Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sergio - Charismatic Humanitarian Hero

Sergio Vieira de Mello. Dashingly handsome. A dazzling smile and positive attitude that engaged everyone he met. Passionate and compassionate. A career with the UN committed to making the world better through action - "You can't make a difference sitting behind a desk", he stated. "You have to get out in the field." And get out to the field he did: Bangladesh, Cyprus, Sudan, Mozambique, Lebanon, Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda, Congo, East Timor. It was a catalog of three decades of world hot spots.

He was a humanitarian James Bond, with Bond's penchant for the ladies. As one commentor in the film stated, "He liked women. A lot."

Sergio was, to some extent, a maverick. Although he was a 'traditional' rebel in his early days at the Sorbonne, manning the barricades, he came to believe in a more co-operative approach. When he was special envoy in Cambodia, with the responsbility to effect the orderly and peaceful migration of 400,000 Cambodians back to their homes in Cambodia, he met with the Khmer Rouge to ensure this would happen peacefully. No one had ever met with them before. Meeting with the 'bad guys' was important, he said. You can't get important things done without talking to the other side.

When he was regent for the transition of East Timor from Indonesia to independence, he was given virtually dictatorial powers. However, he set up a council, and then a cabinet, of local leaders, and did nothing without their concurrence.

These efforts around the world gave him a reputation as a problem solver, a fixer, and led to his fateful appointment as the special representative of the UN Secretary General to Iraq. He was killed in the suicide bombing attack on the UN Headquarters in Baghdad, the first suicide bombing in Iraq, on August 19, 2003. He had been reluctant to go, having been a strong opponent of the US action, but was persuaded by Bush and Rice that he was needed there.

The film shows his life and achievements in a series of flashbacks as we watch the appallingly feeble efforts to rescue him from the rubble of the attack. Although the US ostensibly invaded Iraq as a result of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, they were woefully unprepared to deal with a terrorist attack. Sergio and another colleague were found very quickly in the rubble, and, in the movie, two American servicemen tell their story of working for three and a half hours in a tiny shaft to save them. Although his colleague was saved (by the gruesome measure of an underground hacksaw amputation of both his legs to extricate him), the lack of any equipment or further help doomed Sergio.

This is a movie well worth seeing. I first heard about Sergio through a TED talk by Samantha Powers, and the movie is based on her book Chasing the Flame - I've got it on my reading list.

1 comment:

Stacy said...

Sergio Vieira de Mello as my grandmother would say "an angel sent by heaven" ... The work of this man is a leccionde life for many of us and is simply wonderfu, maybe he buy viagra