Sérgio Vieira de Mello

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Sérgio Vieira de Mello
Sergio Vieira de Mello.jpg
Born(1948-03-15)15 March 1948
Died19 August 2003(2003-08-19) (aged 55)
Cause of deathKilled in the Canal Hotel bombing
Alma mater Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, University of Paris (Sorbonne)
Occupation 3rd United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Sérgio Vieira de Mello (Portuguese pronunciation:  [ˈsɛʁʒu viˈejɾɐ dʒi ˈmɛlu] , 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.

Brazil Federal republic in South America

Brazil, officially the Federative Republic of Brazil, is the largest country in both South America and Latin America. At 8.5 million square kilometers and with over 208 million people, Brazil is the world's fifth-largest country by area and the fifth most populous. Its capital is Brasília, and its most populated city is São Paulo. The federation is composed of the union of the 26 states, the Federal District, and the 5,570 municipalities. It is the largest country to have Portuguese as an official language and the only one in the Americas; it is also one of the most multicultural and ethnically diverse nations, due to over a century of mass immigration from around the world.

United Nations Intergovernmental organization

The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization tasked with maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations, achieving international co-operation, and being a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations. It was established after World War II, with the aim of preventing future wars, and succeeded the ineffective League of Nations. Its headquarters, which are subject to extraterritoriality, are in Manhattan, New York City, and it has other main offices in Geneva, Nairobi, Vienna and the Hague. The organization is financed by assessed and voluntary contributions from its member states. Its objectives include maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development, and upholding international law. The UN is the largest, most familiar, most internationally represented and most powerful intergovernmental organization in the world. At its founding, the UN had 51 member states; there are now 193.

The United Nations Prizes in the Field of Human Rights were instituted by United Nations General Assembly in 1966. They are intended to "honour and commend people and organizations which have made an outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of the human rights embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other United Nations human rights instruments".


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.

Canal Hotel bombing

The Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad, Iraq, in the afternoon of August 19, 2003, killed at least 22 people, including the United Nations' Special Representative in Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello, and wounded over 100. The blast targeted the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq created just 5 days earlier. That 19 August bombing resulted in the withdrawal within weeks of most of the 600 UN staff members from Iraq. These events were to have a profound and lasting impact on the UN's security practices globally.

Iraq Republic in Western Asia

Iraq, officially the Republic of Iraq, is a country in Western Asia, bordered by Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, Kuwait to the southeast, Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan to the southwest and Syria to the west. The capital, and largest city, is Baghdad. Iraq is home to diverse ethnic groups including Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen, Shabakis, Yazidis, Armenians, Mandeans, Circassians and Kawliya. Around 95% of the country's 37 million citizens are Muslims, with Christianity, Yarsan, Yezidism and Mandeanism also present. The official languages of Iraq are Arabic and Kurdish.


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. [1] 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. [1] 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. [1] 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. [3] 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. [4]

Rio de Janeiro Second-most populous municipality in Brazil

Rio de Janeiro, or simply Rio, is anchor to the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area and the second-most populous municipality in Brazil and the sixth-most populous in the Americas. Rio de Janeiro is the capital of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's third-most populous state. Part of the city has been designated as a World Heritage Site, named "Rio de Janeiro: Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea", by UNESCO on 1 July 2012 as a Cultural Landscape.

Buenos Aires Place in Argentina

Buenos Aires is the capital and largest city of Argentina. The city is located on the western shore of the estuary of the Río de la Plata, on the South American continent's southeastern coast. "Buenos Aires" can be translated as "fair winds" or "good airs", but the former was the meaning intended by the founders in the 16th century, by the use of the original name "Real de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Ayre". The Greater Buenos Aires conurbation, which also includes several Buenos Aires Province districts, constitutes the fourth-most populous metropolitan area in the Americas, with a population of around 15.6 million.

Genoa Comune in Liguria, Italy

Genoa is the capital of the Italian region of Liguria and the sixth-largest city in Italy. In 2015, 594,733 people lived within the city's administrative limits. As of the 2011 Italian census, the Province of Genoa, which in 2015 became the Metropolitan City of Genoa, counted 855,834 resident persons. Over 1.5 million people live in the wider metropolitan area stretching along the Italian Riviera.

At UNHCR, Vieira de Mello participated in field work assignments in Bangladesh during its war of independence in 1971, in Sudan in 1972 following the Addis Ababa agreement which ended the First Sudanese Civil War and allowed the return of some 650,000 Sudanese refugees and displaced persons, [5] and Cyprus after the Turkish invasion in 1974. [6] These early assignments were operational, rather than political: he was helping to organize food aid, shelter and other types of aid to refugees. He continued field assignments with a posting in Mozambique to help refugees fleeing white rule and civil war in 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. [7] In 1973, he married Annie Personnaz, a French assistant at UNHCR, with whom he had two sons, Laurent and Adrien.[ citation needed ] During his early years at UNHCR, he also completed an MA in moral philosophy and a PhD by correspondence from the Sorbonne. [8] His doctorate thesis, submitted in 1974, was entitled The Role of Philosophy in Contemporary Society. [9] 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. [10] 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.

Bangladesh Country in South Asia

Bangladesh, officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh, is a sovereign country in South Asia. It shares land borders with India and Myanmar (Burma). The country's maritime territory in the Bay of Bengal is roughly equal to the size of its land area. Bangladesh is the world's eighth most populous country as well as its most densely-populated, to the exclusion of small island nations and city-states. Dhaka is its capital and largest city, followed by Chittagong, which has the country's largest port.

Sudan Country in Northeast Africa

Sudan or the Sudan, officially the Republic of the Sudan, is a country in Northeast Africa. It is bordered by Egypt to the north, the Red Sea to the northeast, Eritrea to the east, Ethiopia to the southeast, South Sudan to the south, the Central African Republic to the southwest, Chad to the west, and Libya to the northwest. It has a population of 39 million people and occupies a total area of 1,886,068 square kilometres, making it the third-largest country in Africa. Sudan's predominant religion is Islam, and its official languages are Arabic and English. The capital is Khartoum, located at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile. Since 2011, Sudan is the scene of ongoing military conflict in its regions South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

The Addis Ababa Agreement, also known as the Addis Ababa Accord, was a set of compromises within a 1972 treaty that ended the First Sudanese Civil War (1955–1972) fighting in Sudan. The Addis Ababa accords were incorporated in the Constitution of Sudan.

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.

Mozambique country in Africa

Mozambique, officially the Republic of Mozambique, is a country located in Southeast Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west, and Eswatini (Swaziland) and South Africa to the southwest. The sovereign state is separated from the Comoros, Mayotte and Madagascar by the Mozambique Channel to the east. The capital of Mozambique is Maputo while Matola is the largest city, being a suburb of Maputo.

Mozambican Civil War civil war

The Mozambican Civil War was a civil war fought in Mozambique from 1977 to 1992. Like many regional African conflicts during the late twentieth century, the Mozambican Civil War possessed local dynamics but was also exacerbated greatly by the polarizing effects of Cold War politics. The war was fought between Mozambique's ruling Marxist Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) and anti-communist insurgent forces of the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO).

Peru republic in South America

Peru, officially the Republic of Peru, is a country in western South America. It is bordered in the north by Ecuador and Colombia, in the east by Brazil, in the southeast by Bolivia, in the south by Chile, and in the west by the Pacific Ocean. Peru is a megadiverse country with habitats ranging from the arid plains of the Pacific coastal region in the west to the peaks of the Andes mountains vertically extending from the north to the southeast of the country to the tropical Amazon Basin rainforest in the east with the Amazon river.

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. [11]

Land mine explosive weapon, concealed under or on the ground

A land mine is an explosive device concealed under or on the ground and designed to destroy or disable enemy targets, ranging from combatants to vehicles and tanks, as they pass over or near it. Such a device is typically detonated automatically by way of pressure when a target steps on it or drives over it, although other detonation mechanisms are also sometimes used. A land mine may cause damage by direct blast effect, by fragments that are thrown by the blast, or by both.

Yugoslavia 1918–1992 country in Southeastern and Central Europe

Yugoslavia was a country in Southeastern and Central Europe for most of the 20th century. It came into existence after World War I in 1918 under the name of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes by the merger of the provisional State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs with the Kingdom of Serbia, and constituted the first union of the South Slavic people as a sovereign state, following centuries in which the region had been part of the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary. Peter I of Serbia was its first sovereign. The kingdom gained international recognition on 13 July 1922 at the Conference of Ambassadors in Paris. The official name of the state was changed to Kingdom of Yugoslavia on 3 October 1929.

Kosovo Partially-recognised state in Southeast Europe

Kosovo, officially the Republic of Kosovo, is a partially recognized state and disputed territory in Southeastern Europe.

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. [12]

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 UN Secretary General to Iraq, an appointment initially intended to last for four months. According to The New York Times Magazine journalist James Traub in his book The Best Intentions, Vieira de Mello had originally turned down the appointment before being persuaded by US President George W. Bush and 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. [13] In June 2003, Vieira de Mello was part of a team responsible for inspecting Abu Ghraib prison before it was rebuilt. [14]

Vieira de Mello was legally separated from his wife French Annie at the time of death. They were estranged for more than fifteen years, with an order signed by the Presiding Judge of the Family Court, Daniel Delpeuch at the Thonon-les-Bains Civil Court, Haute Savoie, France, as of the late 1990s. The French court ordered that the former couple separate their personal assets, Sergio pay alimony to his former wife, and enforced a no contact order between the couple. [15]

In East Timor, Sergio met Carolina Larriera, an Argentine economist in the United Nations peacekeeping department who attended the Harvard Kennedy School. [16] Sergio and Carolina had a civil union that lasted until his death. [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] The civil union judgment was the result of a lawsuit won by Larriera against Annie, her heirs, and the Estate, and was awarded by a three-judge panel led by Judge Regina Fabregas of the High Family Court of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after a ten-year lawsuit. [22] Nevertheless, upon Sergio’s death, the United Nations cleared out Sergio and Carolina’s Baghdad and Geneva apartments, and gave all their personal belongings to his former wife. [19] [21]


U.S. soldiers placing Mello's casket into an SUV. Sergio Vieira de Mello DF-SD-04-02189.JPEG
U.S. soldiers placing Mello's casket into an SUV.

Vieira de Mello was working as Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Iraq when he was killed [23] in the Canal Hotel bombing. Abu Musab Zarqawi, a leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, claimed responsibility for the blast. [24] 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. [25]

He had been mentioned in some circles as a suitable candidate for UN Secretary-General. [26] 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.

Awards and recognition

Logo of the SVDM Foundation. Logo-fondation-svdm.jpg
Logo of the SVDM Foundation.

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.

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.

The Centro Sergio Vieira de Mello focuses its work on advocacy and education activities to promote dignity and tolerance as core values, in order to advance global understanding, peaceful coexistence, and building meaningful lives. [27] It was founded by his mother Gilda Vieira de Mello and partner Carolina Larriera in Rio De Janeiro, and is dedicated to the dissemination of the work of Sergio Vieira de Mello, contributing to its knowledge, and promoting its correct interpretation. The vision of the Center, like that reflected in Sergio’s actions and the values he spearheaded, is to contribute to the making of a just society that remembers its past, listens to all voices, and pursues dignity and tolerance for all.

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. [28] 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.

On 11 December 2008, the United Nations General Assembly made history when it adopted Swedish-sponsored GA Resolution A/63/L.49 on the Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Assistance of the United Nations, [29] that amongst other important humanitarian decisions, decided to designate 19 August as the World Humanitarian Day (WHD). The Resolution gives for the first time, a special recognition to all humanitarian and United Nations and associated personnel who have worked in the promotion of the humanitarian cause and those who have lost their lives in the cause of duty and urges all Member States, entities of the United Nations within existing resources, as well as the other International Organizations and 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.

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". [30] 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". [31]

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

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.

Career chronology

See also

Further reading

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  1. 1 2 3 4 Power (2008) , p. 16
  2. Power (2008) , pp. 16–17
  3. Power (2008) , p. 20
  4. Power (2008) , p. 22
  5. Power (2008) , pp. 26–27
  6. Power (2008) , pp. 25–33
  7. Power (2008) , pp. 26 (Bangladesh), 27 (Sudan), 31 (Cyprus) & 32 (Mozambique)
  8. Power (2008) , pp. 25–31
  9. Power (2008) , p. 31
  10. Power (2008) , p. 71
  11. Thakur, Ramesh (19 July 2013). "Is the United Nations racist?". The Hindu . Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  12. http://www.abc.net.au/am/stories/s130838.htm
  13. Power (2008) , pp. 368–371
  14. Gourevitch & Morris (2008) , p. 34
  15. "Carolina Larriera", Wikipédia, a enciclopédia livre (in Portuguese), 7 October 2017, retrieved 24 October 2018
  16. "Christiane Amanpour". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  17. Larriera, Carolina. "Uma voz para as vítimas". PÚBLICO (in Portuguese). Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  18. 1 2 "Uma voz para as vítimas". O Globo (in Portuguese). 19 August 2018. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  19. "La batalla que la pareja de comisionado de DDHH le ganó a la ONU". The Clinic (in Spanish). 30 August 2018. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  20. 1 2 "Carolina Larriera: "Eu me senti humilhada por não ter um papel assinado"". CLAUDIA (in Portuguese). Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  21. "Processo 0419880-27.2008.8.19.0001 | Escavador". Escavador (in Portuguese). Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  22. Samantha Power (2008). Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World. Allen Lane. p. 4. ISBN   1-59420-128-5
  23. Benson, Pam, "CIA: Zarqawi tape 'probably authentic' Archived 3 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine ", CNN World, 7 April 2004.
  24. Don't bother looking for explanations for terrorist attacks. – By Christopher Hitchens – Slate Magazine
  25. Power (2008) , p. 8
  26. "Centro Sergio Vieira de Mello: Português". sergiovieirademello.org. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  27. Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation
  28. United Nations General Assembly Session 63 ResolutionA-63-L.49. World Humanitarian DayA/63/L.49 11 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-11.
  29. "Housing rights". UN-HABITAT. Archived from the original on 25 February 2009. Retrieved 13 December 2009.
  30. McMeekin, Jessica (22 July 2004). "The Final Project of the Man of Peace". IMC Brazil. Archived from the original on 15 May 2011. Retrieved 13 December 2009.




Positions in intergovernmental organisations
Preceded by
Yasushi Akashi ( Flag of Japan.svg )
Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and
Emergency Relief Coordinator

Succeeded by
Kenzo Oshima ( Flag of Japan.svg )
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