Memorial Lecture: Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation

On 17 March 2008 Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, delivered the first Memorial Lecture of the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation at the International Conference Centre (CCIG) in Geneva. In partnership with The Graduate Institute of International Studies (IHEID) in Geneva, an Annual Memorial Lecture will be delivered on or around 15 March each year. It coincides with the birthday of Sergio Vieira de Mello who would have been sixty in 2008. Kofi Annan is Patron of the Foundation that is supported by many eminent persons from around the world.
The Foundation is dedicated to promoting dialogue for the peaceful resolution of conflict and has been established as an international entity under Swiss law. It is a not-for-profit humanitarian organization and its work will be funded by individuals and organizations who believe in the humanitarian principles that Sergio strived for through his work in the United Nations. The Foundation’s office is situated at 29 rue des Allobroges, 1227 Carouge, Geneva, Switzerland.
Humanitarian in action
Born in Brazil, educated in Switzerland and France, with a doctorate in philosophy from the Sorbonne, a fluent multi-linguist, with a variety of international assignments around the globe, Sergio Vieira de Mello was a true citizen of the world. With his untimely death, the world lost a brilliant and charismatic advocate of peace and human rights, and a true, tireless humanitarian.
He was a humanist by spirit, convinced of the need for openness and respect for all traditions. The progress of humanity depends on being open to all currents of thought and action, reads the epitaph on his grave, quoting his doctoral thesis Civitas Maxima. (L’int?gration de tous les courants constitue le progres de l’humanit?).
Throughout his outstanding career, he promoted the values of peace and tolerance by systematically advocating multilateral dialogue and negotiation over the use of force, and by attempting to bring together groups of people on opposite sides in war or conflict.
United Nations in Baghdad
The explosion of 19 August 2003 with an attack against the United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad that killed Sergio Vieira de Mello and twenty-one of his colleagues and associates was one of the first of a long series that have characterized the Iraqi war. That tragic event was a fateful blow for the United Nations and all those who believe that peace and security can be achieved through dialogue and international cooperation.
He had gone to Baghdad to explore ways for the international community to play a constructive role in the early stages of the military intervention in Iraq. Sadly, the blind violence that took him and his colleagues’ lives was an indication of the horrors to come, as hopes of a peaceful solution to that intractable situation were shattered.
In accepting his appointment as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello summed up, in a few words, his overall philosophy that would guide his work there, as it had done in earlier situations:
The people of Iraq, as we know only too well, have suffered and have suffered enough. It is time that we all – the Iraqis first, the coalition Authority and the United Nations – come together to ensure that this suffering comes to an end and that the Iraqi people take their destiny into their own hands, as the Security Council resolution calls for, as quickly as possible. We must not fail. It will not come to you as a surprise, as the Secretary-General just indicated, that I consider the development of a culture of human rights in Iraq as fundamental to stability and true peace in that country. You may have read me in recent weeks, writing to that effect in the media. I believe, on the basis of my experience, that respect for human rights is the only solid foundation for durable peace and for development.
Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation
Quoting Kofi Annan: “As I said at the time of the tragedy, Sergio dedicated his professional life to the values set out in the United Nations Charter. He never once hesitated to take on difficult, even dangerous assignments. Victims of conflict and disasters through the world came to know him as someone who understood their plight and knew how to deliver results despite enormous obstacles. That effectiveness was always combined with a remarkable grace and sensitivity.
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.
It is for this reason I warmly commend to you the work of this Foundation that will keep alive among us the memory and the vision of Sergio.”
Information on Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation is available at website Email is: Memorial Lecture
Following remarks in praise of his close friend and the valuable humanitarian work of his colleague, Kofi Annan expressed his views and experience of timely action through dialogue in peaceful resolution of conflicts, most recently in Kenya.
He spoke of his deep conviction about the key role of the United Nations and international community, as well as the people at large, to remain fully committed in making their voices heard on a full range of issues at the top of the global agenda. He stressed the inter-dependence of action at the national, regional and international levels. He spoke of the power of the people to bring pressure to bear on government and other leaders to promote peaceful dialogue towards political, economic and social progress leading to a safer world. It was important for young people to be motivated and educated to become future leaders in promoting peaceful reconciliation between people and parties in conflict.
Sergio Vieira de Mello (1948-2003) is buried in the Cemetery of Plainpalais, rue des Rois, Geneva, Switzerland, amongst many of the city’s most prominent citizens.
Ita Marguet
Note: Acknowledgement is given to all sources used in preparation of this text specifically extracts from brochure entitled Humanitarian action through dialogue, Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation. It follows a published article entitled Sergio Vieira de Mello: Resting place in Geneva (Ita Marguet, August 2007).