SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO
UN SECRETARY-GENERAL REMARKS AT THE FUNERAL OF SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO
Rio de Janeiro. 23 August 2003
I thank you all for being here today, as we mourn the loss of a dear friend of mine, a beloved son of Brazil, and a great servant of the United Nations.
The people of Mozambique, of Lebanon, of Cambodia, of Bosnia and Herzegovina, of the Congo, of Kosovo – of many countries, on almost every continent, and perhaps most of all the people of Timor Leste –will remember him as one who was there to help them in their hour of greatest need, to relieve human suffering and to champion human rights.
I believe the people of Iraq, too, will look back on him with gratitude. His work there is left unfinished. But, please God, we shall complete it. His dying wish was that the United Nations Mission there should not be pulled out. Let us respect that. Let Sergio, who has given his life in that cause, find a fitting memorial in a free and sovereign Iraq.
As for you, the people of Brazil, your flag is flying at half mast today, because you have lost one of your finest sons. But in the future that flag, which Sergio made known in many countries by the T-shirt he wore when he went out running, should fly even higher than before. He has served you well by serving the world, and you have every right to be proud.
We at the United Nations claim our share in that pride, too.
We cannot accept that Sergio had to die at this time, in this way, or that anything good can come of it. We cannot accept that all his brilliance, his energy, his devotion to his staff and his loyalty to the ideals of the United Nations, have been so abruptly taken from us. Indeed we can imagine nothing more cruel, or pointless, or unjust.
But when we contemplate his sacrifice, and that of the comrades who died with him – when we remember that they gave their lives for principle, and peace, and reconciliation – then we, too, can hold our heads a little higher; and we are proud to work for the same Organisation that they served.
Sergio, my friend, you have entered that Pantheon of heroes that the United Nations wishes it did not have. You will shine for ever among our brightest
20th August, 2003
Sergio Vieira de Mello was a tireless worker in crisis zones.Sergio Vieira de Mello, the top United Nations envoy to Iraq who was killed by a bomb blast last night, was a tough but debonair Brazilian who had been dispatched on some of the UN's most difficult missions.
Mr Vieira de Mello, 55, was trapped under rubble and died after a suspected suicide bomb blast in Baghdad.He was no stranger during his 33-year UN career to situations where his life and those of colleagues with him on peace missions around the globe was at best at risk and at worst in extreme peril.
"The United Nations presence in Iraq remains vulnerable to any who would seek to target our organisation," he had told the Security Council in July in a report on the first two months of the challenging mission.
While heading the widely-hailed operation that took East Timor to free elections and full independence in 2002, he kept a notice in his office in Dili, the capital, reading: "Please leave your guns outside."
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights since September, Mr Vieira de Mello was the immediate choice of secretary-general Kofi Annan to take on the Iraqi job in May after the controversial US-British invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.
The choice was also approved by Washington, despite clear disapproval among top UN officials of the attack on Iraq.
Mr Annan called Mr Vieira de Mello's death "a bitter blow for the United Nations and for me personally"."The death of any colleague is hard to bear but I could think of no-one we could less spare," Mr Annan said in a statement.
The chief of the Australian Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove, worked with Mr Viera De Mello in East Timor and says he is deeply saddened."I think I speak on behalf of thousands of young men and women in the Australian Defence Force who know Sergio Viera de Mello from his tremendous mission of peace in East Timor," General Cosgrove said."I know the East Timorese people today too, man and woman, will be in mourning."
Salim Lone, the UN spokesman in Baghdad, said: "There is no other person in the UN who is handed such tough crises. Sergio Vieira de Mello was one great person who was here to try to bring an end to the tragedy of Iraq forever."
Mr Vieira de Mello was one of the UN's most widely recognised officials.He had insisted his Iraq assignment be for just four months so he could hold on to the human rights post in Geneva.
After arriving in Baghdad, he had quickly established an authoritative presence and won the respect of the US administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer, despite tension between Washington and the UN secretariat over the Iraq war.Nancy Soderberg, a former US ambassador to the UN, said: "He could deal with kings and diplomats and ordinary refugees with the same enthusiasm and sense of respect."
Mr Vieira de Mello's deputy as human rights commissioner, Bertrand Ramcharand, said his boss "was one of the finest performers in the UN".Diplomats say he was among front-runners to succeed the secretary-general.
Mr Vieira de Mello, born in Rio de Janeiro, started work in the UN system in 1969 as a junior publications editor with the UNHCR refugee agency in Geneva. But he soon came to grips with the problems of countries shattered by war.
Over more than two decades with the UNHCR and on secondment, he served as a field officer in a devastated Bangladesh after its war of separation from Pakistan and in civil war zones in Sudan, Mozambique and Lebanon.
Moving up through the ranks of the UNHCR, he was consigned to desk jobs running relief operations from Geneva during much of the 1980s - including crises in the Great Lakes region of central Africa and the exodus of Albanians from the country after the collapse of communism in 1991.
In 1993, he was dispatched to Bosnia as a war raged between Serbs, Croats and Muslims, and took charge of civil affairs for the UN Protection Force. In 1996, he became assistant high commissioner for refugees.
Two years later, Mr Annan moved him to New York to become under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and then sent him briefly to the Serbian province of Kosovo before giving him his biggest task - building the new Asian nation of East Timor.
The tennis-loving Mr Vieira de Mello played a vital role in bringing the territory, which had been left an economic and social wreck after the violence that accompanied Indonesian withdrawal, to full independence by 2002.
Mr Vieira de Mello was married but separated from his wife, and is survived by two sons.
Geneva, 17 March 2003
Statement by Sergio Vieira De Mello, United Nations High Commissiioner for Human Rights to the 59th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights
I hardly need to remind this audience, that the world has always been a place of turmoil. You, and those who sat here before you, have seen the ways in which nations can struggle, and the strife that brings.
Still, we meet today at a time of unusual convulsion in world affairs. The security of our world has been fragile enough; one wonders how much more it will weaken. I am not speaking only of those crises that dominate the headlines. I am thinking, at least as much, of the death that, brought into millions of homes in the form of a terrible virus, has become a constant companion across much of Africa and elsewhere. Millions of lives dwindle, then end, senselessly, endangering the very fabric of many societies. In many countries today, young people, particularly girls and women, are trafficked across borders in a grotesque marketplace whose only currencies are despair, and cruelty.
Security today is also threatened by hunger. There can be no security without the tools each person needs to live and to improve her life. Too many people continue to lack even the basics – water, sustenance, elementary education, health services – of a dignified life. We can never cease pursuing freedom from want, that is, the rights to food and to development, among others. Without them, security will be only a privilege of the powerful, and an endangered privilege at that, because it will be based on the faith that strong borders, mighty deterrence or authoritarian domestic rule bring security. That is a false sense of security, because it is not based on rights.
Like trafficking, political terror crosses borders. It is likewise grotesque. Individuals and organized networks whose politics are blood-red -- who feed on dreams of obscure vengeance -- whose only achievements are the sudden screams of innocent people -- such men and women are sowing terror in our world, and reaping pain. In the most fundamental way, they mock our security.
I think it was Hannah Arendt who used to talk of "that old demon, world history." That old demon is with us as we begin our deliberations. Old alliances have been shaken. Old and stable patterns have been disrupted. Our fragile world needs guidance.
Will we, in the course of this session of the commission, give that guidance? Or will we let the chaos outside these walls come within? We are all about to be tested. In six weeks' time, will we be able to take the work accomplished here and emerge better prepared to improve the lives of the people who look to us?
Will we, if I may put it this way, improve the world's security? For we live in fearful times, and fear is a bad advisor. Too many international actors today are pursuing policies based on fear, thinking they will increase security. But true security cannot be built on such a basis. True security must be based on the proven principles of human rights.
Some, in fact an increasing number, of states implicitly or explicitly believe that security and a rigorous respect of civil and political liberties are mutually exclusive. But we also have a right to security when faced with the ambitions of states, whether our own or others. We cannot compromise our hard-won human rights to give states a free hand in fighting terrorism. There, again, we draw a line. Well established international norms -- the right not to be detained arbitrarily or imprisoned indefinitely, the right to due process of law, an impartial jury and an impartial judge, to legal representation, to be free from inhumane and degrading treatment -- these norms are under siege today. We have to draw a line and defend them. This too is a grave question of security. I urge you to address it squarely in the coming weeks. For when security is defined too narrowly – for example, as nothing more than a state's duty to protect its citizens – then the pursuit of security can lead to the violation of the human rights of those who are outside the circle of the protected. That circle may be defined in geographical or other terms. But the problem remains the same.
In this context, I think particularly of the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. A human being has to be able to live free from the fear of sudden, utterly arbitrary attack -- free, in short, from terror. A human being also has the right to live in dignity and equality as well as security. There can be no security without real peace, and peace must be built on the firm foundation of human rights. This is as true in the Middle East as it is everywhere else. In recent weeks I have proposed to both the government of Israel and to the Palestinian Authority that I visit both, shortly after the commission has completed this session, to assess the situation for myself and to see how best I and my Office may be of assistance in protecting and promoting the human rights of all who are caught up in the nightmare of this conflict, perhaps the oldest and most divisive in contemporary history. My proposal has been well received and I am hopeful that I may be in a position to carry out such a visit in the near future.
As you deliberate over the coming weeks, I strongly urge you to remember that questions of security are central to your mission: the protection and promotion of human rights. Protection is in some ways a technical synonym of security, but its meaning must be made active, real and apparent. It is at the heart of the International Bill of Human Rights and so is central to the efforts of this Commission. When the Commission on Human Rights began its great work in 1947, it sought to establish the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to create one or more Conventions, and to implement the norms and standards agreed upon. For implementation, on the ground, protection is of the essence.
I would like to reiterate the Secretary General's call for National Protection Systems, which aim at integrating the national judicial and legislative systems with national human rights institutions, with national practices and with education. I would draw your attention particularly to the great potential of education in enhancing protection. Promotion and protection in human rights should not be viewed as separate. They are indivisible. It is obvious but bears repeating: The culture of human rights derives its greatest strength from the informed expectations of each individual. Responsibility for the protection of human rights lies with states. But the understanding, respect and expectation of human rights by each individual person is what gives human rights its daily texture, its day-to-day resilience. This is true across the range of rights: economic, social, cultural, civil and political.
The culture of human rights must be a popular culture if it is to have the strength to withstand the blows that will inevitably come. Human-rights culture must be a popular culture if it is to be able to innovate and to be truly owned at the national and sub-national levels. "Education" is the word we use to describe this process, and it deserves more attention. We must work harder at communicating the human rights story through all available means, not least electronic media. Security will be enhanced as we fill in the lacunae of ignorance, empower the dispossessed and enable them to recognize and claim their rights.
Protection is obviously critical in the case of conflicts. The security of civilians in war is a paramount principle of international law. The recent inauguration of the International Criminal Court is a major step towards defending this principle. It does not matter where the victims are in war: the obligation of protection remains the same. This obligation is in effect before, during, and after conflict, and I would suggest that as you consider the question of protection in conflict, you think about conflict as occurring on a continuum. Prevention is also a form of protection, and so is post-conflict reconstruction.
The role of nongovernmental organizations and of civil society more broadly in protection cannot be overestimated. NGO's are critically important in the work that lies ahead of you; your work should be critically important to theirs. The improvement of this essential partnership will, I hope, be among the notable achievements of this Commission.
Protection is also a sphere in which the media play a predominant role. The journalists assembled here remind everyone of what promises have been made. They hold everyone to their promises. They give powerful voice to popular expectations. They are also liberal, at times even generous, providers of criticism, and I would like to offer them a special welcome.
My choice of the rule of law as an overarching theme in my own work is due not least to its universality. It is also the most solid foundation of security. Since taking office, my deputy and I have sought to advance the rule of law in our discussions with leaders of many countries. Fortified by the universality of the rule of law, we have discussed a broad spectrum of its manifestations -- and pointed out where it is lacking – in all those countries, North and South, East and West, and everywhere we found a palpable desire to discuss human rights in terms of the preservation and strengthening of the rule of law. The rule of law has a marvelous portability. It is universal. As you deliberate, I urge you to do so in the same spirit of universality.
Finally, let me say a few words about responsibility. I do not mean "responsibility" only in the important technical sense mentioned earlier – which is the responsibility of states towards their citizens. I have something broader in mind. The results of this Commission -- of your work -- will help to guide my office for the rest of the year. They will guide the Special Procedures. They will guide the various bodies of the Commission. They will serve to orient the thinking of national human rights institutions, of NGOs and of the media. And they promise to be a source of inspiration to all those who need us most – just as, if we fail, they will be a source of bitter disappointment and a feeling of betrayal.
This is a tremendous responsibility, and I want to reiterate that this responsibility has only increased with the passage of time. The popular expectations have increased, as they should. The expectations governments have of themselves, in terms of human rights, have likewise increased. I have seen how keenly governments look to human rights as a way to guide their actions. That is a remarkable development, and it is as it should be. But it does increase your responsibility, and ours as well, to deliver the guidance that is expected of you, of us all. Civil society and its institutions, at the national level, look to you, and the media look to you, as a standard-setting body.
I know that the challenges before you can be met. It was a very difficult Commission session last year, I was told, but the Commission finished its agenda. It was a difficult session, but the Commission made meaningful reforms, many of which you will be testing in the coming weeks. The Commission on Human Rights has demonstrated that it can be critical of itself, and take criticism from others, and change. The Commission on Human Rights does not fear criticism. It has been and must be agile. You must be prepared to innovate. You may well need to react to events, but of course you mustn't be driven by events. That would represent a failure of leadership.
And your responsibility to exercise leadership is a heavy one. Your work here is so critical to so many people. They need the security that comes when human rights are protected.
I am grateful for being given the honor of addressing you for the first time. My colleagues and I will give you and the whole Commission every aid, and I expect that we will end these six weeks sharing the happiness of success.
If we do not, that old demon, world history, will have won again. We must not let the times devour our hopes. We must not let our quest for security be based on fear. That quest will only be completed if we are guided by what binds us all: the rights that you, the Commission, are sworn to protect and promote.
20 August 2003
Opinion Piece by Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
The brutal murder of Sergio Vieira de Mello, Special Representative of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General in Iraq, is yet more proof that people who serve humanity and defend human rights are easy targets in a world in which national security has trumped human security.
As the UN Special Representative in Iraq, he was a symbol of the international community's commitment to the country. As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio was the highest authority on human rights in the world. This is a moment of deep grief for all those who care for Iraq and for human rights.
I mourn Sergio as a friend and as an international leader. He was a dynamo and a risk taker with great charm. He was a man of action and conviction, exuding all that is positive and passionate in life. But his death signifies much more than the passing of a good man.
The people of Iraq who believe in justice and peace are under attack. The international community is under attack. Human rights are under attack.
Sergio's murder has put at stake the fundamental human rights of the Iraqi people. It has put at risk the ability of the international community to stand with the Iraqi people in their struggle for human rights.
Sergio was convinced that the participation of all Iraqis was the foundation stone on which Iraq must be built. He championed the cause of human rights of Iraqis to those who did not want to hear.
If Sergio's death is to have any meaning, Iraq must be a building site for human rights -- it must not be allowed to become a wasteland.
Truth and justice for the Iraqi people was Sergio's goal. The principles that he held so dear in life must not be sacrificed now. The perpetrators must be apprehended and brought to justice but his death must not become a pretext for a witch hunt nor lead to widespread abuse of human rights -- no arbitrary arrests, no arbitrary detentions, no excessive use of force.
There are those who will see this tragedy as proof that Sergio was wrong in his approach to Iraq -- respect for human rights and participation of the Iraqi people.
But Amnesty International and other human rights activists know that only by putting human rights at the heart of security can this meaningless violence be brought to an end. This is what Sergio believed. This is what he and his colleagues worked and died for.
The killing of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is an outrageous attack on human rights defenders everywhere. We will not let it pass. Our grief only strengthens our resolve for action. They killed the man, they can never kill his legacy.
Sergio Vieira de Mello. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (2002-2003). A tribute by staff of the UNHCHR upon his death.
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 (Panthéon-Sorbonne).
He spent the majority of his career working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 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 UN forces in Lebanon. Thereafter, he occupied several important functions at UNHCR's Headquarters from 1983 to 1991 (Chef de 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. On 12 September 2002 he was appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 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 19 August 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. As a result, he was asked by the United Nations to tackle some of the world's most complicated humanitarian and peacekeeping challenges. His track record of success was extraordinary, whether it was fashioning a refugee protection and resettlement scheme for Vietnamese refugees, overseeing the repatriation of 300,000 Cambodian refugees from Thailand, setting up a UN civil administration in Kosovo, or managing the political transition in East Timor. His assets included extraordinary intelligence and good judgment, graciousness and wit, and a profound dedication to the humanitarian principles that inform the UN Charter. He was the obvious choice to lead the UN effort in Iraq, to which he has given his life.
His friends and colleagues at the United Nations and elsewhere will best honor his memory by persevering in the humanitarian and human rights work to which Sergio was so committed.
by Kim Gleeson