23 January 2008 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today honoured the 17 United Nations staff members who lost their lives in last month’s terrorist attack in Algeria, telling a memorial ceremony in Geneva that their deaths were a “savage loss.”
Speaking at the ceremony, held at the UN Office in Geneva, Mr. Ban said that he was “humbled by their courage, dedication and sacrifice.” The UN staff members were killed when a car bomb destroyed the offices of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and damaged those of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Algiers, the Algerian capital. A second car bomb exploded near a court building.
Following a minute of silence at the ceremony, the Secretary-General – who visited the bombing site shortly after the incident – said that the recent tragedy highlights the “acts of unbelievable courage and sacrifice performed in the face of evil and death,” stressing that the fallen staff members leave behind grieving children, parents and spouses.
“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,” Mr. Ban noted.
During the emotional event, the Secretary-General unveiled the tattered flag that had flown outside the UN offices in Algiers at the time of the attack, saying that it “stands for the sacrifice of our colleagues” and “for our determination to persevere.”
He told those gathered at the ceremony that several important lessons can be drawn from the Algiers attack.
“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,” Mr. Ban stated.
In addition, he underscored the importance of bolstering security for UN staff around the world. To this end, he has appointed an independent panel of experts to assess the safety and security of UN personnel worldwide, and said today that he hopes the composition of this team will be decided shortly.
In a press conference after the ceremony, the Secretary-General said the Algiers attack has “strengthened my resolve and commitment to work tirelessly” to curb terrorism.
He expressed sadness that the UN has become a terrorist target for the second time – a bomb destroyed the world body’s Baghdad headquarters in August 2003, killing 22 people, including top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.
“Primarily, the responsibility of protecting United Nations staff and premises falls on the host government,” Mr. Ban told journalists.
Clarifying “incorrect reporting” regarding the consultation process between the UN and the Government of Algeria, he said that he has held “extensive consultations” and has gotten the “understanding” of the countries concerned.
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