Tuesday, July 08, 2003
10:02 PM | Posted by E. Nough
The Atlantic reports that the UN has appointed an ombudsman to help sort out problems among its many staffers.
UNITED NATIONS—The United Nations is trying a little preventive diplomacy on itself. For the last eight months, an ombudsman has been setting up shop to listen to staff grievances and try to address them before office battle lines form and confrontations erupt. Amazingly, this is a revolutionary step for the organization. Until now, most employees had to wait until an internal dispute provoked administrative action—and then appeal it. Festering and backbiting are thus pastimes in many offices, and capable people can turn into dispirited cynics, or flee the U.N. system altogether.Imagine that: becoming cynical while working for the UN. Shocking, I tell you.
Anyway, this isn't too surprising -- as the article says, any organization of the UN's size will have internal staff problems. Especially given the cultural ...idiosynchrasies of some of its members:
"It is a challenge to operate in a multicultural system," [Patricia Durrant, the current ombudsman] said in her characteristically quiet, understated mode. "All of us come with our own national baggage," she said, "and we have to leave that at the door. Sometimes it's extremely difficult to do that, especially when you have persons who have been working in their national services for a long time and are accustomed to operating in a certain environment." Although Durrant would not say so, that "certain environment" can mean anything from tolerance for corruption to systematic demeaning of women.Just the sort of organization that I would want charged with "global justice" and "world peace."
Some outposts, often run by appointees not trained in management skills, have been particularly troubled. For years, the war crimes tribunal for Rwanda, based in unsatisfactory quarters in Arusha, Tanzania, was an example of a poisoned work atmosphere. African and European or Canadian officials traded charges of racism, nepotism was reported to flourish, money was wasted and cases dragged on or were fumbled—not by judges but by the administrative staff assigned to support them. Employees, some of high professional standing, had no recourse but to call for investigations by the U.N. inspector general or seek out journalists to tell their stories. Reporters could do little; the United Nations is remarkably devoid of paper trails.
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