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UN Envoy's Death Great Loss But Strengthens Fight for Justice, say Co-Workers

Expressions of shock as well as tributes are pouring in for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was slain in the explosion Tuesday at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. Mr. Vieira de Mello's co-workers in Geneva say his death has strengthened their determination to fight for justice and human rights.

The U.N. Human Rights Office is in deep mourning. The acting high commissioner for human rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, came to share his grief and that of his colleagues with the news media with whom Sergio Vieira de Mello had a close and personal relationship.

In a moving tribute, Mr. Ramcharan describes his dead colleague as an exceptional man. "This was an immensely gifted man. He was gifted by nature with intelligence, wit, charm, and to that he added a solid education and a solid commitment to the principles of the United Nations and to the ideals of the charter. And in my time that I have seen him work, I have seen this charm and this intelligence and this wit being put into the service of the United Nations, and it was a truly wondrous thing to behold," he said.

Mr. Vieira de Mello, a 55-year-old Brazilian diplomat, worked for the United Nations for 30 years. He brought his diplomatic skills to bear in some of the world's most dangerous hotspots, including Kosovo and East Timor.

Upon the request of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, he agreed to accept a four-month assignment as the top envoy in Baghdad. His job was due to end next month.

Mr. Ramcharan said the tragic events in Baghdad will not deter the staff that Mr. Vieira de Mello leaves behind from continuing its important work in human rights. "I asked our staff that while mourning the loss of the high commissioner that we would pay tribute to him by taking strength from his death and renewing our resolve to act for the protection of human rights worldwide, so that we can honor his memory by more vigorous action for human rights," he said.

Mr. Ramcharan said U.N. human rights operations will continue in Iraq. He said his office has a long list of activities to pursue on the ground.

These include setting up human rights commissions in Iraq and helping the country enact laws to create a humane and just society. Mr. Ramcharan said his resolve to go forward is greater now than ever before.

"A guy like me when he sees a thing like this happen and he says that the United Nations cannot go backwards and the United Nations cannot be intimidated. And, in my mind right now, we should intensify what we do in the area of human rights," he said.

Mr. Ramcharan said this tragic occasion has to count for the United Nations. It has to count for human rights.