UN chief 'caving in to US pressure'

Published February 12, 2005

UNITED NATIONS: A rash of recent headlines in mainstream US newspapers portray a UN secretary-general struggling to survive: "Kofi Annan Must Go", "Annan's Post at the UN May be at Risk, Officials Fear" and "Criminal Probe Eyes Kofi's Son".

The unrelenting media and political campaign against Annan has been grounded mostly on charges of mismanagement, corruption, nepotism and sexual harassment in the UN system world wide.

Annan has also been shaken by allegations that his son, Kojo Annan, was linked to a Swiss company currently under investigation in the scandal-tarred, multi-million dollar oil-for-food programme in Iraq.

But Annan's defenders say the continued muckraking against the world body has been sparked primarily by the strong stand he took against the US military attack on Iraq in March 2003, calling it "illegal".

And right-wing neo-conservatives with close ties to the White House, who believe that both the United Nations and Annan made a grievous error by not supporting the US war on Iraq, are out to get the secretary-general.

So how does Annan, whose second five-year term ends in December 2006, try to survive against such overwhelming political odds? "He is obviously caving in to US pressure," Jim Paul, executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS. "I am just wondering whether we are having an un elected secretary-general."

Even recent UN reports from the secretary-general's office, he said, were virtually drafted either by British or US nationals, one of them from the US National Security Council.

"No policy statement can be uttered by Kofi these days that is not crafted by specialists who are (at a minimum) highly sensitive to Washington's priorities," Paul added.

Annan has refused to reappoint the head of the Palestine refugee agency (UNRWA) Peter Hansen of Denmark, a long time critic of Israeli policies in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, primarily because of US and Israeli pressure.

The long-rumoured appointment of retiring Under-Secretary-General Kieran Prendergast of Britain as the new UN Middle East envoy has also been stymied by the United States and Israel. Annan half-admitted the pressure he is under when he told reporters recently: "(Prendergast) would have been perfect. But we don't work in a vacuum."

Meanwhile, as part of a high level management restructuring, Annan's chef de cabinet (chief of staff) Iqbal Raza of Pakistan went into retirement last month, followed by his second-in-command Elisabeth Linden mayer of France.

Raza, who is believed to have been forced into retirement at short notice, has been succeeded by Mark Malloch Brown of Britain, head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

"These are all marks of a purge," Paul said. "The only person who has not been purged is the secretary-general himself. He is probably waiting for the next shoe to fall."

With several senior officials either on the verge of retirement or finishing their existing assignments, Annan has an unprecedented number of vacant posts in need of new leaders - including the head of UNDP, UNRWA, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the under-secretary-general for political affairs, the deputy chief of staff in the UN secretariat and the UN financial controller.

Although Annan has promised "geographical diversity" in new appointments, one Third World diplomat told IPS that the secretary-general "will obviously come under heavy pressure both from the five big powers - the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia - and also from donor nations such as Japan and Nordic countries."

"Developing nations, which comprise more than two-thirds of the membership of the United Nations, are always marginalised in senior UN appointments," he added.

Besides Malloch Brown, the most recent senior UN appointments include David Veness of Britain as Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, and Ann Veneman, the outgoing US secretary of agriculture, as executive director of UNICEF to replace another US national, Carol Bellamy. One of the frontrunners to head the UNDP is a Norwegian national.

All three countries - the United States, Britain and Norway - are key donors to UN agencies world wide. In 1997, Annan said that no UN member state should assume "that they own a certain job."

"The secretary-general supports the idea of rotating nationalities for senior positions," confirmed UN spokesman Fred Eckhard. But in reality some of the key jobs in the UN system, including under-secretary-general for management and under-secretary-general for political affairs, are monopolised by the United States and Britain.

Paul said there is a lot of talk that senior officials should be selected only on "merit".

"This whole business of merit is a code word for getting more white folks in. It is disgusting. The bottom line is that if you don't come from the Britain or the United States, they seem to be saying: 'you don't have any merit'," he complained.

Former assistant-secretary-general Samir Sanbar of Lebanon, who once headed the UN's department of public information and served under five secretaries-general, says the world body's hiring policy is not donor driven - "it is power driven".

This practice continues, he said, despite the fact that senior officials from developing countries display greater determination to produce results than those sheltered by powerful industrial countries. "So the deck is overwhelmingly lopsided."

"While Annan could be partially blamed for the current imbalance, his immediate concern may be to survive the last two years with relative quiet," says Sanbar, who is editor of an online website called UN Forum. -Dawn/The Inter Press News Service.

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