November 14, 2003


Any hope that the report produced by an independent panel headed by for Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari on the August 19 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad would lead to some rethinking of the way that the UN secretariat in New York operates is now a thing of the past.

This is the opinion of many diplomatic observers in New York, as well as of a number of senior UN staff. In his report, Ahtisaari, a no-nonsense administrator indebted to no one, not only qualified the UN security system as "dysfunctional" but also referred to major shortcomings regarding "qualified professionals ... internal coordination ... threat assessment .. discipline ... and accountability". It was a damning indictment, not only of the way that security threats were addressed in Baghdad, but even more so on how Secretary General Kofi Annan runs his shop.

Many at the UN hoped that, confronted with this indictment, the secretariat would rise to the challenge and launch a process that would open the door to major reforms of the institution. It was not to be. On November 4, Annan decided to appoint a "team" to determine "accountability at all managerial levels" as it regards the Baghdad bombing. Many UN staff members, well versed in the art of reading between the lines of UN communiques, had one word to describe the decision: whitewash.

Color me unsurprised.