United Nations

UN is an international organisation founded after World War II aims to provide a dialogue platform between countries, fortifying international corporation and preventing future wars. There are currently 193 members lead by five permanent members of the Security Council - US, Russia, UK, France, and China. The organization currently has six principal organs: General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Secretariat, International Court of Justice, and the Trusteeship Council.  

Master of tact who's been racked over Iraq

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 September, 2005, 12:00am

When United Nations' Secretary-General Kofi Annan's term ends - presumably on the stroke of midnight on December 31 next year, but maybe sooner if the Iraq oil-for-food scandal gets the better of him - he has a few employment options.

Having cut a statesmanlike figure at the head of the UN for a decade, the dapper Mr Annan could approach the fashion house Hugo Boss for a suit modelling contract.

As a thinner, shorter version of popular black actor Morgan Freeman, there is always the chance of taking on the role of God in a remake of the 2003 Jim Carrey comedy Bruce Almighty. Or perhaps he may put his softly spoken voice to good use in television commentary for snooker tournaments.

As the lacklustre 60th anniversary celebrations of the UN wind down and Mr Annan, 67, realises that he is no nearer to having built a legacy from two five-year terms, a more satisfying career move must be foremost on his mind. Having tried diplomacy with mixed results despite his considerable negotiating skills, even a modelling runway must seem appealing.

In May, as the investigation into UN mismanagement of the US$64 billion programme to give humanitarian aid to Iraqis began biting, he seemed to be contemplating resigning, telling New York magazine: 'That's a question for the future - in life you cannot rule out, you cannot say never or forever.'

With his son, Kojo, among hundreds accused of receiving kickbacks, he observed: 'I'm suffering on various levels - as a secretary-general and as a father dealing with his son. It's all very heavy and difficult. There have been those difficult periods when you wonder, 'what's it all about and where are we going?'

'I've been under pressure for how many years now? Almost 15 years. I can handle the pressure, but certain things touch you.'

The resignation of the head of the oil-for-food programme, Benon Sevan, hours before the release of the panel's third interim report which accused him of illegally receiving US$160,000, must have touched the secretary-general. The fourth interim report, released this month, certainly did.

In it, the chief investigator, former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, said Mr Annan, the security council and the UN agencies that ran the oil-for-food scheme were 'not up to the truly extraordinary challenges' of managing the programme.

Mr Annan was cleared of ethical misconduct, although he said he regretted not taking firmer steps to investigate the relationship between Swiss firm Cotecna Inspections SA, which won a contract to monitor goods going into Iraq, and his eldest child Kojo, who was employed by the firm.

The UN chief's disillusionment was apparent again on Wednesday when speaking to kings, presidents, prime ministers and other representatives from the UN's 191 members at the organisation's birthday gathering in New York. He had been hoping for agreement on wide-ranging reforms overhauling UN institutions and pledges to quicken the pace of the millennium development goals on poverty reduction, the environment, human rights and global trade. Instead, he had to concede that the three-day gathering was more about highlighting the UN's difficulties than solving global crises.

'We have not yet achieved the sweeping and fundamental reform that I and many others believe is required,' he said.

When Mr Annan took the US$300,000-a-year-plus-benefits job of secretary-general on January 1, 1997, the first black African and UN staffer to rise to the helm, he was filled with ambition. With the full backing of the US, which forced out his predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, it seemed likely his reform agenda would easily be adopted.

At first nonchalant about taking the position because of the loss of privacy and personal freedom it would entail for him and his Swedish-born wife, he did not even campaign.

Critics claimed that he was not tough enough and too conflict-averse to take on such a demanding role, but he was emboldened by others, like The New York Times, which praised him for his 'efficiency, his exquisite tact and his slightly mysterious powers of persuasion'.

France at first vetoed Mr Annan's nomination, preferring Mr Boutros-Ghali, but eventually fell under his spell. Several days later, he was elected the seventh UN secretary-general by the general assembly. It approved his second term in June 2001.

Mr Annan became secretary-general 35 years after joining the organisation as an administrator and budget officer for the World Health Organisation in Geneva.

With bachelor's and master's degrees in economics from study in Ghana, the US and Switzerland, he later served with the UN Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, the UN Emergency Force in Ismailia, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva and at UN headquarters in New York as an assistant secretary-general.

Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, he helped repatriate more than 900 foreigners from Iraqi cities. Later, he led the first UN team negotiating with Iraq, then under international sanctions, for the sale of oil in return for humanitarian aid.

His first big job as the UN's leader was negotiating face to face with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 1998 to ensure compliance with security council resolutions. Later, he told journalist William Shawcross: 'I had to really draw on all my resources - creativity and stamina and almost a spiritual courage - to really engage him in this.'

The talks failed and UN weapons inspectors pulled out, only returning in 2002. But Hussein was impressed, calling Mr Annan 'a courageous man' and later even inviting him back to Iraq for a holiday.

There have been successes - UN intervention to bring peace and independence to East Timor and the brokering of a ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians. The highest accolade was accorded in 2001, when Mr Annan and the UN were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

None of that has done much to further his goals. The secretary-general's stand on Iraq led to friction with the US, the UN's biggest contributor, leaving reform in jeopardy.

The wounds over the US and Britain going to war against Hussein without UN Security Council approval in March 2003 have still not healed. Hardline critic John Bolton's appointment as US ambassador to the UN has seemingly deepened the wedge between what can be achieved and what is possible.

Asked by Shawcross about his ambitions as a young man, Mr Annan said: 'I figured that after my schooling, I would make some money in the business world, then I would - at, say, 45 - enter politics in Ghana and help develop the country. At 60, I would retire and become a farmer.'

He did end up working to help his country - plus the world's 190 other nations. But he may also be headed home sooner rather than later, his goals unfulfilled, to that original, modest dream.

He told New York in May that when he left the UN, he and his wife would settle in Ghana.


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