The Rosett Report

From UN Immunity to License to Defraud

One of the most pernicious features of the United Nations is its diplomatic immunity. This is what lets the UN and its floating world of assemblies, agencies, diplomats and international staff get away with everything from running up $18 million in Manhattan parking tickets, to indulging in corruption, waste and abuse that carries no real penalty, even when outed in the press, or exposed in congressional hearings. When private companies embezzle millions, it’s a reasonable bet — at least in the U.S. — that someone will face charges, and maybe do jail time. When more than half a dozen major UN agencies involved in the UN’s Oil-for-Food program in Iraq stuffed their own administrative coffers with hundreds of millions of dollars meant to buy relief supplies such as medicine and baby milk, no one faced prosecution. The worst they got was an official tut-tut, and instructions for the agencies — including, for instance, UNICEF, the World Food Program and the UN Development Program — to cough up a small portion of the money.

True, diplomatic immunity has a time-honored place in important matters of actual diplomacy  (though at the UN, even that devolves quickly to such outrages as the annual visits of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Manhattan). But a great many of the more reasonable-sounding aspects of the UN have been over-run over the years by the astounding spread and sprawl of its globe-girdling bureaucracy. What began as a talking shop for diplomats in 1945 is by now a neo-colonial global empire, with its own envoys, outposts, and amorphous initiatives, moving money, personnel and equipment across borders, spending well over $30 billion per year of other people’s money — and draped in immunity. No big surprise that the UN is a chronic incubator of waste, fraud and abuse, which periodically erupts into scandal when details seep out. Yet pathetically little actually gets done about it, and very rarely is anyone punished.

All this makes UN-style immunity a highly attractive commodity. It’s a de facto license to fiddle and defraud, if you can get it.

Now, it turns out, the intergovernmental UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) is looking for a way to obtain this kind of immunity for its newly created Green Climate Fund — yet another murky climate initiative, this one meant to spend up to $100 billion per year (yes, some of that would be your tax dollars) under the banner of lowering greenhouse gases. Fox News’s executive editor, George Russell, broke the story on Thursday, with a piece headlined: “Mammoth new green climate fund wants United Nations-style diplomatic immunity, even though it’s not part of the UN.”

Russell reports that the UNFCCC was told in 2006 by the UN legal department that it did not quality as a UN “organ,” and “therefore could not claim immunity for its subordinate bodies or personnel.” But now the UNFCCC is making another run at gaining UN-style immunities for this potentially huge fund it has set up. The Green Climate Fund is now seeking a host country that will go along with this scheme. That would mean the Fund, and those running it, would be immune to prosecution, exempt from even the minimal oversight afforded by the UN, flush with taxpayer money from donor states  — and accountable to whom? It’s a measure of how bad this set-up already is, that when Russell sent questions to the Green Climate Fund about its operations and immunities, a week later — as he reports at the end of his article — he had still received no reply.

Where does this end? The UN spawns an unaccountable intergovernmental “framework” — the UNFCCC,  which in turns spawns a Green Climate Fund meant to mobilize $100 billion per year of other people’s money for what is almost certainly no clear bottom line. And that Green Climate Fund, which is not actually part of the UN, is now seeking UN-style immunity. What began as a means of protecting diplomats so they could confer on vital matters of state is evolving into a franchise, to be applied for by floating bureaucracies populated by personnel who would like to be immune from prosecution as they dole out billions procured from the grand public purse. And the bulwark against this right now seems to consist of one reporter at Fox News, whose questions this Green Climate Fund does not deign to answer.

(Background image of UN building by SeanPavonePhoto / Shutterstock.com.)