The United Nations finds itself in one embarrassing situation after the other. Here are just a handful of recent examples.
The United Nations has been serving as an enabler of North Korea’s chemical program, according to a recent exclusive report by Fox News. “For more than a year,” Fox News reported, “a United Nations agency in Geneva has been helping North Korea prepare an international patent application for production of sodium cyanide—a chemical used to make the nerve gas Tabun—which has been on a list of materials banned from shipment to that country by the U.N. Security Council since 2006.”
The UN-affiliated agency involved in this fiasco is the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which apparently neglected to mention the patent application to the appropriate UN bodies involved in monitoring North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction programs and compliance with UN Security Council sanctions resolutions.
WIPO, like so many other UN agencies, operates in a silo environment. It focuses solely on its own narrow mission, oblivious to the full implications of what it is doing. References to Pyongyang and sodium cyanide in the same patent application should have set off alarm bells. But instead it was business as usual at WIPO. North Korea was just another UN member state client of WIPO, which needed technical assistance. Never mind what North Korea would do with the chemical it intended to produce, which is a precursor to a sanctioned nerve agent.
The international patent application was filed on November 1, 2015 and published on December 15, 2016. The UN’s Panel of Experts on North Korea has claimed ignorance of the patent application, but will investigate.
The U.S. Mission to the UN has just issued a stinging criticism, quoting Ambassador Nikki Haley:
“The thought of placing cyanide in the hands of the North Koreans, considering their record on human rights, political prisoners, and assassinations is not only dangerous but defies common sense. We urge all UN agencies to be transparent and apply the utmost scrutiny when dealing with these types of requests from North Korea and other rogue nations. .. All parts of the UN system need to support the Security Council in its efforts to respond to the grave threat of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction programs.”
This is not the first time that WIPO has assisted North Korea. Fox News, for example, alluded to its 2012 report “that WIPO had shipped U.S.-made computers and sophisticated computer servers to North Korea, and also to Iran, without informing sanctions committee officials.” WIPO commissioned an independent investigation into what had happened, which concluded that WIPO had acted improperly. However, WIPO’s leadership has evidently not cleaned up its act, even reportedly claiming that UN Security Council sanctions that the member states are supposed to comply with do not apply to international organizations such as WIPO.
As a separate example of the UN’s lack of transparency, allegations of a possible cover-up have been raised with respect to internal UN investigations of security threats affecting UN staff. Inner City Press, in an exclusive report, quoted from an internal confidential memo it had obtained detailing the author’s concern that a security threat report he had helped prepare on safety issues relating to the Paris-based Director of UNESCO Irena Bokova and the UN’s Paris office had been allegedly buried for political reasons by the head of the UN’s Department of Safety and Security. Without confirming or denying the authenticity of the memo, the UN’s Spokesperson for the Secretary General issued a statement strongly denying the allegation that security information was ‘buried.’ The statement also expressed concern “about the leaking to the media of confidential information concerning matters of security,” which it called “irresponsible.”
Then there is the report of a Board of Inquiry (BOI) on UN staff deaths in Garowe, Somalia that the UN has failed to make public nearly two years after the incident. Again, Inner City Press obtained an internal memo in which the Vice President of the UN Staff Union wrote to the head of the UN’s Department of Safety and Security expressing concern about the lack of public disclosure of the facts behind the incident. He referred to “allegations that some of the information provided to the BOI on the bus-bomb attack in Somalia, was false, thereby alluding to a possible cover-up of the real facts.”
The UN’s reflexive response has been to turn on the whistle blowers and to decry whistle blower leaks to the press, rather than to confront and resolve the underlying substantive problems exposed in the UN’s operations. UN staffers, who put their lives on the line, are reportedly kept in the dark about the true circumstances leading to serious security breaches and what remedial actions, if any, will be taken to provide the staffers with assurance that their safety is the UN’s number one concern.
WIPO’s leadership has sought to retaliate against whistle blowers, including one who exposed the dual use technology transfers to North Korea, and to threaten journalists with legal action for critically reporting on the agency.
The UN is no stranger to scandal and lack of transparency. Consider, for example, the oil-for-food scandal, allegations of procurement corruption, lack of accountability for failing to immediately address the cholera epidemic in Haiti caused by UN peacekeepers, and the expanding list of sexual abuse cases involving UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic whom have not been called to account.
In his remarks to the UN General Assembly upon taking the oath of office for the position of Secretary General, António Guterres declared, “A culture of accountability also requires strong performance management and effective protection for whistle-blowers.” He promised more transparency and greater care of the UN’s staff, “whose voice needs to be heard.” It is time to deliver on those promises, beginning with seriously addressing such unresolved problems that have been mentioned as examples of UN failings in this article.
Joseph A. Klein is the author of Global Deception: The UN’s Stealth Assault on America’s Freedom.
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