En Route to Baghdad

A Film About the Inspiring Life and Tragic Death of UN Envoy/High Commissioner on Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello

Independent Lens, A Film Festival in Your Living Room Hosted by Edie Falco On PBS Tuesday, October 18, at 10pm (Check Local Listings)

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Program companion website: www.pbs.org/independentlens/enroutetobaghdad 

In June 2003, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and Kofi Annan's special envoy to Iraq, delivered a message of hope to a country shattered by war, promising humanitarian aid, reconstruction, refugee return, economic development, legal and judicial reform and an end to occupation. His goals for Iraq were ambitious, but Vieira de Mello was up to the challenge: in a diplomatic career that had taken him to such hot spots as Mozambique, Cambodia and East Timor, the brilliant and charming diplomat known throughout the world simply as Sergio had often been able to accomplish the seemingly impossible. But it would be in Iraq where Vieira de Mello's work would be tragically left unfinished. On August 19, 2003 he was killed, along with 21 others, when a massive bomb exploded just outside the UN headquarters in Baghdad. As the struggle for peace in Iraq continues, as well as debate about the role of the U.S. in the process, EN ROUTE TO BAGHDAD provides an inside look at the sometimes overlooked power of diplomacy and reminds us of the power that a single human being can have on the world. EN ROUTE TO BAGHDAD, a film by Simone Duarte, will air nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens, hosted by Edie Falco, on Tuesday, October 18, at 10pm (check local listings). 

Sophisticated, brilliant and idealistic, Sergio Vieira de Mello is recalled in EN ROUTE TO BAGHDAD as a man of enormous charm and passion. Poised to become the next UN Secretary General, Vieira de Mello was a dashing, Sorbonne-educated, Brazilian-born diplomat whose skill lay in an optimistic belief in human nature and a conviction that freedom and self-determination were not only right but attainable. In conversations with UN colleagues such as Kofi Annan, former American UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and others, we learn that when the tensions were high, Vieira de Mello was at his best. Known for his ability to bond with everyone, from the poorest refugee to the most hated tyrant, Vieira de Mello was seen as the only man for the extremely delicate job in Baghdad. His death is a tragic metaphor for the difficult and ongoing effort to bring stability to Iraq. 

Throughout his career, Vieira de Mello's skill was in uniting people under the most challenging circumstances and his career is in many ways a recent history of the United Nations itself. Time and again he traveled to countries torn apart by dictatorships and civil war, working for organization, cooperation and stability. He showed equal respect to peasants in Mozambique, teachers in East Timor and royalty in Cambodia–a testament to his outstanding ability to bring people together under a single cause. In Cambodia, Vieira de Mello was the only UN official who was able to negotiate with Khmer Rouge leaders, managing to get refugees back to areas under their control. 

The crew of EN ROUTE TO BAGHDAD traveled to nine countries--including a brief stay in North Korea at the invitation of King Sihanouk of Cambodia–to document how tremendously successful Vieira de Mello was in working with the people whose lives he had the power to change. It also shows how the UN has quietly but doggedly shaped our world. 

The EN ROUTE TO BAGHDAD interactive companion website (www.pbs.org/independentlens/enroutetobaghdad/) features detailed information on the film and an interview with the filmmaker as well as links and resources pertaining to the film's subject matter. The site also features a Talkback section for viewers to share their ideas and opinions, preview clips of the film and more. 

Director/Producer: Simone Duarte
Producer: Ane Soares
Producer: Kristine Cardoso
Cinematographer: Emmanuel Bastien
Editor: Karen Sztajnberg
Music: Ze Luis 

EN ROUTE TO BAGHDAD – Participants, in Order of Appearance 
Kofi Annan, UN secretary general
Ghassan Salamé, senior political advisor, Iraq
Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the UN
Ahmad Fawzi, UN spokesperson, Iraq
Jonathan Prentice, special assistant, Iraq
Kofi Asomani, director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Internal Displacement Unit
Dennis McNamara, UN special advisor
Bernard Kouchner, UN representative, Kosovo and founder of Doctors Without Borders
Barbara Hendricks, UN High Commission on Human Rights goodwill ambassador
Ricardo Rangel, photographer, Mozambique
João Baptista Cosme, former secretary for international cooperation, Mozambique
Annie Vieira de Mello, widow of Vieira de Mello Abdul Carimo, Institute for Peace and Democracy, Mozambique
Anne-Willem Bijleveld, UN High Commission on Human Rights deputy representative, Mozambique
Isolda Matola, widow of Vieira de Mello's driver in Mozambique
Graça Machel, former Mozambique Minister of Education
Joaquim Chissano, president of Mozambique
Emilio Torres, project leader, ADPP, Mozambique
Pedro Janela, teacher, Mozambique
Gilda Vieira de Mello, mother of Vieira de Mello
Kek Galabru, League for Promotion of Human Rights, Cambodia
Jahanshah Assadi, UNHCR representative, Thai border
Mieke Bos, executive assistant, Cambodia
King Sihanouk of Cambodia
Son Soubert, Cambodian Constitutional Council member
Hang Touphy, former Cambodian refugee
Martin Griffiths, director of Center for Humanitarian Dialogue
Laurent Vieira de Mello, son of Vieira de Mello
José Ramos-Horta, East Timor minister of foreign affairs, Nobel Prize Laureate
Xanana Gusmão, president, East Timor
Domingos do Amaral, Vieira de Mello's translator, East Timor
Sebastião Guterres, UN staffmember and professor
Bishop Nascimento, East Timor
Carolina Larriera, economic liaison o, Iraq
Carole Ray, personal assistant, Iraq
Mona Rishmawi, special advisor, Iraq 

ABOUT THE FILMMAKER Simone Duarte (Producer/Director) is a Brazilian journalist whose credits include a 2002 Emmy nomination for the news coverage of the 9/11 attacks and a 2001 Honorable Mention from the United Nations Correspondents Association for her TV series on East Timor. Duarte was the New York News Bureau chief of TV Globo, the main network in South America. She has 15 years of experience as a TV producer, writer and correspondent. In 1999, Duarte worked for the United Nations in East Timor in the early days of Sergio Vieira de Mello's administration. Her first short documentary Archivo de la Identidad (Archive of Identity, 2002), about the children who disappeared during the dictatorship in Argentina, has been featured in human rights film festivals around the world, including the Amnesty International Film Festival in the United States. Archivo de la Identidad has just been acquired by Brazilian TV. EN ROUTE TO BAGHDAD is her first feature documentary and has been shown in festivals around the world including the Tribeca Film Festival and the Miami International Film Festival. It has been broadcasted in Brazil, Portugal, and France and won the Silver Medal from the UN Correspondents Association. 

Duarte is a graduate in communications from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and has a MS in International Affairs from The New School. She is an Eisenhower fellow and member of the Alumni Advisory Council of the organization. She is also a member of the steering committee of the French think tank Institute pour la Ville en Mouvement. 

Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1948, Vieira de Mello joined the United Nations in 1969 while studying philosophy and humanities at the University of Paris (Panthéon-Sorbonne). He spent the majority of his career working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, and served in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in Bangladesh, Sudan, Cyprus, Mozambique and Peru. 

In 1981, Vieira de Mello assumed his first high-profile position, when he was appointed the Senior Political Adviser to UN forces in Lebanon. Thereafter, he occupied several important functions at UNHCR's Headquarters from 1983 to 1991 (chef de cabinet of the High Commissioner; director, Regional Bureau for Asia and Oceania; and director, Division of External Relations). Between 1991 and 1996, he 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) in Bosnia, 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 before being posted to New York in January 1998 as under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator. Vieira de Mello briefly held the position of special representative of the secretary-general in Kosovo and also served as United Nations transitional administrator in East Timor. On September 12, 2002 he was appointed United Nations high commissioner for human rights. In May of 2003, he was asked by the secretary-general to take a four-month leave of absence from his position as high commissioner to serve in Iraq as special representative of the secretary-general. It was there that he was tragically killed on August 19, 2003. 

“Sergio,” as he was known by the scores of government officials, UN staff members and others who considered him a good friend, was a remarkably effective international civil servant. As a result, he was asked by the United Nations to tackle some of the world's most complicated humanitarian and peacekeeping challenges. His track record of success was extraordinary, whether it was fashioning a refugee protection and resettlement scheme for Vietnamese refugees, overseeing the repatriation of 300,000 Cambodian refugees from Thailand, setting up a UN civil administration in Kosovo, or managing the political transition in East Timor. His assets included extraordinary intelligence and good judgment, graciousness and wit, and a profound dedication to the humanitarian principles that inform the UN Charter. He was the obvious choice to lead the UN effort in Iraq, to which he has given his life. His friends and colleagues at the United Nations and elsewhere will best honor his memory by persevering in the humanitarian and human rights work to which Sergio was so committed. 

A film festival in your living room, Independent Lens is an Emmy Award–winning weekly series airing Tuesday nights at 10pm on PBS. Hosted by Edie Falco, the acclaimed anthology series features documentaries and a limited number of fiction films united by the creative freedom, artistic achievement and unflinching visions of independent producers, which has prompted Television Week to call it “entertaining as hell and better than any other documentary series around.” 

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Posted on August 25, 2005