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

Sérgio Vieira de Mello (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.



Vieira de Mello[1] was born in Rio de Janeiro to the diplomat Arnaldo Vieira de Mello and his wife Gilda, on 15 March 1948.[2] He had an older sister, Sônia. The family followed Arnaldo's diplomatic postings, such that Sergio spent his early years in Buenos Aires, Genova, Milan, Beirut and Rome.[3] 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.[4] 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[5] 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[6]. 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.[7]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.[8]

At UNHCR, Vieira de Mello participated in field work assignments in Bangladesh during its war of independence in 1971 and Cyprus after the Turkish invasion in 1974.[9] In 1973, he married Annie, a French assistant at UNHCR, with whom he has 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.[10] His doctorate thesis, submitted in 1974, was entitled The Role of Philosophy in Contemporary Society.[11] 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.[12] 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. Vieira de Mello was instrumental in dealing with the issue of boat people in Hong Kong.

US Colonels secure a United Nations Flag over the transfer case of Sergio Vieira de Mello, prior to a memorial service at the Baghdad International Airport.

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.

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 U.S. President George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice. He had been working in this position when he was killed in the Canal Hotel bombing.

He was mentioned in some circles as a suitable candidate for UN Secretary-General. 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

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. Some of his friends and family have created the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation to honour his life and carry on his mission.[13]

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".[14] 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".[15]

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,[16] 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. It marks the day on which the then Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello and his 21 colleagues tragically made the ultimate sacrifices in the cause of duty following the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.

Career chronology

  • 1969-1971: French Editor, UNHCR, Geneva, Switzerland
  • 1971-1972: Project Officer, UNHCR, Dhâkâ, 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, USA
  • 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


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Power, Samantha (2008). Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World. Allen Lane. p. 16. ISBN 1-59420-128-5.  
  3. ^ Ibid. pp. 16-7
  4. ^ Ibid. p. 19
  5. ^ Ibid. p. 19
  6. ^ Ibid. p. 19
  7. ^ Ibid. p. 20
  8. ^ Ibid. p. 22
  9. ^ Ibid. pp. 25-33
  10. ^ Ibid. pp. 25-31
  11. ^ Ibid. p. 31
  12. ^ Ibid. p. 71
  13. ^ Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation
  14. ^ "Housing rights". UN-HABITAT. Retrieved 2009-12-13.  
  15. ^ McMeekin, Jessica (2004-07-22). "The Final Project of the Man of Peace"". IMC Brazil. Retrieved 2009-12-13.  
  16. ^ United Nations General Assembly Resolution A-63-L.49 session 63 World Humanitarian Day on 11 December 2008


  • 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 - Sérgio Vieira de Mello - pensamento e memória. 1 Edição | 2004 | Brochura 344p. | Cód.: 167075 | ISBN 853140867 (pt)
  • Samantha Power, Chasing the Flame: One Man's Fight to Save the World, (Hardcover - Pub. Date: 2/14/2008).

See also

External links




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

Redirecting to Sérgio Vieira de Mello


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