15 JULY 2008

That man has earned our respect. Whatever one would think of his operational performance, no one will now dispute his honourable sense of responsibility. No one can deny his courage.

Sir David Veness, the first head of a U.N. Security Department, has resigned on 24 June saying he will shoulder full responsibility for any security lapse that may have occurred concerning the deadly terrorist attack against U.N. facilities in Algiers last December. When the former U.K. police chief took over a newly established Department, many of us wondered whether one more layer of bureaucratic security would really make a difference. Bringing in more staff, scotch-taping sections in other Departments and expanding from a section to a whole Department was seen by many as a political or psychological or even Public Relations gesture; not a real security measure. Some disputed Sir David's grasp of U.N. intricacies. To his credit, however, he tried. He traveled to all the risky spots, listened carefully, assured officials in the field that their concerns are indeed his own.

Remember, he had been appointed after the tragic bombing of the U.N. Baghdad office. Two investigations on that tragic terrorist crime produced little more than politically correct statements. Few low level scapegoats were fired while the very senior officials who handled U.N. presence in their every day meeting of the Iraqi Crime Group got only a tap on the wrist. None of them accepted responsibility. Some cynics amongst them had their own macabre black jokes about how smart they were to draft their own reprimand letters.

Sir David Vaness proved to be of a totally different calibre. He comes from a tradition of responsibility and dedication to duty and professional pride. It has been many a decade at the U.N. since we have witnessed a senior official take such a bold step. As a fellow New Yorker commented: They don't come like that anymore. Well done.