Sergio Vieira de Mello

by Brian on August 21, 2003

If one just read the blogosphere, one might get the impression that few conservatives thought the UN or its senior officials ever did anything useful, and that some rather unbalanced souls on the right approve of murdering UN representatives. In the interests of being fair and balanced, I thought I’d point out that some conservatives don’t agree.

bq. He [Sergio Vieria de Mello] served as the head of UNTAET—the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor—with great distinction. We dealt with him day in and day out, on the phone and personally and in all sorts of different of ways. He was always a good friend to Australia. He was a great friend to the people of East Timor. He had enormous emotion for the people of East Timor as time went on; he was quite an emotional person—I feel emotional talking about him. He captured the hearts of the people of East Timor. Many of the honourable members know that the East Timorese are very political people and they hold a lot of very different views. One thinks that this forum is political; it is nothing compared to East Timor. He managed to unite the people; he managed to win the hearts and minds of the people of East Timor extraordinarily well. I do not believe that the United Nations’ great success in East Timor would have been as easily done—perhaps not done all—if it had not been for Sergio de Mello. He helped us a lot. When we had some difficulties, he intervened and helped with those difficulties. For example, he was extremely helpful to both sides during some of the early discussions on the Timor Sea and the renegotiation of the Timor Sea Treaty. He will be enormously missed by us in Australia.

bq. Unfortunately Sergio was not in Iraq when I was in Baghdad recently, but everybody I talked to spoke highly of the work that Sergio Vieira de Mello was doing there—everybody. As members know, there is a lot of controversy about the United Nations and what it can or cannot do in Iraq. But there was never any controversy about Sergio. Everybody believed that this was a man who could do the job. He built excellent relations with the Americans, with Jerry Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, and with the Iraqis. He built excellent relationships with diplomats from other countries there. Again, as in East Timor, it was an extraordinary achievement. For terrorists to come and take his life like that was a wicked thing to do at such a fragile time. As the Prime Minister and others have said, it is very much to the detriment of the people of Iraq. This is a very sad day; a sad day for Australia, a sad day for the world.

That’s an extract from Alexander Downer’s speech on the motion condemning the bombing murders in Jerusalem and Baghdad. The debate on the motion starts on page 53, and this quote is from page 59.

Being prepared to go work in both East Timor and Iraq right after a war, as Sergio de Mello did, shows a lot more bravery than I, or most other bloggers, ever will. And if he was half as good a diplomat as speakers from that debate made him out to be, his contributions to Iraq’s recovery will be sorely missed.