“Unless UN gets its own house in order, how can it be trusted to set standards anywhere in the world? The UN needs to lead by example.”
Rabat – The UN is currently under fire as its top leadership battles with suspicions of sexual misconduct, corruption, as well as an organized inside-UN cover-up network in order to “avoid bad press coverage.”
Inner City Press (ICP), a New York-based investigative outlet with reputedly problematic relations with the UN leadership due to its exposure of the organization’s darker side, reported on July 8 that the international organization was about to extend the mandate of one of its high-ranking officials, in spite of the massive sexual allegations surrounding him.
Colin Stewart, the high-ranking official in question, is currently serving as the chief administrative officer of MINURSO, the UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara.
Prior to joining his current post with MINURSO, Stewart served as Political Director at the UN office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was there that he allegedly committed in serious sexual offenses involving young staff members.
Keeping #MeToo at bay
“While Stewart was Political Director at the UN Office in Addis Ababa the serious charge arose. In typical UN fashion a cover up began. But the charge gathered force and was soon seen as being inconvenient for Stewart’s immediate supervisor Haile Menkerios,” ICP stated.
Instead of taking swift action against Stewart and members of the restricted circle of the UN’s Addis Ababa office involved in the secret of the sexual misconduct scandal, however, the UN’s leadership chose to cover up in order to salvage its image—but also “protect” both Stewart and other people, whom the UN leadership considered as loyal, reports have said.
The allegations recently came to light as the UN’s Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, is said to be considering whether to extend Stewart’s mandate as chief of the MINURSO.
More importantly, though, Guterres is himself under serious suspicions. The Portuguese diplomat is believed to have known about the series of cover ups and related scandals. However, he chose to sideline questions and complaints about Stewart and other UN officials facing the same allegations.
He purportedly chose to shield the UN from the #MeToo winds that have torn apart the careers of many in recent months, including some officials of a number of international organizations whose reputation have suffered as a result.
Matthew R. Lee, ICP’ editor in chief, recently told Turkey’s TRT news outlet that Guterres’s claims to have a “zero tolerance policy” on sexual misconduct while brazenly covering up for employees he considers to be loyal to him.
Getting their ‘own house in order’
Reiterating ICP’s report, which accused Guterres of “doublespeak, harassment, and hypocrisy,” Lee brought the charges to a much higher level, denouncing the whole culture at the UN. In addition to the covered up allegations facing Stewart, he pointed out, the UN as a whole has been plagued by scandals of corruption, vote-buying, and influence-peddling.
“UN staff who are aware of the charges against Stewart are concerning Guterres—who like his spokesman may be going on vacation for the rest of July—will just haul off and reappoint Stewart. This should not happen,” he told the Turkish outlet. “I think it shows the total hypocrisy of the UN, and of Antonio Guterres in particular.”
If proven true, these charges will have a significantly negative impact on the UN’s reputation as a principled and upright institution, especially when it comes to brokering breakthroughs in intricate cases like Western Sahara’s decades-long political stalemate.
As Guterres professes his and the UN’s UN’s genuine desire to monitor cease-fire violations and other breaches in Western Sahara in order to broker the much-needed political settlement, some observers have opined, allegations such as the ones facing Guterres and some top UN officials cast serious doubt on the organization’s trustworthiness and ability to solve complex crises.
The UN, they argue, needs a stellar reputation on issues involving the character of its leaders if it wants to be seen as a reliable broker and a dependable organization.
“Unless UN gets its own house in order, how can it be trusted to set standards anywhere in the world?” said Dr. Simon Waldman, Associate Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. “The UN needs to lead by example.”