UN honours late Secretary-General Hammarskjold at dialogue on civil service

2 February 2006

As it strives to build a cadre of international civil servants able to meet the challenges of today's world, the United Nations must provide its secretary-general with the autonomy to run the Organization efficiently, Kofi Annan said today in a message marking the centenary of late UN leader Dag Hammarskjold's birth.

“We are asking Member States to empower the Secretary-General to manage the Organization effectively, and then collectively hold him or her accountable for the results,” said Mr. Annan in a statement delivered at UN Headquarters at a lecture which attracted several hundred participants.

Mr. Hammarskjold, who led the UN from 1953 until his death in an air crash in 1961, was a visionary who understood that development, security and human rights depend upon each other in an interconnected world, Mr. Annan noted in the message, which was delivered by the Under-Secretary-General for Public Information, Shashi Tharoor.

“To act on that understanding, we need a strong United Nations and true solidarity among governments and peoples working together to fulfil those goals,” he said.

The Secretary-General's remarks opened the fifth and final event of a year-long celebration of the birth one century ago of Mr. Hammarskjold. It also marked the 60th anniversary when the UN's first Secretary-General, Trygve Lie of Norway, assumed his post.

Mr. Tharoor led a dialogue between General Assembly President Jan Eliasson and Sir Brian Urquhart, a former Under-Secretary-General, on the shifting role of international civil servants and the UN since its creation in 1945.

Placing this in the context of recent scandals, Mr. Tharoor asked, “who could doubt that the allegations of malfeasance and mismanagement that have been levied at the Secretariat recently have ? largely unfairly ? cast a pall on our collective integrity and led some to question our worth?”

Sir Brian Urquhart drew scattered applause from the audience as he asserted that recent attacks on the UN, many stemming from the oil-for-food scandal, were part of a “very serious and organized ideological attack on the United Nations.”

He said it was a difficult task to get the truth to the public and let them know that the Organization and its agencies are full of extremely able people doing their jobs and “doing them in the right way.”

Mr. Eliasson, a veteran Swedish diplomat, voiced concern about the impact of the attacks on UN employees working diligently around the world. “We have to take this issue of accountability and efficiency and transparency seriously,” he said. “But this has seriously hurt morale and people almost have to apologize.”

At the same time, he pointed out that the public's perception of the United Nations can quickly change, citing his experience at a recent meeting in Chicago, where the audience initially questioned him aggressively about the oil-for-food scandal, but after learning about the UN's activities in Afghanistan, Iraq, Liberia and other places, showed great enthusiasm for the Organization.


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