After more than three years in Colombia, Michael FrÃ¼hling is leaving. The head of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rightsâ€™ field office in BogotÃ¡ is off to Geneva, where he will become the High Commissionerâ€™s chief of â€œPolicy, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation.â€
FrÃ¼hling will be missed. Without ever being accused of â€œcombativeâ€ or â€œoutspokenâ€ behavior, he became known for firmly but diplomatically calling â€œfoulâ€ in the face of the Uribe governmentâ€™s frequent human rights lapses.
In October 2002, FrÃ¼hling replaced Anders Kompass, another very competent Swedish UN official, in a very tough job. The BogotÃ¡ field office, founded in 1996 at the strong urging of Colombiaâ€™s human rights community, is one of only a few that the UN High Commissioner maintains worldwide. In addition to offering human-rights training, advice and technical support, the office monitors the human-rights situation in Colombia, producing public reports, investigating cases, receiving denunciations and issuing recommendations.
Through documents, press statements, interviews and speeches, the officeâ€™s director has a very influential pulpit from which to inform Colombiaâ€™s public â€“ as well as to advise, critique, and contradict Colombiaâ€™s government and other armed actors. When he criticizes or praises someone, it makes headlines in Colombia. This implies a delicate balancing act. When the director uses his pulpit too bluntly or aggressively, he earns a backlash from the Colombian government, media, and ruling class in general. However, should a director step back from the pulpit, soften his tone, or choose to work â€œoff the recordâ€ with government officialdom, human-rights activists, opposition figures, and even the media accuse him of being too timid.