Correction to This Article
The article misstated the year in which Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's daughter, Hyun Hee-ban, applied for a U.N. job. She applied in March 2002, not March 2003.

U.N. contractor's case again spurs questions about nepotism

By Colum Lynch
Washington post staff writer
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

UNITED NATIONS -- Nicola Baroncini, a U.N. contract employee from Italy, was doing a routine review of his boss's correspondence in the summer when he stumbled upon an e-mail that would seal his fate.

Baroncini's supervisor had received a message from the United Nations' top envoy in Congo asking her to bend U.N. rules so that his daughter could be hired -- for the very position that Baroncini was holding temporarily and was hoping to keep.

What followed was not pretty. After learning that he had been passed over for the job, Baroncini lost his temper and bit the forearm of a security officer who had been called in to remove him from the building, according to U.N. officials. Baroncini says he bit the guard in self-defense after being attacked, beaten and maced.

The incident, while unusual, highlighted a phenomenon that Baroncini and others say is common at the United Nations: nepotism. "This way of doing business can't go on," said Baroncini, whose case has triggered an internal U.N. probe into whether a senior official was trying to manipulate a hiring process.

There are no hard figures on nepotism and favoritism at the United Nations, but the ranks of the U.N. Secretariat and U.N. agencies include scores of children and grandchildren of the organization's luminaries and foreign diplomats. Many top U.N. jobs in peacekeeping, political affairs and other areas are reserved for politically connected officials from powerful governments, including the United States.

The U.N. Charter requires that the organization's civil servants be independent of their governments, and the organization's rules restrict the hiring of the relatives of U.N. employees. But the rules have long been breached. In his 2003 book "Peacemonger," Marrack Goulding, a former British diplomat who once led the U.N. peacekeeping department, said he strove to show his independence after the British government nominated him.

"A senior U.N. official nominated by his or her own government was . . . assumed to be in the [U.N.] secretariat to do that government's bidding," he wrote.

The United Nations' largest employee union says it frequently hears allegations of nepotism. But the group also says it fears that today's top U.N. officials, including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the recently departed president of the General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua, are ill-suited to initiate reform. D'Escoto hired his American nephew, Michael Clark, as an adviser, and his niece, Sophia Clark, as his deputy chief of staff. Ban's daughter Hyun Hee-ban and son-in-law Siddarth Chatterjee also are employed by the United Nations.

"There is something that doesn't look quite right," said Thomas Ginivan, vice president of the U.N. Staff Union. "He's the chief executive officer, and it's ultimately his responsibility to ensure all regulations are followed. It's hard for him to stand up on the podium and criticize when he's not wearing a spotless suit."

Differing perspectives

U.N. officials say the organization has been scrupulous in avoiding favoritism. But not everyone agrees. Several months after Ban ascended to the top post, his son-in-law was promoted by Staffan de Mistura -- then the United Nations' top Iraq envoy -- to a high-profile post as the organization's chief of staff in Iraq.

Some U.N. officials felt that Chatterjee, a former Indian special forces officer with extensive experience in security, lacked the political and diplomatic skills for the job. In May, he was promoted again, to become regional director of the U.N. Office for Project Services in Copenhagen -- only this time he competed against more than 120 other candidates.

De Mistura, a Swedish national, said he hired Chatterjee because he "needed a military guy" who could oversee the organization's expansion in Iraq, not because he was Ban's son-in-law. Chatterjee had overseen security for de Mistura in Iraq in the 1990s, before he had met Ban's daughter.

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