Staffan De Mistura is a 71 year-old Swedish-Italian politician, currently serving as the UN’s top envoy in Syria. In the last week, his name has found itself all over international headlines, as he abruptly announced his resignation, four years and four months after his original appointment.
Mr. De Mistura was born on January 25th, 1947 in Stockholm, Sweden. Son to a Swedish mother and to an Italian nobleman, his parents first live in the now Croatian (then Italian) setting of Šibenik, but are forced to flee to Stockholm when Tito’s leftist regime rises to power. Here, in Stockholm’s austere and beautiful urban landscape, Staffan is born. Growing up within such a socially conscious reality, a young Mr. De Mistura begins to nurture a passion for helpful policy making that provides him his first point of contact with the U.N.
His career starts as an intern for the UN World Food Program, taking him all the way to the troubled reality of 1970’s Cyprus. Here, at a young and impressionable age, he comes in contact with the darker side of international political conflict, which he will soon internalize and transmute into a desire for peaceful conflict resolution. As a matter of fact, in the years and months that follow this Cyprian stint, Mr. De Mistura rises through the peacekeeping ranks, undertaking a number of different conflict resolution roles, always under the United Nation’s global umbrella. In the twenty years to come, Staffan undertakes roles as the World Food Project (WFP) Officer in Sudan, and Emergency Relief Officer in Chad. Exposure to realities so deeply influenced by lack of resources, in conjecture with his cleverly apt resolution abilities, bring him to a nine-year stint as the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s Deputy Chef de Cabinet, from 1976 to 1985.
The role takes him through a range of humanitarian assignments scattered around the globe. From eastern Europe’s Dubrovink and Sarajevo, to Africa’s Sudan and Ethiopia, Staffan’s work to resolve food crises in the world’s most indigent climates proves itself as brilliantly effective as it does rewarding. As such, in the time between end of his post at the Food and Agriculture Organization in 1985 and the turn of the new millenium, De Mistura returns to Sudan as the WFP Director, takes on a role as the UN Director of Fund-Raising and External Relations in Afghanistan, as Humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, and as Somalia’s UNICEF representative. This period of time, exposing Staffan to the deteriorating political and social climate of Africa and the middle east in the 1990’s proves itself absolutely fundamental to his ambitions as a peacekeeper and conflict resolver.
The new millenium, consequently, will take him through a number of exciting and difficult diplomatic challenges. In 2001, he becomes the Personal Representative of the Secretary General in Southern Lebanon, where he spearheads countless successful de-mining endeavors. In 2004, at the end of his post, Mr. De Mistura, now a well established political figure, serves a 15 month post as Deputy Social Representative in Iraq, working tirelessly to promote a positive view of the nation and its readjustment possibilities. After a brief stint as Director of the UN Staff College in Italy, the UN’s Secretary General Ban Ki Moon makes him Special Representative for Iraq in 2007. His political career encounters strong head winds that propel him further towards roles within the WFP in Rome, until, in 2010, Ban Ki Moon once more calls upon him to become the top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, at the height of dire political unrest. As a consequence of his proven conflict resolution abilities, in 2011 he is also employed by Mario Monti’s Italian government as Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs. The role takes him once more across the globe, making headlines once more as the main Italian envoy in the conflict resolution efforts concerning the 2012 Italian Marine Shooting Incident in India. His brilliant work towards peacekeeping here becomes evident even in the eyes of the European Union, which, in 2014, appoints him as the board president for the European Institute of Peace.
Since then, or more precisely since Ban Ki Moon’s announcement on July 10th, 2014, Mr. De Mistura has been serving as the UN’s special envoy in Syria. The Syrian conflict, which, since its eruption in 2011 has amassed over 350,000 casualties, had proven itself too frustrating a task for the previous envoy. Staffan, however, accepted the mandate with cautious optimism, well aware of the negotiation’s complicated geo-politics. Working closely within an inevitably Russian-led negotiation eco-system, he was influential in establishing a number of agreed-upon demilitarized zones. Though it has generally been an uphill battle, the U.N.’s Syria envoy’s primary ambition has been to draft a new constitution for Syria. His policy and resolution work, together with Russia’s, has, as the New York Times dutifully reports, “created the framework to establish a committee to write a new Constitution for Syria”, giving him fame as the Syria’s “mission impossible” man. Though the task is still relatively far from being accomplished, the framework exists, and Staffan will continue to work, until the day of his effective resignation, towards this goal. “I will not stop working until the last hour of the last day of my mandate”, he assured the Security Council during his latest briefing, deeming the initial crafting a constitution still possible within the duration of his tenure.
Although De Mistura is resigning for “personal reasons”, he will henceforth be working until November to continue to enforce the noble peacekeeping tasks set upon him, in an effort to leave his successor an environmental framework well suited for peacekeeping progress. Without a doubt, even in spite of the slight shroud of mystery cast over his sudden resignation, De Mistura’s work has left a noticeable footprint on the Syrian geo-political landscape, something his successor will have to influence further in an effort to reach such long sought-after peace.