UNITED NATIONS. NEW FACES FOR A NEW SEASON

 

15 SEPTEMBER 2008

NEW FACES FOR A NEW SEASON

Before the General Assembly season, while most of us were on holiday, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was busy swearing in new members of his leadership team. Three of them stand out. Patricia O'Brian of Ireland took over as Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs, a first for a female to head that department. Her welcome appointment overcame lingering doubts following the resignation of her predecessor Nicolas Michel and the departure of his Deputy, the popular and knowledgeable Larry Johnson. A delay in making the replacement had led some observer to wonder whether any legal eagle was minding the store when so many legal issues, including a tribunal regarding the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, would remain on track. The quality and experience of the replacement displayed an even clearer determination to pursue pending issues. Having served since 2003 as Legal Adviser to the Irish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ms. O'Brian handled legal issues relating to foreign policy and international affairs, particularly those dealing with human rights. She had also worked with Ireland's Attorney General. As a member of the Irish delegation to the European Union, Ms. O'Brian oversaw legal proceedings before the International Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice. In addition to practicing law in her own country, she held academic positions at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

Another similarly impressive appointment is that of Alain Le Roy of France as Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping. Just before arriving in New York to take his oath of office, Ambassador Le Roy was instrumental in the success of a gathering in Paris of heads of state of the Mediterranean countries, the first summit headed by newly-elected President Sarkozy. While he effectively remained behind the scene, many participants noted his management skills and the professional respect with which he is regarded among his colleagues. He had worked in a U.N. mission in Kosovo, with a UNDP mission in Mauritania, and served as ambassador to former Yugoslavia and to Madagascar. A holder of a degree in Engineering, he also acquired degrees in Economics from the University of Paris (Pantheon-Sarbonnes), and completed the programme for senior managers in government at Harvard University. In his new U.N. assignment, he will be overseeing about 110,000 personnel, spread over 20 operations around the world. He will need all the support he can get. And he deserves it, particularly after the very poor performance of his predecessor.

The third welcome appointment is that of Navanethem Pillay, as High Commissioner for Human Rights. A South African anti-Apartheid activist who struggled her way against great obstacles to one of the most senior legal positions in her unified liberalized country, she is the third woman to take over that post and the first African.

There were other appointments at the Assistant Secretary General rank. The capable solid Controller Warren Sachs was moved to Central Support Service, Department of Management, to give way to a new Japanese nominee, Jun Yamazaki. Another new face is that of the number two in Legal Affairs from Denmark, Peter Taksoe-Jensen. The strongly connected Jane Holl Lute managed to get another designation as ASG for Peacebuilding Support, replacing the formidable Carolyn McAskie, who decided to return home to Canada.