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Posted: 12 March 2008

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Professor Samantha Power lectures on Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World

‘The most important man no-one knows,’ Sergio Vieira de Mello was killed by the first major suicide bomb in Baghdad, Iraq in August 2003. He was not fatally injured initially, but bled to death as there were no tools or aid available to release him from under the rubble. De Mello spoke for three hours before he finally took his last breath.

Sergio Vieira de Mello chased headlines. Political conflict and unrest was his forte. His short life was crowded with stories of peace-talks and human rights, frustration and instability.
Despite having had years of experience carving out difficult peace deals with violent states his last posting was described as ‘the toughest assignment of his career: UN envoy to Iraq’.

His negotiating skill lay in his ability to talk with violent leaders and attempt to develop and nurture a trust between he and the leader.

‘He had long ago stopped believing that he had brought the solutions to a place’s woes, but he had grown masterful at asking the questions that helped reveal constructive ideas’. Brazilian-born, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, de Mello has had a profound and permanent affect on the world’s politics. De Mello grappled with such questions as ‘When should killers be engaged, and when should they be shunned?’

Samantha Power told Sergio Vieira de Mello’s story to an enraptured audience at the John Hume Institute for Global Irish Studies UCD. Samantha Power is the Anna Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy Practice at Harvard University’s School of Government. Up to 7 March she was one of Barack Obama’s chief advisors but her regrettable description of Hillary Clinton as a “monster” (made recently in the UK) prompted her to resign her role the day after she spoke at UCD. Her action was taken in order to prevent any fall-out from her comment on the Obama campaign.

Professor Power has been an active and vocal supporter of Barack Obama and described him as both a true visionary and a conduit for change. She drew parallels between de Mello’s ethics and Obama’s foreign policy. She also offered comparisons between them, saying they had ‘similar dispositions towards the rest of the world’.

She suggested that there were lessons to be learned from Sergio Vieira de Mello’s life and experience as humanitarian and a negotiator. She also considered that these lessons could be utilised and applied to American Foreign Policy. Reflecting upon de Mello’s life and work she said that there were ‘new models for success to be seen in Sergio’s life’.

Samantha Power’s book “Chasing the Flame” is published by Penguin and available throughout Ireland.

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Professor Samantha Power lectures on Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World