What Netflix’s ‘Sergio’ Didn’t Tell You About Lebanon’s Part of the Story


Sergio is a new Netflix movie that portrays parts of the true story that is the illustrious life and career of the late UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

While the movie mentions that the UN official served in Lebanon during his career, it only does so briefly. So, here’s everything you need to know about Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1948, Sergio Vieira de Mello was exposed to the world of diplomacy early on in his life.

His father Arnaldo worked as a diplomat. As such, the Vieira de Mello family, including young Sergio, would travel with Arnaldo to several countries, including Lebanon, as his job dictated.

By 1969, Sergio was living and studying philosophy in Geneva, Switzerland, where he later secured his first job as an editor at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

This job kickstarted his UN career, the next step of which involved moving to a war-torn Bangladesh in 1971, where he helped organize food and shelter aid to refugees.

From there, Sergio would take charge of similar aid tasks in Sudan and Cyprus, in addition to Mozambique, from where he helped refugees escape persecution in Zimbabwe during its civil war.

Sergio went on to serve as a representative of the United Nations in Peru and Cambodia, before holding a pivotal posting in Lebanon in 1981 as Senior Political Officer to the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL).

When Sergio arrived in Lebanon, the country was boiling with civil unrest. Thousands of people were already dead, injured, and displaced due to the civil war that had been wreaking havoc since its beginning in 1975.

His role in Lebanon, which represented his first political work under the UN, formed a cornerstone for his future as a diplomat; it was in Lebanon that he put into play his remarkable talent for dialogue and reconciliation.

Throughout his time in the country, the 33-year-old UN official worked as an intermediary between UNIFIL troops and local civilians and authorities.

As he had been in the previous countries he served in, he was responsible for the organization of humanitarian needs for civilian populations in Lebanon.

In the political scene, UNIFIL relied heavily on his charming personality and great communicative and persuasive abilities to promote dialogue and encourage cooperation between the rivaling factions amid the devastating war.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, committed horrible massacres, and killed thousands of people, Sergio was vocally furious.

Despite being very difficult to implement the UN’s reconciliation plan due to the unforgiving environment at the time, Sergio, alongside UNIFIL, worked incessantly to convince the fighting parties to stop the destructive acts of war.

Ultimately, and unfortunately, their attempts were not fruitful. The fighting continued for years, even long after Sergio left Lebanon in 1983.

He acknowledged this failure but was unable to pinpoint what it was that had caused it.

On one hand, he would question UNIFIL and its ability to fulfill the peacekeeping operation while, on the other, he would contemplate if he could have done things differently to yield better results.

Nevertheless, following his departure from Lebanon, Sergio Vieira de Mello went on to accomplish great things in the international humanitarian scene.

He became a major change-maker, before and during his position as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which he held between 2002 and 2003.

His contributions have assisted countless refugees and displaced civilians around the world, and widened the reach of human rights principles, promoting justice, equity, and peace, until he met his untimely demise in 2003.

Sergio Vieira de Mello was killed in the suicide bombing targetting the UN Headquarters in Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq.

He was serving as Special Representative of Secretary-General back then; the final stop of his incredible, decades-long humanitarian journey.

Netflix is currently streaming a movie about him during his time in Iraq up to his demise.

The film includes some revealing flashbacks of his pivotal role in securing the independence of East Timor from Indonesia that had invaded it in 1974. In 2002, East Timor became known as Timor-Leste.

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