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UN: Annan Chooses Human Rights Chief As Iraq Representative

  • Robert McMahon

United Nations, 28 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday formally presented his choice for the UN's special representative in Iraq -- UN human rights chief Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Annan said he chose de Mello because of his experience in managing post-conflict situations, most recently in East Timor, where he was Annan's special envoy. De Mello was also the first UN special representative for Kosovo.

Annan said UN officials are facing an unusual situation in Iraq because they will have to define a relationship with a U.S.-led coalition governing Iraq as well as with citizens of an occupied state.

"This is a unique situation. It's the first time we are working on the ground with an occupying power side by side trying to help the population in the territory and therefore there are certain things we will have to work out on the ground," Annan said.

De Mello told reporters he plans to arrive in Baghdad on 2 June with a small team of advisers. He says his priority will be to establish contacts with a wide range of Iraqis with leadership potential, as well as those in civil society and with media backgrounds.

"Iraqi society is rich and that richness has been suppressed brutally for the last 24 years. But they are there. They are there or are returning as we speak and they are my priority," de Mello said.

The new special representative says he will also work quickly to establish good working relations with members of the U.S.-led coalition. De Mello says he also plans to visit all 18 provinces of Iraq to familiarize himself with the issues throughout the country.

The UN Security Council resolution on postwar Iraq says the UN special representative will play a key role in forming an Iraqi government, working with the occupying powers, the United States and Britain.

He will also guide efforts for legal and judicial reforms and promoting human rights, among other duties.

De Mello said human rights will be central to his efforts in Iraq, especially safeguarding the rights of women. "I consider the development of a culture of human rights in Iraq as fundamental to stability," he said.

Annan nominated de Mello to serve in the post for four months to set up the UN political operation in Iraq. He will then return to his duties as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

De Mello and Annan stressed that the special representative can be effective in the four-month period to launch the UN mission. They noted that de Mello served only two months in Kosovo in 1999 when he helped form a virtual UN protectorate.

U.S. officials have strongly backed de Mello for the special representative position. The Security Council is expected to approve his nomination.