Published January 14, 2015
In a stinging rebuke, Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) said senior U.N. staff ignored the security threats in Iraq before the Aug. 19 bombing of its headquarters in Baghdad that killed 22 people. He fired one top official and demoted another.
Annan chastised his highly respected deputy, Louise Frechette (search), who chaired a steering group on Iraq when the United Nations decided last May that U.N. staff could go back into the country after the U.S.-led war.
She submitted her resignation but Annan refused to accept it, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said.
The action Monday appeared to be unprecedented at the United Nations, where senior leaders are almost never rebuked so publicly. Annan also singled out two lower-level U.N. administrators at the U.N.'s Baghdad headquarters in the Canal Hotel.
Still, Annan's disciplinary statement bore a hint of U.N. diplomatic protocol and discretion. It identified the people it was punishing only by their titles, leaving it to reporters to find out who they were.
According to a statement released by Eckhard, the two never made any effort to heed a request to buy and install blast-resistant protective film for the hotel windows. Officials have said that flying glass caused the vast majority of the injuries.
"These two officers displayed profound lack of responsibility and ineptitude in the manner they sought to implement the request for installation of the film," Monday's statement said. "Their combined response to the issue indicates a lethargy that is bordering on gross negligence."
The two — Jordan's Paul Aghadjanian and Pa Momodou Sinyan of Gambia — were charged with misconduct and will face discipline before the U.N. personnel management office.
Annan's decisions were based on the recommendations of a panel he appointed in November to investigate who was to blame. In October, after an independent group pointed to "dysfunctional" U.N. security for unnecessary casualties in the Aug. 19 bombing at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, which also killed top U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello (search), and wounded more than 150 others.
"The fact that a deputy secretary-general offered to resign shows how seriously the organization from the very top took this report," said Salim Lone, who was U.N. spokesman in Baghdad at the time of the blasts and is now retired. "They have all been taken to task. I don't see what more could have been done at a broad level."
The bombings were traumatic for U.N. staff, who refer to the tragedy as "our Sept. 11."
Annan had said within hours of the attack that his staff would remain in Iraq, but he was forced to retreat after furious U.N. workers refused to stay in an increasingly hostile environment resulting from a war that was launched without U.N. approval.
Acting on the findings of a scathing report detailing mistakes made by several senior officials, Annan singled out Tun Myat (search), the U.N. security coordinator, who was asked to resign and did so. Annan was in Switzerland when the discipline was announced.
The report said Myat and others "appeared to be blinded by the conviction that U.N. personnel and installations would not become a target of attack, despite the clear warnings to the contrary."
Ramiro Lopes da Silva, the acting head of the U.N. mission who was responsible for security at the time of the bombing, was demoted as assistant secretary-general and will take up a post at the World Food Program that does not involve security issues.
Annan also wrote a letter to the heads of all U.N. agencies reprimanding them for disobeying security warnings. At the time, many agencies ignored staff limits dictated by security assessments and brought in more staff than they were supposed to.
The U.N. staff union said Annan's reprimands did not go far enough. Both da Silva and Myat had stepped down temporarily late last year while independent experts assessed responsibility for the security lapses, and Myat is expected to keep his pension.
"You have 22 people dead and for the most part, the secretary-general lets people keep their jobs or retire with their pensions," said U.N. union representative Guy Candusso. "Considering the gross negligence and the lapses of security, this does not go wide enough or far enough to hold people accountable."
The October report also pointed to continued security lapses at the time of a second bombing in September, which killed several Iraqi police officers.
The bombings led the United Nations to withdraw all staff from Iraq. The only United Nations staff members who have returned were a small security team and election teams working with Iraqi officials for the transition of sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30.