22 August 2003 Sergio Vieira de Mello, veteran United Nations servant, defender of human rights and protector of refugees, began his final journey home today, his body borne aboard a Brazilian Presidential plane at Baghdad airport amid prayers, praise and pledges to continue his mission, cut short by a terrorist's bomb.
His dying message, among his last words to a rescue worker as he lay in the most extreme pain while pinned under the rubble of the devastated UN headquarters, rang out again today as it was recalled in a sombre ceremony on the airport tarmac: “Don’t let them pull the mission out.”
As his coffin stood before the plane that was to fly him to his Brazilian home town, Rio de Janeiro, where he was born 55 years ago, colleagues stood in mournful tribute to the man who rose through more than three decades of devoted service to the world body to become High Commissioner for Human Rights and Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative for war-torn Iraq.
"We honour him and we say that the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will never leave this land of Iraq, because a United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights died for it," Acting High Commissioner Bertrand Ramcharan said, three days after a massive truck bomb at UN headquarters in Baghdad killed Mr. Vieira de Mello, at least 21 others, and injured scores more.
Offering a silent prayer on behalf of members of the bereaved family, as he had promised them, Mr. Ramcharan then added: "May the peace of the universe envelop you always. Dear Sergio, you are much loved and the world extends its respects to you today."
Paying tribute to Mr. Vieira de Mello and the others who fell with him in the line of their international duty, he declared: "We shall always cherish your memories. Our gratitude is eternal. We say to you that the United Nations shall live because of your sacrifices. We shall make it so. For the triumph of the United Nations Charter is inevitable. The vision of peace grounded in justice, respect for human rights and economic and social progress is eternal."
Calling Mr. Vieira de Mello an outstanding civil servant with unique human qualities, Benon Sevan, Executive Director of the Office of the Iraq Programme, declared: "Sergio was fully committed to the United Nations until his last breath. Even under the most extreme pain, pinned down under the rubble of his office, he said to First Sergeant von Zehle of the coalition forces, who was trying to rescue him: 'Don't let them pull the mission out.'"
Recalling Mr. Vieira de Mello's earlier service with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and his peacekeeping work in places as far afield as Kosovo and East Timor, Mr. Sevan declared: "Our beloved Sergio, you have been an inspiration to all your colleagues throughout your service with the United Nations. You have touched us all. With your exemplary services and ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty, you have become an inspiration to all of us.
"Bowing before you at this very difficult hour, I assure you that no heinous act of terrorism will deter us from carrying out the noble tasks entrusted to us in the service of the United Nations. We will resume our activities as of tomorrow and continue your legacy," he added.
The plane bearing Mr. Vieira de Mello’s mortal remains was to stop in Geneva to pick up his wife and two sons before continuing on to Brazil a memorial service to be held tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro. The Secretary-General was leaving New York tonight to attend the ceremony.