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"Think of these three things: whence you came, where you are going, and to whom you must account"--Benjamin Franklin

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I Knew There Was Something about 18 September! Long Live Dag Hammarskjold!

In a rather serendipitous turn of events, I found myself last week discussing the UN and how I'm preparing for a long journey to acquire some necessary skills to get there.

As luck would have it, yesterday, I found a job description at the Un Office in Vienna[a very well-designed website if you ask me!]which was practically identical to yours truly--except for one thing: the salary! It was a whopping almost six times MORE than what I earn, and it evidently gave me serious food for thought!

Flippancy aside, it's important to note that for all the quasi-hagiographic manner in which I paint the United Nations, I know it's still a seriously flawed institution, but I cannot but wonder how the world would survive without it. One review in Pakistan's main daily paper opines about the global body's value:

The third world wants it to deliver legal solutions. The United States thinks it is a spendthrift obstacle in the way of foreign policy. It is wrong to think of the UN as responsible for making laws and enforcing them. The system is clearly political and is not meant to satisfy legal and moral demands, but moral and legal opinion can be voiced at the UN, which is good for the third world. All things considered, the UN remains an institution of great value to the small and poor states of the world

It could be argued that coming from where I'm coming, I'm bound to arrive at this conclusion. I have always argued that The Hague International Model United Nations in 1994 convinced me about working for the UN.

It would have been frankly criminal if I hadn't pursued that line of endeavour, and not chosen to set up a website dedicated to the UN--or at least my academic papers( in particular, my university papers) on the UN.

Now to the irony: my Un Apologist blog is as dead as a dodo. Less said about it, the better!

Either way, I would like this post to be less about me--and more about one of my key heroes of the 20th century--Dag Hammarskjold. He might have been gay--he never married for all his experienced years, and rarely expressed interest in women--but he continues to earn serious respect for his dedication to the very difficult job at the UN. Here are some of his achievements: (many thanks to WIKIPEDIA)

  • Hammarskjöld tried to soothe relations between Israel and the Arab states

  • In 1955, he went to mainland China to negotiate the release of 15 US pilots who had served in the Korean War and been captured by the Chinese

  • In 1956, he established the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF). In 1957, he intervened in the Suez Crisis

  • In 1960, the former Belgian colony and now newly-independent Congo asked for UN aid in defusing the escalating civil strife. (See Congo Crisis). Hammarskjöld made four trips to the Congo

  • It would be on what would prove to be his last trip to the Congo on 18 September, 1961 "to negotiate a cease-fire" that his plane would crash in Ndola, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).

    Even the rather naive-towards-world-affairs generation in which I grew up believed easily that he had been assassinated most likely by the secret services of the CIA. Turn to WIKIPEDIA, and you learn more:

    On August 19, 1998, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), revealed that recently-uncovered letters had implicated British MI5, American CIA and South African intelligence services in the 1961 crash of Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane. One TRC letter said that a bomb in the aircraft’s wheel-bay was set to detonate when the wheels came down for landing. Tutu said that the veracity of the letters was unclear; the British Foreign Office suggested that they may have been created as Soviet misinformation. [2]

    On July 29, 2005, exactly 100 years after Hammarskjöld's birth, the Norwegian Major General, Bjørn Egge, gave an interview to the newspaper Aftenposten on the events surrounding his death. According to Egge, who was the first UN officer to see the body, Hammarskjöld had a hole in his forehead, and this hole was subsequently airbrushed from photos taken of the body. It appeared to Egge that Hammarskjöld had been thrown from the plane, and grass and leaves in his hands might indicate that he survived the crash, and had tried to scramble away from the wreckage. Egge does not claim directly that the wound was a gunshot wound, and his statement does not align with Archbishop Tutu's information. [3] In an interview on March 24, 2007 on the Norwegian TV channel NRK, an anonymous retired mercenary claimed to have shared a room with an unnamed South African mercenary who claimed to have shot Hammarskjöld. The alleged killer was claimed to have died in the late 90s. [4]

    Another possible explanation is that Hammarskjöld’s plane struck some treetops as it was preparing for landing. Hammarskjöld was the only person whose body was separate from the wreckage and therefore not burnt due to his aversion to seatbelts. He was thrown from the crash or was able to crawl away from the plane, but his injuries were severe enough that he was already dead by the time the plane was found

    If we were to be a bit more technical about the whole thing, there are two articles in the UN charter that allows the UN Secretary-General to have power:

    Article 98 of the United Nations charter adds that the Secretary-general “shall perform such other functions as are entrusted to him” by the UN organs. Article 99 states that the Secretary-general “may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which, in his opinion, may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

    As head of the organization, the Secretary-General’s raison d’etre is exemplified by the three articles in question. To an extent, is through these articles that he becomes “guardian of the peace” , because it is he – and he alone – who possesses the unique right to directly liaise with the Security Council. He does this by raising their awareness of any “matter”, which he deems to pose a menace for international peace and security. This is what many of the authors I used in writing this paper refer to as a “special right”.

    The Secretary-general’s “special right”

    This “right” in question is also known as article 99. It confers prerogative to the Secretary-General to exercise his judgement rationally I matters of international politics, or world peace. Implicit, also, in this article is the belief that should the Secretary-General consider any situation which may adversely affect either politics or diplomacy, he should, or at least must be compelled to, invoke the article in order to obtain a response from the Security Council. Gordenker in fact writes “the article was designed precisely as an alternative to a complainant by a member government to the Security Council.” He goes on to argue that however, “article 99 exists primarily for use in a crisis.”

    It is important to note that "never again since Hammarskjold has it been invoked."

    So, I sometimes wonder--that despite the ostensible success of my fellow countryman Kofi Annan, and the more passive Ban Ki-Moon, which UN SG is going to deliver the goods -- at all costs. I believe in my heart of hearts that Hammarskjold died for going beyond his supposed remit--and the Western security services made sure that the then-popular SG had to go--by fair means or foul.

    Reading contemporary UN politics, such as that of the very-critical Inner City Press reporting scandals and whatnot within the UN, you begin to wonder more about the effectiveness of Ki-Moon.

    Today, I'd just like to say that Hammarskjold is my hero.

    Forty-five years after his untimely demise, may he continue to rest in perfect peace, and may we have better UN administrators who will not feel afraid to push the envelope--just that bit.

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