Secretary-General's remarks at Annual Memorial Service in Honour of Fallen Staff, with a Special Tribute to Victims and Survivors of the Canal Hotel Bombing in Iraq
New York, 19 August 2013
This sad date is carved in the collective memory of the United Nations family.
Ten years ago, 22 servants of peace, 22 cherished colleagues, 22 sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, were killed in the worst terrorist attack the United Nations has ever experienced.
The incomparable Sergio Vieira de Mello, so many other inspiring men and women - we mourn them still; we honour them today; we will never forget. We honour them today. This date now rightly enshrined as World Humanitarian Day.
The lives of the survivors of the Canal Hotel attack were changed permanently that day.
That horrible August 19th in Baghdad also brought displays of remarkable heroism. Amid overwhelming sadness, fear and confusion, our UN staff were there – ready to work, ready to help each other, ready to continue serving the people of Iraq.
They showed the United Nations at its best. I pay tribute to all those courageous colleagues and friends.
UN personnel continue to face grave peril.
Today we honour the victims of the Baghdad bombing – and 30 more colleagues who perished in the past ten months alone. We also remember the thousands of other UN staff members who, over the years, have given their lives while serving peace.
Civilian, military and police personnel from the Secretariat, funds and programmes.
Women and men; teachers, doctors, drivers, assistants, translators – they were all humanitarians.
Caught in crossfire. Ambushed. Abducted. Victims of other dangers, including natural disasters, that they braved because they wanted to help others.
Let us also remember others who go to the frontlines with us such as journalists and NGOs.
Their killers must be brought to justice.
There have always been dangers in our mission for peace.
But today, even as we strive to improve our readiness and response, the attackers who target us have grown more sophisticated, more brazen and better armed.
We have learned from our losses. We are changing the way we operate around the world.
We have strengthened the safety and security management system.
We have put new emphasis on training, made stand-by arrangements with medical service providers, and increased the availability of trauma counselling.
We are doing more to address the needs of injured staff, including for those who may need placement in different posts. They have lived through traumatic events. They may need psychological and social support. They deserve help in settling claims.
We also recognize our obligation to stand side-by-side with families of the victims in their long journey to healing. It is our duty to provide comprehensive and caring assistance, and not to compound emotional and physical wounds with bureaucratic gaps and insensitivities.
Our response has come a long way.
Our challenge remains: to be where we must be for our essential work, while reducing risk and holding Governments to account in supporting our efforts.
I would like us to observe a minute of silence in honour of colleagues who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving the United Nations. Please rise.
[minute of silence]
Thank you. Please be seated.
Our blue flag may be tattered at times. Already this year, more of our colleagues have been killed than in all of 2012.
These were attacks on the United Nations – but they were also attacks on the people we serve: the children who need vaccines, the mothers who need health care, the families who need protection and support.
Our colleagues have lost their lives, but their spirit to help others lives on – at our ceremony today, and throughout the year.
We will pay our most meaningful tribute to them by carrying on their work.
I thank you.
Statements on 19 August 2013
- New York, 19 August 2013 - Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Sinai/Egypt
- New York, 19 August 2013 - Secretary-General's message for World Humanitarian Day
- New York, 19 August 2013 - Secretary-General's remarks at Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict