Norway Peace Initiative Chief's Ongoing UN Role Scrutinized

By Seamus Martov 16 October 2012

The head of the Norwegian government-funded peace initiative for Burma’s ethnic areas, Charles Petrie, is facing scrutiny after it was revealed last week that he is simultaneously working on an unrelated United Nation’s review panel looking into the Sri Lankan civil war.

An article posted on the Inner City Press news site last Friday suggests that Petrie’s involvement with the ambitious Norwegian project may run afoul of UN rules forbidding staff from being employed or under the influence of the governments of UN member states.

Petrie, a long-time senior UN diplomat who previously served as the highest-ranking UN official in Burma, has been the head of the Norwegian project, formally known as the Myanmar Peace Support Initiative (MPSI), since it was launched in January of this year.

In April, Petrie, who formally retired from the UN in November 2010, was appointed to serve as the chief of a panel convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to examine the UN’s own actions during the final months of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009. The panel was created following heavy criticism of the way Ban and his then envoy to Sri Lanka,Vijay Namibar, responded to a massive humanitarian crisis that unfolded as the Sri Lankan military launched a major offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that killed thousands of unarmed Tamil civilians in the process.

Petrie’s working for the Norwegian government while at the same time working for the UN panel could be in conflict with the UN Charter depending on how it is interpreted.

Article 100 of the Charter states: “In the performance of their duties the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization. They shall refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible only to the Organization.”

Reached for comment, Petrie told The Irrawaddy via email that he is working for the UN on a temporary “when actually employed” basis.

“I am leading a team of three other UN officials to conduct the internal review on UN actions in Sri Lanka during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath,” he said. It remains unclear when exactly the Sri Lanka panel will finish its work, as both Petrie and and the office of Ban’s spokesperson declined to give an end date.

As for Petrie’s work with the MPSI, “My work in Myanmar has nothing to do with the UN and I am also doing it on a part-time basis (between 10 days to two weeks a month). I am not directly employed by the government of Norway,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Petrie previously served as the UN’s resident coordinator in Burma until November 2007 when he was ordered out of the country by the then military regime following the brutal crushing of the monk-led Saffron Revolution. The apparent direct cause of Petrie’s abrupt expulsion was an October 2007 statement his office sent out that warned of a “deteriorating humanitarian situation” in the country.

Since the Norwegian initiative began this year Petrie and the MPSI have endured heavy criticism from community-based organizations and refugee advocates who warn that the project is rushing ahead without adequate consultation with the war-affected ethnic Karen and Shan populations of eastern Burma.

The MPSI and officials from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have done little to allay concerns about a lack of community participation, say the project’s critics.

Despite a request that key documents outlining the project and its goals be translated into ethnic languages, the MPSI has so far only translated these documents into Burmese. This remains a major sticking point as many ethnic people, including the senior members of some of Burma’s most powerful armed rebel groups, are not fluent in Burmese.