RNW Interview for Current Affairs: International Organisations
De Mello Takes Rights Mantle
by our Internet desk, 12 September 2002
Entrevista de Sergio Vieira de Mello para cadeia holandesa por ocasião de sua nomeação para o cargo de Alto-Comissário de Direitos Humanos da ONU em 12 de setembro de 2002
Interview for the dutch network in occasion of it’s naming for the High-Comissioner for Human Rights chair
Sergio Vieira de Mello
Career diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello was appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Thursday. Rights groups have expressed hope that the Brazilian will live up to his feisty predecessor Mary Robinson.
Ms Robinson, the former Irish President, annoyed many nations with her fearless denunciations of brutality and discrimination during her four-year term as High Commissioner.
It is expected that Mr de Mello will be less of a headache for the world powers and his boss, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The 56-year-old has worked with the UN since 1969, in recent years heading the world body’s missions in East Timor and Kosovo.
Mr de Mello’s appointment as High Commissioner comes as civil rights activists continue to raise concerns that the war on terrorism is being used as a pretext for abuses around the globe.
In this interview with Radio Netherlands’ Hans-Jaap Melissen, Mr de Mello considers the pitfalls of the global anti-terrorist campaign.
“Fighting terrorism is a priority for the United Nations. In so doing I think it is essential to remember that certain fundamental human rights and freedoms must be preserved as an essential part of that fight against terrorism, because eroding those freedoms, not respecting those fundamental principles, is precisely what terrorists wish to achieve, which is to undermine the very essence of democratic societies.”
RN: “And is that what’s happening right now in the US, for example in Guantanamo Bay?”
“What I can say is that all democracies, however traumatised – and it is understandable that the US has been deeply traumatised by what happened last year – must remain aware, must remain conscious, of the need to uphold fundamental principles.”
RN: “What will be your first points of attention when you start your new job?”
“On broader issues, on the broad themes, I can assure you there are already quite a few on the agenda. One of them that has been close to my heart throughout my career, has been the protection of civilian populations in conflicts. Another one is displaced persons, internally or externally displaced persons, including this worrying phenomenon of migratory movements, and more particularly, the illegal trafficking of human beings, which is one of the worst new forms of international criminality, together with terrorism, money laundering, and drugs, and it’s one that obviously affects Europe, North America, and Australia, but that affects primarily the human beings concerned. This is one I intend to pay a lot of attention to.”
“There are other fundamental issues such as racism and discrimination; new forms of anti-Semitism that need to be highlighted and denounced, because that monster keeps re-emerging when we were all hoping it had disappeared once and for all. And also, as a result of September 11, this new form of anti-Islamic tendency, [an] anti-Arab phenomenon, which cannot be allowed to continue. These generalisations are, as a rule, the beginning of racist campaigns, and that must be checked, and very quickly,”
“Other subjects that are of particular interest to me are the rights of women. We are not there yet. This is one I paid attention to while in East Timor with a lot of success, I must say. Empowering women will certainly be a priority, because women are, as a rule, a factor of peace, of stability, of rationality, and we need a lot of that in today’s world. I could go on. The list is very long, but these are some of the areas in which I will be focussing my attention.”