Two of Concerned Women for America’s (CWA’s) experts are attending the 50th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), held February 27-March 10 at United Nations headquarters in New York. Wendy Wright, CWA’s President, will be directing efforts of the pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-family citizen lobbyists during the session’s second week. Miss Wright has attended and reported on U.N. conferences on women, population and cloning since 1997.
Dr. Janice Crouse, who heads CWA’s think tank, The Beverly LaHaye Institute, will report on and analyze the current CSW sessions. Dr. Crouse has particular expertise on emphases at this year’s CSW: violence against women, sex trafficking, Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), women’s empowerment, and women’s political participation. Her report follows.
The figurative booing from the international community about U.N. corruption is nothing compared to the literal booing that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan heard this week. It came from the headquarters staff packed into a meeting in Conference Room 4 at Turtle Bay in New York City. As he walked in, deafening booing greeted him, and it continued periodically during the hour-long meeting with nearly 1,000 headquarters managers and staffers.
At the United Nations for the 50th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, I was able to attend and observe this open meeting.
When a printing department manager explained that Kinko’s could never replace his talented staff, Annan wondered aloud, “What is Kinko’s?” Staff throughout the packed room groaned.
Annan “reassured” the “international civil servants” that “no one will lose their jobs” in his plan for downsizing and outsourcing or moving certain responsibilities offshore. A few minutes later, he declared with a straight face and calm voice amid raucus laughter: “Buyouts won’t result in loss of personnel.” Besides, his plan will allow “those folks whose skills are no longer needed to leave with dignity.”
Got it? No jobs will be lost, but those who lose their jobs will be treated with dignity. The staff members were not comforted nor were they dignified as they yelled, pounded the tables, laughed at and made fun of the Secretary-General.
Now in this 10th year of leading the United Nations, Annan has not achieved leadership of the staff nor earned their respect or deference. When one woman asked a question prefaced by a comment about how much everyone respected the Secretary-General, loud moans, laughter and boos echoed across the room.
The Secretary-General began the meeting by talking about the problems of the past when he “treated symptoms rather than the causes of problems” at U.N. headquarters. He mentioned the problems with procurement and the oil-for-food scandal in the context of explaining his new “vision.” He admitted that there might be questions about releasing a new plan just a year before his term ends. More laughter came when he talked about accountability having “deeper roots.”
A staff spokesperson who headed the headquarters committee to evaluate Annan’s report focused on the need for accountability and transparency from the Secretary-General. The staffer basically said that the written plans for outsourcing and offshore transfers were far more extensive than Annan was indicating in the meeting. She said that the report described staff as “not sufficiently skilled to meet the organization’s needs.” She estimated that thousands of jobs would be eliminated.
The staff spokesperson talked about Annan’s emphasis on the U.N.’s “failed systems.” “We could have told you that years ago,” she said, adding, “You declare that human resources are not working. Well, when we’ve complained about human resources, you’ve told us repeatedly how well it is working.” The crowd pounded the tables, applauded and yelled as the representative asked, “Who is accountable for all these failed systems, Mr. Secretary-General?”
Annan suggested that the United Nations ought to “explore the possibility” that “things can be done in another country.” He wondered if it was right to be headquartered in the “richest nation of the world” and speculated that other options would not be as expensive as New York. He insisted that his vision is not a cost-cutting exercise, but that the United Nations’ problems (definitely no ownership by him of the problems: outdated technology, few staff benefits, low morale, messy processes, a pervasive sense of futility, few posts for promotion, weak contracts) are “mired” in “conflicting mandates.”
“Reform, based on evaluating core competencies,” said Annan, “is a process. He claimed that his plan is a “strategic proposal, but the details have to be worked out over the months ahead.”
Clearly, those who know him best don’t trust him any more than those outside the U.N. Both groups have seen the U.N.’s corruption and mismanagement and wonder about the Secretary-General’s “core competencies” as well as his basic integrity.
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, a former U.S. delegate to the United Nations, is Senior Fellow of CWA’s Beverly LaHaye Institute.