African staff accuse UN of discrimination

New York- US (PANA) -- The UN, which prides itself as an organisation founded to promote harmony in human relations, has been accused of racial discrimination, intolerance and bigotry against its employees.
Making the charge at a press conference in New York Friday were three African employees of the UN, Joao Gomes of Guinea-Bissau, Nana Ackom-Mensah of Ghana and Abdi Yahya, a naturalised American who hailed from Somalia.
Both Ackom-Mensah and Yahya, who served in the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) have resigned to protest what they called discrimination against them while serving in the mission.
The three, who claimed to have been victims of discrimination in employment, discipline and promotion in the UN, allege that racism is widespread in the organisation.
Discrimination, particularly against black employees, they said, has been going on for a long time, but got worse over the past few years that Kofi Annan, an African from Ghana, has been Secretary General.
"We want the UN to face the issue and stop the denial," said Gomes, whose employment was terminated in 1999 in controversial circumstances after serving the Organisation since 1989.
Gomes claims that discrimination against him started when he joined the UN, applying for a Professional Level three (P3) position, but was given the lower P2 position just because he came from Africa.
Even though he was promised a promotion to the P3 position in two years, Gomes said, he never got the promotion until 1999.
In between, he said he was moved around units within the Departments of Public Information that he worked for, just to deny him promotion.
But Gomes said his problem took another dimension in 1998 when his family was trapped in the war that broke out in his home country, Guinea-Bissau.
When he went home to evacuate his family which had then been displaced by the fighting, Gomes said, he was abducted by armed groups, detained for five months, tortured and several times threatened with death.
The Guinean said while he was going through these difficult times, the UN did nothing to help him and when he eventually turned up at the UN headquarters, he was told his contract would not be renewed.
Ackom-Mensah, who has worked for the UN for the past 18 years without getting a permanent employment contract, said the last straw for her was when she was moved around to "redundant" positions in the Kosovo Mission for no reason other than the fact of her colour.
"Now is the time to expose the injustices in what happened in Kosovo," she remarked.
His fellow African in the mission, Yahya said the racism practised in the Kosovo mission was ironic because the mission was established to promote ethnic tolerance and democracy in Kosovo.
He noted that things went well at the beginning of the mission but when the first head of the mission was replaced by another person, "hell was let loose.
" Yahya claimed that the mission was being run on a racist basis, as persons of non-European origin were predominantly placed in the lower cadre of General Services staff, while white people dominated the higher, professional and managerial staff category.
He said he resigned when nothing was done about his complaints against alleged racist practices in the mission.
The Somali said racism has become a culture in the UN system, but most people were afraid to fight the injustice for fear of been victimised.
He and Gomes have pledged to use all means at their disposal to fight for a change in the alleged discriminatory situation in the world Organisation.
Yahya said he would pursue the issue with the US Ambassador to the UN and also raise it with the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), the largest black civil rights organisation in the US.
Gomes, whose case is now before the UN staff tribunal, called for an urgent meeting of UN staff and management to discuss the problem of racism in the organisation.
He also promised to send representation to the UN-organised "International Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance" opening in Durban, South Africa on 31 July.
"We are also going to write President Thabo Mbeki (of South Africa)," he said.
Although there have been anonymous claims of racial discrimination at the UN, this is the first time staff members have come out openly on the problem.
Last year, following a request by a member State, the UN General Assembly asked the Secretary General for an investigation into the issue of racial discrimination.
The Secretary General issued a report on his investigation early this year, with the conclusion that no pattern of racial discrimination could be established, moreso because the UN does not use race as a basis for staff employment, motivation or discipline.

13 july 2001 22:45:00

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