U.N. Picks Human Rights Chief as Its Envoy to Iraq

Times Staff Writer

Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Friday named U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Sergio Vieira de Mello, a veteran troubleshooter, as the international organization’s special representative to Iraq.

The 55-year-old Brazilian-born diplomat was the choice of the Bush administration, which sought a high-profile United Nations official. Joining the United Nations in 1969, Vieira de Mello has served in such hot spots as Lebanon, Rwanda, Kosovo and East Timor.

People who have worked with Vieira de Mello say he is an articulate and dynamic leader who knows how to listen and has the ability to bring about consensus.

“He is the consummate diplomat, the ultimate coalition builder,” said Eric Morris, an official with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.


The appointment is for four months.

Vieira de Mello is expected to work with the U.S. and British civil authorities to help coordinate humanitarian aid to Iraq and to rebuild its infrastructure. He will also be involved in efforts to form a representative government to take the place of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Annan, in a letter to Jan Kavan, president of the U.N. General Assembly, said he was naming Vieira de Mello “in view of his unique experience in serving the United Nations in post-conflict situations in the past.”

Vieira de Mello won plaudits in his role as the U.N.'s transitional administrator in East Timor, helping guide the small Pacific country’s move to independence after Indonesia’s withdrawal in 1999. That same year, he established the U.N. mission in Kosovo as an interim special representative of the secretary-general.


Last year, Annan named him to a four-year appointment as head of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. The role of special representative to Iraq was established under the U.N. resolution adopted Thursday that ended almost 13 years of international sanctions against the country.

To help win support from France, Germany and Russia for the resolution, representatives of the U.S. and Britain agreed to upgrade the title from special coordinator and to include stronger language emphasizing the importance of the position in overseeing Iraq’s transition to a new government.

Washington and London retain broad authority over such key functions as the formation of a provisional government in Iraq and disbursing revenue from the country’s oil sales.

Veteran diplomats said the resolution listing tasks for the international organization’s top official in Iraq was not as clear as similar U.N. mandates in East Timor and Kosovo.


As a result, they say, the working chemistry between Vieira de Mello and American and British officials will be key to his success.