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Secretary General’s political capital

Distancing himself from the UN Jan Egeland's complaints about generosity of western governments, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke recently to the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Japan saying, “leadership is now essential... the United Nations family will spare no effort to make the thinking and the findings of this conference a reality.”

What kind of leadership can we expect from the man who described his role as that of “cheer leader”? Consider the historical record against the extent of dissonance.

Usually, the bottom of the ocean appears tranquil. But one of the the lessons of the Boxing Day tsunami is that change can occur. On 17 January 2005, the normally uncritical New York Times cited the Paul Volcker's audit and described the UN Oil for Food Program as a “system of bribes and kickbacks that formed the core of the corruption”... And even suggests that blame should be assigned to the UN administration; even to the Secretary-General.

But, tucked away in the post-tsunami speeches, Kofi Annan has agreed to engage Price Waterhouse as external auditors to ensure the cash donated for tsunami relief does not end up as another UN example of embezzlements and corruption.

In September 2004, Colin Powell testified to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility and genocide may still be occurring”. Unfortunately, in November 2004, UN General Assembly voted for a South African resolution to avoid any action against the genocidal policies of the Sudanese government.

The current focus on Darfur clouds the fact that Sudan, the largest nation in Africa, has suffered human rights abuse perpetuated by the Sudanese government since 1982 that have caused the death of 2 million people and the dislocation of another 4 million.

No surprise that Algeria, Pakistan and Malaysia lead the Islamic bloc in shielding the Sudanese government from public criticism in the forcible Islamisation of Sudan and the imposition of Sharia law. The ongoing result is a well documented record of mass murder, displacement, female genital mutilation, rape and enslavement.

No surprise that the non-Islamic third world bloc, spearheaded by Russia and China, seek political advantage by thwarting the scrutiny of the human rights of the Sudanese. Russia is motivated by a combination of nostalgia for past Soviet glory, sales of war planes and an attempt to deflect attention from Chechya. China gives a higher priority to ensuring the diversity of oil supply for its booming economy over pesky human rights issues.

No surprise that in same week the Sudanese government announced a peace deal, NGOs reported continued military action by Janjaweed government militia and uniformed forces.

In April 2004, Kofi Annan the former head of UN peacekeeping operations, in his new capacity as Secretary-General, organised a one minute silence for the 800,000 victims of the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Instead of preventing and punishing the perpetrators of genocide as required by the UN charter, the Rwandan victims get one second of silence for each 13,333. After 10 years of waiting.

Others waited longer for UN acknowledgement. In June 2004,, the UN held its first conference on anti-Semitism which concluded that, in spite of the former Communist states, the Third World and the Islamic states voting bloc (the Group of 77), “anti-Semitism anywhere is a threat to... all humanity”.

Mr Annan's concluding speech grasped the historical reality that anti-Semitism is a premeditated acts of murder aimed against Jews:

We know — and yet we still cannot really comprehend — that six million innocent Jewish men, women and children were murdered, just because they were Jews.

Nazis used industrialised death camps to exterminate ethnic minorities. But, today, the risk is that the lessons of the past have been blurred by micro focus on Nazism alone. Mr Annan also noted, “a human rights agenda that fails to address anti-Semitism denies its own history”. Even more: making the denial of anti-Semitism respectable retards all human progress.

Since the 2000 Intifada, entrepreneurs of terror have worked with apologists from in the western media industry to combine high-tech explosives with low-tech hate to kill victims just because they are Israelis.

The tsunami disaster has elicited new levels of generosity and an increased awareness of human interdependence. The encouraging signs from Kofi Annan have moved beyond from a minute of silence, to a conference and most recently to improving UN internal governance. Perhaps, in the post-tsunami world, the Secretary-General will upgrade his leadership paradigm from dysfunctional cheer-leaderism to realistic responsibility.

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