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Vieira de Mello Hailed as "Servant of Humanity"

Vieira de Mello Hailed as "Servant of Humanity"

Attack in Baghdad called "crime against Iraq itself

By Judy Aita - Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- U.N. Special Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello was killed August 19 in a massive truck bomb attack on the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

Secretary General Kofi Annan, who had asked Vieira de Mello to take over the United Nation's latest and most difficult mission in May, said, "the death of any colleague is hard to bear, but I can think of no one we could less afford to spare or who would be more acutely missed throughout the U.N. system, than Sergio."

"Throughout his career he has been an outstanding servant of humanity, dedicated to relieving the suffering of his fellow men and women, helping them to resolve their conflicts and rebuild their war-torn societies," the secretary general said.

"In Iraq, where he spent the last months of his life, he was working day and night to help the Iraqi people regain control of their own destiny and build a future of peace, justice, and full independence. ... those who killed him have committed a crime not only against the United Nations but against Iraq itself," Annan said.

The casualty count in the attack had risen to 15 dead -- about half of whom were U.N. international staff -- and 100 injured by the time the United Nations confirmed Vieira de Mello's death. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said that the number of deaths could rise higher as a number of the victims are gravely injured. While other U.N. missions in Iraq have suffered high causality rates, the magnitude of this single incident was unprecedented.

The United Nations has about 300 international staff in Baghdad and another 600 located throughout Iraq, as well as more than 3,500 Iraqi employees.

Secretary of State Colin Powell called the attack "a heinous crime against the international community and against the Iraqi people."

Vieira de Mello was the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights when he was asked by Annan to head U.N. efforts in Iraq for the initial period of four months. Before becoming human rights commissioner in September 2002, the Brazilian career diplomat had distinguished himself on several difficult U.N. assignments, most recently as the U.N. transitional administrator in East Timor.

In 1999, he was the U.N. special representative in Kosovo. Other assignments since he joined the United Nations in the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in 1969 included humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in Bangladesh, Sudan, Cyprus, Mozambique, Peru, Lebanon, Cambodia, and the Great Lakes region of Africa. In 1998 he was undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator at U.N. headquarters.

In his statement, Secretary General Annan said, "in all those positions he impressed everyone with his charm, his energy, and his ability to get things done -- not by force but by diplomacy and persuasion."

Fluent in English, French, and Spanish as well as his native Portuguese, Vieira de Mello was a striking presence, politically astute, and an able politician and diplomat. He was considered a top candidate to replace Kofi Annan when Annan's term ends in a few years.

As soon as he arrived in Iraq, Vieira de Mello began traveling throughout the country meeting with all ethnic and religious groups and then visiting neighboring countries. He assisted in the negotiations leading up to the formation of the Iraqi Governing Council.

On July 22, Vieira de Mello accompanied three representatives of the new 25-member Iraqi Governing Council to meet with the Security Council in New York and discuss the enormous challenges facing Iraq and how the United Nations and the international community can assist.

In his remarks to the council, Vieira de Mello said, "we have reason to be optimistic for the future of Iraq, but we have little margin for error."

"The situation remains fragile. Iraqis know best how and where to tread in their own country and at what pace. Our greatest utility will be in following their lead and, when necessary assisting them in achieving consensus among themselves," he said.

"I believe we owe a debt to the people of Iraq that can best be honored by our demonstration -- in word and deed -- of our collective and cohesive commitment to supporting the rehabilitation of their country, now and into the future. ... the people of Iraq deserve no less," Vieira de Mello said.

Ahmed Fawsi, a U.N. official who worked with Vieira de Mello and was returning to New York from Baghdad, told CNN in London that Vieira de Mello was "an inspirational leader of men and women with his heart in the right place. ... he was a delightful man to work for."

Throughout his work, Vieira de Mello "would constantly speak of the importance of human rights and gender equality and the rights of women in every conflict situation and post-conflict situation that he was in," Fawsi said.

Fawsi said that if there was a target of the attack it was not Vieira de Mello but "the international community which Sergio Vieira de Mello so ably represented."

"These people want to create chaos and they want to derail the process of rebuilding Iraq, of restoring sovereignty to the Iraqi people, of rebuilding their institutions," he said.

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