INDEPENDENT NEWS AND COMMENT ON WORLD AFFAIRS
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Audrey Azoulay (France)
Henrietta Fore (USA)
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24 May 2017: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia has been elected to be the eighth Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). The annual World Health Assembly picked him over Dr. David Nabarro of Britain in a secret ballot by133 votes to 50, with two abstentions. A third candidate, Dr. Sania Nishtar of Pakistan, was eliminated in the first round of voting.
Dr. Tedros – as he prefers to be addressed – will be the first non-medical doctor to lead WHO; he holds a doctorate in community health and a master of science in immunology of infectious diseases. Tedros served as Ethiopia's Minister of Health from 2005 to 2012, then as its foreign minister for four years.
He is also the first African and the first to be elected in a competitive race; all his predecessors were picked by the Executive Board and confirmed by the Assembly. In his acceptance speech, Tedros noted that the election had brought greater legitimacy to the post of DG and that he would use it to “bring the change and reform we need.” Half the world population had inadequate access to health care, he said, and remedying that would be his priority. He will take over from incumbent D-G Dr. Margaret Chan of China on 30 June.
Health has been on the international agenda ever since the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people in a year than the First World War did in four. The League of Nations established as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended the War had a Health Office that pioneered international cooperation in dealing with infectious diseases. It was also largely responsible for globalizing the Canadian discovery that insulin could be used to treat diabetes.
WHO has expanded the work of its predecessor in all ways. It now has almost universal membership and a presence in all of them. (Taiwan is a major exception. An attempt by a Taiwan delegation to participate in the current session of the WHO Assembly was blocked by Beijing.)
Under WHO aegis, the world mobilized to wipe out smallpox and the organization has led the successful fight against polio to the point where the disease is now present only in a few pockets in some of the poorest countries. It has also been a leader on issues like tobacco use, road safety, the prevention of drowning and the drive to provide vaccines and ensure immunization against a set of childhood diseases. The organization stumbled in dealing with the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa by not recognizing the seriousness of developments and mobilizing urgently. Reform thus became part of the campaign of all candidates for the top post.
19 May 2017: The choice of Zurab Pololikashvili of Georgia to be the next head of the World Tourism Organization despite charges of vote buying (see below), is causing considerable dismay. Members of the African Union in particular, are concerned at the lack of group unity. Even though the AU fielded an official candidate, Walter Mzembi of Zimbabwe and Alain St.Ange from the Seychelles dropped out at the last minute, the European candidate won.
The selection will have to be ratified by the WTO Assembly meeting China in September.
Dismay at African Disunity
Speaking at a Tourism Indaba on 19 May, South African Tourism minister Tokozile Xasa has expressed dismay at African countries not supporting each other and failing to vote for the AU candidate. The Zimbabwe Tourism minister led the first round with 11 votes to Georgia's eight, but lost in the second round, getting 15 votes to his rival's 18.
There are 33 member states in the UNWTO executive council, which constitute the electoral college, of which 10 are from Africa, Europe 10, Middle East three, South Asia two, Americas five and East Asia three.
12 May 2017: Zurab Pololikashvili of Georgia has been selected to head the World Tourism Organization despite charges of vote buying (see below). The candidate from Seychelles, Alain St.Ange, dropped out at the last minute but that did not seem to help the African Union nominee for the post, Walter Mzembi of Zimbabwe. The candidate from Armenia dropped out earlier, perhaps occasioning the charges of fraud.
The selection will have to be ratified by the WTO Assembly meeting China in September.
3 May 2017: As the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) gets set to pick its next Secretary-General on 12 May, an open letter alleging corruption in the process has gone viral. Addressed to those who will make the selection, it appeared first on worldtourismwire.com and is signed by Juergen Thomas Steinmetz, publisher, eturbonews (etn).
The letter says that according to “multiple, unimpeachable sources, one candidate, Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili, with the direct influence of Georgia’s prime minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, appears to have made bilateral agreements, unrelated to tourism with other countries in exchange for votes.” The aim seems to have been to secure a united european front in support of the georgian candidate.
“My global travel and tourism news organization, etn, reached out to Mr. Pololikashvili and the Georgian Embassy in Madrid multiple times to ask for comment on these grave allegations", the letter say, adding, "we did not receive a response.”
Changing tack, the letter continues: “Mr. Pololikashvili has not appeared at a single UNWTO or trade event created for candidates to present their vision for the top job in world tourism. No interaction, engagement, or communications have been publicly made by the Georgian candidate since his initial candidacy was announced december 2016."
The letter concludes with the formal request "via individual letters to the unwto executive council members and also their embassies in washington for official comment on this developing situation." a promise follows to follow up later this week and publish comments received.
There were originally seven official candidates:
Mr. Vahan Martirosyan of Armenia (withdrew)
Márcio Favilla of Brazil
Jaime Alberto Cabal Sanclemente of Colombia.
Zurab Pololikashvili of Georgia
Young-shim Dho of the Republic of Korea.
Alain St. Ange of Seychelles (withdrew)
Walter Mzembi of Zimbabwe.
Seven other candidates did not submit the necessary paperwork and their names have not been forwarded to the Executive Council for further consideration. That is one less than at the beginning of the race; the Armenian candidate seems to have dropped out, perhaps occasioning the charges above. The person selected on 12 May will be formally appointed by the WTO General Assembly in China on 2 September.
25 April 2017: Francis Gurry, the Director General of the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), has been on a rampage against staff who dared testify against him in an internal investigation that revealed he had manipulated a procurement exercise for the benefit of an acquaintance. In a case that has escalated over the last four years, staff have accused him of unlawful action not only in reprisals against whistleblowers but of violating United States sanctions against North Korea and Iran, and of stealing the personal effects of staff to get samples of their DNA.
In the most recent outrages, Gurry has withdrawn recognition from the WIPO Staff Association representing 600 dues paying members, fired its president, Moncef Kateb, asked other officers to vacate rooms at WIPO, and recognized his own pliable "Staff Association." He has even denied the right of the Staff Association to communicate by email with its members.
The three largest UN staff bodies, CCISUA, FICSA and UNISERV with some 120,000 members have now jointly sent a letter to Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Member States, asking for their intervention to protect the rights of WIPO staff. The joint letter points out that the initial internal WIPO investigation has been supplemented by an OIOS finding. They also cite a highly critical article published on WIPO by the Government Accountability Project (GAP) last week. GAP has pointed out that for the past two years, the US Congress has withheld 15 percent of the United States’ annual contribution to WIPO because the agency failed to implement best-practice whistleblower protections.
The UN System's highest level executive body, the Chief Executives Board (CEB), is meeting this week in Geneva, but swift action is highly unlikely. Especially because WIPO member States refused to take action against Gurry after an all-day closed discussion of the charges against him in October 2016. In January 2017 WIPO staff demonstrated publicly asking for his ouster and the charges against him have become too public to be brushed under the rug. Whether that will make a difference to the UN's deep resistance to rocking the boat remains to be seen
Gurry is an Australian lawyer who has been at the head of WIPO since October 2008; his current term ends in September 2020.
June 2016: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees gave out over $400 million to non-governmental partners in 2015 to take care of the surging number of displaced people with little monitoring of how the money was spent. In many cases, it did not even assess its own capacities to deal with situations before giving out the money. Based on those findings, the UN's internal watchdog body, the Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) has given UNHCR an "unsatisfactory" audit rating.
That happened in the wake of a new UNHCR “Policy and Procedures on Procurement by Partners” adopted in 2014, a year when the refugee agency gave out over $500 million to some 900 partners.
The OIOS audit sampled 16 of the 129 countries in which UNHCR has partner programs and found that the agency had not done the cost-benefit analysis required by the new policy to decide if an external partner was necessary. Nor had it assessed the capabilities of the partner organizations in 12 of those countries. In the 4 countries where such assessments were made, they were inadequate and information provided by partner organizations went unverified.
UNHCR has not responded to the criticisms but will surely raise the extenuating circumstance that its capacities were over-stretched by the explosive growth of the refugee population and implementing the new policy had to take a back seat to meeting emergency demands.
A sidelight unmentioned in the report is that the head of UNHCR during the period covered was Antonio Gueterres (now the Secretary-General of the United Nations).
29 December 2017: The United Nations waited until the Friday before its long Christmas break to announce changes in the leadership of UNICEF in New York (scroll down to previous story for details) and Nairobi-based UN-Habitat. The change at UNICEF resulted from host-country politics; the one at Habitat was the result of a staff revolt dating back to 2016. (See memo.)
The problem at HABITAT was the unreconstructed earthiness of a Spanish politician parachuted into a UN environment he was unequipped to handle. Misleadingly named Joan Clos was the Mayor of Barcelona and a cabinet minister before coming to the UN, and he seems to have behaved in Nairobi with all the sensitivity of a pillaging Conquistador. He has been missing from the Habitat post during 2017 while the staff charges were investigated, working again in a ministerial capacity for his government.
In making the announcement of the change at UN-HABITAT, Secretary-General Guterres preserved the niceties, expressing gratitude for his "dedicated service" and noting that he had "led UN‑Habitat during the pivotal years when the world’s population became majority urban." During that time he had "championed the development of a New Urban Agenda and Sustainable Development Goal 11 (SDG11), the first development goal focused on sustainable urbanization," and his "emphasis on urban planning and national urban policies" had been "widely appreciated."
New HABITAT Head
Maimunah Mohd Sharif of Malaysia is the new Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN‑Habitat). Following nomination by the Secretary-General, she was elected by the General Assembly on 22 December.
Ms. Sharif is currently Mayor of the City Council of Penang Island, Malaysia, an urban leader who began her career as a Town Planner at the Municipal Council of Penang Island in 1985. Before taking her post in Penang, she was the first woman to serve as President of the Municipal Council of Seberang Perai in 2011, seeking to achieve its vision of a “cleaner, greener, safer and healthier place to work, live, invest and play”. She is "a champion of Gender‑Responsive Participatory Budgeting to integrate gender perspectives into the governance process, as a tool to mainstream gender into budgetary and development policy and planning." In November 2009, she was entrusted as the first General Manager to establish UNESCO's George Town World Heritage Incorporated and manage the George Town World Heritage Site.
She holds a Bachelor of Science with honors in town planning studies from the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology, United Kingdom, and a Master of Science in planning studies from the University of Science Malaysia. She is married and has two daughters.
28 December 2017: Anthony Lake, an Obama appointee, has stepped down well before the end of his second term as Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund to make place for Henrietta H. Fore, a veteran leader with diverse experience with government (former head of USAID), nonprofits and corporations. In announcing his departure a few weeks ago, Mr. Lake referred to the "extension" of his first term.
In announcing the succession the Secretary‑General said "Mr. Lake brought a renewed focus on equity throughout UNICEF’s programmes and services for children. In achieving results for every child, his leadership has strengthened UNICEF’s reputation and credibility as an organization, and as a valued, expert partner for Governments, civil society groups and businesses around the world, working together to achieve results for children."
The UN announced Ms Fore's appointment just before the Christmas break, after months of enticing rumors about those shortlisted for the job. At one point, the United Kingdom was said to be running Angela Jolie for the job. (When she was much younger UNICEF declined to have her as Goodwill Ambassador because her "image" was considered unsuitable. She went to UNHCR and blossomed unexpectedly into an international adoptive and natural mother, becoming in the process, close to British movers and shakers.) When Ivanka Trump had lunch with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last summer, the rumor mongers had her down as the next UNICEF head.
Ms. Fore currently chairs the Board and is the Chief Executive Officer of Holsman International, a manufacturing and investment company. She has also served as the Global Co‑Chair of the Asia Society, Chaired the Middle East Investment Initiative, and Co‑Chaired Women Corporate Directors. She has been on the boards of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Aspen Institute, Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy and the Center for Global Development.
Ms. Fore has a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Wellesley College and a Master of Science degree in Public Administration from the University of Northern Colorado. She is married and has four children.
15 October 2017: ILO Director-General Guy Rider has maintained an embarrassed silence in the face of repeated queries from the Indian government about a “global slavery report” based on information collected by an NGO run by billionaire Australian mining tycoon Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest.
The Indian government has faulted the information from Forrest’s “Walk Free Foundation” (WFF) as reflecting opaque sampling methodology and overt bias. According to official Indian analysts quoted by The Hindu newspaper, the WFF’s “entire focus was on India and had enough potential to substantively harm India’s image and kill its exports market.” The reports put India in the same category as major human rights abusers such as China, Iraq and Pakistan.
No Protocol Followed
The Hindu reported that the Indian government’s Labor Ministry had shot off a strong letter to the ILO regarding its September 2017 report titled ‘Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labor and Forced Marriage 2017.’ Official sources in Delhi said the report did not contain any India-specific findings, barring one mention that 17,000 people were interviewed for the survey.
The letter pointed out that ILO had followed no protocol in using data primarily from WFF sources to “produce a report on ‘modern slavery’ – a term ILO has not so far defined in its own conventions.” Despite repeated reminders to ILO DG Ryder, the Indian government had not received a response, according to the newspaper
Billionaire with China Ties
Andrew Forrest, one of Australia’s ten richest men, has close associations with the Chinese government. He is a major supplier of minerals to China, and owns Harvey Beef, the largest Australian supplier of beef to China. He is associated with South China University of Technology, one of the largest public universities in the country.
Forrest is also the founder of the “Global Freedom Network” to be led by the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar of Egypt. The Network will work to mobilize an economic boycott by all religious faiths of “organizations involved with slavery”.
Guy Ryder's Background
Guy Ryder is the 10th ILO Director-General and began his second five-year term on 1 October 2017. He is a British national who began his career at the International Department of the Trade Union Congress in London and joined the ILO at its Geneva headquarters in 1998 as Director of the Bureau for Workers’ Activities. In 2010, he was named Executive Director responsible for International Labour Standards and Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work before becoming ILO Director-General in 2012. With that background it is inconceivable that he does not know that the report on "modern slavery" is on thin ice conceptually and in terms of data. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the Indian charges.
13 October 2017: In a last-minute surprise, the 58-member Executive Board of UNESCO picked Audrey Azoulay of France to lead UNESCO, vaulting her ahead of Abdulaziz Al-Kanwari of Qatar who had led the previous round of voting. The result is expected to be confirmed on 10 November by a vote by all 195 members of the agency.
The outcome of the selection process was definitely affected by the sudden announcement by the United States on 12 October that it was withdrawing from UNESCO (scroll down for that story). The issue of anti-Israel bias that led to the US action is certain to be affected by the choice of Ms Azoulay for she will be the first Jewish Director-General.
The race to replace Irina Bokova as Director-General involved seven candidates from Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, Qatar, France, Iraq and Vietnam. In the fourth round of voting on 12 October, the Qatari candidate led with 22 votes as the French and Egyptian candidates tied for second place with 18. A run-off to break the tie and the final vote were held on the 13th.
The candidates (in order of their declaration of candidacy) were:
Polad BÜLBÜLOGLU (Azerbaijan), PHAM Sanh Chau (Vietnam), Moushira KHATTAB (Egypt), Abdulaziz AL-KAWARI (Qatar), Qian TANG (China), Alfonso FUENTES SORIA (Guatemala), Saleh AL-HASNAWI (Iraq), EL-KHOURY LACOEUILHE (Lebanon), Audrey AZOULAY (France).
13 October 2017: The United States served notice yesterday on the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that it will quit the agency at the end of 2018 but will remain engaged as an Observer. The State Department said the step was necessary to stop mounting budgetary dues that have accumulated since 2011, when the United States stopped paying its dues after Palestine was admitted as a member State.
The action is a milder replay of the 1980s when the Reagan administration withdrew angrily from the agency charging corruption and nepotism. Those charges covered deep philosophical differences as UNESCO took a leading role in seeking a New International Information Order, a variant of the demand made by developing countries at the United Nations for a New International Economic Order.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova issued a statement of fulsome regret at the US exit but she did not address the issue of anti-Israel bias in UNESCO decisions that has exacerbated relations with Washington in recent years. One of the most egregious decisions had to do with the decision to classify the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Hebron's Old City as Palestinian World Heritage Sites. Israel saw that as an attempt to deny the particular importance of those sites for Jews, who consider the former as holy. The decision to classify those sites as Palestinian heritage was taken in the face of Israeli and US opposition.
Ms Bokova's term at the head of UNESCO ends next month. If a new leader changes the anti-Israel dynamic at agency it is likely there will be strong domestic pressure to reverse the US decision. As Ms. Bokova's statement made clear, US involvement with UNESCO has been vital and broad. (One of the most important UNESCO projects, the World Digital Library, is an American initiative and among the most engrossing of web sites.)
19 July 2017: UNICEF has just added actress, comedian, and author Lilly Singh its newest "Goodwill Ambassador" in New Delhi. "Lilly, who is known by her digital alias Superwoman, was in India to meet children and young people being supported by UNICEF, the world’s leading children’s organisation," says a UN Press release.
Never heard of Lilly Singh?
Why Lilly, 28, has gained a huge fan base of over 11 million YouTube subscribers with her "unique digital presence" as "superwoman." Also, as the Press release tells us, this year, "she released her international and New York Times bestselling book How To Be A Bawse, and was recently cast in HBO’s film adaptation of “Fahrenheit 451.” Additionally, Lilly was ranked 1st on the Forbes Magazine Top Influencers List in the entertainment category."
What of glamorous Indian film stars like Deepika Padukone with a national following in the hundreds of millions? Evidently, UNICEF prefers Indians to have goodwill delivered by its own choice of "Ambassadors." Its current lineup consists of David Beckham, Orlando Bloom, Jackie Chan, Muzoon Almellehan, Danny Glover, Liam Neeson, Priyanka Chopra, Ricky Martin and Shakira.
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth was in New Delhi to help explain its latest choice . “Lilly Singh is already a Superwoman, helping empower girls around the world – and we are delighted that she will lend her passion and her powerful voice to speak up on behalf of the most vulnerable children,” told the Press. "Her new role with UNICEF is complemented by her Girl Love initiative, which aims to end to girl-on-girl hate and instead focuses on positivity by encouraging support of women and girls."
Lilly was joined at the launch event by Ms. Yasmin Haque, UNICEF’s Representative in India, who officially welcomed her to the UNICEF family. “Lilly is a role model to so many young people, especially girls, and we look forward to the role she will play in generating greater discussion – and greater action – around the value of girls in India and everywhere,” Haque said.
19 May 2017: Bangladesh had the world's deadliest storm on record in November 1970, according to the World Meteorological Organization. On 12-13 that month, a tropical cyclone whipped out of the Bay of Bengal and flooded the low-lying delta regions of what was then East Pakistan, killing an estimated 300,000 people. (Higher estimates put the toll at 500,000.)
Bangladesh also holds the record for the highest mortality associated with a tornado: 1,300 people killed on 26 April 1989 in Manikganj. The tornado destroyed two towns as it cut a mile-wide swathe through the countryside.
Other grim record-breakers on the WMO list:
The WMO list of deadly weather events was released just ahead of an initiative to create multi-hazard early warning systems and strengthening disaster risk reduction at a conference in Cancun, Mexico from 22 to 26 May.
Organized by WMO and the UN Office on Disaster Risk Reduction, it will consider the results of an investigation by a committee of experts of mortality records on five specific weather-related events. The committee did not report on deaths caused by heat- or cold-waves, drought and floods, but that is expected to be rectified going forward. The results will be in WMO's Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes.
An article published in the online edition of the American Meteorological Society’s journal, Weather, Climate and Society reflects the Committee's view that climate change poses the threat of increased mortality from extreme weather. As world population continues to grow, "a greater portion of humanity is threatened by a multitude of climate and weather phenomena,” it said.
“However, vulnerability is a function of both the risk of an event and the adaptation or resilience to the event. For example, heatwave-related mortality tends to decrease as air conditioning becomes more widespread. Similarly, lightning casualties decrease when munitions storage facilities install lightning rods and athletic programs establish lightning safety protocols."
Building Baseline Data
Before such action can be taken it is necessary to establish baseline data on the severity and impact of weather incidents, a task that has been taken in hand by the WMO's 19-member expert panel. There will also be need for a continuous improvement in related forecasting and warning infrastructure. The MeteoAlarm system in Europe, a web-based service designed to provide real-time warning for people travelling in Europe of severe weather, is an example of what can be done.
The expert panel includes climatologists and meteorologists, as well as a physician and a weather historian. It has only considered mortality extremes after 1873, the formation date of the WMO’s predecessor, the International Meteorological Organization. WMO is strengthening collaboration with UN partners to help improve knowledge on the humanitarian and environmental impact of extreme weather and climate events and has started factoring this information into its reports on the state of the climate.
A full list of weather and climate extremes is available at the WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes (http://wmo.asu.edu/) This includes the world’s highest and lowest temperatures, rainfall, heaviest hailstone, longest dry period, maximum gust of wind, as well as hemispheric weather and climate extremes.
Maimunah Mohd Sharif (Malaysia) at UN-Habitat