Thursday, September 24, 2015

Germany Pushes Achim Steiner for UNHCR, UN Won't Confirm, Nor Reviewer Eliasson

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive series

UNITED NATIONS, September 24 -- While UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric declined to confirm to Inner City Press on September 8 that Denmark has nominated its former Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt to replace Antonio Guterres as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the country has said it, even as it tries to dissuade refugees from coming. (Inner City Press asked the UN Spokesman about that irony as well, transcript below.)

 After Inner City Press first reported the competing candidacy of Italy's Filippo Grandi, obliquely credited here, now Germany is promoting its own Achim Steiner, who has been head of the UN Environmental Program since 2006.

 On September 24, Inner City Press asked Dujarric to confirm Steiner is in the running (he wouldn't) and that Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson is head of, or even simply on, the review panel - Dujarric declined, but some took the story from the briefing Q&A nonetheless. From the UN transcript:

Inner City Press: About the UNHCR position.  I wanted to ask, it's been reported publicly that the Deputy Secretary-General, Mr. [Jan] Eliasson, is on the panel or heading the panel to review, and I wanted you to respond to that.

Spokesman Dujarric:  No.

Inner City Press:  In terms of transparency.

Spokesman:  No.

Inner City Press:  And Mr… here's a question.  It's reported that Achim Steiner is a candidate.  He said so himself.  What I wanted to know is, in the UN system, in the five-year role that Mr. Ban [Ki-moon] has or, just generally, when does Mr. Steiner have to leave UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) or when does his term at UNEP expire?

Spokesman:  I think his term at UNEP is constitutionally mandated, so I would refer you to the man… to the UNEP bylaws

 Germany has a better record on refugee issues, certainly recently, and the UN system is "down one German" with the replacement of Angela Kane by South Korea's Kim Won-soo. (Then again, German Martin Kobler, who was NOT selected for the OCHA post, is in line to be Libya envoy.) Plus, Ban Ki-moon recently turned over the UN Global Compact to a Dane, Lise Kingo, while the President of the General Assembly is held by Denmark's Mogens Lykketoft (who's twice toldInner City Press he favors or "recommends" his fellow Dane Thorning-Schmidt and emphasizes it was not under her tenure that Denmark published ads in Lebanon to dissuade asylum seekers.)

 There is also, with Steiner, the Brazilian "two-fer;" he was born in Brazil and is a dual citizen.

  On September 22, Inner City Press again asked Dujarric about the process, on which the call for nominations closed on September 14. Despite calls in the UN General Assembly for increased transparency (Inner City Press asked the "ACT" group about it, here), the UN Secretariat is leaving this murky. From the UN's transcript:

Inner City Press: There was a press conference here earlier today about the next Secretary-General process, but what I glean from it and wanted to ask you is, on this currently I guess the nominations are closed to head UNHCR, but it seems like, with the resolution that was passed in the GA about transparency and process, I'm wondering if you can say anything at all about, is it entirely the Secretary-General's decision?  Is he conferring with people?  The PGA [President of the General Assembly] says he plays no role.  How does the selection of this…

Spokesman Dujarric: I would encourage you to read a note the Secretary-General sent to the General Assembly in, I think, 2012 which outlines how he intends to manage the nomination of senior officials in which there is — he balances transparency, you know, with the need to protect confidentiality and it clearly outlines his consultations with Member States and with regional groups as a critical way of increasing the transparency of the selection process.  I think we have seen how for senior, heads of senior agencies, often a letter is sent out asking for nominations.  So I would encourage you to read that which really outlines the process and the thinking behind the process.

Inner City Press:  Specifically on this post, can you say whether there's any finalist that comes from a country from which refugees predominantly come rather than a host country…

Spokesman:  I think Matthew…

Inner City Press:  Would that be important?

Spokesman:  The date for… the date for, the closing date for nominations, I think, was less than a week ago.  While we do not share the short list, I can be pretty sure that there is no short list as of yet and the Secretary-General and his team will be looking for the best possible candidate to lead what is a critical agency, especially at this time. 

  Well, the Danish candidate had policies criticized by UNHCR itself.

  On September 9, a Senior US State Department Official told the press that the US' goal last year was to resettle 70,000 refugees and it came within 13 of that number. The goal is to increase, but the official declined to say by how much.

  While the US official several times cited UNHCR - the US as largest donor, an upcoming meeting after the UN General Assembly week - the official was not asked, and did not say, what the US would be looking for in the new head of UNHCR.

 On September 9, Inner City Press asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq if the former Danish Prime Minister's record, already criticized by UNHCR, should not disqualify her. Haq would not directly address this, but did say that a candidate with a good record on refugees would be sought. Inner City Press (and the Free UN Coalition for Access, as on UNOCHA) asked what Ban will do for transparency of the selection process. We'll see -- or not.

  There is another nominee Inner City Press has reported, Filippo Grandi of Italy, from 2010 to 2014 the head of UNRWA. Sources complain to Inner City Press that Thorning-Schmidt should be disqualified by UNHCR's criticism of Denmark during her tenure, and the Grandi is among other things not "high profile" enough.  (The same can be said of some of those asking their countries' support to run to replace Ban Ki-moon as Secretary General, but more on this anon.)

  The US always owned, and recently re-upped for, the UNHCR Deputy spot. So why not a more migrant- or refugee-side nominee? We hope to have more on this.

Here's what Inner City Press asked the UN on September 8:

Inner City Press: I want to ask you, it is reported that the former Prime Minister of Denmark, Ms. Thorning-Schmidt, has been raised to the Secretary-General by the current Government as a candidate to replace Mr. Guterres.  Can you confirm that?

Spokesman Stephane Dujarric:  No, I mean, I've seen the reports.  There is a mechanism through which the next UNHCR Head will be selected.  Once there is a new Head to be named, one will be named.

Inner City Press: because some people are saying it's ironic given Denmark's position on accepting refugees.

Spokesman:  People see irony in a lot of the places.

Inner City Press:  Let's see if we can generate irony.  Does the Secretary-General have any view of Arab Gulf States who are quite involved in the conflict in Syria in terms of having supported rebel groups etcetera, the number of refugees they've taken?  What has… is he calling them on the phone?

Spokesman: I would — gentlemen… you know, my podium is your podium, but it comes with certain risks and irony. I think I would encourage you to read what the Secretary-General's Special Representative on migration, Mr. Sutherland, said today in Geneva, where he talked about responsibility, about global responsibility towards refugees, and that that responsibility doesn't mean just giving financial support.  It means taking people in.  And that responsibility needs to be shared

   While many have noted that Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab countries that have poured funding into the war in Syria have not taken a single refugee, when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made a round of calls on September 6 to (unnamed) leaders, these were only in Europe.

  As on sexual abuse by peacekeepers, "name and shame" is the opposite of Ban Ki-moon's approach. He didn't name the European leaders he spoke to, and didn't call Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar or Bahrain, much less the US, Canada or Australia.

Former UK foreign secretary David Miliband appeared on both ABC This Week and NBC Meet the Press on September 6, talking about refugee flows from Syria only in term of Assad, with no mention at all of ISIS. Even when Miliband cited Aylan Kurdi fleeing from Kobane, he blamed it on barrel bombs.

  Looking back to Miliband's time as UK foreign secretary, one couldn't help noting for example that if he'd put even deployed even half of this advocacy during the slaughter in Sri Lanka in 2009, lives might have been saved.  The argument that he, and Kouchner for example, were constrained on Sri Lanka due to terrorism is put to the lie but Miliband's airbrushing of ISIS now.

  ABC This Week did not asked Miliband about Gulf states taken no refugees, nor about the UK's policies under David "Swarm" Cameron; neither US Sunday show asked about Corbyn and the UK Labor race.

 Last month on the UN Security Council's Syria Presidential Statement,  adopted “unanimously” with Venezuela disassociating itself as Lebanon when it was a member of the Council did on Syria, an issue still unaddressed is the exclusion of Elected Ten members from negotiations.

  Inner City Press asked Nigeria's Ambassador Joy Ogwu about this on August 14, if the Elected Ten members of the Security Council should  be brought into negotiating documents earlier, Video here, from 2:43.

   Ambassador Ogwu said, on UNTV camera, “That’s an aspiration of the ten elected members. There should be more participation.”

  In this case, until Venezuela objected, they were given a mere 18 hours. What is the point of running for a seat on the Security Council if rubber stamping is all that's expected of you?

  This paragraph, and its compliance or non-compliance with Syria's constitution, was and is at issue:

“10. The Security Council demands that all parties work urgently towards the comprehensive implementation of the Geneva Communiqué, aimed at bringing an end to all violence, violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law and the launching of a Syrian-led political process leading to a political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and enables them independently and democratically to determine their future, including through the establishment of an inclusive transitional governing body with full executive powers, which shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent while ensuring continuity of governmental institutions.”

  Disassociation, allowing it to be adopted as unanimous while a member can disavow it, may solve a problem for this particular text. But other ongoing dysfunctions of the Security Council continue. Watch this site.

Back on August 7 the Security Council on August 7 a resolution to establish a so-called accountability mechanism for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Outside the Council before and after the unanimous vote on August 7, Russia's ambassador Vitaly Churkin referred to a Presidential Statement he said may be adopted early next week, to support UN envoy Staffan de Mistura's work.

  Inside the Council after the vote, Syria's Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari began his speech with a reference to the 70th anniversary of the US dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He went to to say the UN never investigated the use of chemical weapons, by rebels he said, in Khan al Asal.

   In its resolution the Security Council “recalls that in its resolution 2118, it decided that the Syrian Arab Republic and all parties in Syria shall cooperate fully with the OPCW and the United Nations.” It seems doubtful that ISIS will cooperate.

   Churkin in his post-vote speech inside the Council said that “the existing mechanics of the UN and OPCW do not have a mandate to identify those participating in such acts. Moreover, we became witnesses of the many politicized statements in this regard, which were clearly meant to be propaganda. It was necessary to eliminate this gap, which was done with the adoption of today’s resolution... Any efforts in the Syrian area must be in line with assisting a search for a political solution to the conflict.”

   Inside the Council, US Samantha Power delivered this speech. At the stakeout, questions were given to Reuters, Al Hurra (really, France 24, by mistake), and Voice of America. (We'll have a separate piece on Power's response to the Press' final question about Burundi. For now, here's previous stakeout, sit-down.

   After the meeting ended, on the steps leading out from the UNSC stakeout, Churkin said “I hope it will translate into our continued joint work on the political front. We are working, I think very well, on a PRST [Presidential Statement] in support of Staffan de Mistura’s efforts. I hope it will be adopted...” More on