a change in her start date at WFP?

Spokesperson:  No, nothing has been changed.  Still the same.

            We'll see. It's been noted to Inner City Press that Ann Veneman, as she was entering UNICEF, did a stakeout interview. In the months since her controversial selection to head WFP, Ms. Sheeran Shiner hasn't taken any question at all. What, as simply one example, is her view on whether internal audits of WFP should be available to member states, the Executive Board, the press and the public? We'll see -- WFP has of late been responding to questions with answers, watch this site. Click here for Inner City Press' fourth story on the UN Pension Fund, whose CEO has refused to act on an OIOS investigative report, triggered by the complaint of a whistleblower who gave an exclusive interview on Thursday night, click here to view.

Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service.

            Copyright 2006 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] innercitypress.com -

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

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