Sergio Vieira de Mello: Resting place in Geneva
Iraq, United Nations building in Baghdad, Sergio Vieira de Mello
With the tragedy that continues in Iraq, the fourth anniversary of the attack on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad falls on 19 August 2007. It is a time to remember the brutal and unwarranted death of colleagues including one of the UN’s charismatic ambassadors of all time.
News of an explosion that hit the United Nations building in Baghdad on 19 August 2003 provoked stunned shock around the world. The deaths of UN and other personnel evoked outpouring of international support and heartfelt condolences that were expressed for the families of victims injured or killed in the murderous blast caused by a terrorist attack. Memorial services took place for colleagues and others who died.
Epitome of the ideal international civil servant, Sergio Vieira de Mello had served the United Nations in difficult situations in several countries. The last, and most difficult, was his temporary assignment in Iraq from May 2003 as Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General. This humanitarian mission was to …"help the people" … of Iraq.
Loss to humanity
Following the burial ceremony for Sergio Vieira de Mello (1948-2003), I visited the Cemetery of Plainpalais, or Cimetiere des Rois, in the heart of Geneva. In this oasis of peace and tranquillity, his grave was marked with a simple cross and adorned with flowers that had become faded. I spent some poignant moments to dwell on his senseless and tragic death.
Obituaries and tributes from around the world praised him as an accomplished diplomat who had given long service to the United Nations. Polyglot and man of the people his easy manner, charisma and charm were greatly admired. There is literature and extensive bibliography in several languages about the political life, humanitarian work and international diplomatic career of this exceptional man who dedicated himself to many of the United Nations operations of peace making and peace keeping.
His brutal and untimely death in Baghdad was expressed as a huge loss to the United Nations and to humanity. In April 2004 Sergio Vieira de Mello posthumously received "Statesman of the Year Award".
On 24 October 2003 the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva inaugurated a monument created to honour staff members who have given their lives for peace and in defence of the ideals of the United Nations. The monument is made of a large granite stone pointed towards the sky; next to it stands a weeping willow tree.
On the occasion, a special thought was given to three Geneva-based colleagues who lost their lives in Baghdad; they joined the ranks of those who have died while serving the United Nations universal and dangerous missions in all parts of the world.
Resting place in Geneva
His resting place in Geneva emphasises the important role Sergio Vieira de Mello played for a number of years in the international life of the city most recently from September 2002 as the late United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
With its own history, the Cemetery of Plainpalais in Rue des Rois is a resting place in Geneva for many of the city’s most prominent citizens to which has been added the illustrious name of Sergio Vieira de Mello (15 March 1948 - 19 August 2003).
Note: Acknowledgement is given to all information used in preparation of this article. It follows a text entitled A resting place in Geneva (Sergio Vieira de Mello), by Ita Marguet, printed in ILO staff magazine, UNION, No. 333, Nov-Dec 2003.
Ita Marguet, August 2007