From 28 February to 10 March 2016, the United Nations Legal Counsel, Mr. Serpa Soares, visited Cyprus, Israel and Lebanon. The main objective of this mission was to visit UNFICYP and UNIFIL in order to get a better understanding of how those peacekeeping missions operate on the ground, so that the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) can optimally target its advice in the area of peacekeeping.
From 1 to 5 March, the United Nations Legal Counsel, Mr. Serpa Soares, visited Israel at the invitation of the Government of Israel. The visit to Israel perfectly complemented the visit to UNIFIL and allowed the Legal Counsel to discuss current legal issues in the relationship between the United Nations and the State of Israel with a number of top officials of the Israeli Government. In the margins of the mission, Mr. Serpa Soares took the opportunity of his presence in the region to meet with the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, in Jerusalem, and with the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Ms. Sigrid Kaag, and with the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Ms. Rima Khalaf, in Beirut.
Visit to Israel
From 1 to 5 March 2016, Mr. Serpa Soares visited Israel at the invitation of the Government. He held meetings and received briefings by high-level officials of Israel’s judiciary and military, as well as its highest-ranking government lawyers. All meetings were conducted in a cordial atmosphere and in a transparent manner. In all the meetings with his Israeli interlocutors Mr. Serpa Soares encouraged more engagement and more cooperation by Israel with the United Nations.
The first meeting was held at the Ministry of Justice where Mr. Serpa Soares was received by Israel’s Attorney General, Mr. Avichai Mandelblit, and the Deputy Attorney General in charge of international law issues, Mr. Roy Schöndorf, and their respective teams.
The Legal Counsel, Mr. Serpa Soares, and Israel’s Attorney-General, Mr. Avichai Mandelblit.
A considerable part of the Legal Counsel’s visit to Israel was dedicated to meetings with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). He met with the Military Advocate General of the IDF, Major General Sharon Afek, and with the Head of the Strategic Division of the IDF’s Planning Directorate, Brigadier General Ram Yavne. Both briefed on their respective mandates and current priorities.
The second day of the Legal Counsel’s visit started with a guided tour of the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum. Mr. Serpa Soares was deeply moved when he was shown the tree planted for Mr. Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese Consul-General in Bordeaux who in disregard of his explicit instructions issued tens of thousands of visas and thereby probably saving thousands of Jewish lives. Mr. Aristides de Sousa Mendes was recalled, disciplined and expelled from the Foreign Service. He eventually and posthumously was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad VaShem.
The Legal Counsel at Yad VaShem.
The tour of the Holocaust Museum was followed by a visit to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At Foreign Affairs, Mr. Serpa Soares was welcomed by the Director General, Ambassador Dore Gold. He also met with Acting Legal Adviser, Mr. Tal Becker, and his team and with the Deputy Director General and Head of the UN and International Organizations Division of the Ministry, Ambassador Ronny Leshno-Yaar. Further, Mr. Serpa Soares was given a tour of the Supreme Court of Israel and was received by its Deputy President, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein. Mr. Serpa Soares also took the opportunity to speak at Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he was hosted by the Dean of the Law School, Professor Yuval Shany. Both students and faculty were very engaged in a discussion of current legal issues at the United Nations. Again, Mr. Serpa Soares encouraged both faculty and students to engage more with the United Nations.
Mr. Serpa Soares at Hebrew University.
The third day was dedicated to travelling with the IDF to the North of Israel with borders to Lebanon and Syria. On the last day of his visit, Mr. Serpa Soares met with United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, in Jerusalem.