Ban Ki-moon's speeches

Remarks to the memorial ceremony for United Nations colleagues who perished in the Algiers bombing

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Geneva (Switzerland), 23 January 2008

I stand before you today humbled in tribute to the colleagues we have lost. Humbled by their courage, dedication and sacrifice. Humbled before their loved ones, who have lost so much and who have bravely travelled long distances to be with us today. Humbled by the task of doing justice to the memory of our irreplaceable friends.

The truth is, we can never really do justice to those we have lost. We can only miss them and mourn them. We can only unite in grieving for what is too hard to endure alone.

Please stand with me as we observe a minute of silence for our fallen comrades.

This tragedy is about individuals whose lives were extinguished in the prime of life. It is about acts of unbelievable courage and sacrifice performed in the face of evil and death. It is about young children losing parents, parents losing their devoted son or daughter, spouses losing their loved ones in the most brutal way imaginable.

And it is about a savage loss inflicted on the entire United Nations family. From UNDP to UNIDO, from ILO to UNAIDS, from UNFPA to WFP and UNHCR -- our colleagues worked at the United Nations in Algiers not to pursue a political mission, far less to promote the interests of one group of nations or peoples over those of another. They were there to work for development, support sustainable industrial growth and promote employment and training. They were there to fight AIDS, advance women’s health and meet the needs of refugees. They were there to help build better lives for the men, women and children which the UN exists to serve.

It is these colleagues and the innocent Algerians who died with them, not the suicide bombers, who are the true martyrs of the Algiers bombings of 11 December 2007.

It is the people of Algeria and of the entire Arab and Muslim world, just as much as the United Nations, who have lost men and women in this brutal and despicable deed.

For us in the United Nations, who must and will carry on the task of our colleagues, there are several lessons to draw from this tragedy.

We must do even better in explaining, to the public and the media wherever we have a presence, what we stand for and what we don’t, why we are there and who we are. I pledge to do all I can to spread that message far and wide.

We must take steps to improve our security worldwide. We will never be able to work completely free of threats to our safety, and we must never become a fortress, walled off from those we are there to support. But we will need to learn to balance our mission on behalf of other people with the need to protect our own. I pledge to work with Member States to make it so.

To this end, in light of recent events, after consulting with the countries concerned and receiving their understanding, I am setting up an independent panel of experts to review the safety and security of United Nations personnel and premises around the world. We are pursuing our consultations on the precise composition of the panel, and its terms of reference. We hope to finalize it very soon. Such a panel will address the strategic issues vital to UN staff security around the world.

Finally, we must ensure, when tragedy does strike, that the United Nations family finds ways to care for its own. Yesterday we completed 40 days of mourning after the loss of our colleagues. But our duty of remembrance and support to you, the family members, does not end there. I pledge to make sure that it continues.

When I visited Algiers a few days after the bombing last month, the Resident Coordinator presented me with the United Nations flag that flew outside the UN House at the time of the attack.

Many of you, the family members, were there when it was taken down and presented. You remember what a profoundly emotional moment it was for all of us.

You know that the explosion ripped the fabric of the flag itself into tatters. And as all of you will see when I unveil the flag in a moment, only a few of the original pieces are left intact today.

Yet the symbol it carries -- the symbol that for more than 60 years has carried such hope for millions of people around the world -- stands proud and unbowed. It stands for the sacrifice of our colleagues. It stands for our determination to persevere.

Let us honour this flag and our fallen friends by redoubling our efforts -- by building a stronger United Nations for a better world.

Let us strive to be worthy guardians of their memory and of their legacy.

I will now unveil the United Nations flag of Algiers.

Thank you very much, and God bless you all.