In his thirty-year career in the United Nations, most of which was with UNHCR, Sergio Vieira de Mello scored so much that attempting to summarize his successes would be tantamount to downplaying the brilliant and outstanding contributions of this extraordinary man to the victims of humanitarian crisis and to humanity at large. He paid the ultimate price for his beliefs, his principles and his dedication for providing a better life for the powerless and voiceless victims of human cruelty and atrocities. Nevertheless, for the sake of brevity and the need to highlight the most important aspects of his contributions, they are summarized as follows:
• Designed and implemented UNHCR’s first Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) which put an end to the Boat People’s Crisis.
As Director of UNHCR’s Asia Bureau(1988-1990),Sergio designed the organization’s first Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) to address the pressing problems of the Indochinese Refugees. The CPA was launched at the International Conference on Indochinese Refugees convened by the then UN Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar in Geneva, Switzerland in June 1989.The CPA was adopted unanimously by the conference. This resulted in giving UNHCR a comprehensive guidance for the movement and handling of the Boat People and giving the latter effective protection and assistance. It was adopted by UNHCR as the model for the organization’s framework of guidelines for providing protection and assistance to refugees. Later in mid 1995 when the CPA faltered and was going adrift, the then High Commissioner Sadako Ogata asked Sergio, then Director of Operations, to resume responsibility for it. Sergio expeditiously chaired an important internal meeting in Singapore to map UNHCR’s end game strategy. This was followed by a meeting of all the CPA countries in Bangkok which agreed on a deadline to bring the CPA to an end. Things started to improve from that point onward and the CPA was concluded in February 1996.
• Negotiated agreement with the Khmer Rouge to ensure security for refugees returning to areas under their control, leading to the successful repatriation and resettlement of 370,000 Cambodian Refugees.
Against all the advice of his peers and colleagues, Sergio – then Director of Repatriation and Resettlement Operations in the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Special Envoy of UNHCR High Commissioner Ogata to the country (1991-1993), undertook a lone but courageous mission to the Khmer Rouge heart land. He negotiated with the much feared Khmer Rouge a binding agreement that led to the successful resettlement of 370,000 Cambodian refugees.
• Led the planning and organization of a Regional Conference on Refugees and Population Movements in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) leading to a historic Programme of Action for discussing and resolving problems of population displacement and refugees in a humanitarian and non-political manner.
In his position as Director of Operations and Planning (1994-1996), Sergio, working closely with the Bureau for Europe, led the planning and organization of a Regional Conference on Refugees and Movement of Population in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).The Conference, convened by the then UN Secretary-General Boutrous Boutrous Ghali in Geneva 30-31 May 1996 adopted a historic Programme of Action that established a reliable regional forum for discussing and resolving the problems of population displacement and refugees in a humanitarian and non-political approach. It reviewed the population movements taking place in the CIS countries, clarifying the categories of concerns and proposed guidelines for controlling and managing these movements.
• Effective leadership of Timor Leste as UN Transitional Administrator resulting in restoring basic social services, establishing rule of law and order, governance, democracy, elections and a stable government.
During Sergio’s tenure as UN Transitional Administrator for Timor Leste (1999-2002), he ensured the restoration of the destroyed basic social services and infrastructure and establishing law and order, governance, democracy, and elections leading to the emergence of a stable government into whose able hands he handed the country.
• Upheld the principle of right of the people of Iraq to basic human rights and to being empowered to decide on how best they could fully restore the sovereignty of their country and return it to the community of nations.
As the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) for Iraq (2003-2004), Sergio – true to his principles of justice and equity – took a consistently strong position in arguing for the rights of the Iraqi people to decide for themselves on the best modalities for fully restoring the sovereignty of their country and return it to the community of nations. He paid the ultimate price with his life while defending and promoting these principles.