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World Humanitarian Day
19 August

Photos of UN humanitarian assistance around the world Inaugural Observance of World Humanitarian Day - 19 August 2009

Statements

Secretary-General's Message

Today is the first World Humanitarian Day, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly.

It is, above all, a day on which we renew our commitment to help vulnerable, voiceless and marginalized people wherever they may be.  That is the abiding mission of the humanitarian community.

This is also a day on which we pay tribute to the legions of heroic humanitarian personnel. These men and women come from many backgrounds.  But they share a conviction that one person’s suffering is everyone’s responsibility.

The date of this observance marks the anniversary of the attack on UN Headquarters in Baghdad which killed 22 dedicated men and women, including the great humanitarian Sergio Vieira de Mello.

We continue to draw inspiration from their legacy, and remain determined to carry it forward.  The Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation is doing just that by establishing an annual prize in his name that will recognize outstanding achievements in the peaceful reconciliation of conflict.

Like Sergio and the other brave colleagues who lost their lives that terrible day, humanitarian personnel venture to troubled regions to help others.  For them, there can be no such thing as a forgotten conflict.

But to do that noble work -- to face down threats amid disaster and war -- they need our help.  They need us to work tirelessly for their safety, security and independence.

World Humanitarian Day is meant to shine a spotlight on people in need, to ensure they receive the assistance they deserve.  Let us redouble our efforts toward this goal.  Let us fulfill our humanitarian imperative.

Secretary-General's Remarks on the Launch of the First World Humanitarian Day

Following is the full text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks on the launch of the first World Humanitarian Day, today in New York:

This is a solemn day.

I know many of you here are humanitarians who have served around the world.

Many of you have risked your lives to help others.  Some of you have lost colleagues or loved ones.

Just one minute ago, I [observed] a minute of silence and paid my tribute to all our fallen distinguished colleagues 6 years ago in Baghdad, including Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello. Just yesterday, we again mourned the deaths of two Afghan United Nations staff members, along with more than half a dozen others killed in a suicide attack in Kabul.

Last year, more humanitarian workers were kidnapped, seriously injured or killed during violent attacks than ever before.  This is unacceptable.

Today, the first observance of World Humanitarian Day, we remember their sacrifice.

Today, we recognize the millions of people who count on us for their very survival.

The one billion people afflicted by hunger.

The tens of millions forced to flee their homes because of disaster and conflict.

The children who die from diseases we know how to cure.

The women and girls who are brutalized by sexual violence.

We need to tackle these problems at their root.

But until we do, lives will hang in the balance.  And the humanitarian community will be on the scene, rushing bravely towards danger, determined to help people in need.

In just a minute, we will see a powerful public service announcement produced by OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) to mark today’s observance.

I am sure you will all be moved, as I was, by the footage of Sergio Vieira de Mello mourning the death of humanitarian workers in Timor-Leste.  Like so many other great humanitarians, he and his colleagues faced threats day after day so that others could feel safe.

Today is the anniversary of the Canal Hotel bombing in Iraq which killed Sergio and 21 other people.

I am saddened that the violence continues, including an appalling string of attacks today in Baghdad which took the lives of scores of innocent people.

Each year on August 19th, we will honour the memory of fallen humanitarians.  We will pay tribute to the dedicated men and women who are out there among the vulnerable, providing hope and help.  And we will draw the world’s attention to the great magnitude of suffering in our world that needs our urgent attention.

For my part, I pledge to do all that I can as Secretary-General of the United Nations to help victims while protecting the security and independence of the people who work so hard to save them.

Message of H.E. Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann,
President of the United Nations General Assembly

We mark World Humanitarian Day in commemoration of the horrendous truck bomb attack on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad in 2003. An extraordinary UN humanitarian worker, Sergio Vieira de Mello, then the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights and special representative of the Secretary-General in Iraq, was intentionally murdered in that attack together with 21 other UN colleagues. The attackers wanted to send a clear message: humanitarian workers, helping the most vulnerable civilian populations suffering from conflicts and natural disasters, are now prime targets in conflicts that increasingly respect no rules.

Just two days ago, two more United Nations personnel, members of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, were killed in a car bombing in Kabul. As we reflect on the increasingly central role that humanitarian work plays in our societies, we must press back against those who want to disrupt the work of governments, of non-governmental organizations and the United Nations as we attempt to mobilize assistance for those most in need. We denounce the escalating attacks on humanitarian workers and demand that those responsible are brought to justice. We demand that States fulfill their obligations under international law to protect humanitarian workers and UN personnel, too many of whom continue to be harmed and even murdered, often with impunity.

If there is any message that I have tried to send during my presidency of the General Assembly, it is the essential and enormously powerful human dimension of the problems that we face and of the solutions we must find. We are all brothers and sisters and must care for each other accordingly. This, I believe, is the essence of humanitarianism.

Over the past year, the General Assembly has highlighted the essential humanitarian aspects of the crises the world is facing. Sometimes, in the hurry to find solutions, we forget that these crises are about people.

Currently we are focused on the economic and financial turmoil that has tipped tens of millions of people back into extreme poverty. And climate change, which is causing enormous hardships for people facing floods and desertification.

Slowly, however, we are coming to grips with the understanding that our problems are people-centered problems. We are seeing that our life styles and disregard for the Earth and for each other have created ongoing humanitarian crises, costing million of lives each year. We also see that, until we can find solutions, we must tirelessly mobilize our efforts to address emergencies and come to the aid of their victims.

Our challenge is to respond to natural and man-made emergencies – from Taiwan to Chad, from Gaza to Darfur, from Northern Pakistan to the Democratic Republic of Congo – while sustaining longer-term development efforts. Even as resources are strained and compassion fatigue overshadows donor response, we must step up both efforts. Humanitarian workers are essential to this work.

For these reasons I felt it was very important to appoint a special adviser for humanitarian issues in my cabinet, a first for this office. Among other assignments, I asked him to visit Gaza last February as I am particularly concerned about the ongoing humanitarian crisis that the people of Gaza continue to face in the aftermath of the Israeli devastating invasion earlier this year.

 It is crucial that the international community continue to support the work of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which remains the central humanitarian effort that protects 1.3 million people from the appalling threats of disease and starvation. Despite international demands, the economic blockade has not been lessened to any significant degree and the Palestinian population faces a winter of deprivation and hunger amidst a crippled economy. This cannot continue.

 We as an international community, including the United Nations, failed to protect the Palestinians trapped in Gaza and unable to escape from the overwhelming onslaught last December and January. We must not compound this collective punishment further by now failing to provide the humanitarian relief and reconstruction materials that residents in Gaza so desperately need. There should be no conditionalities. This mediaeval blockade must be lifted; and Gazans must be given the means to rebuild their shattered lives and stand, once again, on their own feet. For their part, UN Member States should demonstrate their resolve and commitment by supporting the efforts of UNRWA and other parts of the UN humanitarian family, ensuring they have the human and material resources needed to effectively carry out their noble and vitally needed mandates.

Unfortunately, these responsibilities and obligations are replicated each day in many other countries around the world as well. Let us remain determined to support and protect our noble humanitarian workers everywhere so that assistance to afflicted civilian populations is reliable, timely and effective. Let us, the United Nations and Member States especially, be accountable for these obligations.

Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva

Remarks by Mr. Sergei A. Ordzhonikidze
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
World Humanitarian Day
Parc des Bastions, Geneva
Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Distinguished speakers
Excellencies
Ladies and Gentlemen
Dear Friends:


It is a pleasure, on behalf of the United Nations family, to welcome you to the first World Humanitarian Day, which we are celebrating in Geneva – the world’s capital of humanitarian action – and worldwide.

Allow me, at the outset, to thank our Host Country for their contribution to this Day. It is another illustration of Switzerland’s strong humanitarian tradition.

It is very appropriate that we mark our inaugural World Humanitarian Day only a week after the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, which continue to play such an important role in the protection of human life and dignity in armed conflict. Both of these events are opportunities to commend the efforts of humanitarian workers across the world and to reflect on the significant challenges before us. These are challenges that we can only meet when all stakeholders work together – Governments, international organizations and civil society – and I am glad to see so many representatives of all these communities here.

Today, we also – with great sadness – honour the memory of the 22 outstanding colleagues who lost their lives in the bombing of the United Nations office in Baghdad six years ago. And we pay tribute to the victims and brave survivors of this and other attacks on our common humanity. We salute their contributions to our work for people in need, and we promise to continue to support them. All of them are heroes to the humanitarian cause and embody the spirit of the United Nations.

It is now my privilege to read to you the Secretary-General’s message for this Day, which goes as follows:

“Today is the first World Humanitarian Day, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly. It is, above all, a day on which we renew our commitment to help vulnerable, voiceless and marginalized people wherever they may be. That is the abiding mission of the humanitarian community.

This is also a day on which we pay tribute to the legions of heroic humanitarian personnel. These men and women come from many backgrounds. But they share a conviction that one person’s suffering is everyone’s responsibility.

The date of this observance marks the anniversary of the attack on UN Headquarters in Baghdad which killed 22 dedicated men and women, including the great humanitarian Sergio Vieira de Mello.

We continue to draw inspiration from their legacy, and remain determined to carry it forward. The Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation is doing just that by establishing an annual prize in his name that will recognize outstanding achievements in the peaceful reconciliation of conflict.

Like Sergio and the other brave colleagues who lost their lives that terrible day, humanitarian personnel venture to troubled regions to help others. For them, there can be no such thing as a forgotten conflict.

But to do that noble work -- to face down threats amid disaster and war -- they need our help. They need us to work tirelessly for their safety, security and independence.

World Humanitarian Day is meant to shine a spotlight on people in need, to ensure they receive the assistance they deserve. Let us redouble our efforts toward this goal. Let us fulfil our humanitarian imperative.”

That was the end of the Secretary-General’s message.

As the Secretary-General said, we all draw inspiration from our humanitarians, and I am glad that many of them are with us today, so we can show them our appreciation and gratitude.

Regrettably, the need for their remarkable commitment and compassion continues to grow faster than our ability to respond effectively. Climate change threatens to increase the frequency and magnitude of droughts, storms and heat waves, putting our poorest and most vulnerable fellow human beings further at risk. The effects of the economic and financial crisis, high food prices and the spread of infectious diseases also fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable. This amplifies the scale of humanitarian needs, while resources become scarcer.

Long-running and new conflicts take an unacceptable toll on civilian populations. As we celebrate also the International Year of Reconciliation, this is an occasion to reaffirm our commitment to bridging divides in war-torn societies for lasting peace. I have no doubt that the prize instituted in Sergio’s name will help to take forward such efforts. We must constantly strive to improve our emergency response, without losing sight of the fact that prevention at all levels has an even higher pay-off.

Today, we pledge to continue our humanitarian work for all those in need, and to do everything in our power to protect the courageous women and men who provide them with relief. And we vow to redouble our collective efforts to build a world free of poverty and war.

Thank you very much.

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