Sérgio Vieira de Mello: ‘The World is my home’

• Brazilian diplomat is killed in a bomb attack on the U.N. building in Iraq

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan wasted no time in deciding who should take on the key role of his special representative to Iraq.

It was an open secret that Sergio Vieira de Mello, then U.N. high commissioner for human rights, was the main contender for the post.

The Brazilian diplomat’s steady, pragmatic style guided him through a 33-year career in the U.N.

In May of 2003, he was asked by the secretary-general to take a four-month leave of absence from his position as high commissioner to serve in Iraq as special representative of the Secretary-General. It was there that he was tragically killed on Aug. 19 2003.

Sérgio Vieira de Mello, 55, was trapped in the rubble after a truck bomb exploded beneath his office window.

As the U.N.’s special representative in Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello quickly won the respect of the U.S. administrator, Paul Bremer, despite tension between Washington and the U.N. over the U.S.-led invasion. He played no part in the formation of Iraq’s new governing council—chosen by the U.S.-led coalition—but was working side by side, like a support to the council.

In Iraq, the U.N. has a role in helping with humanitarian aid, reconstruction, refugee return, economic development, legal and judicial reform and civilian administration.

However, he also recognized the delicate nature of the U.N.’s mission in Iraq. He told the Security Council in July in a report on the first two months of the challenging mission: “The United Nations’ presence in Iraq remains vulnerable to any who would seek to target our organization.”

After the attack to the U.N. building that killed the Brazilian diplomat, there were at least two big bomb explosions in Iraq—one of these was in a religious temple and killed more than 100 people.

Almost every day the newspapers around the world are publishing news about the increase of the violence in Iraq. Extremists in Iraq are trying to derail stabilization by attacking infrastructure, ambushing U.S. soldiers, and killing Iraqi interpreters, policemen, an emerging Iraqi leader and now U.N. officials.

George W. Bush made a proclamation and said that Iraq is the main front on the terrorism war. The U.S. president talked about the resolution sent to the U.N. that proposes a multinational effort to increase the security in Iraq. Months ago, the Iraq occupation was a pride to Washington; now it is becoming a problem—especially if we remember Bush is getting $87 billion from Congress (U.S. taxpayers) to pay for the Iraqi occupation.

Without U.N. mediation, American and British troops will continue to face the Iraq; people with whom they cannot even converse.

The diplomat Ramiro Lopes da Silva is going to replace Sérgio Vieira de Mello in Iraq. According to his biography on the U.N.’s Web site, Sergio Vieira de Mello was born in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) in 1948. Sergio Vieira de Mello joined the U.N. in 1969 while studying philosophy and humanities at the University of Paris (Panthéon-Sorbonne).

He spent all of his career working for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, and served in humanitarian and peace-keeping operations, in Bangladesh, Sudan, Cyprus, Mozambique, and Peru. In 1981, he assumed his first high-profile position when he was appointed senior political adviser to U.N. forces in Lebanon. Thereafter, he occupied several important functions at UNHCR’s headquarters from 1983 to 1991 (chief of the Cabinet of the High Commissioner; director, regional bureau for Asia and Oceania; and director, division of external relations).

Between 1991 and 1996, he served as Special Envoy of the High Commissioner for Cambodia, director of repatriation for the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), head of civil affairs of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), and United Nations regional humanitarian coordinator for the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

In 1996, he was appointed United Nations assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, before being posted to New York in January 1998 as under-secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief coordinator.

He briefly held the position of special representative of the secretary-general in Kosovo and also served as United Nations transitional administrator in East Timor. Commentators said his successful overseeing of the territory’s fractious transition from Indonesian province to independence was his greatest achievement. The mission was not without its dangers: a visiting correspondent from the South China Morning Post recalled a poster on the wall of his office requesting visitors to unload their weapons. On Sept. 12, 2002, he was appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. He was the obvious choice to lead the U.N. effort in Iraq, to which he has given his life.

He left a wife, two sons and a grandson.

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