Monday, October 02, 2006

Kofi On Trial

In the Sunday Times Magazine, Adam LeBor looks at Kofi Annan's tenure as U.N. Secretary General and examines the organisation's record under his leadership:

UN officials argue that the organisation is merely the sum of its member states and the secretariat are impartial civil servants waiting for instructions from the security council. If member states lack the political will or means to stop a conflict, there is nothing the UN can do. This argument has undoubted appeal, not least to the consciences of those responsible for the UN’s failures. If everyone is guilty then nobody is guilty. If everyone is responsible then nobody is responsible. But it is not adequate. However responsibility is divided between the secretariat, the security council and the general assembly, the UN functions as an institution itself. It has decades’ worth of experience of conflict zones, a powerful institutional memory, considerable moral authority – however battered by recent scandals – and, for many, symbolises the hope for a better world.

Most discussion about UN reform focuses on arcane theoretical questions. A concrete start would be to make the secretariat accountable. Annan has expressed regret over Rwanda. “I believed at that time I was doing my best. But I realised after the genocide there was more I could have and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support,” he said in 2004. But many questions about his term as DPKO chief remain unanswered. Why did he refuse General Dallaire permission to raid the Hutu arms caches? With whom did he discuss this decision? Why did he not pass Dallaire’s faxes warning of massacres to the security council? When did he first hear that the Serbs were massacring the men and boys of Srebrenica? And where was he when the Serb attack began in early July? Stephane Dujarric, Annan’s spokesman, referred all these inquiries to the UN’s reports on Rwanda and Srebrenica, which do not provide answers.

If there is any sense of shame about the UN’s failures, it is no hindrance to promotion. Annan brought several of his protégés with him to the 38th floor. Shashi Tharoor was made his director of communications and special projects. In 2001, Tharoor was promoted to run the UN’s communications department. India has nominated him for secretary-general and he has been lobbying hard for the top job, with Annan’s tacit support, according to the UN insiders’ website Iqbal Riza, Annan’s deputy in the DPKO, was promoted to Annan’s chief of cabinet, one of the most influential behind-the-scenes positions. Riza resigned in December 2004 in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal. He is now Annan’s special adviser on the Alliance of Civilizations.

Any organisation with goals as far reaching as the United Nations is perhaps bound to fail in many ways. But while we cannot demand that it function perfectly, we should at least expect a Secretary-General whose commitment is to the spirit of the institution, rather than its bureaucracy. In this Kofi Annan has failed consistently.

(link via Normblog)

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