Franciscans International and seven other non-governmental organisations have called on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to take immediate steps to appoint a new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. They say the post's five-month vacancy since the killing of Sergio Vieira de Mello in Iraq last summer is undermining human rights efforts around the world. Mr Vieira de Mello died on 19 August during a bomb attack on UN premises in Baghdad. He was appointed UN special representative in Iraq in May 2003 on the understanding that he would return to his permanent position as High Commissioner for Human Rights after four months. "The continuing vacancy in this key UN post can only contribute, in our view, to the weakening of respect for established principles and obligations in the field of human rights," the NGOs say in a letter to Mr Annan. The letter was issued on 7 January by the Lutheran World Federation, on behalf of Franciscans International and six other NGOs. It comes as the United Nations intensifies preparations for the annual six-week Commission on Human Rights, which begins on 15 March in Geneva. "No recent session of the Commission, in our experience, has been 'easy'," the NGO letter says. "We believe that the difficulties will be greatly exacerbated if no new High Commissioner for Human Rights has taken up the office by that time." The eight NGOs express their "highest esteem" for the Acting High Commissioner, Bertrand Ramcharan, who has overseen the High Commissioner's Office since May. Mr Vieira de Mello in September 2002 became only the third High Commissioner, following Jose Ayala Lasso and Mary Robinson. The UN General Assembly created the office in 1993 in recognition of the importance of promoting and protecting human rights on a global level. Franciscans International and the other NGOs say the appointment of a new High Commissioner for Human Rights "would be a fitting tribute to Sergio Vieira de Mello's memory and to the example he gave in his life and his work".
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