Thursday, 18 June 2009

UN disquiet raises doubt over Ban's second term

Financial Times

By Harvey Morris at the United Nations

Published: June 17 2009 03:00 I Last updated: June 17 2009 03:00

Pervasive criticism of Ban Ki-moon's performance as United Nations secretary-general, from within the organisation and among envoys assigned to it, is raising doubts about his prospects of a second term, according to senior officials and diplomats.

In an untypically robust defence of his stewardship, Mr Ban acknowledged last week that there had been negative assessments. However, he also drew attention to the challenges he had faced since he took the post as a compromise candidate at the start of 2007.

Approaching the mid-point of his first five-year term, Mr Ban told a press conference it was up to UN member states to decide whether he should serve a second. "When the time comes, I hope the member states will judge what I will have achieved by that time," he said.

He complained UN states were not backing him. "It is just impossible. I need more political support. I need more resources by the member states."

In his own defence, Mr Ban said: "I have been working as the voice of the voiceless people, and defend those people who are defenceless." But aides fret that his voice is not being heard loudly enough.

The questioning of Mr Ban's record has become a staple of conversation among staff at the UN's New York headquarters and of diplomatic chatter among the foreign missions that crowd midtown Manhattan.

The decisive judgment on his performance, however, will be that of member states, and specifically of the five permanent members of the Security Council that have a veto on a second term.

He received their unanimous backing in 2006 when the experienced career diplomat and former foreign minister offered a safe pair of hands to undertake the task of reforming a sixdecades-old bureau-cracy that the US and others regarded as dysfunctional. But Mr Ban expressed his frustration at the slow pace of internal reform: after 30 months in office he has only just got his senior management team in place.

On the world stage, however, he has left a shallow footprint, with his performance often contrasted with that of Kofi Annan, his predecessor.

His natural preference for conciliation - whether over Israel's invasion of Gaza or Sri Lanka's suppression of Tamil Tiger rebels - has been interpreted as appeasement by human rights groups and even by UN staff members.

One UN watcher noted, however, that Mr Ban's caution in speaking out firmly on some pressing issues was matched by a lack of resolution by the Security Council.

"The secretary-general's leadership is crucial, but the failures must be brought home equally to the Security Council. On issues like Sri Lanka, where civilian suffering has been immense, the . . . council cannot even agree to put Sri Lanka on its regular agenda," said Carne Ross, a former UK diplomat who heads Independent Diplomat, a New York-based non-profit advisory group.

"While there have clearly been some disappointments, a lot rests on Ban's ability to deliver on his selfproclaimed number one priority: 'selling the deal' on a new climate agreement in Copenhagen [in December]," Mr Ross said.

* Japan decided yesterday to tighten its sanctions against North Korea, stemming the trickle of exports that flows to the isolated communist state and introducing further restrictions on travel there. The decision was made ahead of a meeting yesterday between Lee Myung-bak, South Korea's president, and Barack Obama, the US president, in Washington.

No comments: