- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 21, 2002

GENEVA Sergio Vieira de Mello, the new U.N. human rights chief, promised yesterday to act as the voice of the world's oppressed, but implied he would be less publicly outspoken than his predecessor.
"My job will require speaking out to turn the world's attention to abuses," Mr. Vieira de Mello said.
"But it also requires tact and political acumen, as well as the ability to roll up one's sleeves and get down to work to protect human rights away from the spotlights and the microphones," the 54-year-old Brazilian diplomat said.
It was his first news conference since succeeding Ireland's Mary Robinson as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sept. 12.
While professing his admiration for Mrs. Robinson, Mr. Vieira de Mello made it clear he did not share her methods, which often ruffled feathers among world governments.
"Sometimes, speaking up will be necessary, will be a moral and legal obligation. In other circumstances, negotiating and exhaustive other means will be necessary to achieve the objective," he said. "Judge me on the basis of results, and not on style."
Mrs. Robinson, who served for five years and said she was willing to stay for an extra three years, was effectively squeezed out after alienating the United States and other powerful governments.
She fell afoul of Washington for criticizing its treatment of terrorist suspects at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; for her intervention in death-penalty cases and for her perceived anti-Israeli stance. She upset Russia for pressing for an inquiry into abuses committed in Chechnya, and took the Chinese government to task for suppressing political and spiritual opponents.
In an interview shortly before she left office, Mrs. Robinson lambasted the United States and other governments for using the war against terrorism to justify trampling on civil liberties through prolonged detention of suspects without charges.
Mr. Vieira de Mello offered an olive branch to the Bush administration.
"One should never forget what happened September 11 last year," he said. "To an exceptional threat, often exceptional measures are required.
"Any society that is attacked as brutally as was the case last year responds and reacts in a manner that some may consider excessive, but this is natural. What we need to ensure is that this reaction is of short duration," he said.
Mr. Vieira de Mello said he would "encourage the Israeli government with all possible and imaginable means to respect the human rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories."
Mr. Vieira de Mello has spent more than 30 years working for U.N. humanitarian and refugee operations in world trouble spots. Most recently, he was the U.N. administrator for East Timor, a job that ended when the former Indonesian territory achieved independence in May.


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