In this interview, Raghida Dergham, senior columnist and diplomatic correspondent for the London-based Al-Hayat, discusses her experiences and observations over her long career reporting from the United Nations, arriving at the UN at a time when there were very few women covering the organization.
Ms. Dergham says the UN during the Cold War was a place where reporters ran around trying to catch spies meeting with each other, and where people came and went more freely, describing the Secretariat building as “the people’s building.”
“There was much openness,” she said, adding that the UN now is much more closed today because of the increased security.
Ms. Dergham discusses the UN’s involvement in Syria, saying Ban Ki-moon really took the lead. “I find him a very interesting Secretary-General,” she says. “Once he believes in something, he just goes all the way. I think he’s very principled… I think he decided that his best legacy would be one of ending impunity, and I think he really believes that what has happened in the Arab region for the last year, year-and-a-half is tremendously important because it is about what the people said they want.”
Ms. Dergham says she has seen many changes in the organization over the past three decades, describing the Cold War era where it was a competition for every single vote in the General Assembly by great powers; now, she says, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Arab uprisings, the Security Council has assumed more importance, describing it as “the club to belong to” for member states today.
Ms. Dergham also says that in the past, “The north-south confrontation was much more predominant than it is now,” because of the rise of emerging powers. Today, she says, countries conclude where they stand on an issue-by-issue basis more so than in years past, when the north-south divide was more automatic.
Ms. Dergham discusses the various Secretaries-General she has worked with over her career, noting that Ban Ki-moon has appointed a lot of women to senior positions, and that maybe the next Secretary-General will be a woman.
The interview was conducted by Warren Hoge, IPI Senior Adviser for External Relations, who worked alongside Ms. Dergham as the UN correspondent for The New York Times between 2004-08.
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