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Ladan Rafii Headshot

UN Staff Won't Leave New York

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Everyone who works for the United Nations wants to be in New York.

Yes, New York is a great city, but UN staff who work here refuse to make room for others. They are fighting tooth and nail against a new mobility policy making it mandatory for them to relocate elsewhere.

This means their colleagues in the field who have worked for years in dangerous and difficult duty stations like Sudan and Afghanistan will be stuck there indefinitely.

So headquarters staff enjoy all the benefits associated with being in one of the best locations in the world, while field staff tough it out in remote and isolated places far removed from their loved ones and families.

Surprisingly for a supposedly humanitarian organization, UN staffers here have no qualms about it either. As the head of the major UN staff union in New York stated recently on television: "We are very proud to be very selfish and we will continue to be selfish."

Working for the UN is not what it seems. You'd think it would be a great organization -- and it could be, if only the people who worked for it were great too.

An organization which was set up to promote social progress, human rights and justice is losing sight of these ideals within its own system. It operates in a time warp of its own with outdated and backward policies that have no place in the modern working world.

Why does nobody complain? Well, not only are people afraid of losing their jobs, but they could also lose their G-4 visas that enable them to stay in the U.S. -- and without which they and their families are flown back business class to their home country.

It is a multibillion-dollar gravy train and its staff are taking advantage of it while American and other taxpayers pay the bill. What's more, all this is going on right under the noses of hardworking New Yorkers as its main headquarters is based in this city.

UN staff ensure job security for themselves by having someone protect them inside the organization, who helps them obtain posts in better locations like New York. Despite this, they are among the meekest people on earth, afraid of saying or doing anything that could in any way jeopardize their cushy jobs.

I don't blame them for this either, as I worked there for many years and know what it's like. There's an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that pervades the place. Staff know if they go against senior management in any way, they'll face serious professional and personal retaliation.

American James Wasserstrom, a UN whistle-blower, is one example. After proving he suffered retribution for internal criticism, the UN Dispute Tribunal only awarded him around 2 percent of losses and damages claimed. He describes an organization in which "UN personnel who are aware of misconduct, corruption and fraud are likely to remain silent."

Wasserstrom has now asked the U.S. government to withhold 15 percent of its UN contribution for the organization's failure to protect whistle-blowers from retaliation, by invoking relevant provisions of federal law under the 2012 U.S. Consolidated Appropriations Act.

With such a work culture, one wonders how the organization can stand up for the downtrodden and underprivileged in this world. Can it accomplish anything significant, if its staff are so afraid of speaking up for themselves, let alone for others?

As nothing much changes with the UN these days, its current New York-based staff will most likely be here to stay. They may not stand up for others, but they will definitely stand together to protect their shared interest in maintaining the way things are today.

In fact, most of them won't even leave after they retire. That's when they'll apply for a green card which lets them stay in this country for as long as they like.

Too bad really, as the U.S. taxpayer deserves better than this -- and so does the rest of the world.