By Dr. Purnaka L. de Silva
The author is Director, Institute for Strategic Studies and Democracy (ISSD) Malta.
VALETTA (IDN) – Humanitarians across the world are mourning the passing of one of the greatest champions for the rights and freedoms of migrants and refugees, Sir Peter Sutherland, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration (January 2006 – March 2017).
Migrants and refugees, the poorest of the poor whom he championed shall sorely miss him, especially in these dystopian times with the hysterical rise of anti-immigrant nationalism and xenophobia. Colleagues shall surely miss his judgment, clarity of vision of what is right and what is wrong, and being unafraid to say so – i.e. to speak truth to power.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres who was allied closely with Sir Peter, when he was the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, stated that:
“As Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration for more than a decade starting in 2006, Peter Sutherland rendered indispensable service to the United Nations. He was fearless and forceful in his advocacy for some of the world’s most vulnerable people. He also was a pioneer in bringing international migration into the UN. His efforts were crucial in establishing the Global Forum on Migration and Development, in ensuring that migrants and refugees were represented in the Sustainable Development Goals, in the convening of the first-ever UN summit on migrants and refugees in September 2016, and in the inclusion of the International Organization for Migration in the UN family.”
To see Sir Peter in action was to see a force of nature at work. Driven by his faith as a staunch Catholic and his deep sense of fair play and social justice he would brook no opposition, however powerful, when defending the rights of vulnerable migrants and refugees.
My Libyan and Maltese colleagues and I from the Institute for Strategic Studies and Democracy, Malta were privileged enough to interact with him closely during the “Managing Migration – Solutions beyond the Nation State” conference in Siracusa, April 18-19, 2016 that was organized by the London School of Economics’ Institute for Global Affairs with support from the Ortygia Business School in Sicily. At one point Sir Peter announced that he wanted to visit a large camp nearby, where migrants and refugees who had crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Libya were being housed.
The Italians, mortified at having an unscripted visit from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s top representative for International Migration, balked and refused access or made up excuses to that effect. Sir Peter ‘Raised Cain’ and reached the highest levels of government in Rome and eventually, albeit reluctantly, he and his Senior Advisor Pamela DeLargy were granted permission to visit the camp en route to the airport.
There are so many episodes like this where he took on the anti-immigrant establishment in European Union countries, even personally visiting the ‘jungle’ camp in Calais, France to bear witness as to the atrocious and inhuman conditions there in a so-called civilized society.
On a personal level, we are very honored to have had Sir Peter pen, as one of his final professional acts as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration, the Preface to The Routledge Companion to Media and Humanitarian Action that I coedited with Professor Robin Andersen (published September 2017) – on combating the scourge of human trafficking and forced migration, where more than 240 million migrants every year and almost 20 million people are forced from their countries by conflicts and disaster.
Great men and women are judged by their deeds, and Sir Peter Sutherland was a truly great man.
May God Rest His Soul and reward him for his life of service, charity and volunteerism.
Sincere Heartfelt Condolences to His Family and Friends from the many whose lives he touched by his keen intellect, kindness and above all sincerity. [IDN-InDepthNews – 09 January 2018]
Photo: (Late) Peter Sutherland, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration and Development, briefs journalists. 27 May 2015. United Nations, New York. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten
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