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A Sense of Justice Dennis McNamara TO ATTEMPT to assess the contribution of Sergio Vieira de Mello to the complex and difficult areas of justice and the rule of law is a daunting task. It is a challenge made even greater, as one of his close friends put it, by Sergio’s basic duality: his instinctive charm and trust, looking for the best in people while pushing often pragmatic diplomacy to its limits , with quite incredible success. And at the same time his longstanding devotion to vigorous good order and discipline, epitomized professionally by his consistent advocacy for international justice, especially in the form of the International Criminal Tribunal Yugoslavia (ICTY), and later the International Criminal Court (ICC). On these issues he was a passionate advocate, perhaps because he was philosophically more comfortable with the hard logic of law, than the sometimes more woolly and ill-defined parameters of “humanitarianism.” Not uniquely, Sergio preferred the clarity of the law to the pomposity of the lawyers, as I know personally. Despite his deep intellectualism, he consistently resisted the legal “hair splitters,” as he called them: All too often we complicate matters [to] muddy the picture and [to] remain stuck on defining rights in rarified, doctrinaire meetings, rather than simply getting on and implementing them. But I have seen enough to know that those who are denied their rights do not find the matter quite so complicated. Or—as he said of the Timorese—they may not have been able easily to define democracy, but they certainly knew what it was not. Basic justice, in all its many and broad aspects, and the rule of law were central themes throughout Sergio’s various incarnations: the key underpinnings of what he described as “holistic democracy”—the rights cahill.qxp 10/1/2004 1:36 PM Page 185 content of “legitimate governance.” His theme was inclusiveness, an “empowered, enabled, and protected citizenry,” the essential antithesis and antidote to the tyranny either of the majority, or of any minority. But let me do what, I think, Sergio would want to have done with this discussion —bring it down to its real and practical application. How does the easy rhetoric of justice actually translate “on the ground” or “in the field,” where the environment is invariably chaotic and often rife with conflict? Let me give some random examples. By the late 1980s it was clear that the continued exodus of people from the countries of Indochina, and especially Vietnam, could not go on being treated totally as a refugee movement. With all new boat arrivals in Southeast Asia being automatically processed for resettlement as refugees in third-party countries, Sergio led the contentious UNHCR effort to put in place a Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) to try and resolve this massive problem humanely. The key to this was to set up formal refugee screening systems throughout the countries of Southeast Asia. These were legally based processes, formally determining those who qualified as refugees, with a right of review, and the humane return to Vietnam of those who did not qualify. It may not seem very radical now, but in the highly charged post–Vietnam War arena the CPA was highly contentious. Crucially, Sergio kept all key governments, both regional and international, politically committed to this difficult process. It worked, despite the critics, because its solid legal basis enabled the delicate political consensus to hold. The success of the CPA brought to a humane end one of the most intense and prolonged refugee exoduses of recent times. Three years later in Cambodia, following the Paris Peace Accords, UNTAC (United Nations Transitional Authority of Cambodia) faced an equal challenge in conducting free and fair elections in that traumatized and uprooted country within two years. Critical to this was the return of nearly 400,000 Cambodians linked to the Western-backed resistance in camps along the Thai/Cambodian border. Many commentators were convinced that their safe and orderly return was impossible. UNHCR’s initial plan to return people to their original areas soon proved untenable . Sergio quickly implemented a substitute cash incentive scheme: UNTAC provided security support; UN human rights monitors followed the process; and the Cambodian refugees all came home in time to vote. 186 HUMAN SECURITY FOR ALL cahill.qxp 10/1/2004 1:36 PM Page 186 Again a controversial, sometimes criticized but ultimately effective combination of politics, diplomacy and safeguarding of basic rights were integrated to resolve a humanitarian impasse. Sergio’s sense of what...


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MARC Record
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