“A modern society needs fraternity in order to govern complex social relationships.” For “The protagonists of the fraternity,” ten years after his death we wish to introduce Sergio Vieira de Mello, UN official, promoter of peace in places of conflict alongside refugees and protector of human rights
16:40, 19th August 2003. A violent explosion blasts Canal Hotel, which was being used as UN headquarters in Baghdad. It was a serious attack that killed 22 people. Among these people, there was the Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello, Special Envoy to the United Nations. Three days of official mourning was later decreed by the then Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in remembrance of the UN Human Rights High Commissioner. In 2008 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 19th August as the World Humanitarian Day. It is a way to raise awareness on humanitarian issues because nowadays, we live conflicts on a globalized level. In Bologna (Italy), a square that leads to ‘Porta Europa’ is named in his honour.
But who was Sergio Vieira de Mello? He was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1948 and his father was a diplomat. After graduating from Sorbonne University in Paris, Sergio pursued a career at the United Nations since 1969. He initially started as a senior official at the United Nations headquarters for Refugees in Geneva and this was a position he held until 2002.
At 18 years of age, he wrote: “A modern society needs fraternity in order to govern complex social relationships, especially when it comes to economic dominance and to maintain a balance based on peace and understanding, and not on terror.” This was a commitment that seemed to flow in his veins as a young person, idealistic and committed. This is the way he carried out his assignments with the Bangladeshi refugees in 1971, with those in Cyprus after the Turkish invasion in 1974, in during the 70’s civil war in Mozambique that demands independence from Portugal, as well as, with the Cambodian refugees. He was the only one who was allowed to discuss with the Khmer Rouge, accused of the genocide of 2.5 million people.
In the 90’s, there were many more operations in which he took part: the removal of landmines in Cambodia and Yugoslavia, in dealing with the issue of refugees (boat people, ed.) in Hong Kong and as a special envoy of the UN Mission in Kosovo. In 2002 he was appointed to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and in May 2003, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in Iraq. This was his last position.
Besides having been often mentioned as a possible candidate for the UN Secretary General position, Sergio Vieira de Mello was also the founder of two major agencies: the United Nations Educational Project for Human Rights (UNHRP), part of the UN-Habitat programme based in Nairobi, in Kenya, and the United Nations Programme for the right to housing (UNHREP).