Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Annan Declares United Nations as 'Vital to Humanity'

(Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan defended the United Nations, which is beset by scandals from the Iraqi oil program to sexual abuse by peacekeepers, as "vital to humanity" in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

"I have served the U.N. all my life. I have done, and am still doing, everything I can to correct its imperfections, and to improve and strengthen it," he wrote in an opinion piece. "And I believe profoundly in the importance of that task, because a strong U.N. is of vital importance to humanity."

Annan addressed charges of mismanagement and corruption in the U.N.'s now-defunct Iraqi oil-for-food program, admitting there were failings while accusing some critics of hyperbole.

U.S. lawmakers and an independent inquiry by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker have uncovered lax management, a shortage of auditors and procurement irregularities but no crimes.

"The interim report of Paul Volcker's independent inquiry has helped put the Oil For Food program in perspective. Some of the more hyperbolic assertions about it have been proven untrue," Annan wrote in the Journal.

"Yet I am the first to admit that real and troubling failures -- ethical lapses and lax management -- have been brought to light. I am determined, with the help of member states, to carry through the management reforms which are clearly called for by Mr. Volcker's findings," he said.

Annan also addressed the U.N. probes of allegations against peacekeeping soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo of sexual exploitation of women and girls.

"Both the U.N. Secretariat and the member states have been too slow to realize the extent of this problem, take effective measures to end it, and punish the culprits. But we are now doing so, and I am determined to see it through."

Annan said the U.N. had demonstrated its importance both in helping with the Asian tsunami disaster relief effort and the war in Iraq.

"The war in Iraq two years ago caused many people on all sides to lose faith in the U.N.," he wrote.

But he added: "Precisely because the United Nations did not agree on some earlier actions in Iraq, today it has much needed credibility with, and access to, Iraqi groups who must agree to join in the new political process if peace is to prevail.

"The U.N. can be useful because it is seen as independent and impartial. If it ever came to be seen as a mere instrument or prolongation of U.S. foreign policy, it would be worthless to everyone."