Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Remembering and Embodying UN legend Sergio Vieira de Mello

When a truck laden with explosives crashed into Baghdad's Canal Hotel August 19, 2003, 22 dedicated public servants perished. On the anniversary of this attack, it is important not only to remember those whose lives were tragically and unjustly cut short, but their principles. In today’s world where foreign policy is shaped by hard power and military might, it is essential to stick to Sergio Vieira de Mello’s belief in the power of conversation and peaceful negotiation.

Sergio, the mission’s head, is regarded as a legend within UN and foreign policy circles. The efforts of the talented peacemaker and diplomat have resulted in the repatriation on countless Cambodian refugees, and Sergio led the building of the world’s newest nation, East Timor. His remarkable abilities as a negotiator and his unwavering dedication to fostering peace was recognized by Secretary General Kofi Annan, who appointed Sergio to lead the mission head in Iraq. He had little time to fulfill his humanitarian and diplomatic duties, as the terrorist’s bomb claimed his life only months into his mission.

Sergio’s legacy continues: he is the subject of Chasing the Flame, a newly released book by Pulitzer Prize Winner Samantha Power. Both an HBO documentary and feature film based on his extraordinary life are in the works. Also be sure to check out the new blog, also titled Chasing the Flame. It is dedicated to keeping Sergio’s peacemaking vision alive. His devotion to fostering constructive and open dialogue is as relevant and important as ever to shaping American foreign policy.

Reminiscing on Sergio’s memorable role in crafting a more peaceful form of diplomacy, Annick Stevenson opens the Chasing the Flame blog:

Imagine a world in which everybody would speak to his/her neighbor, would listen to his/her views and would try to understand them, would, more generally, always wish to know the will of others before deciding, would negotiate before envisaging any military reaction, would never ever view war as the solution to any conflict whatever the reasons may be...A world in which war would become impossible because it would too difficult to think of killing someone you share so much with. This world existed. It was in the mind of Sergio Vieira de Mello. This is how he conceived it and lived it, as much as he could, or at least as a matter of principle.

Five years later, let us not only honor his memory, but follow his example.

Visit the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation

Image Credit: the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation