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Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation to Honor Humanitarian Workers


A foundation established earlier this year to further the ideals and principles of the late Sergio Vieira de Mello reflects on its goals five years after the former diplomat and 21 of his colleagues were killed in a terrorist attack on the U.N. headquarters in Iraq. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Five years have passed since the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad was bombed. Yet, Sergio Vieira de Mello's widow, Annie, says it is as difficult today as it was then.

In an interview with VOA, Annie Vieira de Mello spoke of the strong idealism of the dashing Brazilian who worked in hotspots from Cambodia to Kosovo and Timor-Leste during his 30-year career with the United Nations.

"I remember my husband...loved life, loved life," she said. "He loved nature. He loved people. He loved so much people. That is what I remember."

Annie Vieira de Mello tells VOA her grief extends to all the victims who have given their lives for the United Nations, to help others. She says they must not be forgotten. She says too often people forget the sacrifices made by humanitarian workers every day.

"And the very difficult circumstances under which they have to work sometimes," she said. "I remember too much of my husband working in difficult places and all the stress we had at home every day worrying about the situation, the wars."

De Mello's two sons and a close, former associate of his have created the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation, which aims to complete Sergio's mission and promote his ideals.

Sergio was known for his efforts to promote understanding in difficult conditions. He held talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat while serving in the U.N. Interim Forces in Lebanon in the early 1980s, and successfully sought a decade later to help resolve the fate of Vietnamese boat people.

Chair of the Foundation, Anne Willem Bijleveld, tells VOA the Foundation has submitted a resolution to the U.N. General Assembly to declare the 19th of August as The World Humanitarian Day.

"That would be the day to commemorate all humanitarians, be they from NGOs [non-governmental organizations], the Red Cross, ICRC, the U.N. family, all those who like Sergio and his colleagues in Baghdad gave their lives during their course of duty." she said. "Because there is nothing at the moment for families, for friends to hold on to. And, if we get this accepted, ..then we can use the U.N. system in order not only to have a commemoration in Geneva or New York, but to have it all around the world on the 19th of August."

Bijleveld says the 19th of August should be more than just a commemoration of those who have died. He says he would like to see the day become a celebration of what humanitarians can do to try to make this a better world.

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