April 2, 2012
By Thierry Meyssan
Although Kofi Annan’s track record at the UN is an indisputable success in terms of management and efficiency, he has been sharply criticized for his political shortcomings. As Secretary General, he aspired to bring the Organization into line with the unipolar world and the globalization of U.S. hegemony. He called into question the ideological foundations of the UN and undermined its ability to prevent conflicts. Notwithstanding, he is today in charge of resolving the Syrian crisis.
Former UN Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize, Kofi Annan, has been designated by Ban Ki-moon and Nabil El Arabi as joint special envoy to negotiate a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. With Annan’s extraordinary experience and shiny brand image, his appointment was welcomed by all.
What does this top international official really represent? Who propelled him to the highest-ranking positions? What were his political choices, and what are his current commitments? These questions are met with a discreet silence, as if his previous functions were in themselves a guarantee of neutrality.
His former colleagues praise him for his thoughtfulness, his intelligence and subtlety. A very charismatic personality, Kofi Annan left a strong imprint behind him because he did not behave simply as the “secretary” of the UN, but more like its “general,” by taking initiatives that revivified an organization that was mired in bureaucracy. All that is known and has been repeated ad nauseam. His exceptional professional qualities earned him the Nobel Peace Prize, although this honor in theory should have been bestowed for personal political commitment, not a management career.
Kofi and his twin sister Efua Atta were born on 8 April 1938, into an aristocratic family of the British colony of the Gold Coast. His father was the tribal chief of the Fante people and the elected governor of Asante province. Although he opposed British rule, he was a faithful servant of the Crown. With other notables, he took part in the first decolonization movement, but looked upon the revolutionary fervor of Kwame Nkrumah with suspicion and anxiety.
In any event, Nkrumah’s efforts led to the independence of the country in 1957 under the name of Ghana. Kofi was then 19 years old. Though not involved in the revolution, he became vice-president of the new National Student Association. It was then that he was spotted by a headhunter from the Ford Foundation who incorporated him into a program for “young leaders.” From there, he was invited to follow a summer course at Harvard University. Having noticed his enthusiasm for the United States, the Ford Foundation offered to sponsor his complete studies, first in economics at Macalester College in Minnesota, followed by international relations at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.
After the Second World War, the Ford Foundation, created by famous industrialist Henry Ford, became an unofficial instrument of U.S. foreign policy, providing a respectable facade for the activities of the CIA.
Kofi Annan’s overseas study period (1959-1961) coincided with the most difficult years of the African-American civil rights movement (the start of Martin Luther King’s Birmingham campaign). He saw it as an extension of the decolonization he had witnessed in Ghana, but once again did not get involved.
Impressed with Annan’s academic achievements and political discretion, his U.S. mentors opened for him the doors of the World Health Organization, where he landed his first job. After three years at WHO headquarters in Geneva, he was appointed to the Economic Commission for Africa based in Addis Ababa. However, not sufficiently qualified to pursue a career at the UN, he returned to the United States to take up management studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (1971-1972). He then attempted a comeback in his home country as director of tourism development, but found himself perpetually at odds with the military government of General Acheampong; he gave up and returned to the United Nations in 1976.
There, he held various positions, initially within UNEF II (the peacekeeping emergency force established to supervise the cease fire between Egypt and Israel at the end of the October 1973 war), then as Director of personnel at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It was at this time that he met and married Nane Lagergren Master, his second wife. The Swedish lawyer is the niece of Raoul Wallenberg, Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest during World War II. Wallenberg is famous for having saved hundreds of persecuted Jews by issuing them protective passports. He also worked for the OSS (forerunner of today’s CIA) as a liaison with the Hungarian resistance. He disappeared at the end of the war, when the Soviets allegedly captured him to stem US influence in the country. In any event, Kofi Annan’s successful marriage opened the doors that he could not have passed through on his own, especially those of Jewish organizations.
Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar chose Kofi Annan as Assistant Secretary-General in charge of human resources management and staff safety and security (1987-90). With the annexation of Kuwait by Iraq, 900 UN employees remained stranded in that country. Kofi Annan was able to negotiate their release with Saddam Hussein, a feat that boosted his prestige within the Organization. He was then successively put in charge of the budget (1990-92) and peacekeeping operations under Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1993-96), with a brief interlude as a special envoy for Yugoslavia.
According to Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda, Kofi Annan failed to respond to his many appeals and carries the primary responsibility for UN inaction during the genocide (800,000 dead, mainly Tutsis, but also Hutu opponents).
A similar scenario was repeated in Bosnia, where 400 peacekeepers were taken hostage by Bosnian Serb forces. Kofi Annan remained deaf to the calls of General Bernard Janvier and allowed the perpetration of predictable massacres.
In late 1996, the United States vetoed the reappointment of the Egyptian Boutros Boutros-Ghali as Secretary General, regarded as dangerously Francophile. They succeeded in imposing their candidate: a senior official from within the international organization itself, Kofi Annan. Far from playing against him, his failures in Rwanda and Bosnia blossomed into assets after he candidly confessed to them and promised to reform the system so that they wouldn’t recur. He was elected on this basis and took office on 1 January 1997.
May 20, 2010
The Washington Post
By Frank Jordans
GENEVA — An expert panel investigating the World Health Organization’s response to last year’s swine flu outbreak said Wednesday it wants to see confidential exchanges between the U.N. body and drug companies.
The 29-member panel will seek WHO records and correspondence from before and after the H1N1 strain was declared a pandemic in June, said committee chairman Harvey Fineberg, who is also president of the Institute of Medicine in Washington.
“We will want to have access to certain confidential documents that may be in place here at WHO or elsewhere,” Fineberg told reporters in Geneva.
The documents include “contractual or letters of understanding” between the pharmaceutical industry and WHO, he said. “Some of the agreements with industry that we would like to examine have been considered confidential,” but so far all of the panel’s requests have been met, he said.
WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said he couldn’t immediately comment.
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October 7, 2009
The next world war could take place in cyberspace, the UN telecommunications agency chief warned Tuesday as experts called for action to stamp out cyber attacks.
“The next world war could happen in cyberspace and that would be a catastrophe. We have to make sure that all countries understand that in that war, there is no such thing as a superpower,” Hamadoun Toure said.
“Loss of vital networks would quickly cripple any nation, and none is immune to cyberattack,” added the secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union during the ITU’s Telecom World 2009 fair in Geneva.
Toure said countries have become “critically dependent” on technology for commerce, finance, health care, emergency services and food distribution.
“The best way to win a war is to avoid it in the first place,” he stressed.
As the Internet becomes more linked with daily lives, cyberattacks and crimes have also increased in frequency, experts said.
Such attacks include the use of “phishing” tools to get hold of passwords to commit fraud, or attempts by hackers to bring down secure networks.
Individual countries have started to respond by bolstering their defences.
US Secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said Thursday that she has received the green light to hire up to 1,000 cybersecurity experts to ramp up the United States’ defenses against cyber threats.
South Korea has also announced plans to train 3,000 “cyber sheriffs” by next year to protect businesses after a spate of attacks on state and private websites.
Warning of the magnitude of cybercrimes and attacks, Carlos Solari, Alcatel-Lucent’s vice-president on central quality, security and reliability, told a forum here that breaches in e-commerce are now already running to “hundreds of billions.”
But one of the most prominent victims in recent years has been the small Baltic state of Estonia, which has staked some of its post Cold War development on new technology.
In 2007 a spate of cyber attacks forced the closure of government websites and disrupted leading businesses.
Estonian Minister for Economic Affairs and Communications Juhan Parts said in Geneva that “adequate international cooperation” was essential.
“Because if something happens on cyberspace… it’s a border crossing issue. We have to have horizontal cooperation globally,” he added.
To this end, several countries have joined forces in the International Multilateral Partnership against Cyber Threats (IMPACT), set up this year to “proactively track and defend against cyberthreats.”
Some 37 ITU member states have signed up, while another 15 nations are holding advanced discussions, said the ITU.
Experts say that a major problem is that the current software and web infrastructure has the same weaknesses as those produced two decades ago.
“The real problem is that we’re putting on the market software that is as vulnerable as it was 20 years ago,” said Cristine Hoepers, general manager at Brazilian National Computer Emergency Response Team.
“If you see the vulnerabilities that are being exploited today, they are still the same,” she underlined.
She suggested that professionals needed to be trained to “design something more resilient.”
“Universities are not teaching students to think about that. We need to change the workforce, we need to go to the universities…, we need to start educating our professionals,” she said.
Pointing out the infrastructure weakness, Carlos Moreira, who founded and runs the Swiss information security firm Wisekey, said legislation is needed to bring cybersecurity up to international standards.
October 7, 2009
The Weekly Standard
By Anne Bayefsky
The Obama administration has marked its first foray into the UN human rights establishment by backing calls for limits on freedom of expression. The newly-minted American policy was rolled out at the latest session of the UN Human Rights Council, which ended in Geneva on Friday. American diplomats were there for the first time as full Council members and intent on making friends.
President Obama chose to join the Council despite the fact that the Organization of the Islamic Conference holds the balance of power and human rights abusers are among its lead actors, including China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia. Islamic states quickly interpreted the president’s penchant for “engagement” as meaning fundamental rights were now up for grabs. Few would have predicted, however, that the shift would begin with America’s most treasured freedom.
For more than a decade, a UN resolution on the freedom of expression was shepherded through the Council, and the now defunct Commission on Human Rights which it replaced, by Canada. Over the years, Canada tried mightily to garner consensus on certain minimum standards, but the “reformed” Council changed the distribution of seats on the UN’s lead human rights body. In 2008, against the backdrop of the publication of images of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper, Cuba and various Islamic countries destroyed the consensus and rammed through an amendment which introduced a limit on any speech they claimed was an “abuse . . . [that] constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination.”
The Obama administration decided that a revamped freedom of expression resolution, extracted from Canadian hands, would be an ideal emblem for its new engagement policy. So it cosponsored a resolution on the subject with none other than Egypt–a country characterized by an absence of freedom of expression.
Privately, other Western governments were taken aback and watched the weeks of negotiations with dismay as it became clear that American negotiators wanted consensus at all costs. In introducing the resolution on Thursday, October 1–adopted by consensus the following day–the ranking U.S. diplomat, Chargé d’Affaires Douglas Griffiths, crowed:
“The United States is very pleased to present this joint project with Egypt. This initiative is a manifestation of the Obama administration’s commitment to multilateral engagement throughout the United Nations and of our genuine desire to seek and build cooperation based upon mutual interest and mutual respect in pursuit of our shared common principles of tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
His Egyptian counterpart, Ambassador Hisham Badr, was equally pleased–for all the wrong reasons. He praised the development by telling the Council that “freedom of expression . . . has been sometimes misused,” insisting on limits consistent with the “true nature of this right” and demanding that the “the media must . . . conduct . . . itself in a professional and ethical manner.”
The new resolution, championed by the Obama administration, has a number of disturbing elements. It emphasizes that “the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities . . .” which include taking action against anything meeting the description of “negative racial and religious stereotyping.” It also purports to “recognize . . . the moral and social responsibilities of the media” and supports “the media’s elaboration of voluntary codes of professional ethical conduct” in relation to “combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”
Pakistan’s Ambassador Zamir Akram, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, made it clear that they understand the resolution and its protection against religious stereotyping as allowing free speech to be trumped by anything that defames or negatively stereotypes religion. The idea of protecting the human rights “of religions” instead of individuals is a favorite of those countries that do not protect free speech and which use religion–as defined by government–to curtail it.
Even the normally feeble European Union tried to salvage the American capitulation by expressing the hope that the resolution might be read a different way. Speaking on behalf of the EU following the resolution’s adoption, French Ambassador Jean-Baptiste Mattéi declared that “human rights law does not, and should not, protect religions or belief systems, hence the language on stereotyping only applies to stereotyping of individuals . . . and not of ideologies, religions or abstract values. The EU rejects the concept of defamation of religions.” The EU also distanced itself from the American compromise on the media, declaring that “the notion of a moral and social responsibility of the media” goes “well beyond” existing international law and “the EU cannot subscribe to this concept in such general terms.”
In 1992 when the United States ratified the main international law treaty which addresses freedom of expression, the government carefully attached reservations to ensure that the treaty could not “restrict the right of free speech and association protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
The Obama administration’s debut at the Human Rights Council laid bare its very different priorities. Threatening freedom of expression is a price for engagement with the Islamic world that it is evidently prepared to pay.