New York, 16 September 2014 - Secretary-General's remarks at wreath-laying ceremony commemorating 53rd anniversary of death of Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld [as prepared for delivery]
This is a solemn tribute to Dag Hammarskjöld.
But I hope we can do more than admire his legacy. I hope we can draw lessons for coping with the challenges that face our world now.
Just days after Dag Hammarskjöld’s tragic death in 1961, the General Assembly held a commemoration. Speaker after speaker, from all regions, declared that Hammarskjöld would serve as a standard for future leaders.
The representative of the United States, Adlai Stevenson, said, “Dag Hammarskjöld will always be with us as a reminder of the best that the United Nations can be and of the qualities which it demands of us all.”
I fully agree.
It is important to lay a wreath every year on this date – but it is more important, every day, to embody the principles that Dag Hammarskjöld lived and died for.
He left the United Nations many practical tools – including preventive diplomacy, peacekeeping and political deployments.
And he left us a clear vision that we can use to manage crises no one ever could have imagined in Hammarskjöld’s time.
His approach took the perspective of peoples who were suffering. His actions defended their rights above all. And his resolve was not affected by interference from even the most influential countries.
I reflected on how to live up to the spirit of Dag Hammarskjöld when I visited the genocide memorial in Rwanda, when I met with the mothers of Srebrenica, and when I walked along the barbed wire fence at Auschwitz.
In each of those places, I vowed that the United Nations would learn from the past and prevent such atrocious tragedies in the future.
We are doing everything possible to follow Dag Hammarskjöld’s example of standing up to powerful interests that threaten the rights and safety of less powerful individuals.
I have spoken out wherever and whenever I can against all forms of discrimination and violence. I am backed by United Nations staff members around the world, especially those serving on the frontlines of human misery.
Our new initiative, Human Rights Up Front, is designed to instil the principled bravery of Dag Hammarskjöld into every one of our personnel. To send the clear and strong signal that they must protect human rights first in the name of the United Nations and our common humanity.
I would like to think that Dag Hammarskjöld would have welcomed our decision to open United Nations bases in South Sudan to 100,000 people fleeing violence – saving countless lives. He certainly inspired that move.
No doubt we will face many more tests in the future.
Our peacekeepers and humanitarian workers are under constant threat. The forces of instability continue to target the United Nations. We will persevere with Dag Hammarskjöld’s courageous example in our hearts.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have been told that the novelist John Steinbeck once asked Dag Hammarskjöld how he could be helpful when he toured the world.
Hammarskjöld’s answer was simple. He said, “Sit on the ground and talk to people – that is the most important thing.”
Let us advance, as he did, from the ground up – responding to the worries and hopes of people so that we can transform our world.
Statements on 16 September 2014
- New York, 16 September 2014 - Secretary-General's remarks at wreath-laying ceremony commemorating 53rd anniversary of death of Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld [as prepared for delivery]
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