Subject: UN on defensive over controversial E Timor appointment
Wednesday May 14, 07:22 PM
UN on defensive over controversial E Timor appointment
By Radio Australia's Stephanie March
The United Nations in East Timor is on the defensive after being lambasted by its own top lawyer in New York for hiring disgraced former defence minister, Roque Rodrigues, as a presidential security adviser.
In the wake of East Timor's civil unrest in 2006, in which 37 people died and about 100,000 fled their homes, a UN commission of inquiry report recommended that charges be brought against Mr Rodrigues, who was at that time East Timor's defence minister.
The report recommended that Mr Rodrigues be prosecuted on charges of illegal weapons distribution.
Radio Australia's Stephanie March, who is in Dili, says those charges were never filed, and Mr Rodrigues has now been hired by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as a security adviser.
The move has prompted criticism from the United States and Australian embassies in East Timor.
In a leaked confidential memo to UN assistant secretary general Edmund Mulet, assistant secretary general for legal affairs Larry Johnson called the UNDP's decision "unfortunate".
Mr Johnson added: "The decision to appoint Rodrigues has, in our view, placed the organisation in an awkward position and is potentially damaging to its credibility and image".
He also said the UNDP's hiring of Mr Rodrigues could undermine the UN's ability to press for organisational accountability in the future.
Stephanie March says sources close to the UN report that Mr Rodrigues' appointment was made at the request of East Timor's President, Jose Ramos-Horta.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) says that raises questions about the commitment of East Timor's leaders to hold people accountable for their crimes and uphold the rule of law.
The ICG also says it sends a message that there is one law for the powerful, and another for the poor.
Spokeswoman for the UN Mission in East Timor (UNMIT), Allison Cooper, says the UN must respect the presumption of innocence in all cases.
"The support the UNDP has given to the contracting of Roque Rodrigues to work in the president's office doesn't mean Mr Rodrigues should evade accountability," she said.
"It simply means, like all accused persons, he has rights, and at this particular stage we are defending that as the principle, that he has the right to a presumption of innocence, and that means not having a contract of employment terminated."
However Stephanie March says Larry Johnson, the assistant secretary general for legal affairs, wrote in his leaked memo that "it is quite unlikely that the matter will ever be determined by the local courts".
He said the key concern was not whether Mr Rodrigues was innocent or guilty, but "rather the policy issue as to whether the United Nations should have recruited someone reasonably suspected by the Commission of Inquiry of having committed a serious crime".
Mr Johnson's memo advised UNMIT to seek a mutual and amicable solution to end Roque Rodrigues' employment, and that UN should be prepared to offer to pay out the remaining eight months of his contract.
Allison Cooper says the opinions expressed in the memo are only draft legal opinions, and that UNMIT is waiting to hear from the UN headquarters in New York on the matter.