27 May 2011
Deputy Secretary-General

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Our Colleagues’ Sacrifice Only Has Meaning When We Carry on Their Work, Stresses

Deputy Secretary-General at Wreath-laying Ceremony for Fallen Peacekeepers


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks in New York today at the wreath-laying ceremony in honour of fallen peacekeepers for the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, observed on 29 May:

This corner of the United Nations has become a place to mourn our losses, from the killing of Count Folke Bernadotte in 1948 to our colleagues killed in Baghdad in 2003 and others since then.

This year is not even at its midpoint and already we have experienced so much loss:  the brutal attack on our compound in Afghanistan, which took seven lives; the plane crash, just days later in [the Democratic Republic of the] Congo, which claimed 32 people; staff deaths within the same two weeks in Haiti, Sudan and Côte d’Ivoire; and others around the world.

The victims came from all over the United Nations system.  They were military, civilian and police — United Nations volunteers and national staff.  They had different responsibilities, nationalities and interests.  But they shared an abiding belief in the principles of the United Nations Charter.  They put their lives on the line, so that others could have a safer and brighter future.

When I get the news — that a plane is down, that a staff member has been killed, that someone has been kidnapped — I immediately try to put a face to the name and my heart goes out to the families.  I am imagining the scene.

When the list comes in, not all of us may be familiar with the names.  But on a more fundamental level, on a human level, we do know them.  They are part of the United Nations family.  They are part of our family — yours and mine.

Sometimes, of course, I do recognize names on the list.  They are much more than names to me and I know they are to you also.  They are people we remember by their laugh, by their intelligence, by their character; the strong character that led them to a life of public service.  That was the case last year, when the earthquake hit Haiti and more than 100 United Nations staff members died.  I am sure many of you lost friends.  I share your sorrow because I did, too.

Every year, at this time, we remind ourselves that the sacrifice of our fallen colleagues only has meaning when we carry on their work.  This year I simply want to repeat the tremendously moving words I heard our United Nations Envoy in Afghanistan tell his staff after the atrocious and unforgivable attack in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Staffan de Mistura had the sad duty to call the families and offer condolences.  One man said to him, “Can I ask you something?”  Staffan said, “Of course, anything.”  The man replied, “Don’t abandon Afghanistan.”  That was his wish.  But it is also a message for all of us, today.

We must reduce the risks.  We must protect our staff members.  We must do everything we can to ensure safety — in helicopters and on land, in compounds and in the field — on every possible front.  And after we have taken all the measures we can, we get to work.

We continue in Afghanistan; in Haiti and in Sudan; in Timor-Leste, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Where the United Nations is called to serve, we serve with pride and courage.

Please join me in a moment of silence in honour of the memory of all those who lost their lives in the service of peace.

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For information media • not an official record