Wednesday, November 5, 2008

At UN, Lame Duck Labor Moves by US, Georgian War on Budget, Chinese ID Follies

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

UNITED NATIONS, November 4 -- The United States, the UN's host country and its largest donor, is even as it holds historic election preparing unprecedented proposal to change staff contrasts and working arrangements throughout the UN. In a series of secret meetings with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's management and human resources officials, the US Mission to the UN has outlined a radical reduction both in the type of UN employment contracts, and in the benefits the remaining contracts would offer. 

  In these meetings, the proposal documents have been handed out, each one numbers and then collected again at the end of the session, to prevent leaks. In recent days, the US Mission has begun lobbying the European Union and regional groups to try to find support for its proposal.

   UN sources tell Inner City Press that the Under Secretary General for Management, Angela Kane, has attended these meetings, and is not adverse to the U.S. proposal. Ms. Kane has met on the topic, for example, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad. One level below Ms. Kane, Assistant Secretary General of the UN's Office of Human Resources Management Catherine Pollard is less supportive of the U.S. proposal. The Staff Union, meanwhile, notes that it has not been consulted, and as of Tuesday afternoon did not have a copy.

Ban Ki-moon to (some) UN staff, US contract changing proposal not shown

  How the day's presidential elections will impact this eleventh hour "reform" proposal by the Bush administration Department of State is not known. There is talk of the U.S. trying to bypass consideration by the UN's Fifth (Budget) Committee and taking the proposal directly to the General Assembly for a vote. Nor is it yet known how the US proposal relates to Ban Ki-moon's recent rift about harmonizing contracts, given in response to Inner City Press' questions about UN reform. Click here for that story.

  This takes place in the context of a UN employment system that ignores the most basic protections provided by U.S. labor law. There is no ability to use the U.S. or any outside court to challenge employment practices or even discrimination. The most recent example is the case of a former (and want-to-be) UN staffer who, having been rebuffed and he says discriminated against in applying for UN jobs, recently wrote to Deputy Secretary General Asha Rose Migiro complaining of a system of "red flag" blocks against hiring certain people, including whistleblowers.  

  The response he has received comes not from Ms. Migiro but rather from one Ms. Hafida Fatma Lahiouel of France, from within the Administrative Law Unit under Ms. Pollard and Ms. Kane. Ms. Lahiouel writes that since the complainant is not currently a UN staff member, the UN internal justice system is not available to him. This seem to mean that a person applying for employment in the UN, even if hypothetically rejected on explicitly racist or other invidious grounds, has no recourse at all. How the U.S. Mission to the UN feels about this is not yet know.

Meanwhile, in a so-far little noticed contested race for a seat on the UN's Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, Russia's Vladimir Alekseevitch Iosifov is being opposed by Georgia's Alexander Petriashvili. A Georgian representative told Inner City Press, "Russia thinks it owns that seat on ACABQ. We're running. We don't know if we will win, but we are running." 

  Notably, Russia did more investigative work in the Fifth (Budget) Committee on the UN's controversial $250 million no-bid contract with U.S.-based Lockheed Martin for super-camps in Darfur than almost any other delegation. But theRussia - Georgia fight, from the hot war of August, has continued in nearly every UN General Assembly committee, most visibly in the Third.

  In the Third, the Chinese delegation's able former spokeswoman Yan Jiarong is back, speaking out most recently in favor of the "sacred political right" of a people to fight for sovereignty. While how that applies to South Ossetia is not yet known, Yan Jiarong on Monday fought for her right to her old UN identification card, which was confiscated in the UN Pass office along with the admonition that "it is UN property" when she went in to ask a question. At the same time, it emerged that one Babacar Mbaye had been given an incorrect i.d. - "the pass," it was said, "does not match the man." Only at the UN...

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