Ban Ki-moon's speeches

Remarks to Headquarters staff upon return from Algiers

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Headquarters, 19 December 2007

Good morning dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, and Excellency Ambassador Youcef Yousfi of Algeria,

Thank you. I am very pleased to meet all of you this morning. And I am also pleased to be back. I am just coming from the airport after having visited Algiers yesterday.

As you know, during my visit to Algiers, I was shocked and overwhelmed by what I saw there.

The bomb explosion which ripped through the UN compound in Algiers last Tuesday had a devastating impact. One part of the UNDP building is completely flattened. Rubble is strewn far and wide. Scattered on the ground are the items of our every day life -- files, computers, highlighters. I was so humbled looking at all those things which were used by our colleagues at the time of the explosion.. It is clear that at the UN House in Algiers, life stopped at 9:30am on December 11th 2007.

I met with survivors and families of the victims. Many of them were children. It was profoundly emotional and heartbreaking. There were times when I was so overcome and so emotional that I could not continue to speak -- seeing young children who lost their parents, parents who had lost their loving son or daughter, spouses whose loved ones had been taken away so brutally.

I was humbled by the courage and dignity of these colleagues and families of the victims. I met the father of a brave Algerian security guard who was killed when he literally threw himself at the oncoming suicide truck. I met a courageous young UNFPA staffer who, after being thrown to the ground by the impact of the blast, spent hours upon hours digging through the rubble searching for survivors, at great risk even to himself.

Many family members pleaded with me for the United Nations to do more to fight terrorism. It redoubled my resolve to push for implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, adopted by all 192 UN Member States last year.

Above all, the experience strengthened my resolve to do everything in my power to improve the security of our staff. I will soon present a proposal for a review of UN security worldwide.

I will ask Governments to act on their obligations under General Assembly resolution 59/276, which spells out that the primary responsibility for ensuring the safety and security of United Nations staff and premises rests with the host country. And I will make a number of specific suggestions to all Governments hosting a UN presence on ways to improve security and safety measures – ranging from locations to communications.

We will also do all in our power to put into place communications systems in duty stations that function adequately when an emergency occurs. The UN family in Algiers faced severe logistical problems in communicating over the past week, and that made their terrible ordeal even worse. We must and will remedy this, in duty stations around the world.

We also face a wider communications challenge. We must do even better in explaining to the public and the media the role of the United Nations, wherever we operate -- why we are there, what we do, what we stand for and what we don't. We must make clear we are not there to represent the interests of any one group of nations over another. We must make clear that we are there to clear mines, build schools, run clinics, advance the rule of law, help protect the environment and help protect human rights – in short, to build better lives for the men, women and children we exist to serve.

In the immediate aftermath of this tragedy, our first duty is to ensure that the UN family takes care of its own. A large number of the national staff members who perished in the bombing were the sole bread winners in their family. It is vital that we extend to them some form of solidarity payment to tide them over until the insurance pays out.

Agencies have proposed to make this kind of payment to help those affected cope with initial hardship, not as an attempt as compensation for those who sacrificed their lives. I have asked the Resident Coordinator in Algiers to distribute the payment of solidarity to families of the fallen and to those injured.

Dear Colleagues, Dear Friends,

At the end of my visit to Algiers, the Resident Coordinator presented me with the UN flag that flew outside the UN House at the time of the attack. I have brought it back with me today and I am going to display it wherever it may be appropriate so that we will always remember our fallen colleagues, and to make us resolve our commitment to fight against terrorism.

Torn and bruised, but still proud and unbowed, this flag symbolizes the sacrifice of our colleagues, and our determination to persevere.

Let us honour this flag and the memory of our fallen friends by redoubling our efforts for peace and security, development and human rights around the world. Let us strive to be worthy custodians of their legacy.

Thank you very much for your strong support. I am deeply honoured to serve this Organization together with you, and I am deeply humbled by such a show of solidarity at this time of difficulty. Thank you very much.