Remarks at Wreath-Laying Ceremony for Fallen Peacekeepers
New York, 27 May 2011
Dear colleagues and friends,
This corner of the United Nations has become a place to mourn our losses, from the killing of Count Folke Bernadotte in 1948 to our colleagues killed in Baghdad in 2003 and others since then.
This year is not even half over and already we have experienced so much loss:
- the brutal attack on our compound in Afghanistan, which took seven lives;
- the plane crash just days later in Congo which claimed 32 people;
- staff deaths within the same two weeks in Haiti, Sudan and Côte d’Ivoire;
- and others around the world.
The victims came from all over the United Nations system. They were military, civilian and police, UN volunteers and national staff.
They had different responsibilities, nationalities and interests. But they shared an abiding belief in the principles of the United Nations Charter. They put their lives on the line so that others could have a safer and brighter future.
When I get the news – that a plane is down, that a staff member has been killed, that someone has been kidnapped – I immediately wonder: who do I know working in that duty station? When was the llast time I was there? I can picture the scene all too well.
When the list comes in I am often not familiar with the names. But on a more fundamental level, on a human level, I do know them. They are part of the United Nations family. They are part of our family – yours and mine.
Sometimes, of course, I do recognize names on the list. They are much more than names to me, and I know they are to you. They are people I remember by their laugh, by their intelligence, by their character; the strong character that led them to a life of public service.
That was the case last year when the earthquake hit Haiti and more than 100 UN staff members died. I am sure many of you lost friends. I share your sorrow, because I did too.
Every year at this time we remind ourselves that the sacrifice of our fallen colleagues only has meaning when we carry on their work.
This year I simply want to repeat the tremendously moving words I heard our UN envoy in Afghanistan tell his staff after the atrocious and unforgivable attack in Mazar-e-Sharif.
Staffan de Mistura had the sad duty to call the families and offer condolences. One man said to him, “Can I ask you something?” Staffan said, “Of course, anything.”
Here is what the man said. He said, “Don’t abandon Afghanistan.”
That was his wish.
That is also a message for all of us, today.
We must reduce the risks. We must protect our staff members. We must do everything we can to ensure safety – in helicopters and on land, in compounds and in the field on every possible front.
After we have taken all the measures we can, we get to work.
We continue in Afghanistan, Haiti and Sudan. In Timor-Leste, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Where the United Nations is called to serve, we serve with pride and courage.
Please join me in a moment of silence in honour of the memory of all those who lost their lives in the service of peace.