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Sérgio Vieira de Mello


Sérgio Vieira de Mello

Sérgio Vieira de Mello
Born (1948-03-15)15 March 1948
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Died 19 August 2003(2003-08-19) (aged 55)
Baghdad, Iraq
Cause of death Killed in the Canal Hotel bombing
Occupation 3rd United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Sérgio Vieira de Mello (Portuguese pronunciation: , 15 March 1948 – 19 August 2003) was a Brazilian United Nations diplomat who worked for the UN for more than 34 years, earning respect and praise around the world for his efforts in the humanitarian and political programs of the UN. He was posthumously awarded a United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 2003.

He was killed in the Canal Hotel Bombing in Iraq along with 20 other members of his staff on 19 August 2003 while working as the Secretary-General's Special Representative in Iraq. Before his death, he was considered a likely candidate for UN Secretary-General.


  • Biography 1
  • Death 2
  • Awards and recognition 3
  • Career chronology 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Books 7
  • External links 8
    • Interviews 8.1
    • Films 8.2


Vieira de Mello was born in Rio de Janeiro to the diplomat Arnaldo Vieira de Mello and his wife Gilda, on 15 March 1948.[1] He had an older sister, Sônia. The family followed Arnaldo's diplomatic postings, such that Sérgio spent his early years in Buenos Aires, Genoa, Milan, Beirut and Rome.[2] In 1965, he enrolled to study philosophy at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, but as classes were frequently disrupted by strikes, he opted to continue his education in Europe.[3] He studied for a year at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, before enrolling at the Sorbonne University in Paris, where he studied philosophy under Vladimir Jankélévitch.[4] He participated in the 1968 student riots in Paris against the Charles de Gaulle government, and was hit in the head by a police baton, causing a permanent disfigurement above his right eye.[5] He also wrote a letter published in the French leftist journal Combat in support of the riots, which made returning to Brazil, at this stage a military dictatorship, potentially dangerous.[6] Thus, after graduating from the Sorbonne in 1969, he moved to Geneva to stay with a family friend, and found his first job as an editor at the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.[7]

At Zimbabwe (at the time, still Rhodesia) where he was deputy head of the office but due to absence of his boss was effectively running the mission.[10] In 1973, he married Annie, a French assistant at UNHCR, with whom he had two sons, Laurent and Adrien. During his early years at UNHCR, he also completed an MA in moral philosophy and a PhD by correspondence from the Sorbonne.[11] His doctorate thesis, submitted in 1974, was entitled The Role of Philosophy in Contemporary Society.[12] In 1985, he submitted a second "state" doctorate, the highest degree in the French education system, entitled Civitas Maxima: Origins, Foundations and Philosophical and Political Significance of the Supranationality Concept.[13] In addition to his native Portuguese, Vieira de Mello was fluent in English, Spanish, Italian and French, as well as some conversational Arabic and Tetum.

Vieira de Mello spent three years in charge of UNHCR operations in Mozambique during the civil war that followed its independence from Portugal in 1975, and three more in Peru. Vieira de Mello also served as Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for Cambodia, being the first and only UN Representative to hold talks with the Khmer Rouge. He became senior political adviser to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon between 1981 and 1983.

The early 1990s found him involved in the clearing of land mines in Cambodia, and then in Yugoslavia. After working on the refugee problem in central Africa, he was made Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees in 1996 and he became UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator two years later. He would hold this position simultaneously with others until January 2001. He was a special UN envoy in Kosovo after the end of Serbian control of the former Yugoslav province in 1999.[14]

Vieira de Mello was instrumental in dealing with the issue of boat people in Hong Kong. In mid-2000, he visited Fiji together with Don McKinnon, the Commonwealth of Nations' Secretary-General, in an attempt to assist in finding a negotiated settlement to the hostage situation, in which Fiji's Prime Minister and other members of Parliament were kidnapped and held as hostages during the 2000 Fijian coup d'état.[15]

Before becoming the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2002, he was the UN Transitional Administrator in East Timor from December 1999 to May 2002, guiding that former Portuguese colony occupied by Indonesia to independence. He was also special representative in Kosovo for an initial period of two months and was the coordinator of humanitarian operations at UN Headquarters.

In May 2003 Vieira de Mello was appointed as the Special Representative of the Condoleezza Rice. According to Samantha Power in her book Sergio: One Man's Fight to Save the World, Vieira de Mello had charmed Bush at a meeting in March 2003, at which the two men discussed the human rights situation in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, a controversial issue for the United States. Power reports that Vieira de Mello bonded with Bush by telling him that he had authorized military force to combat terrorism while working as UN Transitional Administrator in East Timor.[16] In June 2003, Vieira de Mello was part of a team responsible for inspecting Abu Ghraib prison before it was rebuilt.[17]


Vieira de Mello was working as Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Iraq when he was killed in the

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Yasushi Akashi (Japan)
Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and
Emergency Relief Coordinator

Succeeded by
Kenzo Oshima (Japan)
Preceded by
Mary Robinson (1997–2002)
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Succeeded by
Bertrand Ramcharan (2003–2004) Louise Arbour (2004)
Preceded by
Nicolau dos Reis Lobato (nominal President of East Timor) 1978
UN Administrator for East Timor
Succeeded by
Xanana Gusmão as President of East Timor
Preceded by
Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq
Succeeded by
Ashraf Qazi
  • Documentary: directed by Brazilian journalist Simone DuarteEn Route to Baghdad
  • Documentary: Sergio UK, US, 2009, based on the book Chasing the Flame by Samantha Power [2], interview with film director Greg Barker on YouTube


  • Interview with Human Rights Features
  • Interview on Democracy Now!
  • Interview on BBC News
  • Can Kosovo recover? - Interview on PBS


  • - "A brave man's journey"The Economist
  • Sergio Vieira de MelloBBC News - Obituary:
  • Sergio Vieira de Mello: A Rising StarCNN -
  • Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation
  • directed by Brazilian journalist Simone DuarteEn Route to Baghdad
  • "Sergio Vieira de Mello: pensamento e memóriaUSP " . (Portuguese language).
  • Sergio Vieira de Mello Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator
  • UNHCHR Sergio Vieira de Mello
  • "En Route To BaghdadPBS Independent Lens pages on "
  • UNHREP. The Final Project of the Man of Peace
  • TED Talks Samantha Power: Shaking hands with the devil
  • , 19 August 2009The Washington Post"Unsung Heroes of the Battlefields" by Laurent Vieira de Mello, president of the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation -

External links

  • Jean-Claude Buhrer et Claude B. Levenson, Sergio Vieira de Mello, un espoir foudroyé. – Paris : Mille et une nuits, 2004. – 199 p., 20 cm. – ISBN 2-84205-826-7 .
  • George Gordon-Lennox et Annick Stevenson, Sergio Vieira de Mello : un homme exceptionnel. – Genève : Éditions du Tricorne, 2004. – 143 p., 25 cm. – ISBN 2-8293-0266-4. – En appendice, choix de textes de Sergio Vieira de Mello.
  • Jacques Marcovitch - USP - Sergio Vieira de Mello - pensamento e memória. 1 Edição | 2004 | Brochura 344p. | Cód.: 167075 | ISBN 978-85-314-0867-0 (pt)
  • Samantha Power, Chasing the Flame: One Man's Fight to Save the World, (Hardcover - Pub. Date: 2/14/2008).


  1. ^  
  2. ^ Ibid. pp. 16-7
  3. ^ Ibid. p. 19
  4. ^ Ibid. p. 19
  5. ^ Ibid. p. 19
  6. ^ Ibid. p. 20
  7. ^ Ibid. p. 22
  8. ^ Samantha Power,Sergio: One Man's Fight to Save the World, pp.26-7
  9. ^ Ibid. pp. 25-33
  10. ^ Samantha Power,Sergio: One Man's Fight to Save the World, p.26 for Bangladesh assignment, p.27 for Sudan, p.31 for Cyprus, p.32 paragraph 2 for Mozambique
  11. ^ Ibid. pp. 25-31
  12. ^ Ibid. p. 31
  13. ^ Ibid. p. 71
  14. ^ Thakur, Ramesh (19 July 2013). "Is the United Nations racist?".  
  15. ^
  16. ^ Samantha Power, Chasing the Flame: One Man's Fight to Save the World, pp.368-371. The book was previously published as Chasing the Flame: One Man's Fight to Save the World.
  17. ^  
  18. ^ Benson, Pam, "CIA: Zarqawi tape 'probably authentic'", CNN World, 7 April 2004.
  19. ^ Don't bother looking for explanations for terrorist attacks. - By Christopher Hitchens - Slate Magazine
  20. ^ Samantha Power, Sergio: One Man's Fight to Save the World, p.8 paragraph 2, lines 12-14 of paperback
  21. ^ Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation
  22. ^ United Nations General Assembly Session 63 Resolution A-63-L.49. A/63/L.49 World Humanitarian Day 11 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-11.
  23. ^ "Housing rights". UN-HABITAT. Retrieved 2009-12-13. 
  24. ^ McMeekin, Jessica (2004-07-22). "The Final Project of the Man of Peace". IMC Brazil. Retrieved 2009-12-13. 


See also

  • 1969-1971: French Editor, UNHCR, Geneva, Switzerland
  • 1971-1972: Project Officer, UNHCR, Dhaka, East Pakistan
  • 1972-1973: Programme Officer, UNHCR, Juba, Sudan
  • 1974-1975: Programme Officer, UNHCR, Nicosia, Cyprus
  • 1975-1977: Deputy Representative and Representative, UNHCR, Maputo, Mozambique
  • 1978-1980: Representative, UNHCR, Lima, Peru
  • 1980-1981: Head of Career Development and Training Unit of Personnel Section, UNHCR, Geneva, Switzerland
  • 1981-1983: Senior Political Officer, UNIFIL, DPKO, Lebanon
  • 1983-1985: Deputy Head of Personnel, UNHCR, Geneva, Switzerland
  • 1986-1988: Chef de Cabinet and Secretary to the Executive Committee, UNHCR, Geneva, Switzerland
  • 1988-1990: Director of Asia Bureau, UNHCR, Geneva, Switzerland
  • 1990-1991: Director of External Affairs, UNHCR, Geneva, Switzerland
  • 1991-1993: Director for Repatriation and Resettlement Operations, UNTAC, DPKO, and Special Envoy of High Commissioner Sadako Ogata, UNHCR, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
  • 1993-1994: Director of Political Affairs, UNPROFOR, DPKO, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • 1994-1996: Director of Operations and Planning, UNHCR, Geneva, Switzerland
  • October–December 1996: Special Envoy of Secretary-General to the Great Lakes Region
  • 1996-1998: Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, Geneva, Switzerland
  • 1998-2002: Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, UN, New York, US
  • June–July 1999: Special Representative of Secretary-General to Kosovo
  • 1999-2002: Transitional Administrator, UNTAET, DPKO, and Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dili, East Timor
  • 2002-2003: High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva, Switzerland
  • May–August 2003: Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Iraq

Career chronology

After his death, the Italian city of Bologna has dedicated to Sergio Vieira de Mello a new square ('Piazza Sérgio Vieira de Mello') situated in a modern part of the central quartiere Navile.

The new square dedicated to Sérgio Vieira de Mello in Bologna, Italy (January, 2011)

Sergio Vieira de Mello founded two Human Rights Agencies: the United Nations Housing Rights Programme and United Nations Human Rights Educational Project (UNHREP). The former, currently a part of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, aims to "assist States and other stakeholders with the implementation of their commitments in the Habitat Agenda".[23] UNHREP aims to be "an educational facility for teaching Human Rights from a variety of angles. ... [as well as, eventually] international relations, conflict resolution, diplomacy and diplomatic etiquette".[24]

On 11 December 2008, the Non-Governmental Organizations to observe it annually in an appropriate way. As a background to this landmark resolution, the family of Sérgio Vieira de Mello resolved to work towards having 19 August recognized as a befitting tribute to all humanitarian personnel. Early April 2008 the Board of the Sérgio Vieira de Mello Foundation prepared a draft Resolution to be sponsored and adopted by the General Assembly designating 19 August as World Humanitarian Day. France, Switzerland, Japan and Brazil, contacted with the draft Resolution, agreed to co-sponsor it.

The Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation was created in 2007 to honor his memory, pursue his ideals and continue his unfinished mission. The Foundation was established in Geneva (Switzerland), at the initiative of his two sons and his wife with some friends and colleagues.[21] In 2008, Mr Kofi Annan launched the first annual lecture, followed by Ms Sadako Ogata in 2009, by Mr.Bernard Kouchner in 2010, by Mr. José Manuel Durão Barroso in 2011, and by Mr.Cornelio Sommaruga in 2012. Lectures take place at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, in Geneva.

Following the initiative of the Villa Decius Association, the Polish Prize of Sergio Vieira de Mello was established in the year 2003 with an aim to promote human rights, democracy and tolerance and had its First Edition already in 2004.

Vieira de Mello received a number of posthumous awards and honours, including a United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 2003. In April 2004, Sérgio Vieira de Mello was posthumously awarded the 'Statesman of the Year Award' by the EastWest Institute.

Logo of the SVDM Foundation.

Awards and recognition

He had been mentioned in some circles as a suitable candidate for UN Secretary-General.[20] His death was widely mourned, largely on account of his reputation for effective work to promote peace. Vieira de Mello was buried at the Cimetière des Rois in Geneva, Switzerland.

[19] A communiqué from al-Qaida said that de Mello was assassinated because he was a crusader that extracted a part of the Islamic land (East Timor) after the Indonesian regime committed genocide on the small country with Christian majority.[18]

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