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  • Statistical Profile of UN Staff
  • $3.4 billion loss from UN pension fund
  • ACABQ on UN Pension Fund Delays
  • UN Pension Fund CEO under fire

secretariat news

Scroll down for:

  • SG announces high-level appointments, Habitat Panel 
  • Assembly wants "comprehensive fraud risk assessment"
  • Slew of top officials set to leave, three new ones in place
  • Drubbing for Ban Ki Moon on accountability
  • New whistleblower policy slammed
  • Scant support for Haiti cholera fund 
  • Next Deputy-SG, Chef de Cabinet named
  • N Brass: Gender/Regional Imbalances
  • Ban Ki-Moon's UN Legacy
  • End to ban on permanent resident staff? 
  • UN Ethics Report Blind to major issues

Sg makes new high-level appointments, names members of habitat review panel

13 April 2017: Secretary-General António Guterres has announced the following senior appointments (updated 20 April):

  • Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu of Tonga has been appointed High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States. She is currently CEO of the Tonga Tourism Ministry.
  • Virginia Gamba of Argentina has been appointed Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. She is currently the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) on the use of chemicals as weapons in Syria.
  • Pramila Patten of Mauritius, is the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. She has been a member of the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
  • Alexander Zuyev of the Russian Federation is the new Assistant Secretary General for the Rule of Law and Security Institutions in the Department of Peacemaking Operations. He replaces Dmitri Titov who has held the position for the past ten years.

Regional Commissions

Three Regional Commissions have new Executive Secretaries. Vera Songweof Cameroon has been appointed head of the Economic Commission for Africa, replacing Acting Executive Secretary Abdalla Hamdok from Sudan (in place since November 2016). Her previous experience has been with the World Bank group, which has sometimes been at odds with the ECA in the past. 

Olga Algayerova of Slovakia has been appointed Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), replacing Christian Friis Bach of Denmark who has served since July 2014. Ms Algayerova has been her country's Ambassador at the UN Vienna Office. 

Mohamed Ali Alhakim of Iraq has been appointed Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Comission for Western Asia. Iraq's UN Ambassador since 2013, he replaces  Khawla Mattar, who took the post temporarily after the former head of ESCWA quit after she was told to witthdraw the report accusing Israel of practicing "Apartheid."  

Two Regional Commissions retain their current leadership:  Shamshad Akhtar of Pakistan at the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and Alicia Barcena at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). 

UN Habitat Review Panel

In addition, the Secretary-General has announced the eight members of an independent panel to assess and enhance the effectiveness of UN-Habitat, the Nairobi-based program on Human Settlements. The panel will conduct the review within the framework of the New Urban Agenda adopted at the Habitat III Conference (October 2016, Quito, Ecuador). The panel’s report will be considered at a two-day High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly in September this year. The members of the panel are:

  • Peter Calthorpe of the United States, a San Francisco-based architect and urban planner, a founding member of the advocacy group Congress for a New Urbanism.
  • Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani, the Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the UN.
  • Anne Hidalgo of France, Mayor of Paris.
  • Sheela Patel of India, Founder-Director of the Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centers in Mumbai.
  • Rosario Robles, of Mexico, Secretary of Agrarian, Territorial and Urban Development.
  • Ambassador František Ružicka, Permanent Representative of the Slovak Republic to the UN.
  • Ponsto S.M. Sekatle of Lesotho, Minister of Health and Social Welfare.
  • Mpho Parks Tau of South Africa, President of United Cities and Local Governments and South African Local Governments Association.

In other news, Der Spiegel reports that the Secretary-General has put forward Horst Köhler, a former German president, to become his Special Representative for Western Sahara. The Security Council will have to approve.

assembly wants "comprehensive fraud risk assessment" by mid 2017

7 April 2017:  The General Assembly has asked the Secretary-General to conduct a “comprehensive fraud risk assessment by mid-2017” so as to “better implement internal controls and policies on fraud at Headquarters and in the field missions.” Acting on 31 March at the advice of its Fifth Committee (Administration and Budget), the Assembly also asked the Secretary-General “to update the legal instruments for engaging third parties, such as vendors and implementing partners, with particular attention to anti-fraud clauses and provisions.”

The Assembly action came as it took note of the sixth progress report of the Secretary-General on the accountability system in the United Nations Secretariat (A/71/729) and endorsed the highly critical conclusions about it by the watchdog Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions. Scroll down to see earlier story.

System-wide Definition of Fraud

Welcoming the ongoing work of the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination on a single system-wide set of definitions of what constitutes fraud, as well as suspected or presumptive fraud, the Assembly asked the Secretary-General “to foster this work” so as to expedite its completion. It also welcomed the establishment of the Anti-Fraud and Anti-Corruption Framework of the United Nations Secretariat and the updated whistleblower protection policy. It emphasized the need for clear communication and effective implementation and enforcement of the policy.

In noting the progress made in implementing the enterprise risk management system throughout the Organization, including in peacekeeping operations, the Assembly asked the Secretary-General to ensure its comprehensive implementation. It acknowledged the importance of further developing the guidelines for the preparation of agreements with donors and implementing partners, including updating the Financial Rules of the United Nations.

Reporting Serious Misconduct

The Assembly requested the Secretary-General “to enhance the processes and responses of the Organization to ensure that it encourages the reporting of serious misconduct, protects whistle-blowers from retaliation and intervenes to prevent retaliation from occurring.”

Noting that the Secretary-General “did not include in the sixth progress report a detailed plan, with a fixed time frame and clear milestones, for the implementation of results-based management in the regular functioning of the Organization,” the Assembly reiterated its request that such a detailed plan be included in the next progress report.

Timeliness of Reports Part of Accountability

Noting that the “timely submission of documents is an important aspect of the Secretariat’s accountability to Member States,” the Assembly asked the Secretary-General to ensure that “a related managerial indicator” be included in the senior managers’ compacts. Reiterating that the “compacts” signed by senior managers and the staff performance management system are important tools for the accountability system, the Assembly asked the Secretary-General to incorporate in these tools specific, measurable and time - bound performance goals so that they may become meaningful and powerful instruments of accountability. 

Delegation of Authority

Stressing the need for the Secretary-General to address the deficiencies in the current delegation of authority system through the promulgation of well-defined roles and responsibilities of individuals at all levels to whom authority is delegated, systemic reporting mechanisms on monitoring and exercise of delegated authority and actions to be taken in cases of mismanagement or abuse of authority;

The Assembly has asked that it be briefed on the implementation of its resolution during the main part of the 72nd session next fall.

slew of top officials leave as contracts expire, three new faces, others expected

3 April 2017: The World Food Program (WFP)  and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) have new heads (see UN System CEOs). The top UN official for Disarmament has been appointed: Izumi Nakamitsu of Japan, replacing  Kim Won-soo of South Korea as high representative for disarmament affairs at the level of undersecretary-general.

Peacekeeping The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous of France has been replaced without fuss by his compatriot Jean-Pierre Lacroix (a deal rumored to have been sealed in the final stage of the selection of Antonio Guterres to be Secretary-General). France has held onto the top Peacekeeping post for over 20 years. 

Disarmament Nakamitsu was assistant administrator for crisis response at the U.N. Development program. Previously, she served as U.N. special adviser on follow-up to the summit on refugees and migrants, and in the U.N. peacekeeping department as director of the Asia and Middle East division.

Meanwhile, Cristina Gallach of Spain (who came on board in 2014 and is thus leaving early), has quit the post of Under-Secretary-General for Public Information. Her replacement has not been announced. Other announcements awaited include the appointments for UNDP Administrator (Helen Clark of New Zealand leves in April), and perhaps Wu Hongbo of China as Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Economic Affairs.  

ACABQ gives Ban Ki Moon belated Drubbing on Accountability 

13 March 2017: The General Assembly's watchdog body, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions has given former Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon a comprehensive drubbing about the weakness of his report on improving managerial accountability. It notes the “persistent gaps in institutional and personal accountability, as well as the ongoing lack of detailed and concrete plans to improve or implement specific elements.”

Unimplemented Audit Recommendations
The Committee notes that the SG's sixth progress report on strengthening accountability does not include any reference to the findings and recommendations of the Board of Auditors on the non-implementation of its recommendations on personal or institutional accountability. It underlines the insufficient action in “areas of long-standing concern to the Board, such as enterprise risk management, business transformation, financial management and accounts preparation.” Only six of the Board’s 63 extant recommendations (9 per cent) had been fully implemented. No action at all had been taken on 32 (51 per cent) of the recommendations.

Spike in Fraud
The Advisory Committee notes that between 1 July 2015 and 30 June 2016 the Under-Secretary-General for Management had reported 20 cases of fraud and misrepresentation in which disciplinary actions were taken, compared with 7 such cases in the previous period (see ST/IC/2015/22).

Despite the Secretariat's agreement "that it did not have adequate systems and procedures in place to ensure the complete and accurate reporting of fraud,” it had not acted on the Board recommendation to “establish a central intake mechanism to cover all cases of staff grievances and suspected fraud, allowing them to be properly screened and assessed and sent to the right part of the Organization for action.” ACABQ regretted the inaction on that “critical recommendation.” In what can only be read as sarcasm, the Committee then “welcomes the adoption of the new Anti-Fraud and Anti-Corruption Framework” and says it “looks forward to receiving periodic status updates on its implementation.”

No Details on Umoja
In the same vein is the Committee’s observation that the SG’s report contains “few specific details” on Umoja the hugely problematic unified management database, and its "trust" that “detailed, concrete information on the impact of Umoja on institutional and personal accountability will be included in the next report.

In reading the ACABQ's withering report on a performance that could easily be considered deliberate malfeasance it is appropriate to wonder if there are more cases of fraud waiting to be found after the Umoja confusion lifts. Will there be more losses on the $3.4 Billion scale suffered by the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund?

Revised whistleblower policy will reinforce impunity in UN

The case of Emma Reilly, who works for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, illustrates how difficult — and perilous — it can be to report criminal, illegal or unethical activities within the UN. In 2013, Reilly told Navi Pillay, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, that a senior member of staff was giving the Chinese Government the names of dissidents who were to attend a meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Instead of reprimanding the staff member who was placing the dissidents’ lives in danger, Pillay’s senior staff began harassing Reilly. It was only in 2016, when Reilly informed the Irish Government of this betrayal of human rights defenders by her organisation, that the practice did stop. Now Pillay’s successor, Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, wants to have Reilly investigated for “leaking” information.


In 2014, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights suspended Anders Kompass, who reported to French authorities that French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic were sexually abusing internally displaced children.
Only after the media exposed the scandal was an investigation conducted. The French troops were eventually sent to France to face charges, but sadly, the Paris prosecutor’s office decided that they could not be charged due to “insufficient elements”.

Whistleblowers like Reilly and Kompass suffer retaliation because they are viewed as an existential threat to the UN’s moral authority and legitimacy. And despite its claims to neutrality, the UN is also a highly politicised organisation where influential member states can make it do their bidding, even when such actions violate its core mandate. The Reilly and Kompass cases highlight the deficiencies despite a whistleblower protection policy that has been effective since 2005.

As his parting gift to the UN, the former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon even oversaw the drafting of a revised whistleblower protection policy that gives the impression of granting more protection to whistleblowers, but which, in reality, does the very opposite. Unfortunately, the revised policy was approved last month by new Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

For starters, it gives even more power to the UN Ethics Office, which is supposed to investigate cases of retaliation against UN whistleblowers, but which has had a dismal record in this regard.

A US-based watchdog found that 95 per cent of whistleblowers’ complaints to the Ethics Office never get investigated, and that the whistleblowers get little moral support from this office. They face the threat of being “disciplined” if their allegations are found to be false or based on “rumours”. This means that if a staff member suspects wrongdoing, and makes a complaint so that further investigations can be carried out, and then it is determined that there was no wrongdoing (which usually happens as the UN rarely admits that such takes place within its hallowed halls), that staff member could face disciplinary action for spreading “rumours”.

The revised 2017 UN whistleblower protection policy is an improvement on the old policy in that it does allow UN whistleblowers to approach an external entity or individual if they believe that the internal justice system has failed them or is unlikely to protect them. However, it severely limits the kinds of information they can divulge and the types of entities and individuals they can approach.

The revised policy states that an individual can only report misconduct to an external entity or individual if the report does not cause “substantive damage to the Organisation’s operations”, which is another way of saying that if the revelation does not damage the UN’s reputation.

In the Reilly and Kompass cases, the UN could argue that by approaching a government, they had damaged the UN’s reputation, which could impact the organisation’s operations. What’s more, the UN could even “discipline” Reilly and Kompass for spreading “rumours”. In short, the revised policy is essentially a gag order on whistleblowers and a significant step backwards in improving accountability within the UN. It appears to give whistleblowers greater leeway in reporting wrongdoing, but takes away this freedom through stringent conditions that cannot be met because most whistleblower cases never reach the official investigation stage. The revised policy thus reinforces the UN’s culture of cover-ups, corruption and impunity

Reprinted from The Sunday Nation Nairobi, 26 February 2017

Donors hold back on Funds to combat Haiti cholera

25 February 2017: Donors have not been eager to fund the UN's belated effort to fight the cholera epidemic in Haiti brought to the island by a contingent of troops sent to help following the devastating earthquake of 2010. Only two percent of the needed $400 million has been raised, according to a letter UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has sent to all member States.

So far, Chile, France, India, Liechtenstein and South Korea have together contributed about $2 million to the UN fund, while Canada and Japan have donated $7 million bilaterally. Guterres asked member-states in the letter to notify the United Nations by March 6 if they intend to contribute to the fund. "Should resources not materialize, a multi-funded solution would have to be explored,"  the letter said. What exactly that means is not clear.

UN veteran David Nabarro, a British medical doctor who is now the leading candidate to head the World Health Organization (details here) has been in charge of fund-raising. He told the French news agency AFP in January that he had "never found it so hard to raise money" on any issue.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon had initially refused to  take responsibility for the introduction of the highly contagious disease to the island but changed position in his last few weeks in office and issued a fulsome apology. Subsequently the UN set up a fund to rid Haiti of the disease and help cholera victims who include nearly 10,000 dead and some 100,000 sickened. 

The disease was brought into Haiti by the Nepalese contingent of the UN Mission in Haiti; their untreated sewage flowing into an arterial river set off the epidemic. At present there are some 30,000 cases of infection in Haiti, and the aim is to reduce that to 10,000 by the end of 2018. That will involve a major effort to increase access to safe drinking water and improve sanitation. At present, only 25 percent of Haitians have access to toilets.

Amina Mohammed is Deputy S-G, Ribeiro Viotti is chef de cabinet  

15 December 2016: Secretary-General-designate Antonio Guterres announced today that he will be appointing Amina J. Mohammed of Nigeria as Deputy Secretary-General and Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil as his Chef de Cabinet. Ms. Kyung-wha Kang of the Republic of Korea, the head of Mr. Guterres’ transition team is to be appointed to the newly created post of Special Adviser on Policy.

In making the announcements, Mr. Guterres said through the UN Spokesman, “I am happy to count on the efforts of these three highly competent women, whom I have chosen for their strong backgrounds in global affairs, development, diplomacy, human rights and humanitarian action. These appointments are the foundations of my team, which I will continue to build, respecting my pledges on gender parity and geographical diversity.”

Ms. Amina J. Mohammedis currently the Minister of Environment of Nigeria. She served under Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as Special Advisor and was credited with steering the deeply flawed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to its unanimous adoption by the General Assembly in September 2015.
Before joining the UN, Ms. Mohammed worked for three successive administrations in Nigeria, serving as Special Advisor on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). She is also an Adjunct Professor in Development Practice at New York’s Columbia University, and serves on numerous international advisory boards and panels. Born in 1961, and educated in Nigeria and the UK, Ms. Mohammed is married with six children.

Ms. Ribeiro Viotti is presently the Under-Secretary for Asia and the Pacific at the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A career diplomat since 1976, she served most recently as Brazil’s Ambassador of to Germany (from 2013 to 2016) and as Brazil’s Permanent Representative to the UN (from 2007 to 2011).

Kyung-wha Kang served as Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator. She was Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights from January 2007 to March 2013.

UN brass has major Gender and Regional imbalances 

18 September 2016: According to the latest report on the Composition of the Secretariat (A/70/605), the UN System in 2015 had 228 staff at the Under-Secretary-General (USG) and Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) levels. Of that number, 56 (or 25 per cent) were women.

Just in the UN Secretariat, as at 30 June 2015, there were a total of 166 USG-ASG appointments; 23 per cent of USGs and 22 per cent of ASGs were women.

The 39-member UN Senior Management Group had 13 women (33%), and the 29-member Chief Executives Board of the UN System had 8 women (28%). 

Regional Representation
The UN System as a whole had the following regional representation at the USG-ASG levels: 59 from the African Group; 29 from the Asia-Pacific Group; 12 from the Eastern European Group; 17 from the Latin American-Caribbean Group; and 111 from the Western European and Others Group.

The distribution within just the UN Secretariat was: 48 from the African Group; 18 from the Asia-Pacific Group; 9 were from the Eastern European Group; 14 were from the Latin American-Caribbean Group; and 77 were from the Western European and Others Group.

The 39-member Senior Management Group’s regional breakdown was: 9 from the African Group; 10 from the Asia-Pacific Group; 1 from the Eastern European Group; 4 from the Latin American-Caribbean Group; and 15 from the Western European and Others Group. 

The regional figures for the Chief Executives Board were: 5 from the African Group; 8 from the Asia-Pacific Group; 2 from the Eastern European Group; 2 from the Latin American-Caribbean Group; and 12 from the Western European and Others Group. 

Ban Ki-moon's legacy in his own words

18 September 2016: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s final Report on the Work of the Organization (A/71/1) stakes out his legacy. In his own words, the main achievements of his decade in office, presented here in the same order as in the report, are:

Development: “We met the first Millennium Development Goal, cutting global poverty by half. We put more girls in school and saved more mothers from death in childbirth. These were no small feats ...”

Leadership on Climate change: “When I took office, international climate negotiations were making slow progress and it was not universally accepted that the United Nations Secretary-General had a personal role to play. However, I could not stand by in the face of a faltering global response to the defining challenge of our time, which was already having an effect on all areas of work of the United Nations. I engaged directly with world leaders, paying visits to some of the worst affected parts of the world, and undertaking a wide variety of other initiatives to keep the issue — including that of climate finance — on top of the global agenda.”

Promotion of Women: “I made the empowerment of women a cardinal mission throughout my time in office. I ushered UN-Women into existence and undertook special initiatives on issues such as maternal and child health, sexual violence and economic empowerment of women. I tried to set an example through improving the gender balance in senior appointments at the United Nations itself. We did not reach parity but we broke many glass ceilings during my tenure. When I took office, there were no women heading peace operations in the field. Now, nearly a quarter of United Nations missions are headed by women. I also appointed the first woman Legal Counsel, the first woman Police Adviser, the first woman Force Commander and more than 100 women at Assistant or Under-Secretary-General level.”

Youth: “With the world supporting its largest-ever generation of young people, I also sought to harness the energy of youth. We saw time and again their energy, passion, and keen desire for a voice in their own affairs. I responded by appointing an Envoy on Youth — himself only 28 years old — and making every effort to ensure that the voice of those “succeeding generations” was heard in our decision-making at the United Nations. I made a point of meeting with young people whenever possible, to hear their concerns and to encourage them as the leaders of tomorrow.

Peace and Security: “I made conflict prevention a priority throughout my time in office, beginning with strengthening United Nations capacity in mediation and preventive diplomacy. The proof of these reforms has been in the heightened demand throughout the decade and across the globe from Member States and regional partners for preventive diplomacy, mediation and mediation support from the United Nations.”
Peacekeeping: “During my tenure, the United Nations became the second largest deployer of troops in the world. Peacekeeping deployments hit an all-time high. Deployments were not only bigger, they were far more complex and sometimes more remote. Operating environments became more and more dangerous as the security situation deteriorated in many regions.”

Peace Operations: “I … book-ended my tenure with reforms to our systems for deploying and managing peace operations. This began with the establishment of the Department of Field Support and ended with proposals from the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, which made important recommendations on how we can better manage peace operations and deepen the global partnerships underpinning them.”

Secretariat reform: “I prioritized institutional and management reforms. I took steps to strengthen the accountability system, including a focus on internal controls and oversight mechanisms and tools to promote transparency and integrity. … I also introduced new human resource policies, including mobility. I pushed for the evolution of the Secretariat to a global organization underpinned by modern management practices and business processes. … I am delighted to leave in place for my successor an Organization that is well prepared for its eighth decade.”


 SG Asks end to staff rule ban on  Permanent ResidenT status

13 September 2016: Way back in 1953, the General Assembly decided that UN staff of the "Professional and Higher categories" would have to renounce permanent resident status in a country other than their own. In recent years that long-standing policy has been subject to judgments of the United Nations Appeals Tribunal finding that it had no legal basis as it is not reflected in any administrative issuance.

Since 2012, the Appeals Tribunal has found that when the Fifth Committee decided on the policy, it required its decisions to be given effect “through appropriate amendments to the Staff Rules” and that the Secretary-General had not fully complied. Further, given that the geographical distribution of staff is based on nationality and not on resident status, the policy could not be justified on the basis of ensuring adequate balance (the grounds for the original Assembly decision). The Tribunal said that “Bearing in mind human rights principles and modern law of employment, this policy has no place in a modern international organization.” 

In bringing this situation to the attention of the Assembly in his annual report on Changes in Staff Regulations and Rules (A/71/258), the Secretary-General notes that although the judgments of the Appeals Tribunal did not involve the issue of permanent resident status in the United States, they were relevant. The long-standing requirement that staff give up that status was thus "unlawful." Consequently, since November 2013, staff members have been allowed to retain permanent resident status in countries other than their own, pending reconsideration of the issue by the General Assembly. In the United States staff have also been allowed to waive the rights, privileges, exemptions and immunities of international civil servants (as required by the government).

The Secretary General reminds the Assembly that an earlier report (A/61/228) had brought these issues to its attention, including the fact that the rules "have always permitted staff to retain nationality in more than one country." In 1969, the Secretary-General had proposed the abolition of staff rule 1.5 (c) requiring staff to renounce permanent residence status. That recommendation was reiterated (in A/69/190) to the 69th session of the Assembly.  The Secretary-General notes that "Should the General Assembly decide not to retain the policy, the assessment of geographical representation would not be affected." 

The report notes that the Organization could save money if staff members elected to retain their permanent resident status because they would lose entitlements to home leave, education grant, repatriation grant and payment of travel expenses upon separation and removal of household effects.  

UN Ethics Report Focused on Statistics, blind to major issues

11 September 2016:  The annual report of the Secretary-General on the “Activities of the Ethics Office” (A/71/334) provides a bureaucratic and statistical   account of work done. The Office seems to be entirely blind to the deplorable moral condition of the Organization signaled by gross misconduct of its officials ranging from peacekeeping personnel to the most senior staff. The Office was created by the 2005 World Summit of the General Assembly (resolution 60/1, para. 161 d), and the report looks back over the decade it has been in existence.

We are told that the Office began operations in 2006, marked its tenth anniversary on UN Public Service Day (23 June), and that over the decade “the number of requests it fielded grew from 287 in 2006-2007 to 1,124. “At this, its ten-year mark, the Office had received 622 requests for ethics advice as compared to 531 at the five-year mark and 163 inquiries at the one-year mark;” 55 per cent of all inquiries seek ethics advice, almost 40 per cent of them about activities outside the UN.

Twenty-eight per cent of queries were about employment-related issues, 15 per cent about conflict of interest issues, nine per cent about misconduct reporting procedures, and 1 per cent about personal investments and assets. It goes on in that vein for 22 pages, telling of the “Ethics Panel” established in December 2007 to draw in UN System entities and the “Ethics Network of Multilateral Organizations” created in 2010.

The report makes no mention of the ethical issues raised by the rape of civilians, including children, by UN peacekeepers, the spread of cholera in Haiti from a UN encampment or the bribery and corruption charges brought against the President of the 68th session of the General Assembly. There is a section on protection of whistle-blowers but not a whisper about the staff member who was so victimized after blowing the lid off the peacekeeper rapes that he felt it necessary to resign.

The woefully deficient responses to all this from the highest levels of the UN constitute a separate and serious ethical issue that will undoubtedly be the subject of scholarly works in the future; the report does not mention the issue. If this is the result of a circumscribed mandate for the Office, the General Assembly should remedy it. 


The Preparatory Commission that worked to create the United Nations after its Charter was adopted in 1945 noted in its final report the importance of the Secretariat. “While the responsibility for the framing and adoption of agreed international policies rests with the organs representative of the Members” it said, “the essential tasks of preparing the ground for those decisions and of executing them in cooperation with the Members will devolve largely upon the Secretariat. The manner in which the Secretariat performs these tasks will largely determine the degree in which the objectives of the Charter will be realized.” The Commission stressed the importance of the person who would head the Secretariat: “The United Nations cannot prosper, nor can its aims be realized without the active and steadfast support of the peoples of the world. The aims and activities of the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council É will, no doubt, be represented before the public primarily by the Chairmen of these organs. But the Secretary-General, more than anyone else, will stand for the United Nations as a whole. In the eyes of the world, no less than in the eyes of his own staff, he must embody the principles and ideals of the Charter to which the Organization seeks to give effect.”

Such a conception of the top official of an international secretariat was a historically significant innovation. The two generations of international organizations that preceded the United Nations — the early technical bodies that dealt with such things as postal, telegraphic and meteorological services, and the later League of Nations — had never envisaged such a role for its top official. The technical bodies were run by faceless functionaries; the League had highly regarded political leadership in the person of its first Secretary-General, Eric Drummond of Britain, but it was not the prestige of office that won respect as much as his personal merit and the super-Power standing of his country. His successor, Joseph Avenol of France, quickly dropped into disregard, helping the process along by toadying to the rising Fascist powers; when he resigned in 1940 it was little noted and not long remembered.

The United Nations Charter does not spell out the role of the Secretary-General. Article 97 says he is the “chief administrative officer” of the Organization (not merely of the Secretariat). Article 98 broadens that role by saying that he may be entrusted with “other functions” by the main intergovernmental bodies. And Article 99 authorizes him to bring to the attention of the Security Council “any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.” This provision of the Charter, the UN Preparatory Commission said, gave the Secretary-General “a quite special right which goes beyond any power previously accorded to the head of an international organization.” The “responsibility it confers É will require the exercise of the highest qualities of political judgment, tact and integrity.”

Such empowerment reflected a fundamental shift in the aims of international organization. Where the League of Nations had been conceived essentially as an organization that would help preserve the balance of power among major powers, the United Nations was based on the concept of collective security — the joint use of force in the general interest. That meant a very significant reduction of the traditional “right” of sovereign States to conduct war. Where the Covenant of the League had obligated members “to respect and preserve against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all members,” the UN Charter enjoined a much broader code, applicable not just to members with existing political independence, but to all people. After including “respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples” among the “Purposes” of the Organization (Article 1), the Charter says in Article 2: “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.”

In the economic and social field, the UN Charter and the articles of agreement of the International Monetary Fund, represented an equally significant cession of sovereignty. The Commission on Human Rights is the only subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council mentioned in the Charter, and it provided the institutional framework that has allowed the United Nations to bring onto the international agenda matters that were once considered entirely within domestic jurisdiction. The IMF required governments to peg the values of their currency by an internationally agreed standard, internationalizing decisions once considered to be at the heart of economic sovereignty. Overall, the United Nations system envisaged the creation of an international order in which many of the Hobbesian attributes of sovereignty were constrained by the rule of law.

To push its core concept of collective security, the UN Charter required a truly independent Secretariat. Article 100 is a historically unprecedented injunction, in two parts. The first says: “In the performance of their duties the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization. They shall refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible to the Organization.” The second part of the Article reads: “Each member of the United Nations undertakes to respect the exclusively international character of the responsibilities of the Secretary-General and the staff and not to seek to influence them in the discharge of their responsibilities.”

The UN Preparatory Commission observed in its report that the Secretariat envisaged in Article 100 “cannot be composed, even in part, of national representatives responsible to governments. For the duration of their appointments, the Secretary-General and the staff will not be the servants of the state of which they are nationals, but the servants only of the United Nations.” It went on to state a corollary requirement: “It is essential that officials should be inspired by a sense of loyalty to the United Nations and devotion to the ideal for which it stands, and that they should develop an esprit de corps and a habit of daily cooperation with persons of other countries and cultures. Loyalty to the Organization is in no way incompatible with an official’s attachment to his own country, whose higher interest he is serving in serving the United Nations. It clearly involves, however, a broad international outlook and a detachment from narrow prejudices and narrow national interests.”

The history of the United Nations has been one of constant tension between the ideals of its Charter and the realities of power in a world of unequal sovereignties. For the first four decades, implementation of the Charter was also distorted by the murderous ideological struggle of the "Cold War". As Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali said in a little noticed report titled An Agenda for Democratization, (issued on his own initiative in 1996):

“On one side of the global ideological confrontation were States which claimed to have peace and democracy at home, and which supported peoples’ calls for self-determination and democratization abroad. Yet these States often misappropriated the name of democracy and acted in drastically undemocratic ways. On the other side were States which endeavoured to maintain peace and democracy at home and to promote those objectives within other States. Yet these States often supported authoritarian regimes, on the grounds that those regimes opposed communism and defended market freedoms, or used non-democratic means to achieve their foreign policy goals. The actions of both sides seemed to suggest a belief that peace and democracy within States could be achieved by war and non-democracy among States. The "Cold War" thus interrupted the project of democratic international organization begun by the founders. Throughout the decades of this confrontation, many of the major decisions of international peace and security were taken outside the United Nations and managed within the context of a non-democratic system, the bipolar system. The principle of self-determination was usurped and manipulated. International law became a casualty. The bright prospects for democracy within and among States soon faded to a faint glow.”

Power-Grab at San Francisco: At the San Francisco conference that negotiated the United Nations Charter, small and medium States tried unsuccessfully to give the General Assembly the power to pick the Secretary-General. They failed because the five Permanent members of the Security Council, arguing that no Secretary-General could be effective without their willing cooperation and support, insisted on having veto power over the selection. In effect, this constrained the unprecedented scope given by the United Nations Charter to the Secretary-General to pursue and promote the common interest of all member States.
By the end of the UN’s first decade it had become clear that there were major obstacles to realizing the Charter ideal of a career international civil service capable of pursuing the general interest. Trygve Lie’s fate highlighted the fact that the Soviet Union and its client States never accepted the idea of such a service. They insisted on seconding staff for fixed terms to the Secretariat and, to guard against loss of bureaucratic influence, claimed hereditary rights to key posts. Major Western Powers also laid claim to prime positions for their own nationals; in fact, the five Permanent members of the Security Council had reached a “gentleman’s agreement” in 1946 that each would have a top cabinet-level job in the Secretariat. Also striking at the root of the concept of the Secretariat as a pure meritocracy was a General Assembly decision to establish a loose quota system linking each country’s share of the UN budget to the number of its nationals employed by the UN. Lobbying for staff appointments and placements became a standard ambassadorial duty at the UN. The scuffle for Secretariat jobs reflected a larger struggle for national advantage that continued unabated despite the high rhetoric of the UN Charter. As Dag Hammarskjold’s ill-fated second term showed, if the Secretary-General became involved in that, the result could be deadly.

The following sections on the individuals who have been Secretary-General show how the office has been under constant assault over the last seven decades. The pressures on the UN Secretariat have prevented it from being rigorously honest in analyzing global problems and recommending action. That has undermined the fundamental integrity and independence of the Organization but the problem is not on any official reform agenda..

Trygve Lie

Dag Hammarskjold

U Thant

Kurt Waldheim

Javier Perez de Cuellar

Boutros Boutros-Ghali

Kofi Annan

Ban Ki-Moon

a statistical profile of UN System staff

March 2016: At last count, there were over 76 thousand people working for the United Nations and its various entities around the world. That does not include the staff of the autonomous UN Specialized agencies (like the World Health Organization), but does include programs like UNICEF initiated by the UN General Assembly.  Of that grand total, fewer than 10,000 are subject to a national quota system linked to the size of a country's budgetary contribution. 

Most UN staff have contracts ranging from a few months to five years. A minority have permanent or continuing contracts. There are two major categories of staff, Professional (P) and the mainly secretarial General Services (GS). The Professional entry level is P-1 and goes up to P-5. Above that are two Director levels, D1 and D2 (the latter being more senior), and then the political appointee levels of Assistant-Secretary-General (ASG) and the more senior Under-Secretary-General (USG). The General Service ranks also ascend numerically and those who qualify can move up into the Professional ranks. The charts below show the June 2015 breakdown of all UN staff by entity and location.

UN ENTITY                    TOTAL STAFF                                %
Secretariat                         41 081                                       54.0 
UNICEF                                12 386                                       16.3  
UNHCR                                   9 728                                       12.8 
UNDP                                     7 456                                         9.8   
UNFPA                                   2 621                                         3.4  
UNOPS                                   1 009                                        1.3 
UN-Women                             816                                         1.1
ITC                                               298                                        0.4  
UNJSPF                                     240                                        0.3
UNRWA                                      144                                        0.2
UNU                                            123                                        0.2
ICJ                                               117                                         0.2  
ICSC                                              56                                         0.1    
UNITAR                                        40                                         0.1  
Total                                     76 115                                    100.0

Where 41,081 UN staff were posted as of 30 June 2015
Duty station                          Country                               # Staff 

New York                           United States                           6 545  

Geneva                                Switzerland                             3 459 
Nairobi                                     Kenya                                    1 836
El Fasher                                  Sudan                                   1 710

Vienna                                       Austria                                  1 156
Port-au-Prince                         Haiti                                     1 101
Juba                                      South Sudan                           1 090
Monrovia                                 Liberia                                    1 041
Goma                                    DR of Congo                                988 
Kabul                                     Afghanistan                                938 
Addis Ababa                          Ethiopia                                     899
Naqoura                                 Lebanon                                     861
Bamako                                      Mali                                           819
Kinshasa                              DR of Congo                                 806


19 December 2016: In a resolution on the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund the General Assembly expresses concern that it suffered $3.4 billion in losses due to foreign exchange factors during the 2014-2015 biennium. It urges the Secretary-General to "employ suitable procedures and tools to mitigate foreign exchange losses as well as develop an internal mechanism to monitor, evaluate and manage" such losses or gains.

Vacant Posts, Anti-Corruption Policy: The resolution notes with "serious concern the high number of vacant posts in the Investment Management Division, in particular at the managerial and senior levels, and in this regard requests the Secretary-General to take appropriate measures to fill all vacant posts, as a matter of priority." It welcomes the development of the anti-fraud and anti-corruption policy for the Investment Management Division, and in this regard requests the Secretary-General to ensure its full implementation.

Underperforming Investments: The Assembly also expresses concern at "the near-term under-performance of investments," and emphasizes the importance of the Fund meeting its target of annual real rate of return of 3.5 per cent over the long term.  It asks the Secretary-General to make all efforts to improve the Fund’s investment performance and to report thereon.  

OIOS Audit: The General Assembly is asking the Secretary-General to have the Office of Internal Oversight Services conduct a comprehensive audit of the Fund’s policies on, inter alia, risk management, investment management and other administrative processes. It asks that the key findings of the OIOS report be submitted to its 72nd session (which begins in September 2017).

Delays in Payments: The resolution expresses serious concern at the continued delays in the receipt of payments by some new beneficiaries and retirees of the Fund, and "once again stresses the need for the Pension Board to take appropriate steps to ensure that the Fund addresses the causes of such delays." It asks for an update in the next report of the Pension Board.


3 December 2016: The General Assembly's watchdog body the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) has put in perspective the array of problems experienced by UN pensioners in the last two years. In a report on the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund (UNJSPF) it presents basic information about the Fund and its operations:

The number of participants in the UNJSPF increased from 120,294 to 126,892 (5.5 per cent) during the biennium 2014-2015.

Those receiving benefits included retirees from the Fund’s 23 member organizations and dependents of 98 staff members who had died in service. In 2015-2016 there were 1,450 new retirees and 2,963 withdrawals, raising the total of those receiving periodic benefits from 69,980 to 71,474 (2.1 per cent).

Payments went to 190 countries in 15 different currencies.

The delays in payments experienced by Fund beneficiaries result from both the two main phases of the process. In the first phase, with input from individual staff members, organizations collect and complete the relevant documents and send them to the Fund. In the second phase, the Fund processes the documentation submitted and initiates payment.

A sampling of 4,511 cases processed through these two phases in 2015 or earlier found that: 
(a) Only 2 per cent of death-in-service cases, 26 per cent of retirement cases and 5 per cent of withdrawal cases were submitted by the member organizations within a period of one month following the date of separation; and
(b) Only 14 per cent of death-in-service cases; 8 per cent of retirement cases and 8 per cent of withdrawal cases were processed by the Fund within the 15-day benchmark following receipt of the mandatory documents. (Report of the Board of Auditors A/71/5/Add.16, paras. 106-123).
To reduce the delays in the first phase of the process, the Fund is proposing to conduct a review with the support of an external consultant to identify how to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness. It is also proposing “a quality assurance team” that would cooperate with the member organizations to improve the quality of data and separation documents they submit. The Fund will also request member organizations to create “pension focal points” to expedite the processing of claims. (The ACABQ notes that these steps should have been taken earlier.)

On the second phase (the processing of entitlement claims by the Fund), delays reflect a surge in claims during the last months of 2015 and the first months of 2016. The Fund expects to process 42 per cent more separations in 2016 than in 2014. Two factors are noted, the downsizing of peacekeeping operations (a 57.5 per cent increase in 2016) and speedier submissions by member organizations. The combination has swamped the the new Integrated Pension Administration System (IPAS). The increase in staff separations is projected to continue, with 1,000 new cases in 2017.

The ACABQ trims the Board’s proposal to create 18 additional posts to deal with the increased work-load. It notes that 24 of the 185 posts of the Fund were vacant as of 7 October 2016, representing a vacancy rate of almost 13 per cent. Of the 24 vacant posts, 6 posts are directly dedicated to benefit processing, including the Chief (P-5), and the Deputy Chiefs (P-4, in both Geneva and New York) of the Pension Entitlements Section, as well as 3 posts of Benefits Assistant (General Service) in New York. The Advisory Committee urges the Fund to focus expeditiously on filling the vacant posts; it greenlights the creation of 9 posts to help improve benefits processing.

The Committee shoots down the proposal to create a permanent P-5 post in New York for a Senior Public Information Officer to implement a communications strategy, build stakeholder relations and ensure a strategic focus on the customer experience. It notes that the General Assembly has already approved at its 70th session a P-5 post in Geneva for a Chief, Client Communication and Liaison who should be able to set up the proposed communication strategy and operations. The Committee also turns down the proposal to create the temporary post of Senior Management Analyst (P-5) on the grounds of inadequate justification. 


June 2016: The head of the $54 billion 66,000 beneficiary United Nations pension fund is under increasing fire because the introduction of a new software program has led to 6-month delays in payments to new retirees.
The current problems compound allegations of mismanagement that have dogged CEO Sergio Arvizu ever since he took office in 2013 after seven years as Deputy to his predecessor. (Mr. Arvizu did not respond to an email asking for information on the controversies.)

At a March 31 meeting last year, UN staff union representatives accused senior staff at the Fund of tampering with documents, unspecified conflicts of interest and nepotism. Citing those issues, representatives of two large staff associations whose members are UN pensioners have questioned Arvizu’s initiative to gain fuller control of staff management than has traditionally been allowed the Fund CEO.

Since last year a blog has kept track of the controversies surrounding the CEO, a national of Mexico who came to the UN from a large fund in his country. The latest post does little to clarify matters for it casts suspicion on a New York staff union’s defense of Mr. Arvizu; it says: 

“We learned recently that the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) initiated an audit regarding the Fund’s substantial backlog and processing delays in payments to new retirees and survivors, and reportedly requested to meet with the AFICS/NY leadership in this regard. The meeting was soon followed by an email from the AFICS/NY President, dated 1 June 2016, addressed to OIOS, copied to a number of AFICS Governing Board members. The email calls into question the rationale of OIOS even looking into the issue of the backlog and minimizes the impact on retiring staff of the protracted delays while seeking to shift responsibility to a variety of other factors, not in the control of the CEO.  The AFICS leadership offers opinions about the causes of the crisis; regrets that it did not have more advance information about the audit; and asks for an opportunity to comment before the audit report is finalized.” 

The blog post ends with a call for the UN Ethics Office to investigate the efforts of AFICS/NY to “weaken if not obstruct the OIOS audit.”

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