It was designated by the United Nations General Assembly as part of a Swedish-sponsored resolution on the strengthening of the coordination of emergency assistance of the United Nations, and set as 19 August. It marks the day on which the then Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello and 21 of his colleagues were killed in the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad.
The designation of 19 August as World Humanitarian Day is the outcome of the relentless efforts of the Sérgio Vieira de Mello Foundation and his family working closely with the ambassadors of France, Switzerland, Japan and Brazil in both Geneva and New York to table and steer the draft Resolution through the General Assembly.
The Foundation conveyed its deep gratitude to the United Nations General Assembly and all member states for the worthy gesture of recognition that has ensured that the tragic loss of Vieira de Mello and his 21 colleagues and all humanitarian personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifices in relieving the suffering of victims of humanitarian crises have not been in vain.
A national of Brazil, Sérgio Vieira de Mello dedicated a lifetime spanning over thirty years in the United Nations, serving in some of the most challenging humanitarian situations in the world to reach the voiceless victims of armed conflict, alleviate their suffering and draw attention to their plight.
His death together with 21 colleagues on 19 August 2003 in Baghdad, deprived the victims of armed conflict worldwide of a unique humanitarian leader of unmatched courage, drive and empathy who championed their cause fearlessly and etched their plight on the world map.
The tragic event also robbed the humanitarian community of an outstanding humanitarian leader and intellectual whose thinking, philosophy, dynamism and courage inspired all and remains a timeless legacy for coming generations to emulate.
Mindful of this legacy, in 2006 the Vieira de Mello family and a group of close friends founded the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation dedicated to continue his unfinished mission of encouraging dialogue between communities and relieving the plight of victims of humanitarian crises.
The Foundation is dedicated to supporting initiatives and efforts to promote dialogue for peaceful reconciliation and co-existence between peoples and communities divided by conflict through an annual Sergio Vieira Mello Award, an Annual Sergio Vieira Mello Memorial Lecture, a Sergio Vieira de Mello Fellowship and advocating for the security and independence of humanitarian actors, wherever they may be operating and whomever they may be operating for.
The Foundation views the World Humanitarian Day as a befitting tribute to all humanitarian personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifices to make the world a better place for all victims of humanitarian crises and an encouragement to all their serving colleagues to aspire to even greater heights in accomplishing that laudable goal.
World Humanitarian Day was commemorated for the first time on 19 August 2009.