UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. chief on Wednesday appointed veteran British diplomat Martin Griffiths, a seasoned negotiator with wide global experience, as the new U.N. humanitarian chief.
“Griffiths brings extensive leadership experience in humanitarian affairs at headquarters and country levels, both strategically and operationally,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “as well as senior level experience in international conflict resolution, negotiation and mediation.”
Griffiths has spent the last three years as the U.N. special envoy for Yemen and he briefed the U.N. Security Council earlier Wednesday on his latest efforts to peacefully resolve the six-year conflict.
Guterres said Griffiths will continue to serve as the U.N.’s top envoy for Yemen “until a transition has been announced.”
Griffiths will replace Mark Lowcock, a Briton who has served as undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator for four years and was highly regarded.
Guterres said he is “deeply grateful” for Lowcock’s “dedicated service to the organization and commitment in mobilizing assistance and resources to protect and alleviate the conditions of the many people affected by humanitarian crises.”
The U.N.’s top humanitarian post has traditionally gone to someone from Britain, part of an unofficial division of top U.N. posts among the five permanent Security Council nations — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France. There have been calls to end this practice and open up the U.N.’s most important jobs to other countries, but so far they have not been unsuccessful.
In 1994, Griffiths served in Geneva as director of the U.N. Department of Humanitarian Affairs, which preceded the establishment of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which he will now head.
From 1999 to 2010, he was the founding director of the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva, where according to the U.N. he specialized in developing political dialogue between governments and insurgents in a range of countries across Asia, Africa and Europe.
Griffiths, 69, served as the first executive director of the European Institute of Peace from 2014-2018 and he served as special adviser to three U.N. special envoys for Syria and as deputy head of the U.N. mission in Syria from 2012-2014, during the early years of the ongoing conflict there.
Earlier in his career, he was a British diplomat and worked for various international humanitarian organization, including UNICEF, Save the Children and Action Aid.