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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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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EU, US, Kuwait top Donors at Syria Pledging Conference

Ban Ki-moon and Kuwait FM Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah at a press conference following the Third International Pledging Conference for Syria (UN Photo)

Ban Ki-moon and Kuwait FM Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah at a press conference following the Third International Pledging Conference for Syria (UN Photo)

Kuwait City, March 31, 2015 –  A total of $3.8 billion was promised to alleviate the dire humanitarian situation for Syrians at the Third Humanitarian Pledging Conference for the country, more than double the combined amount committed at the previous two donor conferences for Syria.

The European Union and its member states pledged a total of $1.2 billion while the United States, $507 million, and hosts Kuwait, $500 million, were the top donors.

Also among the biggest to promise aid were the UAE, $100 million, and Saudi Arabia, $60 million. “While we cannot bring peace, this funding will help humanitarian organizations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need,” outgoing UN aid chief Valerie Amos said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has not yet released a final tally of all donors, saying it had to first convert from money pledged in national currencies into dollars, the currency used by the United Nations when releasing figures. [full list of pledges now available]

The conflict in Syria has killed an estimated 200,000 people while a further one million have been injured since 2011.

Amos told UN Tribune that “despite the considerable amount of work that we have been able to do, the huge toll that the people of Syria have had to take is a poor reflection on the international community.

“I think the fact that we have not been able to find a political solution to this crisis, that the violence has escalated rather than deescalated is something I view with a huge amount of regret and I will continue to do what I can as a private citizen to help and support the Syrian people,” she said.

This was the first of the three Syria donors conferences where the UN Development Program was principally involved along the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “I think it’s widely acknowledged now that a purely humanitarian response cannot do the job,” UNDP Administrator Helen Clark told UN Tribune.

“We need more sustainable solutions. Those solutions are real investment in livelihoods, jobs, training, basic community infrastructure and services and keeping community tolerance of newcomers coming in. These are development tasks and now there’s wide awareness that this must be invested in.”

Speaking after the conference, Ban Ki-moon told reporters of his “deep anger against Syrian leaders who have been abandoning their own people.”

“The best humanitarian solution to end the suffering is a political solution to end the war,” Ban said. “It is time to forge an inclusive, Syrian-led political transition based on the Geneva Communique and which meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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

Replacing Valerie Amos: Political Appointment or Merit-Based

Special Event:  United Nations Official Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
Nov. 26, 2014 – Ban Ki-moon will be pressed by both member states and the international aid community to appoint a successor to Valerie Amos as head of OCHA based on merit and not, as has been his precedent, to give the post to a major power.

Amos, the well-liked, hard-working and longest-serving UN aid chief, has overseen the 1,900 person OCHA office at a time of multiple humanitarian emergencies, which, since her appointment in Sept. 2010, includes crises in Syria, South Sudan and Central African Republic. She will step down in March 2015, her office said on Wednesday.

Amos is the second UK national to head the OCHA since it was founded by merging two separate offices in 1992. She succeeded John Holmes, another UK diplomat, who served from 2007-10. Britain, as is common with its fellow P5 members, typically has one of its own in a key UN cabinet post. In recent years, UK diplomats have served as head of the UNDP and the Dept. of Political Affairs, which is now headed by an American, Jeffery Feltman. The US also gets control of UNICEF, currently headed by former US national security adviser, Tony Lake.

A French national has headed the UN’s Dept. of Peacekeeping Operations since 1997, after then chief, Kofi Annan, was appointed secretary-general. India, the largest troop-contributing country, covets the post. China’s Margaret Chan heads up the World Health Organization while a Russian, Yury Fedotov, is head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

With NGO’s calling for a more transparent process for selecting the next secretary-general, Ban will be under pressure to show he has an independent streak and is not merely doing the bidding of the big powers. To do this, he will have to select candidates based on their previous humanitarian and leadership experience and make the short-list public.

The appointment of the world’s top humanitarian official will come at a key time, just a year before the World Humanitarian Summit which aims to find new ways to address the growing number of humanitarian crises. Earlier this year, MSF published a withering critique of the global humanitarian response and said the UN was at the heart of the dysfunctional response.

Previous heads of OCHA:

1 Jan Eliasson Sweden Sweden 1992 1994
2 Peter Hansen Denmark Denmark 1994 1996
3 Yasushi Akashi Japan Japan 1996 1998
4 Sérgio Vieira de Mello Brazil Brazil 1998 January 2001
5 Kenzo Oshima Japan Japan January 2001 June 2003
6 Jan Egeland Norway Norway June 2003 December 2006
7 John Holmes United Kingdom United Kingdom January 2007 September 2010
8 Valerie Amos United Kingdom United Kingdom September 2010 present

Related Story: Four Insiders Who Could Succeed Valerie Amos as Head of OCHA

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Prospect of Lost Generation in Syria Now a ‘Reality’

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Nov. 25, 2014 – UN aid chief Valerie Amos on Tuesday told the Security Council that more than 12 million people, including 5 million children, need assistance in Syria and the amount of aid getting into the country is only a fragment of what is needed to address the humanitarian situation.

She said the there was “considerable challenges in implementing”
Resolution 2139 (Feb. 2014), demanding safe, unhindered access to aid, and Resolution 2165 (July 2014), authorizing cross-border aid without state consent.

“This is a conflict that is affecting every Syrian. Syria’s economy has contracted some 40 per cent since 2011. Unemployment now exceeds 54 per cent. Three quarters of the population live in poverty. School attendance has dropped by more than 50 per cent. Young people have few prospects of a bright future,” Amos told the 15-nation body.

“We have lamented the possibility of a lost generation of Syria’s children: it is now a reality.”

She said the resolutions have made a difference and “nearly all the hard-to-reach locations in the four governorates – Aleppo, Idlib, Dar’a and Quneitra” have received aid.

“But despite the progress we have made it is still not enough. No more than two besieged locations have been reached in any month since the adoption of resolution 2165 and only one location has been reached in each of the past two months,” Amos said.

Addressing the Council on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the UN’s top humanitarian official said, “we particularly remember Syria’s women and children. Sexual violence has been used as a form of torture, to injure, to degrade, intimidate and as punishment.”

She also praised the bravery of aid workers, noting that 69 of them have been killed since the beginning of the conflict.

In his report to the Council on the implementation of Resolutions 2139 and 2165, Ban Ki-moon wrote that “at least 239 civilians have reportedly been killed by government airstrikes, including barrel bomb attacks” in the past month.

According to the UN Human Rights Office, 42 barrel bombs were dropped between Oct. 18 and Nov. 6. On Nov. 5 the government air force bombed a Damascus neighborhood, hitting a primary school and killing at least 17 children and injuring a dozen others.

Internal displacement continues unabated with some 50,000 people displaced in the last two weeks of October, according to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Ban wrote that “foreign fighters continued to be involved on all sides of the fighting” and a reported number “of foreign, mostly Shiite, militias joined the pro-government forces in Aleppo.” He added that the Nusra Front and ISIL continue to recruit foreign and domestic fighters. “On Nov. 4, the leader of the Nusra Front, Abu Mohammed al-Julani, stated that foreign fighters constituted ’30 to 35 per cent’ of his group’s total force,” the report said.

In her address to the Council, Amos said she hopes the Council will renew Resolution 2165 when its six-month mandate expires in January.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo/ICRC

UN Aid Chief Chides Security Council Over Syria Inaction

OCHA Head speaks to the press following Security Council Consultations on the situation in Syria
April, 30 – 2014- Valerie Amos on Wednesday told members of the Security Council behind closed doors that they were failing to uphold the founding values of the UN in their approach to Syria.

Amos, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said that only ten percent of the some 250,000 people living in besieged areas received aid in the past month despite a February 19 resolution demanding unimpeded access for humanitarian relief.

“I told the Council that in my reports I have demonstrated time and time again the minimal impact of the approach being taken so far, and that public pressure and private diplomacy has yielded very little,” she said to reporters after briefing the 15-nation body.

“I also told the Council that the UN is a multilateral organization. Its founding values set the framework for the way in which we work. In Syria, those founding values and the responsibility of a state to look after its own people are being violated every day, and I think the onus rests on the Council to not only recognize that reality, but to act on it,” she added.

She spoke a day after a group of legal experts published a letter criticizing Amos and the heads of other UN agencies for “an overly cautious interpretation of international humanitarian law.” They argue that relief agencies do not need permission, which is not forthcoming, from the government in Damascus to deliver life-saving aid to trapped civilians.

February’s resolution on unimpeded aid delivery also states that the Council intends to take further steps in the event of non-compliance which puts pressure on China and Russia, who voted for it, to agree to a tougher follow-up resolution.

However, Russia’s state news agency on Wednesday reported that Moscow’s UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said a Chapter 7 resolution being prepared by his Western colleagues was “untimely.”

In his report to to the Council, Ban Ki-moon wrote that “none of the parties to the conflict have adhered to the demands of the Council.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine