US Has Good Cause to Seek Reductions in Contributions to UN

First Phase Digital

March 20, 2017 – At a time when the United Nations is seeking funds to address massive humanitarian crises in Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia, reports that the Trump administration is seeking to cut its funding to the world body by up to half are particularly unwelcome.

The United States is by far the biggest contributor to the UN system, contributing 22 percent to the regular budget and also 28 percent to the peacekeeping budget. That it is a permanent member of the Security Council and that the UN headquarters is hosted in New York City go some way towards the US getting its money’s worth (the economic benefit to New York City from the UN is some $3.3 billion per year).

In truth, the UN is divided into two classes: the veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, and all others, and it is the P5 who rule the roost at UN headquarters. The top jobs are divvied up among the five and they have the power to influence hiring and firing (witness last week’s ‘resignation’ of the secretary-general of ESCWA after angering Washington with a report that said Israeli treatment of Palestinians amounted to apartheid).

As researcher Cedric de Coning recently pointed out in a Twitter post, a fairer system of assessing dues would be for the permanent members of the Council to pay 10 percent each towards the regular budget, which would amount to about $1 billion each – a savings to the US of about $2 billion. Combined, the other four permanent members, Britain, France, China and Russia, pay less than 17%, with the UK and France paying some 6 percent, China, 3 percent and Russia less than two percent.

The UN could also make make life easier for itself and those it serves by imposing mandatory assessments to fund its aid programs, just as it does for the regular budget and the peacekeeping budget. Its dependence on voluntary contributions is not working and when crises emerge, as they constantly do, the UN is hamstrung by lack of money. But the UN also has to improve how it delivers aid and addresses crises. It can do this by continuing to focus on resilience and helping fragile countries increase local capacity.

The UN is vital but it is also a poorly managed bureaucratic labyrinth with some 30 funds, programs and agencies all vying for money and influence and oftentimes operating with overlapping mandates and duplicate efforts, wasting precious resources.

If the UN wants the new US administration to take it seriously then it must get serious about becoming more transparent on how its money is spent and shutting programs that are simply redundant or not working.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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January 23, 2017 –  A bill before the US Congress aims to end United States membership in the United Nations and to remove UNHQ from US territory.

Such a move if successful, and the likelihood of that is far from clear, would leave the UN Security Council without one of its permanent members and would deprive the organization of about 25 percent of its funds.

While the motive behind the bill is ideological, its official title is American Sovereignty Restoration Act, its supporters argue that the more than $3 billion in dues paid by US taxpayers is money wasted.

But this is a shortsighted analysis. In fact, the United Nations is a big contributor to the US economy, in particular, to the economy of New York City.

In addition to the 6,700 UN staff working at the Secretariat in New York, there are some 2,000 diplomatic staff working for the 193 member states posted to the city as well as dozens of non-governmental organizations with offices in New York.

A report from the UN Foundation and the City of New York from 2010 estimated that the economic benefit to the city alone was in the region of $3.3 billion while, additionally, the UN procured over $800 million from US companies.

Furthermore, of the 41,000 people working for the UN Secretariat both in New York and in one of the other 24 duty stations, more than 6,500, or 16 percent, are US citizens.

The UN Secretariat is separate to other UN funds, programs and agencies and there are also several hundred US citizens working for UNICEF, UNDP, UN Women and other arms of the United Nations with headquarters in New York. In addition, the head of UNICEF is nominated by the United States – its current executive-director is Tony Lake.

It’s unlikely that Congress will pass the proposed bill – a similar piece of legislation was put forward in 2009 by Ron Paul and was never acted on.

Nevertheless, the election of Donald Trump has caused unease around the UN with his mantra of America First signaling a retreat from global institutions and multilateral diplomacy.

Undoubtedly, there is significant waste in the UN and it is often a place where member states find jobs for former foreign ministers and other politicians so they can be removed from the payroll at home – the top jobs at UN are given as political favors, not on merit.

But for all the waste, it is still good value for money for the US, in strictly economic terms.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Related: Russia to Run DPA, US Seeks to Rule Management Dept. Under Guterres

Russia to Run DPA, US Seeks to Rule Management Department Under Guterres

First Phase Digital
November 17, 2016 – Russia will run the Dept. of Political Affairs under incoming secretary-general Antonio Guterres while the United States is said to seek control of the Dept. of Management where it will attempt to rein in a bloated bureaucracy and cut waste, knowledgeable insiders have told UN Tribune.

While peacekeeping is seen as the face of the United Nations to the outside world, inside the UN, the Dept. of Political Affairs has quietly gained influence and in the future is viewed as the most important division in the United Nations system. Going forward, the thinking is that the greater impact DPA has in its preventive diplomacy and mediation, conflict prevention, electoral assistance, and peacebuilding mandates then the less need there will be for peacekeeping.

This fits with the overarching emphasis the United Nations has placed on resilience, with the aim to build stronger systems and societies and to prevent fragile states from falling back into conflict.

Control over the Dept. of Political Affairs will also give Russia much greater leverage inside the Security Council as the Council’s agenda is increasingly set by DPA. “It’s DPA that pitches up to the Security Council,” is how one insider put it to UN Tribune.

The US currently controls DPA where former State. Dept. official Jeffrey Feltman is the current undersecretary-general. What has not been said is whether Russia will be getting DPA because of its decision to support Guterres. The permanent five members of the Council divvy up the top UN positions among themselves and it is not unlikely that if Russia does get to run DPA, it will part of a secret P5 deal to get Moscow’s support for Guterres.

That the United States is seeking the Dept. of Management, currently run by Japanese diplomat Yuki Takasu, makes perfect sense, even more so in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the recent US presidential election. The US Congress has long griped that US taxpayers money going to support UN programs and agencies is wasted. Staff costs account for some two-thirds of the budget of UN agencies and these same agencies often have overlapping mandates.

The US provides 22 percent to the UN’s regular budget, a contribution of about $600 million, while it provides 28 percent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget, some $2.4 billion of the almost $9 billion budget for blue helmet operations. In addition, Washington contributes to the budgets of about 20 other UN agencies and programs including WHO, IAEA, UNDP, UNICEF, UNAIDS and UNHCR. It is also the top contributor to UN aid appeals.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

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Veto-Wielding China Says Supports Malcorra for Next SG

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Sept. 6, 2016 – Susana Malcorra’s campaign to become the next UN secretary-general received a boost over the weekend with Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly endorsing the Argentine foreign minister’s bid in a meeting with his Buenos Aires counterpart Mauricio Macri.

Jinping told Macri that Beijing would “support” her candidacy when the pair met on the sidelines of the G20 summit, according to a report in the Argentine daily La Nacion.

Malcorra came in fifth in the recent Security Council straw poll with seven encourage, seven discourage and 1 no opinion.

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Malcorra’s bid is still seen as having an outside chance given the high number of discourage votes but with Russia said to be refusing to budge in its opposition to front-runner Antonio Guterres, China may be trying to galvanize support for Ban Ki-moon’s former chief-of-staff.

That she hails from the Global South, one of only two candidates – the other fellow Latin American Christina Figueres – will put her in good stead with China, and indeed with the majority of UN member states.

Malcorra is also seen as the favorite of the United States, who are said to view her as a steady pair of hands. Opposition comes from the UK, who went to war with Argentina in 1982 over the disputed Falkland islands.

Guterres, the former high commissioner for refugees, has seen his number of discourage votes rise to three since the first straw poll on July 21. While widely admired inside the UN for his capable leadership of UNHCR during the biggest refugee crisis in the agency’s history, it looks increasingly likely that Russia will veto the former Portuguese prime minister’s bid.

During his reign as PM, he was a strong advocate of NATO expansion and EU expansion. There has never been a secretary-general from a NATO country with former secretaries-general from Europe, Dag Hammarskjold and Kurt Waldheim, hailing from neutral Sweden and Austria respectively.

The UN’s first secretary-general Norway’s Trygve Lie was appointed prior to the founding of NATO. Lie, in fact, saw both NATO and the Soviet Union’s network of alliances as a threat to the United Nations.

Another straw poll is set for Sept. 9 and none of the ten remaining candidates look like vacating the race, with each calculating that Russia’s apparent unwillingness to support Guterres will see a change of dynamic in the race.

Whether that means mobilizing behind a candidate that has the support of both the US and China, or the late entry of a compromise candidate, is anyone’s guess, but Malcorra’s odds have shortened.

If elected, Malcorra would be the first woman to hold the post of UN secretary-general and the second Latin-American.

Prior to her appointment as chef-de-cabinet to Ban, Malcorra was under-secretary for field operations for UN peacekeeping. She was appointed Argentina’s foreign minister in Nov. 2015.

– Denis Fitzgeald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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Where Do The 41,000 People Working for the UN Secretariat Come From?

First Phase Digital March 3, 2016 –  In Thant Myint-U and Amy Scott’s definitive The UN Secretariat: A Brief History (1945-2006), the secretariat is described as a political battleground where “the UN’s member states compete for power and influence and attempt to diminish the power and influence of others.”

The most recent Composition of the Secretariat report illustrates how political power and financial contributions impact hiring with just three of the 193 UN member states – the United States (2,636), France (1,470) and the UK (907) – accounting for almost 15 percent of the 41,081 Secretariat staff .

The Secretariat, which the UN Charter says “shall be comprised of a Secretary-General and such staff as the organization may require” essentially implements the resolutions of the General Assembly and Security Council, including managing peacekeeping operations, and also includes OCHA and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It does not include specialized agencies such as UNICEF, UNDP and WHO.

Besides the P3, the other permanent members of the Security Council – China and Russia – contribute 461 and 551 secretariat staff. Germany and India, aspiring permanent members, contribute 537 and 593 staff while there are 259 Japanese nationals and 326 Pakistanis working for the secretariat. Japan is the second biggest financial contributor to the UN budget, followed by China and Germany. The US is the biggest.

Ethiopia and Sudan also contribute high numbers to the secretariat staff. In the case of Addis, this is because it is one of the biggest UN country offices in the world, home to 26 UN programs, funds and agencies. In the case of Sudan, this is down to the fact that Sudan is home to two peacekeeping missions (UNAMID and UNISFA) and one of the UN’s biggest humanitarian operations.

There are 1,750 Kenyans working for the UN, this also a result of Nairobi’s designation as a UN regional hub.

On the other end of the scale, there are only 2 Emiratis, 5 Qataris, 20 Saudis and 25 Moldovans working for the secretariat while there are no Kiribatis.

Two of the countries on the UN Security Council sanctions list, Iran and North Korea are also under-represented, with just one North Korean and 60 Iranians employed by the secretariat.

Other countries of note are Syria (238), Turkey (81), Canada (660), Brazil (174) and Norway (90).

The average age of a UN secretariat employee is 42 and more than 200 people apply for every open position, according to General Assembly’s advisory committee on budgetary questions.

Overall the number of female employees of the secretariat stands at 34.4 percent and there is an even wider gap at the highest level of under-secretary-general where of a total of 78 people who hold this post, just 18 are women.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

As Obama Heads to General Assembly, US Debt to UN Balloons to $3 Billion

US President Barack Obama Addresses the General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2014

US President Barack Obama Addresses the General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2014

 

Sept. 14, 2015 – US President Barack Obama will make his penultimate appearance at the United Nations later this month where he will address the annual General Debate and speak at a high-level summit where the sustainable development goals will be adopted.

Obama will also host a summit on increasing international involvement in UN peacekeeping. The United States is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, assessed at 28 percent of the annual $8.25 billion budget – but DC hasn’t yet paid its contribution for 2015 and still has arrears from 2014.

In total, the US owes peacekeeping dues for 2014 and 2015 totaling more than $2 billion, according to information provided to UN Tribune from the United Nations budget office.

Washington also has yet to pay its 2015 dues to the UN’s regular budget. The United States is assessed at 22 percent of the regular budget for a total of $655 million for 2015. According to UN figures, the US owes a combined total of $926 million to the regular budget, which includes an outstanding $270 million from last year.

The United States is the only permanent member of the Security Council to not yet pay its 2015 dues, according to information from the UN Committee on Contributions website.

The US government’s fiscal year begins in October and large payments are typically made at the beginning of the fiscal cycle, though not nearly enough to cover the total back debt.

Information from the UN Budget Office on US debt to the United Nations

Information from the UN Budget Office on US debt to the United Nations (click to enlarge)

While many US lawmakers say that the United Nations is a bloated bureaucracy that offers little to no value for US citizens, this is far from the case from a strictly economic point of view. In fact, it is a boon to the New York City economy and to US companies.

Of the 43,000 staff working for the UN Secretariat, some 2,700 are US citizens, or 6.2% of the total staff. Japan, the second highest financial contributor, assessed at some $300 million to the annual budget, has a mere 167 staff members or 0.59%, according to the latest available Composition of the Secretariat report.

In addition, a 2010 report from UN Foundation showed that the UN Secretariat procured more than $832 million from US companies in 2010. The report also said that the economic benefit to New York City by having UN Headquarters located in the city is about $3.3bln annually.

While the US is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping, there are only 78 UN peacekeepers from the United States deployed in current peacekeeping operations.

– Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

Related Story: US, UK, France Tops for UN Secretariat Staff

UN LGBT Staff Still Fighting for Equal Benefits

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Sept. 1, 2015 – In July 2014, Ban Ki-moon issued an administrative directive to extend entitlement benefits to UN employees who are in legally-recognized same-sex unions, not just those from countries where same-sex marriages are legal – which had been the standing UN policy.

While Russia attempted to torpedo Ban’s ruling, the General Assembly’s budget committee voted down Moscow’s draft resolution to overturn the UN chief’s directive in March this year.

But not all UN agencies and programs are following Ban’s ruling – which technically applied only to Secretariat staff – including, crucially, the UN’s pension fund. The fund still only recognize spouses of same-sex partners if they come from one of the 20 countries worldwide that recognize same-sex unions.

“This is something we’re trying very hard to change,” said Hyung Hak Nam in an interview with UN Tribune. Hyung Hak is president of UN-Globe, an advocacy group fighting for equality and non-discrimination for LGBT staff in the UN system and peacekeeping operations.

“This is a huge issue because pension is a key component of any benefits package for any job,” Hyung Hak said, adding that the pension fund, the UN-JSPF, is not following what is in place for most of the UN system – that your same-sex spouse is your legal beneficiary.

“You’re married to someone then you die then your spouse will not be eligible for any spousal benefits, which straight married couples would automatically get without any questions asked,” Hyung Hak said of the current rules governing the UN’s pension fund. “Basically if you are from the right country, for example Spain, they will recognize your marriage but if you’re from Belarus, for example, they will not recognize your same-sex marriage.

Parental leave is another issue where UN-Globe are advocating for change. “It’s basically gendered,” Hyung Hak said. “The mother gets 16 weeks, the father eight weeks, or four [depending on the UN agency].”

“When you have, for example, a gay couple and both are male and they have a baby through surrogacy because of this policy that differentiates between mothers and fathers they would only qualify for the 4 or 8 weeks,” he said. “It’s not in line with the expanding notion of what the family is or the composition of the family.”

Hyung Hak pointed out that this policy also affects single fathers who adopt and that some UN agencies also give longer parental leave to mothers who give birth naturally over those who become parents through surrogacy or adoption.

There are other areas too where LGBT staff face hurdles, Hyung Hak explains.

“Most of the agencies of the UN have a mobility policy, we are expected to be able to serve wherever an organization needs you,” he says, giving the example of Nairobi, Kenya where the UN has its headquarters for Africa.

“It is considered a family duty station. Staff who move there receive an entitlement to move the entire family from New York to Nairobi. Since the Kenyan government won’t give residency visas to same sex-spouses, what a lot of LGBTI staff members are faced with is moving by themselves, or finding other means, such as pretending the same sex spouse is a sibling or a domestic servant” and obtaining the appropriate visa.

He also says that gay staff members who are unable to bring their spouse to duty stations hostile to LGBT people should receive a hardship allowance as staff members receive when they serve in places such as Darfur, Sudan and Afghanistan.

“If a gay staff member has to move to Uganda [where the UN has a regional hub] by himself he’s doing it under conditions of hardship. We want the UN to recognize this. We don’t want the UN the to say Uganda is a family duty station. We want the UN to give credit to the staff member, to get credit for moving to Uganda leaving his family behind. We want the staff member to get credit for having served in a hardship duty station,” Hyung Hak said.

He added that while the UN leadership has been supportive of LGBT issues and LGBT staff praise Ban for his leadership, that when it comes to dealing with member states on issues, for example, visas, the UN could do more.

“You’re dealing with a member state and the UN has always been very cautious in its dealings with member states,” Hyung Hak said.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

The Report on Sexual Abuse by UN Troops and Staff That Ban Ki-moon Quashed Now Made Public

Special Event:  United Nations Official Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Ban Ki-moon speaks at event commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Nov. 2014 (UN Photo)


March 17, 2015 – When Ban Ki-moon sent his report on “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse” in UN missions to the Security Council on March 13, he wrote that “the total number of allegations received (51) is the lowest recorded since special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse were first put in place.”

As part of the UN’s efforts to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse in UN missions, Ban wrote that “an independent team of experts was appointed to assess how four peacekeeping missions were addressing the challenge.” The independent experts submitted their report to Ban in Nov. 2013 but the UN chief has never made it public.

Contrary to Ban’s statement that allegations are at an all-time low, the independent experts report that, “The UN does not know how serious the problem of SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] is because the official numbers mask what appears to be significant amounts of underreporting of SEA.”

The independent report was highly critical of how the UN secretariat and troop contributing countries (TCCs) handle SEA allegations against United Nations peacekeepers and civilian staff. It says that the United Nations does not know how serious the problem is; there is extreme caution with regard to the rights of the accused but far less for the accuser; that victims are often paid off for their silence; that a number of allegations that are later classified as “unsubstantiated” by the UN are in fact never fully investigated because the UN lacks the expertise and the will to fully investigate; and that the UN pass the buck to troop contributing countries to investigate even though most allegations are against UN civilian staff.

But Ban’s attempt to quash the report have been undercut by the Aids-Free World NGO who were sent a copy of the independent report by a UN staffer who rightly feared that it would be shelved because of the poor reflection it casts on UN headquarters, TCC’s, and civilian personnel working for UN missions.

A copy of the independent experts report has been sent to UN Tribune along with a public letter from Aids-Free World who declare that the report from the independent experts “should be seen by all the Member States of the United Nations.”

The experts were tasked to investigate sexual exploitation and abuse allegations at UN missions in the DRC, Haiti, South Sudan and Liberia.

The full report is below.

– Denis Fitzgerald 
On Twitter @denisfitz

2013 Expert Team Report

US, France, UK Tops for UN Secretariat Staff

First Phase Digital
Feb. 10, 2015 – Ban Ki-moon’s imminent announcement of a replacement for Valerie Amos as head of OCHA has put UN hiring in the spotlight with the United Nations chief under pressure to make the appointment based on merit.

In reality, the UN Secretariat is a political battleground where, as described in Thant Myint-U and Amy Scott’s definitive The UN Secretariat: A Brief History (1945-2006), “the UN’s member states compete for power and influence and attempt to diminish the power and influence of others.”

The most recent Composition of the Secretariat report illustrates how political power and financial contributions impact hiring with just three of the 193 UN member states – the United States (2,611), France (1,484) and the UK (931) – accounting for almost 15 percent of the 41,426 Secretariat staff .

The Secretariat, which the UN Charter says “shall be comprised of a Secretary-General and such staff as the organization may require” essentially implements the resolutions of the General Assembly and Security Council, including managing peacekeeping operations, and also includes OCHA and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It does not include specialized agencies such as UNICEF, UNDP and WHO.

Although US nationals contribute the most Secretariat staff, the Composition of the Secretariat report, which covers July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014, says that it is under-represented in staff numbers but France and the UK are over-represented.

The US is the largest contributor to the UN’s regular budget, accounting for 22 percent, or $655 million annually, whereas France provides 5.5 percent, $151 million, making it the fourth biggest contributor, while the UK, at 5.1 percent, or $140 million, is fifth.

Japan is the second biggest financial contributor to the regular budget, assessed at 10 percent, or $293 million, yet only 255 Secretariat staff are Japanese. Germany is the third biggest contributor, assessed at 7 percent, $193 million. There are 516 German nationals working for the Secretariat.

China and Russia account for 5 percent and 2.4 percent of the regular budget, contributing $139 million and $66 million respectively, and there are 450 Chinese nationals and 562 Russians working for the Secretariat.

Amos is the first female head of OCHA and Ban is under pressure from civil-society groups to improve the UN’s poor record on appointing women to senior posts. According to the Composition of the Secretariat report, only 19 of the 75 undersecretaries-general and just 16 of the 64 assistant secretaries-general are women.

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– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Four Insiders Who Could Succeed Valerie Amos as OCHA Head

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Jan. 20, 2015 – It’s rare that a top United Nations post goes to someone already working for the organization as headline jobs are doled out as political favors to the permanent five members of the Security Council as well as top donors such as Germany, Sweden, Japan and Norway.

But there is precedent, not least in the case of Kofi Annan who started his career as a staffer with the World Health Organization, later becoming head of peacekeeping, until his appointment as secretary-general in 1997.

With Ban Ki-moon under pressure from aid groups not to succumb to political pressure and appoint David Cameron’s preferred candidate, Andrew Lansley, to succeed Valerie Amos as head of OCHA, he could do worse than look for potential replacements inside his own ranks.

Here are four candidates that fit the bill to succeed Amos as the world’s top humanitarian aid official.

1. David Nabarro

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Nabarro is currently managing the UN’s response to the Ebola outbreak. A native of the UK and a medical doctor, he had stints with the British National Health Service, Save the Children and the the British government’s Overseas Development Assistance program before joining WHO in 1999. His UN experience includes serving in Iraq, where he survived the Canal Hotel bombing in 2003; coordinating the health response to the 2004 Tsunami; coordinating the UN response to the Avian flu outbreak; and coordinating the UN system’s task-force on global food security. That he is British may well make him a good choice for a compromise candidate if it comes down to a political appointment versus appointment on competence.

2. Philippe Lazzarini

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Lazzarini, a Swiss native, is currently the UN’s deputy special representative and humanitarian coordinator in Somalia. He previously held senior positions with OCHA, serving in Angola and Iraq as well as Somalia and the Palestinian territories. Prior to coming to the UN, Lazzarini worked for the ICRC, with postings to Amman, Angola, Beirut, Bosnia, Gaza, Rwanda and Sudan.

3. Amina Mohammed

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Mohammed is currently Ban Ki-moon’s special adviser on post-2015 development planning. She worked for the Nigerian government throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, serving under three presidents, including as an adviser on achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In the early 2000s, she headed up the Task Force on Gender and Education for the UN Millennium Project.

4. John Ging

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Ging is currently OCHA’s head of operations. A former officer in the Irish army, he served three tours of duty as a UN peacekeeper. He later worked with the aid agency GOAL in Rwanda, DRC and Tanzania following the Rwandan genocide. He has also worked with the OSCE in Bosnia and served as head of the UN mission in Kosovo in 2005. He worked for UNRWA as head of operations in Gaza from 2006 – 2011, a period which coincided with Israel’s 2008/09 offensive.

Related Story: Replacing Valerie Amos: Political Appointment or Merit-Based

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz