Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
Ban Ki-moon isn’t having a good year for public relations. Halfway through a five-year term as U.N. secretary-general, he’s been hit with a wave of negative assessments by the Financial Times, The Economist, London Times, Foreign Policy and other media organizations. In a March 2009 editorial entitled “Whereabouts Unknown,” the Times said Ban was “virtually inaudible” on pressing issues of international security and “ineffectual” on climate change, the one issue that Ban claims he has made the biggest difference on. The Economist gave him a mixed report card, assigning him two out of 10 points for his management skills while praising him on climate change (eight out of 10 points).
This week, Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper made an unpleasant situation much worse. It published a confidential memo assessing Ban’s 2-1/2 years in office from Oslo’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Mona Juul, to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Juul’s report is scathing — and it comes from a representative of one of the world’s body’s top financial contributors. She says the former South Korean foreign minister suffers from a “lack of charisma” and has “constant temper tantrums” in his offices on the 38th floor of the United Nations building in midtown Manhattan.
She describes Ban as a “powerless observer” during the fighting in Sri Lanka earlier this year when thousands of civilians were killed as government forces ended a 25-year civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels, trapping them on a narrow strip of coast in the country’s northeast. In Darfur, Somalia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Congo, she wrote, Ban’s “passive and not very committed appeals seem to fall on deaf ears.” She says that his recent trip to Myanmar was a failure and that some people in Washington refer to Ban as a “one-term” secretary-general.
Juul’s letter could hardly have come at a more inopportune time. Ban is planning to visit Norway in the coming weeks, where he intends to meet with government officials and visit the Arctic circle to see for himself the effects of global warming and the melting polar ice. Now U.N. officials fear reporters will be more interested in what he says about Juul’s memo than climate change.
So far Ban has not reacted to the letter. However, a Norwegian diplomat told Reuters that Ban’s press office had been instructed to hold off on confirming his visit to Norway shortly after the news of Juul’s memo began to spread.
Ban’s PR difficulties didn’t start this year. In March 2008, his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar sent a memo to U.N. employees explaining how to say his boss’s name. “Many world leaders, some of whom are well acquainted with the Secretary-General, still use his first name mistakenly as his surname and address him wrongly as Mr. Ki-moon or Mr. Moon,” Nambiar complained.
Then came Ban’s own speech to senior U.N. officials in Turin, Italy last year, in which he described how difficult it was to improve the working culture inside the United Nations. The secretary-general seemed to acknowledge that his internal management style had failed. “I tried to lead by example,” Ban said. “Nobody followed.”
Ban’s aides vehemently defend him, saying he’s being treated unfairly by the press. One senior U.N. official suggested privately that Ban could very well turn out to be “the greatest secretary-general ever.” They complain that people continue to compare him to his predecessor Kofi Annan, who was a very different U.N. chief and relied less on “quiet diplomacy” than Ban. Annan became a hero to many people around the world for standing up to the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Annan called the March 2003 invasion illegal. U.N. officials also complain bitterly about the indefatigable blogger Matthew Lee, whose website Inner City Press regularly accuses Ban and other U.N. officials of hypocrisy and failing to keep their promises to reform the United Nations and root out corruption. (Some U.N. officials accuse Lee of not always getting his facts right, but his blog has become unofficial required reading for U.N. staffers around the world.)
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, diplomats in New York say, is among those supporting a campaign against a second term for Ban. Juul’s memo said Helen Clark, New Zealand’s former prime minister and current head of the U.N. Development Program, “could quickly become a competitor for Ban’s second term.” But diplomats say they expect the United States, Britain and other major powers to reluctantly back a second term for Ban, if only because there appears to be no viable alternative whom Russia and China would support.
A recent article in the Times of London said the best U.N. chief in the organization’s 64-year history was not Swedish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dag Hammarskjold but the Peruvian diplomat Javier Perez de Cuellar, who held the top U.N. post for 10 years until 1992. Nicknamed “mumbles” because he was so difficult to understand, Perez de Cuellar kept a low profile and, like Ban, preferred backroom diplomacy, not Annan’s bully pulpit. Among the Peruvian diplomat’s successes were managing the end of the Cold War, leading a long-delayed revival of U.N. peacekeeping and encouraging member states to back a U.S.-led military operation to drive Iraq’s invading forces out of Kuwait in 1991.
Will Ban’s preference for quiet diplomacy make him as good or better than Perez de Cuellar? That remains to be seen.
Protesters staged large demonstrations in Western capitals 10 years ago to urge governments to intervene to stop Serb forces killing civilians in Kosovo.Despite having no United Nations mandate, NATO went to war for the first time and bombed Serbia for 11 weeks to stop what it called the Yugoslav army’s disproportionate use of force in its offensive against separatist ethnic Albanian guerrillas.”We have a moral duty,” said then NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana as bombers took off on March 24, 1999 to “bring an end to the humanitarian catastrophe”.The intervention helped launch a doctrine of international “Responsibility to Protect” civilians in conflicts. Advocates of “R2P” proposed humanitarian intervention in Myanmar in 2007 and military force in Zimbabwe in 2008.But it never happened and the likelihood of this doctrine being adopted universally now in a UN declaration is slim, as was shown by the Gaza war that began two months ago.On Dec. 27, Israeli bombers went into action over Gaza. As reports of civilian deaths grew, protesters staged rallies in Western capitals to demand leaders act to end the offensive against Islamist Hamas militants in the Palestinian enclave.Critics accused Israel of using “disproportionate” force, just as many said Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic had done.But intervention in Gaza was impossible politically and militarily unimaginable. Unlike Serbia, Israel is not seen in the West as a rogue state and widescale ethnic cleansing was not under way in Gaza.Solana visited the enclave on Friday as foreign policy chief of the European Union, which seeks to foster peace in the Middle East through “soft power” — diplomacy and aid, not intervention of the kind he advocated as head of the NATO alliance.NATO never embraced the “responsibility to protect” concept, arguing that Kosovo, which most allies have subsequently recognised as an independent state, was a unique case that should not set a precedent.Soft power may eventually mean encouraging talks with Hamas — which is now shunned by the West. In an open letter published this week, a group of former foreign ministers urged a change in that policy, saying peace depends on talking to the militants.But with rockets from Gaza again being fired daily into Israel, the prospect of a breakthrough soon seems bleak as right-wing prime minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu tries to form a government.Viewing war damage in Gaza on Friday, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store spoke of “senseless destruction.” He blamed Hamas for starting the conflict, but said Israel’s response “goes beyond what international law allows.”Serb forces in the 1998-99 Kosovo war ignored the idea of “proportionality” on the battlefield. They were sure no army would willingly tie its own hands in the face of insurgency. They mortared, burned and raided “guerrilla” villages to driveoff civilians and deprive the rebels of cover.On Thursday, the U.N. tribunal in The Hague sentenced two Serbian generals to 22 years in jail for war crimes in Kosovo. Serbia handed them over under Western pressure.Israel openly assured its soldiers during the Gaza offensive that they would not face such prosecution. Discussing tactics for a future conflict, one senior Israeli general also dismissed “proportionality” as a deterrent.”We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction,” said Northern Command chief Gadi Eisenkot.”This isn’t a suggestion. This is a plan that has been authorised,” he told daily Yedioth Ahronoth ast October.Defending Israel’s action in Gaza, President Shimon Peres reminded NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer that NATO’s own bombing of Serbia killed “hundreds of civilians”.Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mocked the idea that he should ask soldiers to fight an evenly-matched battle in which a few hundred might be killed simply to win international approval for a war in which Hamas was fighting in heavily populated areas.But scholars of international law say proportionality does not mean a “fair fight” or balanced death toll, let alone making sure no civilian dies. It requires belligerents to use weapons that distinguish civilians from military targets and combatants.According to Gaza figures — which Israel says are suspect– some 600 of 1,300 Palestinians killed in Gaza were civilians. Of 13 Israelis killed during the 22-day war, 10 were soldiers.Human Rights Watch, the U.N. Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Israeli rights group B’Tselem have called for investigations.
Juliana Rincon is video editor of Global Voices, which monitors citizen media in the developing world. Thomson Reuters is not responsible for the content of this post — the views are the author’s alone.
On May 2nd, 2008, Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar (Burma), generating massive damage and tens of thousands dead or missing. The situation would be considered critical for any country. However, the military government or “junta” has restricted the entrance of aid by requiring all donations to pass through them. The junta has also set up guidelines for journalists on how to report on the cyclone, restricting their communications, particularly on showing dead bodies or reporting about insufficient aid for victims, according to Burma News, a local online news source.
In spite of these restrictions on people carrying cameras and taking pictures, some have gone out to record the extent of the damage. There is anger over the failure of authorities to evacuate the affected villages, even when they were allegedly aware of the impending cyclone and the possible devastation it could cause. The following images, uploaded by YouTube user aungsayapyi may affect sensitive people: they are very graphic, include dead bodies and should be viewed with discretion and an adult’s consent:
Mong Palatino is South East Asia editor of Global Voices, which monitors citizen media in the developing world. Thomson Reuters is not responsible for the content of this post — the views are the author’s alone.
Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar last weekend which devastated five regions. State-run media reported that more than 22,000 people are found dead with another 41,000 missing. Hundreds of thousands are now homeless. The following is a collection of quotes from regional bloggers about the devastation.