Human Rights First Remembers Legacy of Human Rights Advocates on 10th Anniversary of U.N. Baghdad Bombing

Today Human Rights First commemorates the tenth anniversary of the loss of remarkable human rights advocates, Arthur C. Helton, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and Richard Hooper, who were among the 22 people killed in the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad on August 19, 2003.

Arthur Helton was a respected lawyer and a leading authority on refugee and humanitarian issues. He worked at Human Rights First for 12 years from 1982 to 1994, where he helped to advance refugee protection and improved, in tangible ways, the lives of individual refugees. Arthur launched the Refugee Protection Program at Human Rights First and created the organization’s pro bono asylum legal representation project, an innovative model in which volunteer lawyers at the country’s leading law firms partner with Human Rights First to represent indigent refugees. In the Price of Indifference, he wrote that, “Refugees produce … an almost irresistible impulse to help.” Arthur not only shared this urge to help, but succeeded in inspiring it in others. The program Arthur founded, which has been replicated by others across the country, has helped thousands of refugees find safe haven and begin new lives in the United States. At the time of his death, Arthur was director of Peace and Conflict Studies and a senior fellow of Refugee Studies and Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In the course of his career, Arthur Helton was a key influence in the shaping of U.S. asylum law and policy. He also studied displaced populations and humanitarian crises all over the world, writing and advocating on refugee issues in Central America, Southeast Asia, Africa, Russia, and the Middle East. He was one of the leading outside advisers to the United Nations on refugee issues, and he pushed the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to adopt strong refugee protection policies. Arthur was at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad to meet with Sergio Vieira De Mello, who was the U.N.’s chief envoy to Iraq.

Sergio Vieira de Mello joined the United Nations in 1969 and spent the next three decades carrying out humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts, mostly working for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Vieira de Mello served on missions in Bangladesh, Sudan, Cyprus, Mozambique, Peru, and Yugoslavia. He was appointed as Kofi Annan’s special representative to Kosovo and also played a leading role in East Timor prior to its 2002 independence, serving as the U.N. transitional administrator. In September 2002 Vieira de Mello was named U.N. high commissioner for human rights. In 2003 he went to Iraq as special representative of the secretary general, intending to stay for four months before returning to Geneva. Sergio Vieira de Mello brought relief and resolution to some of the world’s most difficult conflicts.

Richard “Rick” Hooper, who was also killed in the bombing, joined the United Nations in 1990 and was on assignment with the U.N. in Baghdad as special assistant to the U.N. undersecretary general for political affairs. Human Rights First remembers him for his work with the organization’s Middle East Program. Hooper joined the U.N. as a refugee affairs officer in Gaza for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and later served as a research officer and assistant chief of staff to the UNRWA commissioner general. In 1995 and 1996 and again from 1999 to 2001, he worked as special assistant to the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Terje Roed-Larsen of Norway. Hooper served as special assistant to the U.N. undersecretary general for political affairs.Hooper helped establish the Program for International Cooperation and Conflict Resolution of the Norwegian Institute for Applied Social Sciences and served as the program’s senior adviser from 1998 to 2000. He also served as founding director of the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum in New York.


Published on August 19, 2013


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