- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

Many seek big job

More than a dozen applicants have submitted documents indicating their interest in succeeding Ruud Lubbers as U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said a senior official who hopes to submit a shortlist to Secretary-General Kofi Annan by the end of the week.

The notably unhurried bureaucracy hopes to have a new commissioner in Geneva by the end of April and showcase its commitment to transparency and accountability in the process.

Mark Malloch Brown, Mr. Annan’s chief of staff, declined comment Friday about front-runners or favorites.

Handicappers favor former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, chairman of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. Mr. Evans, 60, has long had close relations with the United Nations and served on a high-level panel convened last year to explore ways to revitalize the world body before it slides into irrelevance.

As a former foreign minister, he is thought to have the stature to meet with and make demands of world leaders. Insiders say Canberra’s enthusiastic support of his candidacy doesn’t hurt.

On the other hand, Mr. Evans opposed Australia’s involvement in the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which probably won’t help him with Washington. Australia’s own record on refugees — turning away boat people and interning asylum seekers in remote, prisonlike camps — may sour his bid with refugee advocates and humanitarian groups.

Another likely contender for the U.N. refugee post is Soren Jessen-Petersen of Denmark, who has spent most of the past 20 years in various UNHCR postings. He also has advised the European Commission on migration issues and spent significant time in the Balkans, most recently as the head of the U.N. Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

Mr. Jessen-Petersen has had some successes and some setbacks in the nine months he has been running UNMIK. His reputation at the United Nations will serve him well, observers say, but he may lack international recognition.

France stepped into the ring weeks ago, putting forward physician Bernard Kouchner, another former head of UNMIK. Dr. Kouchner, 65, founded Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) and has the stature for the job, but some observers wonder whether his outspokenness might be a liability.

The European Commission has nominated Emma Bonino of Italy, and Stockholm has submitted Sweden’s state secretary for foreign affairs, 56-year-old Hans Dahlgren, a former U.N. ambassador.

For the first time, the United Nations has officially opened the job to nongovernmental organizations, which may propose independent candidates with experience in migration and humanitarian issues.

Handicappers should remember that big donors to humanitarian agencies usually get to run them. The top contributors to the UNHCR last year were the United States ($302 million), Japan ($82 million), the European Commission ($81 million), the Netherlands ($79 million), Denmark ($60 million), Australia ($15 million) and France ($12 million).

Mr. Lubbers, a former Dutch prime minister who was to have served as high commissioner until the end of the year, was forced to resign last month after reports of sexual harassment and intimidation — well-known inside the organization — became public.

Mr. Annan has said he wants to appoint a successor by the end of April, Mr. Malloch Brown said. “We’ve got 12 — no, maybe 18 — names,” he said. “I’m going to give them to the secretary-general next week. He’ll come up with a shortlist, and we hope to start interviews after Easter.”

The UNHCR has a staff of about 5,000 and cares for as many as 17 million refugees worldwide. Wendy Chamberlin, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and deputy to Mr. Lubbers, is acting high commissioner.

And speaking of the UNHCR, Sadako Ogata of Japan, the woman who put the agency on the map, has a new book out called “The Turbulent Decade,” about UNHCR’s response to crises in the Balkans, Africa’s Great Lakes region and other trouble spots.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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