- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

Arab democracy

The always controversial Arab Human Development Report will be issued April 5 in Jordan’s capital, Amman, the U.N. Development Program announced, ending a series of credibility-damaging delays and complaints from governments.

The report, which will focus this year on democracy in the Arab world, was written by Arab academics, specialists and advocates, under the auspices of UNDP.

It was to have been released in Algiers this weekend in time for the Arab League summit, but the report was not ready (according to Algeria) or would have been too big of a drain on Algerian security protecting all those visiting leaders (according to a UNDP spokesman, quoting the Algerian government).

The two previous AHDRs offered unusually blunt evaluations of democracy, education and women’s rights in the Arab world. The first presented an overview, and each subsequent report focuses on a theme. Last year, it was knowledge; this year, democracy and freedom; next year, it will be sex issues.

Because the reports were compiled by Arabs with specialized knowledge about their regions and not much official government input, the AHDR effort has had a level of credibility that most U.N. surveys do not.

At least until this one.

UNDP officials deny persistent rumors that Washington so objected to the passages on Iraq and the Palestinian territories that it had threatened to cut funding for future reports. Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia also are among those that complained.

The head of UNDP said this year’s AHDR required special handling.

“I myself had to read it a number of times and insist on changes by the Arab authors,” UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown said in an interview last week. “I don’t mean substituting other editorial passages for their own. I mean … there is a standard of objectivity.”

He insists no punches were pulled.

“The genius of this report was that it managed to offend almost everybody and probably still does,” he said. “But I now feel it’s balanced.”

Sexual exploitation

Six civilians affiliated with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo have been suspended without pay and one was fired after internal investigators found they were involved in sexual exploitation, U.N. officials said last week.

Another chose to resign from the United Nations rather than face charges: He was a member of the U.N. inspector general’s office and was caught with a prostitute — which is not illegal, but still is a violation of U.N. rules and common sense.

Three cases against civilians were dismissed for lack of evidence. Seventeen civilians have been charged in all.

The United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s operations around Bunia, in the country’s northeast, have been stained by charges of sexual exploitation: U.N. investigators have found soldiers soliciting sex from women and girls as young as 13 in exchange for biscuits, eggs and relief supplies.

At least 52 soldiers have been sent home.

Similar accusations surfacing in Haiti, Burundi and Liberia provide plenty of ammunition to U.N. critics on Capitol Hill.

Jordan’s U.N. ambassador, Prince Zeid Al-Hussein, a former peacekeeper, has been drafting a report on sexual exploitation by “Blue Helmets.” It is to be issued Thursday.

U.N. reform adviser

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has appointed Shirin Tahir-Kheli as her special adviser on U.N. reform.

The ambassador-level job will be based in Washington. Ms. Tahir-Kheli will report directly to Miss Rice.

Ms. Tahir-Kheli most recently was at the National Security Council, where she was the special assistant to the president and senior director for democracy, human rights and international operations.

Patrick Kennedy is on a temporary but open-ended assignment in Washington, where he is helping his former boss, John D. Negroponte, set up the new intelligence office.

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

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