Sergio Vieira de Mello, et al., in Memoriam, Five Years On

Sergio Vieira de Mello, et al., in Memoriam, Five Years On

I would be remiss if I did not mark, here at Opinio Juris, the fifth anniversary of the tragic death of UN diplomat and humanitarian Sergio Vieira de Mello, who died in the terrorist attack on the UN’s Baghdad headquarters in 2003 along with many other aid and relief workers.  And also – it receives far less attention, alas – the follow-on 2003 attack a few months later on the Baghdad headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross, another terrorist attack that killed its own share of innocents and caused the ICRC to pull out of Baghdad.  

I am sure many of you have seen or read Samantha Power’s biography of Vieira de Mello and his work, Chasing the Flame.  You might not be aware, however, that a campaign on humanitarianism and US foreign policy has also been set up on the web, at – it has a number of commentators on issues related to humanitarianism and international affairs.  (Update:  Thanks for Annie Vieira de Mello’s comment below; here is the foundation that she mentions, the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation.) 

In addition, you might have seen Power’s New York Times op-ed, “For Terrorists, a War on Aid Groups,” August 19, 2008.  (I’ve linked to; the actual op-ed is behind the NYT subscriber wall, but maybe the full text will be available at the website one of these days, and in any case the comments are interesting.)

I lost a friend in the 2003 attack, Arthur Helton, who headed the migration and refugee program at the Council on Foreign Relations and who was in the waiting room at the headquarters for a meeting that day on Iraqi refugees and internally displaced.  Arthur was an old friend dating back to his days at the then-Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and, later, when his office was down the hall from mine at the Open Society Institute.  Arthur was a tireless advocate and a person of goodness and great integrity, and I want to remember him this day, too.  

I’ve written on humanitarianism and the Baghdad bombing in the past, including this piece from the 2004 Harvard Human Rights Journal, and one of these days I’ll comment on questions of humanitarianism, aid, relief, and institution building.  Some of what I have to say about all that is, well, contentious.  I don’t entirely share Chasing the Flame’s views on humanitarianism, neutrality, and the related topics, but that’s for another day.

But today – it’s a good time to remember those who were lost five years ago and honor their memories.  I also want to recall here, and honor those who died in the October 2003 attack on the ICRC in Baghdad.  My thoughts and prayers are with their families and those who loved them.

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Annie Vieira de Mello
Annie Vieira de Mello

Wife of Sergio, I have been very touched that your remember all these human beings who lost their life in Baghdad (and unfortunately in many other countries)and I thank you most sincerely.
With our two sons and some friends, we created the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation to honor his memory and because we are convinced that he still has a mission to complete.
As you mentioned, Samantha Power’s book is far of being close to reality.  Most of Sergio’s close friends don’t recognize him, Sergio deserved, as all the other victims, better respect.  The book, being edited at the time of Obama’s campaign, had another purpose.
Thanks again for honoring the memory of all these humanists. 

David Stoelting
David Stoelting

Ken — Thanks for mentioning Arthur Helton.  Arthur and I were members of the International Law Committee of the NYC Bar (along with Chris Borgen) in mid 1990’s, and I worked with him on some ABA projects too.  Arthur was a brilliant man and a generous friend.