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Sergio Vieira de Mello

A smiling man, tanned with salt and pepper hair wearing a light shirt stands outside, with a blue sky and white clouds above.
Sergio Vieira de Mello at the Cambodia/Thailand the border in the beginning of the repatriation, 1992

Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1948, Sergio Vieira de Mello joined the United Nations in 1969 while studying philosophy and humanities at the University of Paris. He spent the majority of his career working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, and served in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in Bangladesh, Sudan, Cyprus, Mozambique and Peru.

"...not even the special representative of the UN, Mr. Akashi, had actually gone into Khmer Rouge territory. [Sergio] opened the door and managed to involve them in the dialogue. He was very strongly of the opinion that we should talk to everybody, whichever side of the equation they were on.”
—Mieke Bos, UN executive assistant, Cambodia, 1992

In 1981, Vieira de Mello assumed his first high-profile position when he was appointed the senior political adviser to UN forces in Lebanon. From 1983 to 1991, he occupied several important functions at UNHCR's headquarters: chef de cabinet of the high commissioner, director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and Oceania and director of the Division of External Relations. Between 1991 and 1996, Vieira de Mello served as special envoy of the high commissioner for Cambodia, director of repatriation for the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia, head of civil affairs of the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia and United Nations regional humanitarian coordinator for the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

A tall man with graying hair and long-sleeved oxford shirt stands with a smaller man in military uniform and beret. They are smiling, as a soldier looks on.
Vieira de Mello and former guerilla leader, now general of the army forces of East Timor, Matan Ruak, in the airport in Dili, the day after independence, 2002

"Ultimately, the most important step is to foster the empowerment of communities. East Timor's greatest resource is its people."
— Sergio Vieira de Mello, article OurPlanet.com

In 1996, Vieira de Mello 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 also briefly held the position of special representative of the secretary-general in Kosovo and also served as United Nations transitional administrator in East Timor. In September of 2002, he was appointed United Nations high commissioner for human rights. In May, 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 August 19, 2003.

Two men sit side-by-side,  the one on he left quietly laughing,  a folder
in his lap, while the other, hand on chin, looks at him quizzically
Vieira de Mello with Xanana Gusmao, Timorese leader, now president of East Timor, 2001

"Iraq has suffered far too much for far too long. War, pervasive human rights abuse, and stringent sanctions. Iraqis deserve better, infinitely better. The task is huge. We should all come to it with a keen sense of humility and a strong sense of determination."
—Sergio Vieira de Mello, Baghdad, 2003

"Sergio," as he was known by the scores of government officials, UN staff members and others who considered him a good friend, was a remarkably effective international civil servant, tackling some of the world's most complicated humanitarian and peacekeeping challenges. As former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke explains, Vieira de Mello was “the most skilled negotiator, the most skilled diplomat, the best representative that Kofi Annan had…. he was pro-UN.”

View a timeline of his work >>

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