Women Still a Minority in Ban Ki-Moon’s Cabinet

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December 3, 2015 –  The announcement this week that Ban Ki-moon was replacing his chief of staff, Susana Malcora, with longtime UN diplomat Edmund Mulet put the spotlight on gender balance in Ban’s senior management group, which essentially acts as his cabinet.

Susana Malcora and her successor Edmund Mulet

Susana Malcora and her successor Edmund Mulet

With Malcora’s resignation – she was named foreign minister in the new Argentine government – the number of women in Ban’s 39-person senior management group is now down to twelve, less than 30 percent and far below the desired 50 percent which the UN chief himself has said is the goal.

Ban appointed Stephen O'Brien (r) to replace Valerie Amos as UN aid coordinator.

Ban appointed Stephen O’Brien (r) to replace Valerie Amos as UN aid coordinator.

Malcora is the most recent high-ranking female UN official to be replaced by a male counterpart. Earlier this year, Valerie Amos, the top UN humanitarian official and the first woman to hold the post, was replaced by Stephen O’Brien, also a UK native. Late last year, Navi Pillay, the South African judge who served as high commissioner for human rights, was replaced by Jordan’s Prince Zeid Hussein.

Navi Pillay (l) who was replaced as high commissioner for human rights by Zeid Husien

Navi Pillay (l) who was replaced as high commissioner for human rights by Zeid Husien

There are others. Angela Kane, a German who held the post of high representative for disarmament, was replaced by Ban’s fellow South Korean, Kim Won Soo. And after Ban’s reelection as secretary-general in 2012, he replaced his deputy secretary-general, Tanzania’s Asha Rose Migiro, with Sweden’s Jan Eliasson.

Angela Kane and her successor as high representative for disarmament, Ban's fellow South Korean, Kim Won Soo

Angela Kane and her successor as high representative for disarmament, Ban’s fellow South Korean, Kim Won Soo

When making these appointments, Ban has to juggle finding the best person for the post as well as keeping member states and regional groups content, as well as – and more importantly – getting the tacit approval of the P5 countries, who essentially get to veto Ban’s appointments. While it’s no easy task, it’s disappointing that a trend has emerged where the UN chief is appointing men to fill senior posts previously held by women.

Asha Rose Migiro and the man Ban Ki-moon appinted as her successor, Jan Eliasson

Asha Rose Migiro and the man Ban Ki-moon appointed as her successor, Jan Eliasson

Ban recently appointed Italian Filippo Grandi to the post of high commissioner for refugees, selecting him from a shortlist dominated by women. It’s widely accepted that Grandi had the most refugee experience but Ban could have another chance to appoint a woman to a key post if and when the current head of peacekeeping, France’s Herve Ladsous, resigns. Appointing a woman to this post would go a long way toward backing up Ban’s public statements on gender equality with real action.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

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UN Demands Investigation into Deadly Afghan Hospital Attack

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Oct. 3, 2015 – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday strongly condemned the attack on a Medecins Sans Frontiers hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan that killed at least 12 aid workers and three children while the United Nations human rights chief said the attack may amount to a war crime.

Hospitals are protected under international humanitarian law while the Security Council lists attacks on hospitals and health facilities as one of the six grave violations against children caught up in armed conflict.

At least 37 more people were injured in the overnight attack, including 19 MSF staff.

In a statement issued by his spokesman in New York, Ban called for “a thorough and impartial investigation into the attack in order to ensure accountability.”

Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Hussein said the attack on the hospital “is utterly tragic, inexcusable, and possibly even criminal.”

“The seriousness of the incident is underlined by the fact that, if established as deliberate in a court of law, an airstrike on a hospital may amount to a war crime,” he added, according to a statement issued by his office in Geneva.

The attack on Saturday, reportedly a result of U.S. airstrikes, ranks as one of the single deadliest ever attacks on aid workers: 22 United Nations staff were killed when their compound in Iraq was bombed by Al Qaeda in August 2003 while 16 French aid workers were killed in a 2006 attack in Sri Lanka blamed on government security forces.

The UN aid chief, Stephen O’Brien, added his condemnation of the attack in a statement issued late Saturday in New York. “Hospitals and clinics should be sanctuaries where people, including women and children, go for help,” he stated. “Attacking a hospital not only has a devastating immediate impact but denies people the opportunity to access lifesaving healthcare in the future,” and he supported calls “for an urgent and impartial investigation to ensure accountability.”

Afghanistan is by far the most dangerous country for aid workers, with 54 losing their lives last year – most as a result of attacks by Taliban or other anti-government forces.

There were at least 38 attacks on health facilities in Afghanistan last year, according to Ban Ki-moon’s annual report on children and armed conflict.

Tough Task Awaits New UN OCHA Chief Stephen O’Brien

Ban Ki-moon greets new UN emergency relief coordinator Stephen O'Brien

Ban Ki-moon greets new UN emergency relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien

May 31, 2015 – The new head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien, who takes over from Valerie Amos on Monday as the world’s top aid official, will have to immediately tackle a funding crisis, work more with local actors, and strengthen OCHA’s role in conflict and complex situations, such as in Syria and Somalia, says Shannon Scribner of Oxfam’s humanitarian policy team.

OCHA has received less than 25 percent of the almost $20 billion it appealed for at the start of the year to assist 114 million people affected by disaster and conflict, and new crises continue to emerge such as the earthquake in Nepal and the deteriorating situation in Yemen as well as a growing crisis in Burundi.

“Stephen O’Brien is stepping into a situation where the UN system is overwhelmed. So that would be the first business, how is he going to address this overwhelmed system where the UN is responding to four L3 emergencies in Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan and Syria and they don’t have enough funding to do that,” said Scribner in an interview with UN Tribune. “Oxfam would make two recommendations. The first would be recommending mandatory assessments for UN member states for humanitarian assistance. This would be similar to what they do in UN peacekeeping where they have assessed contributions.”

Scribner added that this is something that O’Brien could work on with the new high-level panel on humanitarian financing that was appointed by Ban Ki-moon last week. The UN currently relies on voluntary contributions for relief funding.

“The other thing that Oxfam is going to start emphasizing and Stephen O’Brien should be looking at this, as well as International NGOs like Oxfam, is we need to do more direct funding to local actors,” she said.

“The assistance we give is often too little and it’s often too late but we have local actors, such as local NGO’s and civil-society and, where appropriate, governments. From 2007-2013, only 2.4 percent of annual humanitarian assistance went directly to local actors and that just doesn’t make sense,” Scribner said. “They’re the first responders on the ground and they’re often the ones who are put in harm’s way. If you look at the number of aid workers that have been killed, the majority are local aid workers so we need to do a better job as a humanitarian community – international NGOs, UN OCHA and donors – to give more direct assistance to local actors.”

As an example of how neglect of local NGOs affects an emergency response, she said that meetings of the humanitarian cluster groups in Haiti during the 2010 earthquake were held in French or English even though most of the first responders spoke Creole “so that wasn’t helpful.”

Scribner added that local actors are not really considered true partners in the humanitarian response but rather as sub-contractors to implement programs that have already been designed. She said they need to be seen “as true partners where they are designing the interventions with us and they’re implementing the interventions.”

Finally, she said that the UN has do a better job in complex and conflict situations and need to appoint envoys who know the region or country and even better, know the local language, and where the UN has already has a mandate, it must ensure that protecting civilians is part of that mandate and its neutrality is unquestioned.

As an example, Scribner cited the UN’s support for the Africa Union mission in Somalia where the emphasis is on protecting government institutions.

“If they have a political mandate, then they’re going to be seen as political and they’re going to be seen as allying with one side. Their mandate should really be about giving assistance to people in need and making sure NGO’s have access, and protecting aid workers,” she said. “We have seen an increase in the number of aid workers that have been attacked and killed. In 2001 there was about 90 violent attacks on aid workers and in 2013, there was 460 such incidents and 80 percent of fatalities since 2001 have been local aid workers. If the UN can really show such leadership in those areas it will really help on the ground – they do play a very tricky and difficult role in these complex crises.”

Scribner said that the liaison role OCHA plays is key for humanitarian efforts in conflict situations but that it hasn’t always been up to the task and this will need to be on O’Brien’s list of pressing priorities. “NGO’s like Oxfam rely on OCHA to play the main liaison role in conflict settings and that’s really important for the independence and neutrality of NGO’s. I think Syria’s an example where we needed UN OCHA to really step up and play that role and they just don’t have the presence on the ground and the International NGOs are left to to kind of fill that role in terms of access and that liaison role. That is something he will have to grapple with, especially in these complex emergencies that are continuing to grow.”

– Denis Fitzgerald

On Twitter @denisfitz 

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