Remembering Francesc Vendrell
Francesc Vendrell, the veteran peacemaker who died on 27 November this year at the age of 82, will be remembered by many for his patient, discreet and effective brokering of some of the world’s knottiest conflicts. His colleagues will recall an inspiring mentor in the workplace and a lifelong friend beyond.
Vendrell, who was born in Barcelona, shaped a generation of United Nations officials. He became Deputy Personal Representative of the Secretary-General for Central America during processes that involved the United Nations observation of the 1990 elections in Nicaragua, as well the mediation of peace talks between El Salvador and the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional that ultimately resulted in the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords in 1992. Vendrell also played a critical role representing the Secretary-General in the early stages of the Guatemalan peace process.
As Senior Adviser and then Deputy Personal Representative to the Secretary-General, Vendrell was involved in the negotiations between Portugal and Indonesia on Timor-Leste that led to the independence referendum of August 1999. The Secretary-General appointed Vendrell as his Personal Representative for Afghanistan in January 2000, and he helped prepare for the International Conference on Afghanistan, Bonn. He then became the European Union’s representative in Kabul.
Tamrat Samuel, who worked with Vendrell in the Asia Pacific Division of what was then the Department of Political Affairs, described him as “a leader who also valued and relied on good advice.” He invested hours discussing ideas with staff or working on drafts of reports and notes. For those in his office, Samuel said that meant “the end of the usual working day was 9 p.m. — unless it was opera night, of course.”
“Francesc was guided by a clear moral compass in his work,” Samuel said, noting that he placed the highest value on the moral authority, integrity and impartiality of the UN. Referring to the Organization’s involvement in the Timor-Leste peace process, Samuel stressed that “we could not have gone as far as we did in the resolution of the long-standing ‘question of East Timor’ without Francesc’s steadfast commitment, sense of justice and risk-taking, or ‘pushing the envelope’ — as he liked to call it.”
Samuel went on to recall that, as a mediator, Vendrell would stress the importance of “patience, patience, patience,” above all else. He would also continually emphasize the importance of empathy; of listening carefully to the positions of all parties, and understanding their interests and perspectives . He also knew the importance of rallying as much support as possible for the good offices of the Secretary-General, including through mechanisms like the Group of Friends.
Teresa Whitfield, former Director of the Policy and Mediation Division of DPPA, remembers Vendrell as a loyal friend who was “warm, funny and engaging.” She first knew him in the context of his work in Central America, where, she said, he had a track record of building relationships with all parties. She particularly remembered representatives of the guerrilla groups in El Salvador and Guatemala recalling the seriousness with which he sought to understand their grievances; both told how her this influenced their views of the United Nations. His belief in the potential of the UN’s good offices role was unwavering, she said, as was his “commitment, energy and imagination.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said of Vendrell that “those who had the privilege to work alongside him will always remember his dedication and tireless commitment to the search for peace through dialogue.”
Vendrell, a committed anglophile, died in London. He is survived by his partner, Gordon Wilkins.