AGE: In The Shoes Of Mary Robinson, The New Guardian Of The World
The Age (Melbourne) July 27, 2002
In The Shoes Of Mary Robinson, The New Guardian Of The World
By Jill Jolliffe
The diplomat who nursed East Timor to nationhood is the new UN Human Rights Commissioner. Jill Jolliffe recalls his reign in Dili.
In October, 1999, Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, a handsome, elegantly dressed man, arrived in Dili for the first time. The task he had been given by the UN was enormous, but his first priority was to redeem the world body's credibility from the smoking ruins of militia-devastated Dili.
After promising never to desert the Timorese, his predecessor Ian Martin was forced to withdraw by a violent militia siege of the UN compound after the independence victory in the August 30 plebiscite.
De Mello was to lead the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), in preparation for independence. At first, East Timorese leaders deemed him an excellent choice. A Portuguese-speaker, he spoke their language both literally and in a wider sense. He was an experienced UN career diplomat, having occupied key positions in Cambodia and Kosovo, and was on the up and up. This week, he was named Mary Robinson's successor to the post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
What kind of man is he? His reign in East Timor provides some clues. Soon after his arrival, de Mello made friends with resistance hero Xanana Gusmao and homecoming Timorese diplomat Jose Ramos Horta.
The Brazilian later hosted a press conference to farewell Ian Martin, who urged the world not to forget the violence and to ensure the guilty were tried. "I know Sergio strongly intends to uncover the full truth of the violence before and after the ballot," he asserted, "and put to justice those with prime responsibility not just for its execution but for its planning."
De Mello's achievements in the following two years were formidable. He built a nation from scratch, restoring East Timor's economy and supervising two elections. By independence on May 20, he had a success story on his hands - at least to the casual observer. He had, however, failed to bring leading perpetrators of the 1999 violence to trial, and it now seems unlikely they will ever be tried.
Joaquim Fonseca, a youthful founder of Yayasan Hak, the country's leading human rights foundation, feels cheated. "I think it is ironic that the UN is appointing Sergio Vieira de Mello as the Human Rights Commissioner, given his record in East Timor and his failure to bring justice," he says. "East Timor was for many years a high-profile case, and it promoted his profile."
The great fear of Fonseca's generation is that failure to judge the guilty will create new lawlessness. "We have lost a very valuable opportunity. People want justice, and they may take it into their own hands."
In fairness, de Mello was working in a human rights framework weighted against success. He had been lumbered with a near-unworkable Security Council resolution which stipulated that Indonesia should be given the chance to try its own officers accused of war crimes, although the UN could also hold trials in Dili. If these trials failed, the resolution stated, an international court could then be set up.
The Serious Crimes Unit was formed in Dili, with strong support from the administrator, to charge human rights violators. Arrest warrants were issued for Indonesian officers but Jakarta refused extradition, despite an April, 2000, agreement with UNTAET. Under UN regulations, they could not be tried in absentia. The result was that although UNTAET has obtained convictions for crimes against humanity, including the December, 2000, verdict for the horrific Lospalos massacre, only East Timorese have been sentenced. (In that case, 10 militiamen were jailed for between four and 33 years.)
By mid-2001, Dili prosecutions were stalled. Deals were being discussed in border talks between prosecutors and accused militia leaders, who promised to bring thousands of refugees back from camps in West Timor in exchange for leniency.
A UN inquiry was set up under jurist Mary Fisk. By August, UNTAET's new deputy administrator, Dennis McNamara, had re-organised the justice section, in keeping with her sweeping (but never-published) recommendations. The reformed system has produced a new spate of indictments, but the rot that set in in 2001 cost valuable time, and de Mello had final responsibility for it.
During his time in East Timor, he had both ardent fans and strong detractors. By early 2002, the UNTAET mission was increasingly divided between pro and anti-Sergio factions. He was liked for his sociability, brimming intelligence and hands-on approach to problems. He never hesitated to travel to a trouble spot rather than deal with it from the air-conditioned comfort of Dili.
His detractors considered that his perfectionism went hand-in-hand with arrogance and intolerance to criticism, especially from the press. He once devoted much of a press conference to tearing strips off Timorese leader Joao Carrascalao for telling the BBC that he considered 50 per cent of UNTAET staff incompetent, a view shared by many other Timorese.
By the time he left East Timor, not one Indonesian had been convicted in either the Jakarta or Dili courts, although there was little he could do about Indonesian intransigence. Eighteen senior Indonesian figures are on trial in Jakarta. No verdicts have yet been delivered, but observers say the mandate is too limited to produce results.
Human rights optimists hope de Mello's special knowledge of East Timor and his legendary sensitivity to criticism may mean he can bring a fresh approach to the issue in his new role.
24-07-2002 13:40:00. Notícia nº 3931477
Lisbon and Dili have applauded the choice of Sergio Vieira de Mello, East Timor's former transition UN administrator, as the United Nations' new Human Rights Commissioner, replacing Ireland's Mary Robinson.
Portuguese Foreign Minister Antonio Martins da Cruz Tuesday praised Vieira de Mello's three-year mandate in Dili and successes at other UN posts, such as in Kosovo, promising his "personal colaboration" and that of Portugal in the "promotion and defense" of human rights around the world.
Contacted by Lusa in Manila, East Timor's foreign minister, Jose Ramos Horta, said the Brazilian diplomat was "the best person" to head the Human Rights Commission, having demonstrated the ability simultaneously to assume the role of "defender" and "mediator".
Vieira de Mello, 54, who was appointed Tuesday by Secretary- General Kofi Annan, "prepared and qualified" for the difficult task during his three years in Dili, Ramos Horta added.
A spokesman for the Indonesian foreign ministry said Jakarta had "total confidence" in Annan's choice, adding that Indonesia, East Timor's former occupier, had "cooperated well" with Vieira de Mello during his mandate in Dili.
"Our hope is that we will maintain good relations and good cooperation", spokesman Marty Natalegawa added.
The UN has been pressing Jakarta for thorough trials of military officers and officials charged with human rights crimes committed in East Timor at the time of its 1999 independence plebiscite.
Timor UN chief wins human rights job
By William Orme New York
Sergio Vieira de Mello, who recently served as transitional governor of East Timor, is to replace Mary Robinson as the United Nations' human rights commissioner.
A Brazilian, Mr de Mello, 54, has worked for the UN for 33 years. He will replace the outspoken former Irish president in September.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced Mr de Mello's nomination on Monday after Ms Robinson agreed to step down when Mr Annan and UN Security Council powers made it clear they did not support a belated effort on her part to extend her term until 2005.
The job, based in Geneva, has been controversial since its inception in 1994, with the commissioner either blamed for insulting governments by speaking out on human rights abuses or keeping a low profile when a major atrocity occurs.
Ms Robinson had rankled the US with her persistent questioning of its counter-terrorism tactics and angered China and Russia by condemning their suppression of separatists.
She has also blasted the treatment of refugees in places such as Australia, Italy and Denmark - countries even less accustomed than the United States to human rights criticism from abroad.
Mr de Mello's nomination, scheduled to be approved by the 189-member General Assembly overnight, has been welcomed by the US.
"The job in itself is a minefield," Mr de Mello said. "But my life has been a succession of minefields, not theoretical but very real, so that does not worry me.
"I've had 32 years of dealing with complex situations," he said, referring to duties in Cambodia 12 years ago, where he was the first director for mine clearance, in Lebanon as a political adviser to UN peacekeepers as well as in Bosnia. He arrived in Dili in 1999 to head the UN mission overseeing East Timor's transition to independence.
Though she announced her resignation herself, Ms Robinson acknowledged last week that her departure was not entirely voluntary. "I felt that if I were strongly urged to do so, it would be difficult not to accept to stay on," she said. "But I was also aware that there were certain resistances."
The Bush administration had soured on Ms Robinson a year ago, during the UN conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, which she chaired. The administration held her responsible for an agenda that became dominated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with criticism of Israel that in some instances verged on anti-Semitic. "Our position has basically been that anybody would be an improvement," a State Department official said earlier this month.
Though respected by peers for his skilful performance as head of the recent UN missions in East Timor and Kosovo, Mr de Mello is not expected to undertake the high-profile campaignisng of Ms Robinson. Like Mr Annan, Mr de Mello is known for quiet but effective closed-door diplomacy, and has been seen as a potential candidate for the secretary-general's job after Mr Annan retires.
"De Mello brings to the job an impressive diplomatic and UN background, but he lacks hands-on human rights experience," said Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
"The challenge he faces is to prove that he will stand up to governments and be a clear and resounding voice on behalf of the victims of human rights abuse."
- Los Angeles Times, Reuters
Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from http://www.v3inc.com/