Tuesday, August 21, 2007

New UN Resolution Honors Memory of Peacebuilders Past

Back in August of 2003, I was far too busy finishing my final semester abroad in the United Kingdom to take particular note of an attack on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, which killed 23 UN workers including High Commissioner and Special Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. Sure, I followed world news, as most students of International Relations do. But for me, this was just another sad headline. I had no idea, at the time, just how important it was.

For the international NGO community and anyone who had ever worked or been connected with the UN, the August 19th, 2003 UN Headquarters bombing was like September 11th or the assassination of JFK -- they can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when it happened. It was perhaps even more critical for the Iraqi people.

Sergio Vieira de Mello"Sergio de Mello's death is catastrophic," wrote a young woman blogger in Iraq, known as Riverbend. "We are all a little bit dazed. He was, during these last few months, the best thing that seems to have happened to Iraq. In spite of the fact that the UN was futile in stopping the war, seeing someone like de Mello gave people some sort of weak hope. It gave you the feeling that, no, the Americans couldn't run amuck in Baghdad without the watchful of eye of the international community."

The top UN official in Iraq at the time,
Sergio Vieira de Mello was an eloquent gentleman committed to peace and respected for his role in coordinating UN efforts in nations from East Timor to Kosovo. Other senior officials killed that day included Chris Klein-Beekman, the UNICEF coordinator for Iraq, and Nadia Younes, de Mello’s Chief of Staff. This was not only a tragic loss of renowned diplomats and humanitarians, but also the single worst attack on the UN in the history of the organization.

At the time, the Bush administration was keen on getting the UN into Iraq as a fig leaf of legitimacy for the U.S. mission of regime change, but resisted the UN playing a greater role. Mr. de Mello was a key figure in expanding UN presence and responsibility, and the August 2003 bombing was a critical development for Iraqis who worried about
Paul Bremer and the U.S. role in Iraq. Subsequent to the bombing, the UN pulled all but essential personnel out of Iraq and dramatically scaled back its operations for months. To this day, the main office of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) is in Amman, Jordan, not Baghdad. It was a devastating setback for those who wanted the UN and international community to play a greater role in helping Iraqis rebuild and determine their own future.

Nevertheless, the UN continued to play a critical role. UN Commissioner Carlos Valenzuela's team oversaw Iraqi elections and provided technical assistance for the formation of the Iraqi Independent Electoral Committee (IIEC). The Four years later,
a new UNSC Resolution helps to honor the legacy of de Mello and his colleagues by building upon their work and goals. Approving a 12-month mandate extension for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), the Security Council "expanded the world body’s political role in Iraq, aimed at bringing together the strife-torn country’s rival factions, gaining broader support from neighbouring countries, and tackling the deepening humanitarian crisis." Among other things, the measure authorized the head of UNAMI to "advise, support and assist" the Iraqi Government in advancing an "inclusive, national dialogue and political reconciliation," reviewing the Constitution, setting internal boundaries, and dealing with the millions of Iraqis who have fled their homes.

EPIC welcomes this expanded UN role, although we hope to see further details from the UN Security Council and the Secretary General's office. And we hope you all will join us in remembering Sergio de Mello, his colleagues, and all those who have died trying to build peace in Iraq.


Anonymous said...

The UN ought to keep its humanitarian and peace-building roles seperate. Otherwise there is a danger of politicizing international aid efforts.

reader said...

How sad to have lost someone like this. We can only hope there are those following in his footsteps to find peace.

Anonymous said...

Wanted to mention that the plight of Iraqis who helped us and are now in danger was a topic on "Sixty Minutes" last weekend. Hope people watched and it helps get them some support.

Anonymous said...

Too often this happens. Sad.

Anonymous said...

After this week's political maneuverings on Iraq, it seems clearer than ever that (a) the Iraqi people need *more* protection, not less, but (b) nobody on either side of the aisle in the U.S. is going to advocate for this protection. But why is nobody discussing a drastically expanded UN role? Getting international contributions would be a lot of work but cost-effective in the end and just having a solid plan might increase confidence of the Iraqis that they won't be abandoned. This was brought up in August but not a peep since.

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