News: Sometimes I Am Ashamed to Work for the UN.

UNinvolved - From Die Burger; Advertising Agency: FCB Cape Town; South Africa; Creative Director: Francois de Villiers; Art Director: Anthony de Klerk; Copywriter: Marius van Rensburg; Photographer: Chad Henning

I am pissed off. Two articles were published in the last days that make me ashamed to work for the UN.

Before we start, let me make something clear: The "UN" is one "brand" consisting of several parts which have completely different goals, operational practices and funding mechanisms. In fear of over-simplifying, I would distinguish three main parts in the UN:

  1. "The Political Side", UN secretariat in New York and UN security council, are probably the UN's most visible side. In this large forum "where world issues are debated and decided upon", every nation has its vote and voice. The critics would say "all equal, but some have a bigger vote and a louder voice than others".
    This side of the UN is funded through direct contributions by the UN member countries, and as such by the taxes citizens like you and me pay.

  2. "The Peace Keeping Side", codenamed "UNDPKO", are the famous blue helmet-ed forces we see on TV. Stationed in conflict zones like Sudan, Eritrea, DRC etc... they often work hand in hand with the UN Department of Political Affairs in enforcing political and military stability in (potential) conflict zones. Just as "the Political Side", the "Peace Keeping Side" is funded by the UN members. Once again, your tax dollar "at work" (well.. "not at work" would sometimes be more appropriate).

  3. "The UN Humanitarians" are not one organisation, but a few hundred organisations. Well-known names in this branch are UNICEF, WHO, WFP, UNHCR, UNDP etc... Most of these organisations are "voluntary" funded. This means they do not receive annual funding from the UN headquarters, but they launch appeals for each of their projects, be it in the development or emergency relief sector.

The "voluntary funding" scheme the humanitarian organisations work under, is somewhat an insurance those organisations are "kept on their toes". If you screw up a project well enough, donors will be less eager to fund your projects next time. The "humanitarian market" (as I like to call it), is a competitive market. The need for funding exceeds the "capacity of the world to donate". So "competition" keeps the humanitarian organisations somewhat in line. "Somewhat", is the right term though, but we will expand on this another time.

Now, what pisses me off on a regular basis, is that the "UN number 2" from above, the "Peace Keeping Side", often gets involved in all kinds of bad press.
You still remember the reports about UN peacekeepers unable to prevent the Rwanda genocide? Or the Srebrenica massacres where the Dutch UN peace keepers "stood by". There were many reasons why these tragedies happened. And even more excuses.

Totally UNexcusable are, amongst others, the sex scandals (the whole works including pedophilia, rape and prostitution) by UN Peace Keepers in DRC and in Haiti. Or the gruesome stories of Belgian UN Peace Keepers "roasting" a Somali boy. (read also this this article).

Shame, deep shame, we should all have. All of us.

While most of the time, I can still tell myself, "Ok, this is not concerning the UN humanitarians, this is not 'us', this is the 'other UN arm'." Still, the criminals wore the same colour as I do: "UN Blue". They went into a country supposedly to help the population, and not to kill people and urinating on them afterwards, sexually abusing them.

I want to be able to keep my head up high, tough. Once of the reasons I continue to work for the UN (For a number 3, a UN humanitarian organisation), is to be able to say: "I not only criticize. I actually try to make a change."! And the best way to make a change is a "change from within". I try to speak up when confronted with any wrongdoing. While it gave me the reputation of being "difficult" (they say "a pain in the a**"), I do need to live with my conscience. I need to be able to say "I tried my level best". And to be honest, I feel people *do* listen. At least where *I* work!

But still, ... still, there are those days, like today, where I get frustrated, pissed off, wandering if all the fighting is worth it. Those are the days, like today, where I read that the audit of the UN peace keeping mission in Sudan wasted millions of dollars: (Below is an extract but the full post is here):

U.N. officers in Sudan have squandered millions by renting warehouses that were never used, booking blocks of hotel rooms that were never filled, and losing thousands of food rations to theft and spoilage, according to several internal audits by the U.N. Office for International Oversight Services. One U.N. purchasing agent has been accused of steering a $589,000 contract for airport runway lights to a company that helped his wife obtain a student visa, while two senior procurement officials from the United States and New Zealand have been charged by a U.N. panel with misconduct for not complying with rules designed to prevent corruption.
The U.N. procurement division "did not have the necessary capacity and expertise to handle the large magnitude of procurement actions" in Sudan, particularly during the early phases of the mission, according to a confidential October 2006 audit. Investigators also detected "a number of potential fraud indicators and cases of mismanagement and waste."

It pisses me off that millions of dollars are wasted through mere miss-management or for personal gain, in a country where millions fight to survive starvation every single day.
Also today, I read how the United Nations forces failed to help East Timor's president Jose Ramos Horta after he was shot in an assassination attempt in Dili this morning:
Mr Carrascalao told ABC Radio's PM that when UN police arrived at the scene of the attack they refused to help.
"I have to regret that we advised the United Nations Police who went to the scene but 300 metres before reaching there, they refused to proceed," he said. "The President was lying on the road and bleeding and already shot, and they refused to continue to give him assistance. It was finally the family and an ambulance from our hospital that went and rescued the President when he was more than half-an-hour bleeding and losing a lot of blood. The United Nations Police didn't take action until the Portuguese Generale got there. That's one of the worst things that could happen to this country; have police from everywhere, everyone within one system and mostly looking after themselves than looking after the situation here." (full article)

Those are the days I am ashamed. Ashamed to say "I work for the UN"!

Pictures Die Burger and Chad Hanning (UNinvolved), WhatReallyHappened and Gamma Liaison (Belgian Peacekeepers).
Source: The Other World News


Anonymous,  12 February, 2008 10:20  

You and all your (few) well-meaning and well-intentioned colleagues should be ashamed--the UN (all of its parts) is systemically corrupt, mostly populated at the top by people whose only skill is back-stabbing, ladder climbing, and self-enrichment--most of them probably wouldn't qualify for a job handing out towels in a third world men's room.

The UN will never reform itself because those within the organisation in a position to effect real change are the one who stand to lose (significantly) the most. And the member states lack the political will to effect real change as well--if John Bolton can't succeed at reform, no politician can.

The only hope is to get rid of the UN's immunity so that the crooks throughout the organisation (those that trade refugee aid for sex with 8 year olds [and those senior officials who do nothing to stop it except babble about the UN having "zero tolerance" for such abuse], those that accept bribes, those that drive out their competent colleagues through mobbing and harassment in order to preserve their own incompetent rise to the top, those that refuse to leave NYC, Vienna or Geneva, etc.).

As soon as the UN's immunity is removed, all of its parts will either reform or perish, as it should be. And if they perish, they will be replaced by NGO's that already know how to operate across national borders without the moral hazard of immunity.

That is truly the only hope for your beloved UN.

Peter 12 February, 2008 15:19  

Apart from the fact that -IMHO- if we were to leave the future of the UN in the hands of John Bolton and his likes, the world (or the UN) would not be off for the better, I agree with you that any crime committed under the hat of the UN should be treated as a criminal offense, and not be subject to cover ups or immunity deals.

Actually UN staff immunity can, and as a matter of practice *is* waived, when there are proven facts of criminal behaviour. Whistle blowing activities *are* encouraged more and more. But still not enough.

My problem is not that those crimes go unpunished when brought to light. My problem is that:
1/ they don't come to light fast enough, and that
2/ they do happen.

Unfortunately facts do not support your statement that NGOs would do a better job than the UN...


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