Sunday, November 21, 2004

You can hardly blame United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan if he’s spending a lot of his free time these days touching up his resume. For even by U.N. standards, the oil-for-food scandal; misconduct charges against senior U.N. officials (and furious complaints by U.N. employees in recent days that Mr. Annan is covering up); and the organization’s failure to stop genocide in Sudan represent a low point for a world body that had fallen into disrepute decades ago.

One week ago, a Senate committee investigating the oil-for-food scandal doubled to $21 billion the amount of money former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein managed to steal from that humanitarian program (the overwhelming majority of it on Mr. Annan’s watch) to pay off friends and political cronies; one of those alleged to have benefited from Saddam’s illicit largesse was Benon Sevan, the U.N. official appointed by Mr. Annan to head the program. Mr. Annan’s refusal to permit U.N. employees to testify before Congress or to make internal U.N. audits available to congressional investigators smack of a cover-up. And Mr. Annan’s recent foot-in-mouth episode, in which he asserted that the coalition military campaign that ousted Saddam was “illegal,” further eroded what little was left of his credibility in Washington.

From there, it only gets worse. In Darfur, the United Nations has been paralyzed while genocide continues. And Mr. Annan is dogged by charges about his failure to act against mass murder in Rwanda; in his book, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire claims that Mr. Annan, the former head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, was too passive in his response to the 1994 genocide there that left 800,000 people dead. Several days ago, Mr. Annan expressed his “outrage” over the fact that troops in the U.N. peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo committed sexual abuse.

Then, over the weekend, Mr. Annan narrowly managed to escape (at least for now), a no-confidence vote from the U.N. staff union for mishandling a probe of misconduct involving Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services Dileep Nair, who was accused of harassing fellow staffers and practicing favoritism in hiring and promotions. After Mr. Annan’s office announced that Mr. Nair would be pardoned, U.N. employees held a closed-door meeting in which they voted a resolution of no confidence in U.N. senior management. Although their union officially said it still had confidence in Mr. Annan, the secretary-general has plenty of detractors. “Kofi Annan is surrounded by corruption, a gang of criminals responsible for some of the worst things that happened to mankind in the 20th century,” an angry veteran U.N. staffer told Agence-France Presse on Friday.

The Nair case has an even more bizarre twist: On Oct. 27, United Nations investigators released a report concluding that U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers had sexually harassed a U.N. employee, but Mr. Annan rejected their finding and cleared Mr. Lubbers. During his investigation, Mr. Nair accused Mr. Lubbers of interfering with his probe. Mr. Lubbers told The Washington Post that he had sent a written apology to the woman he allegedly harassed.

As for Mr. Annan, he would do well to finish work on that resume.

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