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Honouring those who gave their lives in the service of human rights

Iraq, 2003

Honouring those who gave their lives in the service of human rights

On the afternoon of 19 August 2003, the United Nations headquarters in the Canal Hotel in Baghdad was largely destroyed by a devastating bomb attack. The blast resulted in the death of 22 people, including the then High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello. The bomb was targeting the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI).

The United Nations in Iraq:

UNAMI is a political mission established by the 2003 UN Security Council Resolution 1500 at the request of the Government of Iraq with its role greatly expanded in 2007 with the passage of Resolution 1770.

UNAMI is mandated to advise and assist the Government and people of Iraq on a number of fronts. This includes advancing inclusive, political dialogue and national reconciliation, assisting in the electoral process and in the planning for a national census, facilitating regional dialogue between Iraq and its neighbours, and promoting the protection of human rights and judicial and legal reform.

UNAMI’s Human Rights Office works with the Government, as well as members of Iraqi civil society, to support the promotion, respect and protection of human rights in Iraq in an impartial manner. The Office, which also represents the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Iraq, works closely with other UN Funds, Agencies and Programmes to ensure that the basic rights of all Iraqis are fundamental to their activities.

In collaboration with the Government and civil society, the Human Rights Office focuses on key areas, including the rule of law, the protection of civilians from the effects of armed conflict and violence and the protection of those who are detained or being tried before the courts. The Office also promotes the rights and protection of women, children, minorities and people with special needs. Important also is the protection of freedom of expression, as well as economic, social and cultural rights.


Sergio Vieira de Mello, 1948-2003

Sergio Vieira de Mello (Brazil) was Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative for Iraq. He had taken a four-month leave of absence from his post as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Prior to his appointment in 2002 as High Commissioner, Vieira de Mello served as the head of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor helping to shepherd the Pacific nation to independence, and he briefly held the position of Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Kosovo.

Vieira de Mello joined the United Nations in 1969, spending the majority of his career with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, and serving in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in Bangladesh, Cyprus, Mozambique, Peru and the Sudan. He also served at United Nations Headquarters in New York as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.