Thursday, October 29, 2009

Analysis: A Tale of Two North Koreas (...and UNDP)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

By George Russell

Pop quiz.

North Korea is:

a) An insular, hardscrabble country of 23 million people, ruled by ailing dictator Kim Jong Il and a military clique that tortures, publicly murders and imprisons its people, kidnaps enemies abroad, deliberately starves its population to support a successful quest for atomic weapons, rejects humanitarian assistance, and scoffs at international law and the United Nations;


b) The country next to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's native South Korea, whose human rights situation is "grave" but which faces "complex humanitarian problems which seriously hamper the fulfillment of human rights of the population," whose refusal to grant access to U.N. human rights investigators "has not allowed the secretary-General to obtain the information necessary to report in full to the General Assembly regarding the subject in question;"


c) Both.

The correct answer is c) — especially in the murky diplomatic universe of the United Nations, where the realities of North Korea's ugly human rights situation look vastly different in two separate reports presented on the same day last week to the U.N. General Assembly.

The first report is a blunt and bleak assessment of North Korea's human rights situation prepared by Vitit Muntarbhorn, a Bangkok law professor who works pro bono as the U.N.'s special rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), as North Korea is known.

Muntarbhorn, who has held the position for six years, issued his toughest report yet for the situation in DPRK, covering the period from late 2008 to mid-2009, after the North Korean regime had set off its second atomic blast and fired missiles in the direction of Japan and Hawaii.

According to Muntarbhorn, "human rights violations are evidently widespread, systematic and abhorrent in their impact and implications. They compromise and threaten not only human rights but also international peace and security." Elections are empty rituals; the media are the "backbone of an enormous propaganda machine." The regime "monitors its population through the tentacles of its iron-fisted security machinery."

Click here to read Muntarbhorn's full report.

The second report is from Ban himself, a longtime senior South Korean diplomat and ultimately foreign minister, who was responsible at that time for helping to funnel billions of dollars worth of international aid to the North Korean regime.

As for Ban, the current Secretary General, says Jay Lefkowitz, U.S. special envoy for human rights in North Korea during the Bush Administration, "nobody in that chair has known more about the depredations there."

Ban's document freely borrows from the special rapporteur's report but turns it into something far less accusatory.

Ban's 19-page report acknowledges North Korea's atrocious human rights record, while simultaneously soft-pedaling it and accentuating the positive — however small — in order to coax North Korea's rulers into returning to the nuclear bargaining table and bringing their brutalized country at least a millimeter or so under the rule of international law.

Thus, for Ban, DPRK's announcement on July 22, 2009 that it is "setting up the Ministry of Foodstuff and Daily Necessities Manufacturing is a sign that the Government is trying to address the severe food situation."

This is followed by the Secretary General's acknowledgement that "the authorities have blocked access to alternative sources of food by forbidding kitchen farming in private households and closing down markets where food items are traded." Such reports, Ban says, delicately, "indicate that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is failing to fulfill its obligations under international human rights law to protect the right to adequate food."

Click here to read Ban's full report.

Ban's bloodless formulations, however, do not paint anything like the same horrifying picture that Muntarbhorn does in his 24-page document. Forbidden by North Korea from visiting the country, he relies on refugee and local human rights reports to paint a grim picture of the country's "stifling political environment and stultifying developmental process, compounded by a range of stupefying cruelties."

Among them:

• "Citizens who fail to turn up for work allocated to them by the State are sent to labor camps."

• "There are reports of public executions and secret executions in political detention camps."

• "Although torture is prohibited by law, it is extensively practiced."

• The role of lawyers "is to pressure the accused to confess to a crime rather than to defend his client."

• There are plenty of crimes to confess to: citing human rights legal sources, Muntarbhorn says there are "14 types of anti-State crime; 16 types of crime disruptive of national defense systems; 104 types of crime injurious to the socialist economy; 26 types of crime injurious to socialist culture; 39 types of crime injurious to administrative systems; 20 types of crime harmful to collective life; and 26 types of crime injuring life and damaging property of citizens."

• Punishment is collective: "Where the parents are seen as antithetical to the regime, the child and the rest of the family are discriminated against in their access to schools, hospitals and other necessities."

• Forcible child labor, sometimes on state poppy farms, and forcible separation of children from their parents is far from uncommon.

On an even more sinister front, Muntarbhorn notes the regime's practice of "kidnapping a number of foreign nationals," sometimes to steal their identities for use by North Korean spies. Many remain unaccounted for. The report says over 10 countries have been affected by DPRK's extraterritorial crimes (at a press conference, Muntarbhorn later raised the precise number of countries where DPRK kidnappers operate to 12).

When it comes to such basics as food, the regime's strategy is brutally direct: provide it only through state distribution where possible, after the ruling elite takes as much as it wants. Muntarbhorn refers to the regime's stance as a "military first strategy," as opposed to a "people first" strategy in which civilian needs matter.

In fact, Muntarbhorn makes it clear that where the regime is concerned, the people often should have no ranking at all. While acknowledging that floods and bad harvests made a bad situation worse in 2006 and 2007, Muntarbhorn notes that "at the end of 2008, in the pursuit of State control over the population, the authorities planned to close general markets and banned rice sales in such markets, even though those markets had been a major source of income and food for the population."

In effect, the issue was not merely whether the military clique had first call on food and income, it was more that any independent sources of food and income should be removed. The market closures have caused some of the few reported confrontations between authorities and protestors.

Citing a South Korean Bar Association paper, Muntarbhorn also makes the claim that international food aid — in its extremely limited amounts — may have accelerated the trend to impose state monopolies of distribution.

But if so, maybe not by so much. In July, in the wake of its second atomic blast, North Korea announced that it would turn its back on 500,000 tons of food aid offered by the U.S. through the U.N.'s World Food Program (WFP).

When a dry-up of donor funds after the blast limited WFP's other supplies, the regime cut the agency's access to North Korean territory in half, forced all Korean-speaking U.N. employees out of the country, and made the agency announce inspection visits for its food distribution a week in advance.

Women in particular have been hard-hit by the food power-plays, Muntarbhorn reports. All those under 40 were banned from trading in the markets at all — an age later raised to 49. Muntarborn cites report that women have also been prosecuted for wearing trousers, or riding bicycles.

DPKR is a signatory to the U.N.'s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Even so, Muntarbhorn cites legal sources who say that assault against pregnant female refugees who return home is "routine, and wrapping the forcibly aborted fetus' face with plastic to [induce] death is known [in] frequent occurrences."

North Korea is also a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, not to mention the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Secretary General Ban's report notes North Korea's signatures on those documents, without comment, although from his perspective these legal adherences clearly matter a great deal. Among other things, he carefully lauds the regime for the creation of a "2008-2010 work program" by the Central Committee of the Korean Federation for Persons with Disabilities, even though DPRK "has yet to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities."

Ban does not note, however, as Muntarbhorn does, that DPRK has not yet signed protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that ban child trafficking, child prostitution and child pornography, or the involvement of children in armed conflict, among other legal instruments.

To be fair, Ban does forthrightly note "with serious concern continuing reports that the situation of human rights In [DPRK] remains grave." He also declares that the North Korean government "has not taken significant steps to address persistent reports of systematic and widespread human rights violations."

He cites a "range of reports" that refer "to the continuous absence of due process and the rule of law," torture, forced labor, and the vulnerability of women in detention to sexual abuse. But Ban is careful to note that the reports "could not be independently verified."

The main reason they could not be verified is that the regime does not allow anyone in to verify them.

The regime has vetoed, Ban notes, requests for a visit by the U.N.'s special rapporteur on free expression since 1999, by the special rapporteur on religion since 2002, the special rapporteur on the right to food since 2003, and the special rapporteur on human rights — that is, Muntarbhorn — since 2004. On Muntarbhorn's latest request, dated July 21, 2009, the regime said such a visit "would never be possible."

But in the cases of 11 separate kidnapping victims from Japan—some dating back to the 1970s — Ban could report glimmers of progress: essentially discussions that in the future might "lead to the clarification of the outstanding cases." There was also an agreement in August 2008 for the DPRK regime to conduct "a comprehensive investigation of the unresolved cases of abduction."

In other words, the regime agreed to investigate itself for the alleged crimes.

When it comes to food issues, Ban acknowledges stark shortages, but places much of the blame not on the regime's predatory policies but on North Korea's poor soils, small percentage of arable land, and the lack of "key inputs such as fertilizer, fuel, seed, plastic sheeting and mechanization." Among these, he also notices "structural constraints (including constraints on market activities)." But a bigger factor is "natural disasters."

Even then, he adds, citing the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), "increases in agricultural production can only be achieved through improved yields, given that all suitable arable land is already under cultivation." The biggest need is for fertilizer — which the regime refuses to request from its South Korean neighbor.

FAO is one of five U.N. agencies that maintains a small presence in North Korea, as part of a U.N. "country team." Each part of the team can claim to see small improvements In North Korea's situation, and Ban gravely notes all of them.

UNICEF, for example, reports that DPRK "has done well in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women, "to the extent that information is available about these matters." But the agency adds that "it is difficult to estimate progress toward reducing child mortality owing to the absence of reliable data."

The United Nations Population Fund, on the other hand, says that it "continues to implement the national reproductive health strategy with a program focusing on reducing maternal mortality, with funding from the U.N., Norway and New Zealand. It soon plans to establish a family planning clinic to serve three mountainous North Korean counties.

Ban clearly sees the need for more international carrots where the special rapporteur on human rights issues sees the North Korean regime wielding many sticks.

In his conclusions, Muntarbhorn says that North Korea's human rights violations are "evidently widespread, systematic and abhorrent in their implications." He recommends that the regime cease and desist, allow him to visit the country, "modernize the government system," and "act against the impunity of those responsible for the violence and violations" — meaning, essentially, themselves. Muntarbhorn also calls on the international community to push North Korea toward a "people first" policy and "enable the totality of the U.N. system, including the Security Council," to "protect people from victimization and provide effective redress."

Ban, on the other hand, "urges the government of [DPRK] to provide safeguards for human rights," "implement fully" such things as "the need to improve access for United Nations agencies in order to ensure equal distribution of humanitarian assistance," and to engage with the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights "in substantive dialogue and technical cooperation."

Ban's sanguine attitude about deepening the U.N.'s involvement with a repressive regime engaged in a naked hunt for nuclear weapons bears a strong resemblance to the attitude that resulted in the U.N.'s biggest scandal in North Korea, back in 2006 — a year before Ban took office.

That was when the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) was revealed by a whistleblower, an employee in North Korea named Artjon Shkurtaj, to have funneled millions of dollars in hard currency illegally to the Pyongyang government, allowed North Korean government employees to fill sensitive UNDP posts, turned a blind eye to the hand-over of sensitive "dual use" technology of potential value in North Korea's nuclear program, and kept $3,500 in defaced U.S. counterfeit $100 bills in UNDP's North Korean safe for more than a decade without reporting them to the U.S. Treasury.

The aim of all that excessive engagement with the North Korean government was ostensibly to retain influence with the regime and, through incentives, keep it from continuing its quest for atomic weapons.

The engagement ended badly — for the whistleblower. Shkurtaj was removed from his job, and eventually his employment contract was not renewed. A 353-page report by a three-member "External Independent Investigative Review Panel" subsequently confirmed virtually every one of Shkurtaj's accusations, and added more, notably that the U.N. was ignoring its own technology sanctions against North Korea, even as the U.N. Security Council called on the world to tighten those restrictions in the wake of the regime's nuclear explosion.

The U.N.'s Ethics Officer, Robert Benson, subsequently determined that the investigative panel had not given Shkurtaj a chance to answer allegations leveled against him, which he called a "due process failure," and ruled that UNDP should pay Shkurtaj 14 months' wages. UNDP has not yet done so.

And UNDP, after a brief stint out of North Korea, is now about to rejoin the U.N. agencies offering North Korea greater "technical cooperation." It has reopened its dormant offices in Pyongyang and is preparing to restart programs there, a stance that not only has the backing of Ban, but of the Obama Administration.

In addition to his call for greater North Korea-U.N. engagement, Ban also calls on the international community in far less specific terms than Muntarbhorn to "uphold its commitment to protecting human rights and addressing critical humanitarian concerns."

Where Ban and Muntarbhorn agree is on setting store by a new U.N. ritual, the so-called "universal periodic review" of North Korea's human rights practices by the notorious 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHCR), which has largely busied itself since its founding in 2006 with attacks against Israel. Among its members are Angola, China, Cuba, Egypt, Nicaragua, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, as well as Belgium, Hungary, and — as of this year, the U.S., ending a three-year boycott of the institution. North Korea is not a Council member.

The Universal Periodic Review is described on a UNHCR web page as a "unique process" in which all 192 U.N. member states eventually appear before the Council every four years to "declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations In their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations." It is "designed to ensure equal treatment for every country when their human rights situation are assessed."

In other words, it puts democracies like the U.S., Germany and India on the same level as North Korea when it comes to justifying their behavior.

Ban Ki-moon is quoted as saying "this mechanism has great potential to promote and protect human rights in the darkest corners of the world."

The UNHCR says its goal is to complete the entire Universal Periodic Review by 2011.

North Korea's turn is slated to come between 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Monday, December 7, 2009.

The U.S. turn is slated for Friday, November 26, 2010, between 9 a.m. and noon.

Special rapporteur Muntarbhorn won't be there to see it. After presenting his report in New York last week, he let it be known to some reporters that he would be leaving at the end of his six-year-term in December.

Before then, he clearly hopes to see whether the U.N.'s Human Rights Council will adhere to one of his main recommendations for the international community: use North Korea's refusal to cooperate with the special rapporteur "as a key indicator of the Universal Periodic Review."

George Russell is executive editor of Fox News.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

At U.N., contractor's case again raises questions about nepotism

Internal investigation will examine whether official abused authority


By Colum Lynch
Washington post staff writer
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

UNITED NATIONS -- Nicola Baroncini, a U.N. contract employee from Italy, was doing a routine review of his boss's correspondence in the summer when he stumbled upon an e-mail that would seal his fate.

Baroncini's supervisor had received a message from the United Nations' top envoy in Congo asking her to bend U.N. rules so that his daughter could be hired -- for the very position that Baroncini was holding temporarily and was hoping to keep.

What followed was not pretty. After learning that he had been passed over for the job, Baroncini lost his temper and bit the forearm of a security officer who had been called in to remove him from the building, according to U.N. officials. Baroncini says he bit the guard in self-defense after being attacked, beaten and maced.

The incident, while unusual, highlighted a phenomenon that Baroncini and others say is common at the United Nations: nepotism. "This way of doing business can't go on," said Baroncini, whose case has triggered an internal U.N. probe into whether a senior official was trying to manipulate a hiring process.

There are no hard figures on nepotism and favoritism at the United Nations, but the ranks of the U.N. Secretariat and U.N. agencies include scores of children and grandchildren of the organization's luminaries and foreign diplomats. Many top U.N. jobs in peacekeeping, political affairs and other areas are reserved for politically connected officials from powerful governments, including the United States.

The U.N. Charter requires that the organization's civil servants be independent of their governments, and the organization's rules restrict the hiring of the relatives of U.N. employees. But the rules have long been breached. In his 2003 book "Peacemonger," Marrack Goulding, a former British diplomat who once led the U.N. peacekeeping department, said he strove to show his independence after the British government nominated him.

"A senior U.N. official nominated by his or her own government was . . . assumed to be in the [U.N.] secretariat to do that government's bidding," he wrote.

The United Nations' largest employee union says it frequently hears allegations of nepotism. But the group also says it fears that today's top U.N. officials, including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the recently departed president of the General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua, are ill-suited to initiate reform. D'Escoto hired his American nephew, Michael Clark, as an adviser, and his niece, Sophia Clark, as his deputy chief of staff. Ban's daughter Hyun Hee-ban and son-in-law Siddarth Chatterjee also are employed by the United Nations.

"There is something that doesn't look quite right," said Thomas Ginivan, vice president of the U.N. Staff Union. "He's the chief executive officer, and it's ultimately his responsibility to ensure all regulations are followed. It's hard for him to stand up on the podium and criticize when he's not wearing a spotless suit."

Differing perspectives

U.N. officials say the organization has been scrupulous in avoiding favoritism. But not everyone agrees. Several months after Ban ascended to the top post, his son-in-law was promoted by Staffan de Mistura -- then the United Nations' top Iraq envoy -- to a high-profile post as the organization's chief of staff in Iraq.

Some U.N. officials felt that Chatterjee, a former Indian special forces officer with extensive experience in security, lacked the political and diplomatic skills for the job. In May, he was promoted again, to become regional director of the U.N. Office for Project Services in Copenhagen -- only this time he competed against more than 120 other candidates.

De Mistura, a Swedish national, said he hired Chatterjee because he "needed a military guy" who could oversee the organization's expansion in Iraq, not because he was Ban's son-in-law. Chatterjee had overseen security for de Mistura in Iraq in the 1990s, before he had met Ban's daughter.

"For two years, we succeeded in not having one staff member wounded, not one killed," de Mistura said. "The chief of staff was my right hand in handling priority number one, priority number two and priority number three: security."

Chatterjee said that working in an institution where his father-in-law is the boss has been less of a blessing than a burden and that he recently turned down a job offer as the top U.N. official in Namibia because that would mean serving directly under Ban.

"Till now I've been a quiet worker being recognized for the merit of my work rather than for whom I was related to," he said. "When these questions come up about nepotism and favoritism, it breaks my heart."

Similarly, U.N. officials deny that nepotism played any role in the hiring of Ban's daughter, Hyun Hee-ban. She applied for a U.N. job in March 2003 through a program that invites foreign governments to fund their nationals' employment. Officials said that, without her father's intervention, she finished first among 180 South Korean candidates vying for five U.N. posts.

Carol Bellamy, a former director of UNICEF, is among those at the United Nations who say the allegations of nepotism are unfair. The real problem, she said, is the organization's system of political patronage.

"What bugs me is not the hiring of family members, but how often former U.N. ambassadors get appointed" to run complex peacekeeping and humanitarian field operations, Bellamy said.

'Didn't do anything wrong'

In Baroncini's case, the allegations of nepotism stem from the e-mail his boss, a senior official at the U.N. Development Program, received from Alan Doss, the top U.N. envoy in Congo. Doss, who was winding up his career with UNDP, asked for his daughter to be hired even though his employment would overlap with hers, according to the e-mail, which was first reported by a blogger at Inner City Press.

If found by a U.N. investigation to have abused his authority, Doss could face censure, according to an official familiar with the probe. The investigation is expected to conclude within the next month.

Baroncini, meanwhile, will appear Wednesday in a New York court, where he faces third-degree assault charges for the biting incident. He said he wants to take the case to trial.

"I didn't do anything wrong," he said. "I was the victim of nepotism, retaliation, assault and imprisonment."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Most powerful NZ lesbian" and partner unite

By Daily News staff - 25th October 2009

The powerful and influential Chief of Staff to then-Prime Minister Helen Clark and the most powerful lesbian in the country at the time yesterday joined with her partner in a civil union ceremony in Wellington.

Heather Simpson, a trained economist and publicly formidable presence who was nicknamed 'H2' during Clark's prime ministership, was 'united' with Sue Veart in front of 45 close friends and family.

Clark, who is now the highest-ranked woman in the United Nations, selected Simpson to accompany her to the United Nations headquarters in New York as a staffer, a right extended to senior appointees under UN rules. It is understood the civil union may make it easier for Veart to join Simpson in New York.

Clark's professional closeness to Simpson over a twenty year period was one factor feeding politically-motivated rumours and innuendo that Clark herself was a lesbian during her NZ political career.

Clark's aide home to marry partner


Heather Simpson, the long-term assistant of former prime minister Helen Clark who was once known as H2, has returned from New York to marry her partner, Sue Veart, in Wellington.

The pair were joined in a civil union at their home in Wadestown yesterday, in a ceremony reportedly attended by about 45 close friends and family. Clark was not present.

When she worked for Clark in the Beehive, Simpson was known as "the second-most powerful woman in New Zealand", or "H2". Clark once joked that Simpson was actually the most powerful woman in the country.

Simpson has been working for Clark in New York since the former prime minister took over as head of the United Nations Development Programme in April. Veart, who recently quit after 10 years in managerial jobs at Porirua City Council, will join her long-term partner there.

Simpson had a formidable reputation as a member of the inner circle of power and a person who did not suffer fools gladly. A former economist, she has worked for Clark in various roles for more than 20 years.

She is the fourth of seven children in a large and close-knit family from Southland. Although her public reputation is stern, she is known as a loving aunt and sister, and her wider family flocked to the ceremony.

Simpson did not initially want to move to New York to work for Clark, but "her arm was twisted", according to those who know her. One acquaintance said she believed the civil union would make it easier for Veart to live in the US.

Clark's government brought in civil unions as an alternative to marriage.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

UNDP's Communication Wallah - hosing down the media fire



UNDP seeks to defend Helen Clark

The Inquiring Mind

Click here for Story

Yesterday Adam drew attention to some NY media criticism of one Helen Clark. Adam’s post was the result of an item on Morning Report.

David Farrar had a post on this as well, later in the day. Mr Farrar pointed out that with the exception of Morning Report none of the other NZ media had apparently mentioned the story. Farrar notes as well that media covering the UN in NYC do not appear to be so compliant as NZ media were.

Today on Morning Report was another item on Helen Clark and the media issue. No it was not HC on the phone from the US but a UNDP Communications wallah, who had obviously been set the task of hosing this issue down. Again he did not seem to get tough questioning. The line he spun was that HC travelled a lot and gave interviews etc when overseas. Yet the main issue raised yesterday that HC does not front to the main UN press corps in NY was not dealt with, nor the issue of reporter management in Adam’s view.

Also Radio NZ allowed 7 mins 48 seconds of airtime for the rebuttal as opposed to 4 minutes 18 seconds for the original piece.

Oh and still have not seen any other media coverage.

Helen Clark cops media flak in New York

The Inquiring Mind

Click here for that

Morning Report carried an item this morning critical of Helen Clark, albeit it must be said that Geoff Robinson did not take an especially determined line, but it would seem that all might not be well in the fastness of the UNDP for the Greatest Living New Zealander (sarcasm).

Apparently the Leaderene does not front the media!

Media criticises Clark for lack of openess


There was a fascinating radio interview at 7.40 am on National Radio today. It was from a specialist newspaper that reports on the UN, and complaining about the refusal of Helen Clark to do press conferences, how Clark and Heather Simpson try to handpick journalists for interviews and a general lack of accountability.

You can listen to the interview here.

It sounds like the UN media is less compliant than some of the NZ media has been. Some extracts from the interview with Matthew Lee the founder and editor of the Inner City Press that focuses on the UN:

In the six months she has been in office there have been a number of UNDP issues that have arisen and repeatedly, I would say half a dozen times, myself and other journalist have asked that she comes and do a press conference, an actual Q&A and take questions and it is yet to happen.

He points out she is the third most senior official at the UN, and not a single press conference in six months.

It has become somewhat striking, a total failure to answer questions about the agency as they arise. … Once requests were made for Helen Clark to do a press conference there were a flurry of calls from her two spokespeople at the UNDP to specific media outlets saying do you want a one on one. One of them responded and said Okay here’s the journalist who will do it. But UNDP responded No No we prefer this other journalist who works for you. That’s a degree of micro-management of press coverage that is almost unheard of in the UN.

But very familiar to people back in New Zealand. And many in the media went along with it, or they risked losing access.

If she is the third highest official in the UN, she needs to come and take questions because everyone else does. The Secretary-General does it on a monthly basis, the head of peacekeeping every two weeks.

Almost funny that Helen’s managed to actually lower the standards at the UN!

He also goes on to say how the only briefing anyone in the UNDP has given for some months has been about relief efforts in Samoa and Tonga.

Geoff Robinson: Are you the only journalist, is yours the only organisation raising this as an issue?

Lee: No, No … In July an issue arose about a hiring, a kind of nepotism hiring took place in UNDP. Inner City Press had the exclusive but after that it was covered by the Times of London, Reuters and even newspapers in Italy. All four of these publications wanted answers from UNDP and none of them got them. I sent e-mails to her long time staffer, Heather Simpson, to make sure we got her answer as to why this nepotism scandal was not a problem. There was never any response at all.

Heather’s job is to block media, not facilitate them!

But here is what is really interesting. All the media listen to Morning Report. Yet this quite stunning and significant interview has not been reported anywhere else at all!

Helen Clark and the UN media

The first we heard about Helen Clark’s latest media problems came by way of a brief item courtesy of what used to be among her most slavish media fans, so this is a curious story.

Nevertheless, it appears to be true: the woman who had all but a few New Zealand journalists eating out of her hand during her nine-year premiership seems to be significantly out of her depth in dealing with American journalists covering the UN beat.
Speaking this week to Morning Report, a plainly indignant Matthew Lee criticisedthe UN development chief’s “total failure” to engage freely with local reporters.
Moreover, Clark’s offsider, Heather Simpson, was showing a marked tendency to — surprise, surprise — micromanage what media business her boss does attend to, according to Lee:
It has become somewhat striking, a total failure to answer questions about the agency as they arise. … Once requests were made for Helen Clark to do a press conference there were a flurry of calls from her two spokespeople at the UNDP to specific media outlets saying do you want a one on one. One of them responded and said Okay here’s the journalist who will do it. But UNDP responded, “No, no, we prefer this other journalist who works for you.’ That’s a degree of micro-management of press coverage that is almost unheard of in the UN.
None of which should come as any great shock to any Kiwi reporter who remembers dealing with Control Freak Central, circa 1999-2008.
Local journalists perceived as potentially critical were usually given short shrift by the Clark office or else the hint was heavily dropped that persistence in such an attitude would result in having their access severely curtailed — or else their supplications were simply ignored altogether. This was the case irrespective of whether one was an impertinent student reporter or a senior political biographer.

It will be fascinating to see how the current situation is settled. Wouldn’t it be remarkable, as David Farrar suggests, if Clark’s time in New York comes to be remembered for her unintentional accomplishment in lowering the already pit-low reputation of the UN?

UN Blames Delay in SAP Contract and Accounting Standards on States, But Changed ERP Plan

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 21 -- Is the current UN well or badly managed? In January 2008, more than twenty months ago, the UN's Department of Management announced it has selected Germany-based SAP for a contract for its enterprise resource or ERP technology project, and that the contract would be finalized in three months.

On October 21, Inner City Press asked Department of Management chief Angela Kane to confirm that the contract has still not been finalized, that ERP is being schedule and over budget, and to explain why. Inner City Press also asked why the UN is failing to live up to a 2010 deadline to implement the International Public Sector Accounting Standards. Video here, from Minute 44:34.

Ms. Kane acknowledged that the contract has not been signed. She blamed the General Assembly, that is the member states, for making the schedule "far too ambitious" and then only allocating the money in March 2009. She said the ERP project is not really over budget, because there is no real budget, "we were way off base." Video here, from Minute 49:43.

But the UN's Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions in its report on ERP criticized Ms. Kane's Department of Management for changing its proposal at the last minute. ACABQ sources say it's "DM's fault it got delayed -- now Kane is blaming others for her department's last minute changes" and thereby putting off the IPSAS accounting standards.

Ms. Kane on Oct. 21, SAP contract not shown

From the ACABQ report:

67. The Advisory Committee was informed of the revised requirements just as it was finalizing the present report. The reductions reflect changes in the sequence of activity and acquisition strategies, as well as delays in the approval of the project.
The Secretary-General now considers that it would be in the best interest of the Organization to complete the selection of the ERP software before proceeding with activities related to the acquisition of integration services rather than conducting those activities in a partially overlapping manner as initially envisaged. In addition, he proposes to break down the acquisition of integration services for the design, build and/or roll-out phases of the project instead of developing system integration proposals to cover a comprehensive range of services for the entire project at the outset (A/62/510/Rev.1, para. 35). ..The Committee was also provided with an updated timeline for the project (see annex IX), which shows an overall six-month delay in completion of the implementation.

68. The Advisory Committee was further informed that, as a consequence of this approach, the following activities and expenditures envisaged previously during 2008-2009 would not be completed during the biennium:

• Software licences and customization ($11,475,000): as a result of the Organization’s stronger negotiation strategy with the software vendors, there would be limited payment for software licensing during the design phase of the project, and any required customizations would be initiated later in 2009.
• Software integration ($21,847,400): based on the above-stated approach to the
acquisition of software integration services, there would be a significant
reduction in the overall work-months required during the biennium 2008-2009, as those resources would be required during the subsequent build and roll-out phases.
• Project and change management ($5,387,700): the ERP project team would postpone the recruitment of its full staffing complement until July 2009 until the initiation of the design phase after the completion of high-level business re-engineering activities in the first quarter of 2009. The change management strategy continues to focus on an awareness campaign for the stakeholders of the ERP project, pending approval by the General Assembly.
• Training ($5,615,400): the commencement of training is dependent upon the acquisition of the ERP software solution, which is in the final phase of evaluation.
• Operational costs ($749,000): the above delays have a corresponding impact on the requirements related to general operating expenses.

69. The Advisory Committee considers that these revisions represent a
significant change in the strategy for the implementation of ERP as set out in paragraph 35 of the report.

So the Secretariat made last minute "significant changes" to the ERP plan, then blames the resulting delay in the allocation of funds for not having taken steps due a year and a half ago, and puts back implementation of IPSAS accounting standards for two -- some say four -- years.

Again the question: Is the current UN well or badly managed?

Footnote: For weeks Inner City Press has been asking in the UN's noon briefing that Department of Management chief Angela Kane come to take questions, on why Office of Internal Oversight Services recommendations have not been implemented, from disciplining a staff member who pleaded guilty to having child pornography to recouping $7 million overpaid in Timor Leste.

On Wednesday Ms. Kane did come to the briefing, but only about the budget. Inner City Press, when called on, was told to limit itself to one question. While the Controller was still answering a question about the UN and the dollar, Ms. Kane left the briefing. It's been three months since the last one: it seems clear these should be more frequent.

U.N. Injustice

Claudia Rosett, 10.22.09, 12:01 AM ET

Founded "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war," today's United Nations is instead laying the groundwork for war galore. In the name of "justice," the U.N. handicaps democracies trying to defend themselves against tyrants and terrorists. That's the bottom line of the so-called Goldstone report, the 575-page product of the U.N.'s "fact-finding mission" on the war this past winter between Gaza and Israel.

Led by former South African judge Richard Goldstone, this U.N. mission set out to explore, as Goldstone summed it up, "All violations of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law that might have been committed at any time in the context of military operations that were conducted in Gaza from 27 December 2008 - 18 January 2009 whether before during or after."

From this exercise Goldstone emerged to accuse Israel of "reprisals" and "collective punishments" and "war crimes." He also criticized "armed groups" in Gaza (where the major "armed group"--terrorist Hamas--runs the enclave). But in the U.N. universe, that is a nod to the appearance of impartiality, of no real relevance to action. Last week the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted Goldstone's report, with a resolution slamming Israel and omitting any mention of Hamas. Goldstone duly expressed his "sadness" over this predictable action by the same Geneva-based Human Rights Council that earlier this year hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a star speaker at its anti-Israel Durban Review conference.

In a process weirdly akin to the enrichment of uranium into weapons grade material, the Human Rights Council's anti-Israel distillation of Goldstone's anti-Israel report is now wending its way toward debates at U.N. headquarters in New York. This process is fraught with threats that Israelis will face prosecution by the International Criminal Court, if Israel does not preempt that possibility by conducting its own public investigations and prosecutions as prescribed by Goldstone's mission.

Hamas has welcomed all this. The Israeli government has rejected it, and the U.S. government--from its new seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, has voted against it. Plenty has been written already on the specifics of the Goldstone mission, report and ensuing resolution.

Troubling though each step of this has been, there's a deeper problem underlying this entire scene. That problem is the idea that the U.N. is in any way equipped to dispense "justice." It is not.

Unless the U.N. secretly reports to the divine (and its record of corrupt and self-serving abuses, from Oil-for-Food to current complicity in Congo atrocities strongly suggests it does not), the only over-arching authority operating here is the U.N. itself. The U.N. is not a system of justice; it more closely resembles an extremely well-funded and plushly appointed kangaroo court.

The U.N.'s 192-state membership is stacked with manipulative despotic governments, ringed with immunities, and has been engaged for decades now in the process of turning the democratic state of Israel into a pariah. Israel, as we all know, has been condemned over the years more often than any other U.N. member state. Israel is unwelcome to serve among the 10 rotating members of a U.N. Security Council, which in recent years has seated such tyrannies as Syria and Libya.

Nonetheless, this entire exercise in crucifying Israel is taking place in the name of "justice." Never mind that Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005 in hope of peace, and was rewarded with the takeover of Gaza by the terrorist group, Hamas--dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Having suffered thousands of terrorist rocket and mortar attacks launched out of Gaza, Israel finally fought a brief war to defend itself.

The U.N. responded by dispatching Goldstone, who at lightning speed (by U.N. standards) produced a report stuffed with hundreds of mentions of justice, law and accountability. In a statement on Sept. 29 to the Human Rights Council, presenting his final report, he said "it is accountability above all that is called for in the aftermath of the regrettable violence that has caused so much misery for so many."

But to whom is Goldstone himself accountable? He reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council, which in turn reports to the U.N. General Assembly. Which in turn reports to ... itself. And what is that General Assembly? It is a conclave dominated by the 130-member G-77, chaired this year by Sudan, which overlaps with the Organization of the Islamic Conference. This is the same General Assembly, which, in its own version of global "justice," gave more than equal time on its main stage last month not only to representatives of free nations, but to Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi, Iran's Ahmadinejad and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

It can happen from time to time that the U.N. does dispense justice--if only through the accidents of Brownian motion. But in this system, as a general rule, the advantage goes to those least wedded to law and most willing to wallow in impunity. Brazen rule-breaking trumps justice.

Why? Because states built around decent frameworks of law have internal drivers to hold them to account. By contrast, states piloted by despots, tyrannical dynasties or thug juntas have no such internal checks and balances.

Nor are U.N. "inquiries" and "fact-finding missions" required to conform to any particular over-arching, impartial and accountable standard of justice. U.N. missions by and large make up their own rules as they go along, subject to mandates, which member states have themselves devised to suit their own aims.

Thus do we see the Goldstone mission completed with blinding speed, mandated, launched, signed, sealed and adopted within eight months of the conflict it purports to have explored. Meanwhile, the U.N. investigation launched in 2005 into Syria's role in political assassinations in Lebanon is now dragging into its fourth year, with no clear results yet.

U.N. missions also tend to be highly selective in focus--and not in the interest of justice. For Israel, the grave menace right now is the growing influence in the region of Iran, which has threatened to destroy Israel, and is clearly pursuing the makings and know-how for nuclear weapons. Iran has been training and arming not only Hamas, but other terrorist groups such as Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which has made a tradition of stockpiling forbidden munitions under the gaze of U.N. peacekeepers, and in 2006 launched a war against Israel by kidnapping two soldiers from Israeli territory.

In Goldstone's report, so devoted to "justice," Iran is mentioned only twice: once in a footnote on page 455, in a list of munitions "held by Palestinian armed groups," which includes the 220 millimeter Fadjr-3 rocket, described as "Iranian-designed" and "thought to be smuggled into Gaza." And in an annex on the last page, listing groups which replied to calls for submissions, there is one mention of the Iranian Islamic Human Rights Commission, based in Tehran.

The real force for civilized order in the world is not the fiction of U.N. global "justice" but the requirements of decency imposed at the margin by a global top cop, when one steps forward. That was the role played by the U.S. as the U.N.-deplored lone superpower. Now America is relinquishing that role. President Barack Obama, who has just proclaimed Oct. 24 "United Nations Day," likes to describe the U.N. as "indispensable, if imperfect." The U.N. is much worse than imperfect; it is misleading and dangerous. Far too much of what it does is not only dispensable, but damaging. What's indispensable--though largely missing from the current debate--is a public understanding that the U.N. system has plenty to do with licensing the interests of its most ruthless member states, and almost nothing to do with "justice."

Claudia Rosett, a journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes a weekly column on foreign affairs for Forbes.

Read more Forbes Opinions here.

NKorea poses threat to peace

Capital News

Update 10 minutes ago

SEOUL, Oct 22 - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates Thursday labelled North Korea a grave threat to international peace and promised to continue protecting Washington's allies in the region under a nuclear umbrella.

Speaking at annual security talks with his South Korean counterpart, Gates pledged to employ the full array of US military might as a deterrent to the North's nuclear and missile programmes.

"North Korea continues to pose a threat to South Korea, to the region and to others," Gates said.

"And, as such, I want to reaffirm the unwavering commitment of the United States to the alliance and to the defence of the Republic of Korea (South Korea)," he said at the start of the annual Security Consultative Meeting.

"The United States will continue to provide extended deterrence, using the full range of military capabilities -- including the nuclear umbrella -- to ensure ROK security."

The US stations 28,500 troops to bolster South Korea's 655,000-strong armed forces against the North's 1.2 million-member military. It also guarantees a "nuclear umbrella" over its long-time ally in case of atomic attack.

South Korean Defence Minister Kim Tae-Young said the North's policy had not changed despite recent diplomatic overtures.

Although "there are signs of some change from North Korea, including its recent willingness to talk, in reality the unstable situation such as the nuclear programme and a military-first policy continues unchanged," Kim said.

In a toughly worded statement Gates and Kim said the missile and nuclear tests in April and May, along with recent short-range missile tests, clearly violate United Nations Security Council resolutions.......

Click here to read the article

Monday, October 19, 2009

Administrator of UNDP Helen Clark to visit Finland

Helen Clark, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, will visit Finland on 19-20 October at the invitation of Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Paavo Väyrynen.

The topics of discussion will include Finland’s initiative for closer development policy dialogue between the United States and the EU, issues related to climate change, and the importance of democracy and good governance for sustainable economic development.

In the UN system, the UN Development Programme is the key actor providing financing for and implementing development aid programmes. The focus of UNDP activities lies primarily in the development of democracy and good governance, prevention of environmental threats, as well as conflict prevention and post-conflict rehabilitation.

The UNDP Headquarters is located in New York and the agency has operations in almost all developing countries. UNDP is one of Finland’s main cooperation partners in multilateral development co-operation. This year, Finland’s general aid contribution to the UNDP budget is EUR 19 million.

Helen Clark has been the head of UNDP since April this year. She is the former Prime Minister of New Zealand and is now visiting Finland for the first time since her appointment to her current position. During her visit to Finland, Clark will also meet Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, MP Pekka Haavisto and representatives of NGOs.

National's 'gloss' will wear off - Goff

The New Zealand Herald

Labour leader Phil Goff says National is still enjoying a honeymoon with the public after a new poll showed it had double the support of his party.

TV3's poll of 1000 voters last night put the National Government's support at an exceptionally high 59.9 per cent compared to Labour's 27.2 per cent.

Mr Goff said the poll covered a recess period when it was hard for Labour to get publicity and before recent controversies over rugby broadcasting and ACC.

"This is a new government, it's in its first year of government, they still have the appearance of being fresh, of being people-friendly. We know from experience that the gloss wears off," Mr Goff told Radio New Zealand.

"It's a difficult stage of the political cycle for the Labour Party, we don't get exuberant about high polls we don't get deeply depressed about low polls.

"We want to be doing better, we are working hard to do better in those polls, but we will stand by the values we think are important to New Zealanders."

In other findings the poll put Green Party support at 6.9 per cent, the Maori Party 2.4 per cent and ACT 1.7 per cent.

In the preferred Prime Minister stakes on 4.7 per cent support Mr Goff languished behind John Key on 55.8 per cent support.

Former PM Helen Clark, who now heads the United Nations Development Programme in New York, scored 8.2 per cent.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, whose party is not even in Parliament, got 3 per cent support. His party got 1 per cent.

The poll questioned how down to earth people thought the leaders were. Mr Key scored 80 per cent and Mr Goff 37 per cent. It also asked if people thought the leaders had personality, Mr Key scored 72 per cent and Mr Goff 26 per cent.


Conference Told of N.Korea Abuse of Food Aid

The ninth International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees in Melbourne on Friday accused North Korea of grave abuses and discussed ways to improve the situation. The conference was organized jointly by the South Korean Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights and the Australian Committee for Human Rights in North Korea under the joint sponsorship of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy, and the Chosun Ilbo.

One participant pointed out that international humanitarian aid to the North has not been properly distributed to the North Korean residents, children in particular. Joanna Hosaniak, the senior program officer for international cooperation for CANKHR, interviewed 40 North Korean children and juveniles and 10 adults in the South between 2001 and 2008 and heard that none of them had received rice sent by South Korea or the international community during this period. They said they had instead seen grain sacks marked "Republic of Korea," "UN," or "Red Cross" sold on the market.

They said food supplied by South Korea is given to the military on a priority basis and the rest sold to moneyed military officers or Party members in the market. Only a small amount of food is distributed to the general public at slightly lower than the market price.

Some 2.55 million tons of rice and 200,000 tons of corn were delivered to the North during the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations.

None of the 50 said they had either received or seen meat or canned fish, which the UN had supplied to the North for children and pregnant women, between 2001 and 2007.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

For Nepotism, Dial U-N-J-O-B-$-$

by CLaudia Rosett at PajamasMedia

Over at United Nations, lynchpin of America’s new Nobel-prize-winning multilateralism, it’s shaping up as the Year of Nepotism — again. Inner-City Press reports that the new president of the General Assembly, Libya’s Ali Treki, has his daughter, Amal Ali Treki, working in his UN office.

As Inner-City further notes, this follows the previous president of the UN General Assembly, Nicaragua’s Miguel d’Escoto Brockman, hiring a niece and nephew (Michael Clark, who likes the idea of a world without money) during his 2008-2009 stint presiding over the Parliament of Man.

This comes on top of the UN Development Program biting-and-nepotism ruckus earlier this year; while Inner-City’s questions about the ascent at the UN of Ban Ki-Moon’s son-in-law apparently remain lost in the labyrinth.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Mission to the UN has been promising to bring to America’s dealings with the UN — have you heard this before? — “high expectations for its performance and accountability,” including “financial accountability, transparency, ethics and internal oversight“…etc…. etc…. etc. Maybe the Obama adminstration should think smaller, and start simply by assembling, and releasing for the perusal of U.S. taxpayers, a directory of all family relationships in the UN system.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

UNDP Reports on Clark's Kiwi Concerns, Doss Probe In Limbo, Ryan on Sri Lanka

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 15 -- The no longer so new Administrator of the UN Development Program, Helen Clark of New Zealand, has still not done a UN press conference. On Thursday one of her duputies, Jordan Ryan of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, was announced as the guest at the noon briefing, with no topic listed. [Inner City Press previously covered Ryan's work in Vietnam, click here.]

Once Ryan arrived on Thursday, the scope of the briefing was limited to UNDP's work in Tonga and Samoa. Inner City Press asked if this had anything to do with the interest ofHelen Clark's native New Zealand in these two. Why not a briefing on the Philippines and Indonesia? Mr. Ryan did not directly answer. He described three big waves.

Since UNDP never comes to the UN briefing room anymore, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ryan a few outstanding UNDP questions. Is it true that UNDP was the agency charged with relocating the World Food Program in Islamabad to a common premises in the diplomatic zone, before the recent bombing? When will UNDP's internal investigation of Alan Doss' written request that he be shown "leeway" -- that rules be broken -- and a UNDP job given to his daughter? Ryan said there is an investigation. But it's been months.

As the moderator tried to cut off questions, Inner City Press returned Tonga and Samoa -- how much notice was given? half an hour -- then Guinea and Sri Lanka. Ryan, who has visited Sri Lanka, talked about building housing. Inner City Press asked about the view of some Tamils that the rehousing may involve changing the ethnic make up in Northern Sri Lanka. Video here.

Helen Clark and New Zealand PM and press, Tonga and 226 briefing not shown

Ryan said that not what he saw during his visit, but acknowledged that in some cases in Sri Lanka, people are moved to places other than where they came from. This could be done in the name of safety. But it could having intentions and / or effects.

Afterwards, several other UN correspondents marveled that Helen Clark, the UN system's third highest officials, has yet to come do a press conference at the UN. Watch this site.

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