Samir Sanbar is executive editor of www.unforum.com. He is a former assistant secretary-general for public information and head of the Department of Public Information, both at the UN. A graduate of the American University of Beirut, he worked for several Middle East media groups before joining the UN in New York. From 1975 to 1982, he headed the Information Center in Beirut while helping to establish the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. He later headed the network of 78 UN Information Centers around the world. In additin, he served as director of the Department of Public Information's External Relations Division and as the secretary-general's special representative to oversee the referendum in Eritrea. Sanbar lives in New York.
Give credit when and where it's due. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was the first world leader to support the demand of freedom by the Libyan people. A week after the Feb. 17, 2011, start of the Day of Anger, which spread from Benghazi to Cyrenaica to Tripoli, when the permanent-five members of the Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) were still evaluating their position, the secretary-general was holding the fort from Day 1.
The UN Security Council’s recent decision to send 2,000 peacekeeping troops to augment the 9,000 already in Côte d’Ivoire was a political compromise among its permanent-five members – Britain, China, France, Russia and the US -- but it is unlikely to produce a decisive effect on the ground, especially since it could be June before the troops arrive. The Ivorian Army continues to control the main positions in the city of Abidjan, occasionally allowing UN armed personnel carriers to inch their way through, but only after protracted, indeed humiliating, negotiations. (And subject to attacks and stops and searches.)
After nine months of administrative limbo, it seems that the UN is finally about to fill three vacant director posts in the Department of Public Information division, which generates the daily television, radio, print and Web publications output as well as manages relations with media around the world.
The recent appointment of Rima Khalaf as executive secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, known as Escwa, sends a signal that human development will find its way to the mainstream of the UN agenda in that potentially rich yet practically destitute region. Khalaf, a Jordanian, will take up her new post in October.
How will the media be able to properly cover a Security Council meeting at the presidential level on Sept. 24 when correspondents are barred physically from even seeing the main participants?
An arbitrary measure taken earlier this year, prodded by the council’s permanent five members, has cornered the media under the stairs leading to the council’s temporary space in the basement in the Secretariat building, partly surrounded by three walls and facing an artificial barricade that is opened selectively.
One of the few clearly stated functions of a UN secretary-general in the Charter is that of chief administrative officer, a role that through appropriate consultations ensured the selection of most qualified international civil servants drawn from the “widest range of cultural and regional representation.” This mandate gave the Secretariat staff a special level of credibility while assuring UN’s members active and collective participation. Even in certain cases of obvious choice, a formal process was upheld to maintain a logical sense of diplomatic traffic.