‘The ache in our souls is almost too much to bear,’ Annan tells grieving UN staff

Annan signs condolence book at UN Headquarters

21 August 2003 – Declaring “the ache in our souls is almost too much to bear,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan sought today to console the grief of the United Nations family worldwide with a message of sheer determination to carry on undaunted by the deadly terrorist bombing Tuesday of UN offices in Iraq.

“If there is one way to honour the memory of colleagues murdered in the line of duty, it is to carry on with our work, determined and undaunted,” Mr. Annan told a memorial meeting of staff at UN Headquarters in New York, transmitted live by videoconference to UN offices around the world.

“The United Nations will not be reckless. Nor, however, will it be intimidated. The service of the UN is not simply a job. It is a calling, and those who have attacked us will not deflect us from it. We shall find a way to continue our work – that is, to continue helping the Iraqi people to rebuild their country and regain their sovereignty, under leaders of their own choosing,” he added.

As he mourned the death of Sergio Vieira de Mello, High Commissioner for Human Rights and his Special Representative for Iraq, and the others killed in the Baghdad bombing, the Secretary-General stressed the importance of the spirit of family among all UN staff.

“There are many implications to be considered. But today we come together as a family – to grieve, and to pay tribute to those we have lost. As a family we must take time to mourn our dead,” he said, adding that the overall death toll of 22 international and national staff was likely to rise since some injured are in critical condition and others are missing, perhaps buried under the rubble.

To the Baghdad staff, he declared: “We cannot know the shock you feel. We can only say ‘thank you’ for the tremendous fortitude you are showing in the midst of this terrible misfortune. Your work has been a source of great inspiration to all of us, and most of all to the people of Iraq.”

Praising the devotion of all the victims, whatever their function or national origin, Mr. Annan said: “Whether clerical worker, lawyer, driver or special representative, Iraqi or international, each of these men and women made a unique and invaluable contribution to our work.

“Each was committed to the human rights, sovereignty and well-being of the Iraqi people. And many had served the needs of other peoples, too. Each braved hardships, set aside longings for home or for a quiet life, and conquered their fears in order to help others overcome an era of terrible suffering. Each showed the world the caring, principled face of the international civil service. Each gave us something to be proud of,” he added.

Describing the attack as “more deliberate and vicious than anything that has been directed at us hitherto,” he said: “Today our hearts are heavy with loss. Our senses reel from the sights and sounds of one of the darkest days in the history of the United Nations. Even now, two days later, the images continue to come at us.”

The meeting, which ended with a minute’s silence, was the latest in a series of mourning ceremonies for the victims of the bombing, following a candlelight vigil last night near UN Headquarters in New York, which the Secretary-General also attended.

Listen to UN Radio report

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