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Changes at the UN’s Upper Levels


The United Nations World Food Program has named Ertharin Cousin of the United States to replace Josette Sheeran, also American, when Sheeran’s five-year term as executive director ends in April. And Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, based in Geneva, has been nominated for a second five-year term by the agency’s executive board.

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon enters his second five-year term, he announced in December that new appointments would be made starting this month at the under secretary-general and assistant secretary-general levels, primarily senior officials done with their five-year terms.

Ertharin Cousin
Ertharin Cousin, the new executive director of the World Food Program, based in Rome. An American, she replaces Josette Sheeran, another American. US MISSION/ROME

Cousin, who has more than 25 years’ experience in the corporate, nonprofit and government arenas, mostly in the food business and related charities, has been the US representative for the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization, both based in Rome, since 2009. Cousin, 53, has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a law degree from the University of Georgia.

As executive director, Sheeran, who was born in 1954, led the agency in helping people in more than 70 countries going through conflicts or natural disasters, a statement from her office said. Sheeran also oversaw the agency’s shift from “food aid to food assistance,” now buying 80 percent of its food from developing countries and using tools like mobile phones and vouchers to deliver the aid. Sheeran begins her new job as vice chairman of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this spring.

Dr. Chan, who was born in Hong Kong in 1947, was the only candidate nominated for the post of director and should be appointed in May to begin her second term on July 1. She has a degree in home economics and a medical degree from the University of Western Ontario and a master’s degree in public health from the National University of Singapore.

Dr. Margaret Chan, chief of the World Health Organization
Dr. Margaret Chan, chief of the World Health Organization, based in Geneva, is secured a second five-year term. WHO/INT

The World Health agency recently announced that India, once the world’s polio hub, has showed no new cases since January 2011. That could leave only three countries, a historic low for the disease, still with the disease: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

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More revolving doors

In other senior UN personnel news, the UN Population Fund announced that Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, a Dane, will be working at the assistant secretary-general level as the new deputy executive director. Albrectsen has worked for the Danish government, the UN Development Program and UNFPA. She has a master’s of science in law from the University of Copenhagen.

Two upper posts in the Secretariat have opened after the departure of Asha-Rose Migiro of Tanzania as deputy secretary-general and Vijay Nambiar of India as chief of staff. Nambiar will remain in the UN system.

In addition, the IPS UN news bureau reported that three under secretaries-general, the third-highest ranking in the UN, have resigned: Angela Kane of Germany, head of the Department of Management; Radhika Coomaraswamy of Sri Lanka, special envoy for children and armed conflict; and Francis Deng of Sudan, special adviser for prevention of genocide. Coomaraswamy told PassBlue she will be returning to New York University to teach law.

The UN Forum blog, edited by Samir Sanbar, a media consultant who was chief of the UN Department of Public Information from 1994 to 1998, said that by mid-2012, at least eight more under secretaries-general will be replaced, including Kiyotaka Akasaka of Japan, head of Communications and Public Information; B. Lynn Pascoe, an American running the Department of Political Affairs; Sha Zukang of China, chief of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; and Sergio Duarte, a Brazilian and high representative for disarmament affairs.

Additional resources

Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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