- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2002

GENEVA U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced yesterday that he intends to appoint Sergio Vieira de Mello, a senior career U.N. official, to the politically sensitive post of high commissioner for human rights, earning plaudits from senior diplomats and human rights advocates.
The selection of Mr. de Mello, 54, an insider well liked by Mr. Annan, is viewed by some in Geneva's close-knit diplomatic community as a calculated move. He is seen as "a fixer" less likely to clash with major powers compared with Mary Robinson, the outgoing commissioner, who steps down Sept. 11.
Mr. Annan and Mr. de Mello "go back a long time, and the secretarygeneral works well with him," said a diplomat close to Mr. Annan's inner circle.
"We're pretty happy. He was definitely the best compared with the rest of the lineup. But Robinson will be a hard act to follow," said a human rights advocate with an international nongovernmental organization, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"He's a silver-tongued person, liked by everybody," said an ambassador from an Asian country.
Senior Western and U.N. diplomats privately concede that Mrs. Robinson's position on a host of sensitive rights issues including the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, the handling of al Qaeda prisoners and perceived Russian abuses in Chechnya led to frosty relations with Washington, Moscow and other capitals.
The former Irish president's independent style also, at times, made life difficult for Mr. Annan, the officials said.
"She was too presidential," said one ambassador whose country did not back Mr. de Mello.
One veteran Geneva-based ambassador who has worked with Mr. de Mello during the days when he was assistant high commissioner for refugees and later the secretary-general's special envoy in Kosovo, summed up: "He's a very competent individual."
Mr. de Mello impressed both Western and developing-country envoys with his performance as transitional administrator for East Timor until May.
Some rights experts are concerned, however, that Mr. de Mello might be too bureaucratic and not rock the boat at all.
The same sources worry that he might play down issues such as the fight against racism and the promotion of social and economic rights which had been given a high profile by Mrs. Robinson and shy from showdowns with the major powers.
But diplomats familiar with Mr. de Mello point out that he has performed under pressure in many politically complicated crises.
Mr. de Mello has done well in every senior U.N. post he has held, noted one ambassador.
Some envoys said it remains to be seen how well he would do in nurturing relations with political leaders, given his lack of political background, especially compared with Mrs. Robinson's expertise.


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