Bureaucratic Overreach, also on LGBT Rights, Takes Front Seat at UN General Assembly

By Stefano Gennarini, J.D. | March 19, 2016

The Non-Aligned Movement at the United Nations, a group comprising two thirds of the 194 UN member states, delivered a biting reproach to the UN Secretary General and the sprawling international bureaucracy he leads on Tuesday during a consultation of the General Assembly on how to improve the work of the United Nations.

Delegate after delegate remarked about the bizarre interactions of UN member states with the bureaucracy.

The Ambassador of Tunisia made a statement on behalf of the group saying that the Secretary General is “bound to operate within the policy framework established by the General Assembly,” a veiled reproach for the Secretary General’s promotion of  LGBT rights. The statement spoke of “misinterpretation” of international law and UN mandates by the Secretary General and how this “undermines the role and authority of the General Assembly.” That was just the beginning.

Belarus’ Ambassador delivered perhaps the most powerful intervention, directly referring to the controversial LGBT stamps released by the Secretariat last month.

“We hesitated to bring these unpleasant issues. But we (the member states) founded this organization 70 years ago. This organization belongs to all of us,” he said.

“People do make mistakes” he said, ironically chiding the aura of infallibility that surrounds the Secretary General and makes it difficult for any of his actions to be challenged, especially by small and poor countries that need to be in the good graces of UN bureaucrats to maximize their cooperation. And this leads to “quirky situations” where member states are “helpless,” he explained. He called UN bureaucratic overreach a “threat to good governance” and the the UN organization “as a whole.”

“We must admit to ourselves that accountability and transparency should be expected from the UN secretariat. How many confusions could be avoided? How many grievances avoided?” he asked, specifically proposing a mechanism through which decisions and rules adopted by the UN bureaucracy could be discussed with member states before adoption and even appealed.

“This is not about diplomats seeking greater comforts. It is about repairing a faulty line of communications on logistics, security, management, and protocol,” he said. Currently the secretariat has complete autonomy in deciding many of these aspect of the workings of the organization.

He went on to illustrate the “quirky situations” that have already taken place.

A deputy minister from Belarus was denied entrance to the UN premises by car, and the UN secretariat was not forthcoming with the basis of their decision to deny this access. “Security should be discussed with missions not imposed,” he said. He continued describing how the UN bureaucracy uses UN premises as a discotec in the off hours, employs exorbitant and confusing charging practices, fails to translate the daily UN Journal with the agenda of the organization into all 6 UN languages, and drives an impossible work schedule that does not allow any breaks in the summer.

“I have a problem understanding. How can rules governing shared good be imposed without enabling them to consult rules and have a say in elaborating the rules?” he asked, adding that his concern stemmed especially for small delegations often overwhelmed by the workload and complexity of the United Nations.

When speaking of the LGBT stamps he described the episode as “notorious,” expressing regret that he even had to bring it up. He said this would “polarize” the UN membership. The stamps were released despite objections from member states, and it took two weeks for the UN Secretary General to even reply to 86 member states who complained about the stamps. A delegate from Egypt later described the stamps as “tasteless.”

The Ambassador of Belarus questioned the way the UN bureaucracy characterizes the Secretary General as “chief” and “head” of the United Nations. “Then he needs no oversight of the General Assembly,” he scoffed, “if member states are the boss my emotion would seem just and warranted.”

The Ambassador was alarmed that the “Communication gap has been widening with sometimes serious political repercussions.” He proposed the establishment of desk offices that would act as entry points for communications between member states and the secretariat and an inter-governmental coordination group to address all these issues on a regular basis, and to ensure the participation of UN member states in the drafting of any rules by the secretariat.