Sergio Vieira de Mello, the next United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, today pledged to turn the issue of human rights into a source of unity and to convince governments of the importance of protecting civil liberties.
Mr. Vieira de Mello, who was introduced at a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, told reporters that he would try to build upon the legacy of his two predecessors, Mary Robinson and José Ayala-Lasso, and to foster an integrated approach to human rights.
“I’ll do my best…to transform [the issue] into what governments and non-state actors should see as bonus and not just as an onus on them, and something that is truly consubstantial with our lives and individuals and societies and not something extraneous to our lives, which it is not,” he stressed.
For his part, the Secretary-General paid tribute to Mrs. Robinson, who will complete her tenure in September, and said that she had done much for the UN and the cause of human rights. “Hers is going to be a tough act to follow, but I’m sure Sergio will not let us down,” Mr. Annan said.
As for his recent turn as the head of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor, Mr. Vieira de Mello said many lessons could be extracted from an experience in which the UN was asked to build a nation out of the ashes of what was there before.
All of the new democratic institutions had to be built on the basis of a very fundamental principle of “rigorous respect” for human rights, Mr. Vieira de Mello stressed. “It’s not that the UN deals with human rights in an abstract fashion, we also have a very concrete experience in building institutions that are respectful of human rights,” he said. “I believe in East Timor, we have left behind a new Government and institutions that will be paying a great deal of respect for those universal principles.”