Honoring the life and legacy of diplomat and humanitarian Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in Iraq in August 2003, Fordham University and the Institute for International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) posthumously conferred upon him an honorary doctorate of humane letters at a special ceremony on Monday, Dec. 8.
Vieira de Mello was serving as the United Nations special representative in Iraq when he was killed in a bombing attack on the U.N. Mission in Baghdad. For more than 30 years he served the United Nations, working on behalf of the oppressed and suffering in Rwanda, Kosovo, Bangladesh, Mozambique, East Timor, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq.
In presenting the degree to Vieira de Mello’s wife and son, Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University, read from the preamble of the United Nations Charter and likened its bold ideals to those of Vieira de Mello. “On this day,” said Father McShane. “We honor a man who gave his entire life to the [U.N.] cause.”
Upon receiving the degree, Annie Vieira de Mello, said, “I am proud to receive this degree on behalf of my husband, for his efforts to protect people’s dignity and human rights. Sergio believed in the power of the United Nations and dedicated his life to its mission.”
The presentation marked the first time in the 162-year history of the University that an honorary degree was bestowed on someone posthumously. Following the degree ceremony, the IIHA sponsored a symposium titled, “Human Security for All: A Tribute to Sergio Vieira de Mello.” Many of Vieira de Mello’s contemporaries from the international humanitarian community spoke about his impact on their lives and work.
Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland said on behalf of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “Sergio set a standard for all humanitarians, peacekeepers, peacemakers, and peace-builders.”
“It is rare to find an individual that achieved excellence in all levels of his work,” said Francis Deng, director of the Center for International Health and Cooperation. “There are no words to adequately describe this man.”