17 May 2011
Tour of the United Nations
Manhattan, New York
Tag Archives: UN High Commissioner for Refugees
The art of diplomacy is to avoid placing yourself in a position where you can be humiliated.
Sergio Vieira de Mello
The book of the moment is Chasing the Flame by Samantha Power – thanks Joe, Joel, and Ryan for the recommendation!
Power tells the story of Sergio Vieira de Mello and his career with the United Nations. Vieira de Mello joined the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1969 and found himself engaged in many of the most critical UN efforts from the birth of Bangladesh in 1971-72 until his death in Iraq in 2003. As she recounts his life, Power provides insight into the man and a fascinating view of the UN and how it works.
The quote above relates to a moment when UN officials were turned back at a checkpoint in Cambodia as they tried to exercise the free movement promised to the UN by the Paris peace agreement. In the agreement, Cambodia’s four main factions agreed to demilitarize, allow refugees to return, and hold free elections. The UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia, a peacekeeping mission began to arrive in March 1992.
Vieiera de Mello’s assessment of diplomacy resonates with experience. There is wisdom in refraining from asking questions when one knows the answer and does not want to hear it. There is also wisdom in silence when one knows what answers could be and knows that among those answers are some one does not want to hear.
But – does the time not come when for the sake of truth, for the sake of justice, for the sake of others, for the sake of solid relationships – we must move ahead, make ourselves vulnerable, and take the risk of humiliation and even worse? Perhaps the question is how we recognize those times and how we respond when we do?
It will be interesting to see if this concept is explored any further in the book – either directly or simply through the life of Vieira de Mello. There is much to ponder.
See you along the Trail.