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Sergio Vieira de Mello appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 12 September 2002. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1948, Sergio Vieira de Mello joined the United Nations in 1969 while studying philosophy and humanities at the University of Paris (Panthéon-Sorbonne).

Vieira de Mello began his United Nations work at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva. He also served in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in Bangladesh, the Sudan, Cyprus, Mozambique and Peru. He assumed his first high-profile post in 1981, when he was appointed Senior Political Adviser to United Nations forces in Lebanon. He then occupied several high-level posts at UNHCR: Chef de Cabinet for the High Commissioner, Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and Oceania, and Director of the Division of External Relations.

Between 1991 and 1996, Vieira de Mello served as Special Envoy of the High Commissioner for Cambodia , Director of Repatriation for the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), Head of Civil Affairs of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), and United Nations Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Great Lakes Region of Africa. In 1996, he was appointed United Nations Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees. Two years later, he was posted to New York as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. He also briefly held the post of Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Kosovo and served as United Nations Transitional Administrator in East Timor.

Less than a year after he was appointed High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, asked Vieira de Mello to take a temporary leave of absence from his post to serve in Iraq as Annan's Special Representative there. On 19 August 2003, just three months after he arrived in Iraq, Vieira de Mello-and 22 colleagues-were killed when the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was attacked.