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Tributes pour in for slain UN envoy

Tributes pour in for slain UN envoy as world body vows to pursue its mission

The United Nations system worldwide paid homage today to top UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and other staffers killed in Tuesday’s terrorist bombing in Baghdad, expressing sorrow at the grievous loss, voicing outrage at the savage attack and vowing to redouble the world body’s humanitarian and peacekeeping work.

From Geneva to Gaza to Bangkok to Nairobi to Timor-Leste – a veritable world atlas of places Mr. Vieira de Mello had touched with his humanitarian and peacekeeping work during more than 30 years of service – UN agency chiefs echoed Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s expressions yesterday of his own personal grief and the terrible loss the entire international community had suffered with the death of his Special Representative for Iraq and High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“This outrageous act of violence was aimed directly at those who are trying to help the people of Iraq to rebuild their damaged country. Our WHO and UN colleagues, from countries around the world, are completely committed to helping restore basic services and rebuild the health system in Iraq,” World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Lee Jong-wook declared.

“Throughout a long and impressive UN career, Sergio has served the people who needed him most with skill, compassion and good humour. This single act of terrorism deprives the Iraqi people, and people everywhere, of a great advocate and a fine man. He will be sorely missed,” Dr. Lee said in a statement released in Geneva.

Noting that many other UN colleagues were killed or injured in “this cruel bombing,” he added: “WHO’s mission, in Iraq as elsewhere, is to provide the highest attainable standard of health for every human being. This work is vitally important and we must now work to ensure that it is not interrupted as a result of this brutal act of violence.”

The Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, who has been standing in for Mr. Vieira de Mello during his absence in Baghdad, likewise emphasized that the highest tribute that could be paid to the slain diplomat was a recommitment to carry out the UN’s humanitarian mission.

“The United Nations, Iraq and the world have lost a tireless and selfless public servant who paid the ultimate price doing what he believed in deeply: defending the inherent and inalienable dignity and rights of every human being,” Mr. Ramcharan said in a statement.

“We believe the best tribute we could pay to Sergio and the other colleagues who lost their lives in this despicable attack is to carry on with their mission of assisting the people of Iraq to rebuild their country and build a solid foundation of human rights,” he added.

Calling Mr. Vieira de Mello “an outstanding and charismatic diplomat,” the Director-General of the UN’s Geneva headquarters, Sergei Ordzhonikidze said the tragedy “will not break the will of the international community or undermine the vital role of the United Nations in Iraq. It will only double our determination to continue assisting the Iraqi people restore peace and stability to their country,” he added.

In Gaza, the head of the main UN relief agency for Palestine refugees summoned staff to a special ceremony to observe a moment of silence.

“Yesterday’s brutal killing of humanitarian workers, both Iraqi and international, is an especially cruel blow because the UN was committed to help rebuild the lives of the Iraqi people, which have been so devastated by war and sanctions,” said Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

“This was a horrifying and senseless attack on the people engaged in the rebuilding effort,” he added. “In the blast, we lost Sergio Vieira de Mello, a man I knew to be devoted to resolving conflicts and helping its victims, including refugees, recover their independence and well-being. He was in Iraq to do the same.”

Mr. Hansen also paid tribute to another UN official killed in the blast, Rick Hooper, who had worked for UNRWA for over five years.

Half a world away in Bangkok, staffers at the headquarters of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) also observed a minute’s silence.

“We can only express the hope that our dear friends and colleagues who perished in Baghdad did not die in vain and that stability will soon return to the Iraqi nation and its people,” ESCAP Executive Secretary Kim Hak-Su said.

In the new Pacific nation of Timor-Leste, which Mr. Vieira de Mello helped guide to independence as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, his successor reported “an outpouring of shock, outrage and mourning at the passing of this loved and admired compatriot of the Timorese people.”

“With his memorable contribution, Sergio won the admiration and gratitude of the leaders as well as of the people of Timor-Leste of all ages,” Special Representative Kamalesh Sharma said in a message. “All who knew him and of him will be distraught with sorrow.”

In Nairobi, Kenya, some 600 staff attended a ceremony of solidarity with colleagues in Baghdad. Expressing the shock and sorrow of all staff in a letter to Mr. Annan, Klaus Toepfer, Director-General of the UN Office at Nairobi and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, suggested that the new UN library in Nairobi be named in Mr. Vieira de Mello's honour.

"The experience, commitment, compassion and diplomacy that he embodied in his long and distinguished career are the very qualities the United Nations, and indeed all humanity, needs more urgently today than ever before," Mr. Toepfer added.

The Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), Anna Tibaijuka, also addressed the Nairobi memorial meeting. "In losing Mr. Vieira de Mello, the Iraqi people have lost a friend and the world has lost a champion of justice and freedom," she said. "The only way we can pay tribute to the man is to continue the UN mission to establish peace and prosperity in Iraq."

In New York, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) joined the long line of mourners. Expressing both sadness and horror, Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid echoed Mr. Annan’s words in praising Mr. Vieira de Mello as “an outstanding servant of humanity, dedicated to relieving the suffering of his fellow men and women, helping them resolve their conflicts and rebuild their war-torn societies.”

“It is tragic that he has now given his life in that cause, along with others who, like him, were devoted and much-valued servants of the United Nations,” Ms. Obaid added.

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