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.
Visit to Lebanon
The last stop on the mission was Lebanon which the Legal Counsel visited from 5 to 10 March 2016 at the invitation of the Head of Mission and Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Major General Luciano Portolano. Upon arrival at UNIFIL Headquarters in Naqoura the Legal Counsel was welcomed by General Portolano who briefed him on the political situation in the country and the current priorities and challenges UNIFIL is facing. The Legal Counsel, Mr. Serpa Soares, and General Portolano then toured the “Blue Line” by helicopter making stops at several UNIFIL positions, including in particular sensitive spots such as the “Sheba’a Farms” area where members of the Indian contingent briefed the Legal Counsel on the situation.
Mr. Serpa Soares and General Portolano, Head of Mission and Force Commander of UNIFIL.
On the second day of his visit to UNIFIL, Mr. Serpa Soares received a comprehensive strategic briefing by all the mission components of UNIFIL which gave him a very good understanding of the history, the mandate and the current challenges of the mission. General Portolano, who opened and chaired the briefing session, underscored the importance that he attaches to solid and actionable legal advice, both from his legal team led by Senior Legal Officer Mr. Piotr Zavgorodni as well as from OLA in New York. In the afternoon, Mr. Serpa Soares visited the Offices of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in Beirut where he was received by Mr. Kevin Mannion, Head of the Registry in the STL Office in Beirut. Later that day, Mr. Serpa Soares was received by the President of the Supreme Judicial Council, Mr. Jean Fahed, at the Adliyeh Justice Palace in Beirut. He was very touched by the fact that President Fadeh gathered almost the entire top echelon of the Lebanese Judiciary. The Legal Counsel had a very constructive meeting during which he got a very good understanding of the challenges the Lebanese Judiciary is facing in a very difficult political environment. The Lebanese Judiciary takes great pride in its fierce independence and considers itself an important pillar of the Lebanese society. They are crucial partners for UNIFIL and the entire UN presence in Lebanon with regard to respecting and upholding the privileges and immunities of the United Nations. Mr. Serpa Soares took the opportunity of the meeting to express his sincere gratitude for the truly excellent cooperation that the United Nations receives from the Lebanese Judiciary.
Mr. Serpa Soares, Judge Samir Hammoud, Prosecutor General of the State (left), and Judge Jean Fahed (right), President of the Supreme Judicial Council (right).
The third day of the visit was reserved for visits to the Sector East and the Sector West. In Sector East, Mr. Serpa Soares was briefed by the Commanding Officer of the Spanish Battalion, Brigadier General Juan Martin Cabrero. Many of the most sensitive area of the “Blue Line” are situated in Sector East. In Sector West the Commanding Officer of the Italian Battalion, Brigadier General Franco Federici, provided the Legal Counsel with a briefing of the situation in his sector.
The Legal Counsel visits UNIFIL Sector East.
The last day in Beirut was dedicated to visiting UNIFIL’s Maritime Task Force (MTF). The commanding officer of the MTF, Admiral Claudio Henrique Mello de Almeida of the Brazilian Navy, welcomed Mr. Serpa Soares on the MTA’s flagship, the Corvette Barroso. On the Barroso, he received a comprehensive briefing on the activities and challenges of the MTA. As UNIFIL is the first ever peacekeeping operation which includes maritime assets, the briefing was of particular interest..
Admiral Mello de Almeida welcomes the Legal Counsel to the Flagship of UNIFIL’s Maritime Task Force.