You could be forgiven for having missed the announcement by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in January that the next Executive Director of UNICEF is to be Ann Veneman, until recently US President George W Bush’s Agriculture Secretary. But it was a moment that should not pass without protest.
Technically the choice of a new UNICEF head is recommended by the UN Secretary-General to the organization’s Board. In practice it is openly acknowledged to be in the gift of the White House – and nobody even seems shamefaced about the fact.
So it is that an organization which exists to defend the rights and interests of all the world’s children has the next decade of its work dictated by the whims of domestic US politics. Had John Kerry won the US presidential election last November, he would doubtless have appointed someone considered to be of like political mind, as Bill Clinton appointed the previous Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, 10 years ago. As it is, the US Right has already been crowing about the appointment signalling a rollback of the Bellamy era and its championing of children’s and women’s rights.
At the press conference following the announcement of her appointment, Ann Veneman was asked about her position on reproductive rights – a red rag issue for the US Right. ‘I don’t believe that these issues are relevant to the mission of UNICEF,’ she replied.
The issue extends far beyond UNICEF itself and undermines the credibility of the whole UN system. Organizations in the UN system belong to the whole world and the top posts in them should be publicly and openly advertised to ensure that the best person for the job wins through. They should not be beholden to any one national government, let alone the world’s one hyperpower.
The next major international public appointment to come up is that of World Bank President, since James Wolfensohn is stepping down later this year. The latest nightmare revelation that Iraq hawk and freemarket fundamentalist Paul Wolfowitz is the current favourite for the job only adds fuel to the fire. James Wolfensohn has already said openly that his successor will be appointed by the White House – as with the UNICEF post, the World Bank President has ‘by tradition’ been a US citizen.
Yes, well… ‘By tradition’ women in many parts of the world suffer genital mutilation. ‘By tradition’ some people are allocated to a lifetime role of cleaning other people’s toilets. ‘By tradition’ many countries in the world are ruled by brutal dictators. There are some traditions that are simply and utterly indefensible.