Five years ago today, a massive truck bomb detonated at the U.N. compound in Baghdad, killing 23 people. Among them was Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N.'s special representative in Iraq, and a legendary Brazilian diplomat who represented a sea change in the U.N.'s reactions to humanitarian emergencies.
Viera de Mello's decades of working for and with the United Nations included deep experience with seemingly intractable conflict and reconstruction missions in Cambodia, Kosovo and East Timor. Dynamic, suave and empathetic, Vieira de Mello was widely eulogized as a singular figure in international diplomacy. "I had only one Sergio," said a shaken Kofi Annan, then the U.N. secretary general, in the bombing's aftermath.
Vieira de Mello's biographer, the human-rights expert and former Barack Obama adviser Samantha Power, agrees. "Whether on Darfur or on Georgia," Power wrote in an email sent from Brazil, where she is commemorating the diplomat's life, "one doesn't feel today as if there is an international official (unaffiliated with his country's national agenda) who can be relied upon to be sent into a crisis, suss the scene and, while not a miracle worker, max out on what can be achieved -- through negotiations, through the mobilization of international resources (Sergio was a hell of a salesman once he got back to capitols), etc."