U.N. mounts questionable defense of Ban
Angela Kane, the U.N. under secretary-general for management, launched a vigorous defense of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon‘s leadership this week, saying an attack on his tenure by the U.N.’s outgoing anti-corruption chief, Inga-Britt Ahlenius, consisted of "many inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and distortions." But in making her case, Kane provided a misleading fact of her own. In ...
Angela Kane, the U.N. under secretary-general for management, launched a vigorous defense of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's leadership this week, saying an attack on his tenure by the U.N.'s outgoing anti-corruption chief, Inga-Britt Ahlenius, consisted of "many inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and distortions." But in making her case, Kane provided a misleading fact of her own.
Angela Kane, the U.N. under secretary-general for management, launched a vigorous defense of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon‘s leadership this week, saying an attack on his tenure by the U.N.’s outgoing anti-corruption chief, Inga-Britt Ahlenius, consisted of "many inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and distortions." But in making her case, Kane provided a misleading fact of her own.
In an effort to underscore Ban’s commitment to the advancement of women in the U.N.’s top ranks, Kane suggested that the secretary-general had broken new ground by hiring women to run U.N. peacekeeping operations.
"Before he took office, there were no female SRSGs [special representative of the secretary-general]," Kane wrote in a detailed statement that was sent to U.N. reporters Wednesday night. "Today there are five."
It is true that no woman headed a U.N. peacekeeping operation at the time Ban was named secretary-general. It is also true that Ban has placed more women in top peacekeeping missions than any of his predecessors. Ban has appointed women to head the U.N. missions in Central African Republic, Cyprus, East Timor, Liberia and Nepal.
But it is not true that there were no female heads of mission before he took office. Six female special representatives have headed U.N. peacekeeping missions since the early 1990s, including Carolyn McAskie, a Canadian who headed the U.N. mission in Burundi from June 2004 until April-2006, six months before Ban took office. The first woman to head a U.N. peacekeeping operation was Margaret Joan Anstee, a British national who ran the U.N. mission in Angola from 1992 to 1993. Anstee is author of the book Never Learn to Type: A Woman at the United Nations.
Other women who headed U.N. missions include Heidi Tagliavini, a Swiss national who ran the U.N. monitoring mission in Georgia from 2002 until 2006; Ann Hercus, a New Zealander who ran the Cyprus mission in 1998 and 1999; Elisabeth Rehn, a Finnish national who ran the U.N. mission in Bosnia from 1995 through 2001; and Angela King, a Jamaican who headed a U.N. mission in South Africa from 1992 until 1994.
The U.N. leadership has sought to place Ban’s record on gender at the heart of a power struggle between himself and Ahlenius, the outgoing Swedish director of the U.N.’s internal oversight division. Ahlenius released a blistering end-of-assignment memo in which she accused Ban of seeking to undermine her independence, in part by blocking her efforts to hire a former Connecticut prosecutor, Robert Appleton, for the agency’s top investigations branch. Appleton, who headed a U.N. task force probing procurement fraud at the United Nations, had offended powerful governments, including those of Russia and Singapore, whose nationals were the target of his investigations. Ban’s top advisor’s blocked the appointment, citing the absence of a female candidate on the shortlist of candidates.
In the past week, Ban has enlisted his top officials, including chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, and Kane, to challenge Ahlenius’s assertions, and to present a defense of his record on reform. At the same time, he has moved to put the Ahlenius affair behind him, announcing plans this week to replace her with a former World Bank auditor general, Carmen LaPointe-Young. LaPointe-Young will begin her U.N. job in December.
The high-level effort reflects concern that the revelations might damage Ban’s standing at a time when governments will begin to consider whether to approve him for a second term at the end of next year. So far, Ban appears to enjoy the backing of key powers, including the United States, Britain, China, France, and Russia. But his standing among key constituencies — including prominent human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, former top U.N. officials like Louise Arbour, and pro-U.N. intellectuals and writers — has been waning. James Traub, a Foreign Policy columnist who wrote a favorable book on former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, last week proposed Ban be denied a second term.
In a lengthy memo, Kane sharply criticized Ahlenius’s stewardship of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, blaming her for leaving 76 posts unfilled and failing to comply with U.N. hiring rules. "Though we cannot speak to the full range of motivations that might lie behind this report, we welcome the opportunity to share the larger story of our work to build a 21st century United Nations that is faster, more flexible, and more effective in delivering on a growing array of global challenges."
Kane then went on to defend Ban’s record, claiming that Ahlenius’s report "does not contain any allegation of blocking or obstructing any investigation. Neither does it contain any concrete allegation of corruption." The report does, however, highlight concerns by U.N. staff that senior U.N. officials are not held accountable for wrongdoing. One case, which is not specifically mentioned in the report, involves a decision by the U.N. leadership not to pursue disciplinary charges against Alan Doss, the U.N.’s special representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who was found by Ahlenius’s office to have improperly interfered with the U.N. hiring process at the U.N. Development Program on behalf of his daughter.
Kane also charged that Ahlenius’s efforts to hire Appleton "did not comply with established U.N. rules and policies and noted further that she failed to rectify these basic shortcomings despite repeated requests. Naturally, the secretary general ensured that such a flawed decision making process did not stand. Operational independence of OIOS does not exempt the office from compliance with U.N. rules." But Ahlenius maintains that a 1995 administrative instruction gives her strict authority for hiring. It states that the under secretary-general shall have powers of appointment, promotion, termination similar to those delegated by the secretary general" to the major U.N. funds and programs. The heads of those organizations have authority to hire their own top advisors.
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name Elizabeth Rehn. FP regrets the error.
Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch
More from Foreign Policy
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.
It’s a New Great Game. Again.
Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.