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Sérgio Vieira de Mello

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

Sérgio Vieira de Mello
Sérgio 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 materFederal University of Rio de Janeiro, University of Paris (Sorbonne)
Occupation3rd United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, East Timor UN Transitional Administrator
Sérgio Vieira de Mello
East Timor UN Transitional Administrator
In office
25 October 1999 – 20 May 2002

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 United Nations Special Representative for Iraq. Before his death, he was considered a likely candidate for UN Secretary-General.


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]

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.

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.[11]

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 Department of Peace Operations, who attended 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 UN 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.

Vieira de Mello was working as United Nations Special Representative for 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 recognitionEdit

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 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 chronologyEdit

  • 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

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • 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)
  • Leon Hartwell, The Diplomat and the Drunken Guard: Negotiation Lessons from Sergio Vieira de Mello. Negotiation Journal. October 2016: 325-333


  1. ^ a b c d 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. ^
  13. ^ Power (2008), pp. 368–371
  14. ^ Gourevitch & Morris (2008), p. 34
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ "Carolina Larriera", Wikipédia, a enciclopédia livre (in Portuguese), 7 October 2017, retrieved 24 October 2018
  17. ^ "Christiane Amanpour". Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  18. ^ Larriera, Carolina. "Uma voz para as vítimas". PÚBLICO (in Portuguese). Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  19. ^ a b "Uma voz para as vítimas". O Globo (in Portuguese). 19 August 2018. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  20. ^ "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.
  21. ^ a b "Carolina Larriera: "Eu me senti humilhada por não ter um papel assinado"". CLAUDIA (in Portuguese). Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  22. ^ "Processo 0419880-27.2008.8.19.0001 | Escavador". Escavador (in Portuguese). Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  23. ^ 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
  24. ^ Benson, Pam, "CIA: Zarqawi tape 'probably authentic' Archived 3 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine", CNN World, 7 April 2004.
  25. ^ Don't bother looking for explanations for terrorist attacks. – By Christopher Hitchens – Slate Magazine
  26. ^ Power (2008), p. 8
  27. ^ "Centro Sergio Vieira de Mello: Português". Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  28. ^ Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation
  29. ^ United Nations General Assembly Session 63 Resolution A-63-L.49. World Humanitarian Day A/63/L.49 11 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-11.
  30. ^ "Housing rights". UN-HABITAT. Archived from the original on 25 February 2009. Retrieved 13 December 2009.
  31. ^ 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.


External linksEdit



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

Succeeded by
Kenzo Oshima ( )
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