‘Mr. Vietnamese’ in the United Nations

Working for the United Nations, Nguyen Huu Dong has been to many countries. No matter where he goes, Dong proudly refers to himself as "Mr. Vietnamese who loves Trinh Cong Son's music."

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'Mr. Vietnamese' in the United Nations
Nguyen Huu Dong.

Nguyen Huu Dong is an experienced Vietnamese diplomat. Dong, who could speak French even before his mother tongue, studied economics in Switzerland and France. He worked in the information room of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, which then became the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam in France.

After the national reunification, Dong was assigned to the Economic Department of the Vietnamese Embassy in France. In 1982, he was introduced to work at the United Nations by Nguyen Co Thach, the Minister of Foreign Affairs at that time.

Proud to be Vietnamese

At the United Nations, he worked in organizing and supervising elections. He also assists in institutional building in underdeveloped or unstable countries. He has been to approximately 40 countries with a passport that says nothing about his nationality, and a few cassettes of Trinh Cong Son’s music.

During his mission, Nguyen Huu Dong introduces himself as “Mr. Vietnamese”. It was his Vietnamese origin that gave him the opportunity to work at the UN and taught him valuable lessons about war and peace, Dong said.

Dong’s most memorable mission was a trip to Kabul in 2023. He was assigned to work with leaders of political parties in Afghanistan. When he entered the meeting room, he saw 15 people, all holding AK47 guns, sitting on round mattresses placed on the ground. As he stepped in, a tall middle-aged man stood up, asking “Where are you from?” Dong replied: “I was sent by the UN. I am Vietnamese.” Hearing the answer, the tall man put his gun down, telling Dong: “You are the first Vietnamese I have ever met” and offered him a handshake.

He then told Dong that several months before, he saw a B52 spread bombs on Tora Bora mountain while his team was searching for a target. Terrified by the destructive scene, they told each other that they respected Vietnam for fighting against bombers for years.

In 2005, Dong was sent to Iraq during the country’s first election after the war. Due to the chaotic situation, Dong was accompanied by two American bodyguards. When he was about to leave Iraq, one of his bodyguards wanted to take a photo with him.

“My father was in the US Marines. He fought in Vietnam for three years. I will show him this photo so he knows my boss is Vietnamese,” said the American staff, “Such is life, sir!”

'Mr. Vietnamese' in the United Nations
Nguyen Huu Dong (far left) when he was a political officer and Deputy Head of the Election Commission, Observation Mission in Haiti with Haitian President-elect Jean – Bertrand Aristide (second, from right) in 1991.

Committed to promoting the national image

Now that he has retired, Dong hopes that the young generation of Vietnam seize opportunities to work in the United Nations. Vietnam’s position at the UN is the best way to propagate justice and protect the country. He said that Vietnam needs to continue its multilateral policy, which includes training capable and qualified staff who dare to make sacrifices to serve the UN. The young generations should be brave enough to leave their family and their homeland to put themselves in difficult missions to combat on the international “front”.

Nguyen Huu Dong strives to contribute to the country in his own way. From his perspective, he represents the country in his everyday work at the UN. Therefore, he worked hard to prove his ability and build a good image of the Vietnamese people.

In September 2018, he received the Joe C. Baxter Award from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) for his contributions to elections, democracy, human rights, and peace.

Valerie Mai