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SERGIO and the Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century

This is a joint post with Lauren Young.

A dashing Brazilian man who keeps a flakjacket in his midtown Manhattan office, two firefighters from New York and Miami, a terrorist attack, and an attempted rescue using nothing but a string and a ladies handbag. Would you believe that this is a film about the United Nations? Sergio, which premiered on HBO this month, is the story of Sergio Vieira de Mello, an extraordinary public servant who died in the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq. The film (based on the book by Pulitzer-prize winning author Samantha Power) is a tribute to his leadership and service in the world’s worst troublespots.

Sergio Vieira de Mello began his career with the United Nations in Bangladesh, at the age of 23, and continued to mediate conflicts for the next three decades in countries such as Sudan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Mozambique, and Lebanon.

UNESCO’s Decision to Accept Money from One of Africa’s Worst Dictators is Outrageous

This posting is joint with Julia Barmeier

According to its website, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has stopped accepting nominations for its UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences. But we are guessing that the applicant pool remains quite small. Frankly, who would want his or her name affiliated with one of Africa’s worst dictators? Besides UNESCO, that is.

The UN Goes to Hollywood—But Is It Ready for a Close-Up?

This is a joint post with Lauren Young.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been getting negative press about the relief efforts after the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. Perhaps worst is a scathing report from Refugees International accusing the UN of ineffectual leadership, missing coordination, and weak communication while an estimated 1.2 million Haitians remain displaced. Though much of the report consists of standard blandishments (the authors spent just 10 days in-country), there is indeed evidence of serious negligence. To give just one example: the organization initially planned on allowing itself two and a half months—well into the rainy season—to distribute plastic sheeting to protect the displaced. It took a personal intervention from a senior official to get this activity moved up.

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