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Dag Hammarskjöld pursues efforts to encourage national reconciliation and to end foreign interference in the Congo. On the night of 17 September, he boards a flight to Ndola (in what is now Zambia) to seek an end to fighting in secessionist Katanga. 

On its final approach, the plane crashes. Dag Hammarskjöld is killed, along with seven other United Nations staff members and the Swedish crew of eight.

The issue of the Congo continued to dominate international affairs for the year 1961.

Since his capture in December 1960, Patrice Lumumba had been kept prisoner at Thysville. On 17 January, he was transferred to Katanga. The Katanga Minister of the Interior announced his escape on 10 February, and then his death on 13 February. 

Patrice Lumumba's murder was condemned throughout the world.  The Security Council met briefly on 13 February, and reconvened the meeting for February 15. On 14 February, the Soviet Union issued a statement calling for the dismissal of Dag Hammarskjöld. At the afternoon meeting, 15 February, (S/PV.935) [Chinese| French| Russian| Spanish] Dag Hammarskjöld made a long statement, where he recalled all the facts regarding the involvement of the United Nations in the Congo question, since 1960. He reiterated that he would abide by the decision of the Members of the Organization. A lengthy debate ensued which ended with the adoption, on 21 February, of resolution 161(1961), [Chinese|French| Russian|Spanish] by which the Council authorized ONUC to use force, as a last resort, to prevent civil war in the Congo. It urged that the various Congolese armed units be reorganized and brought under discipline and control, and urged the immediate evacuation of all Belgian and other foreign military and paramilitary personnel and political advisers not under United Nations command, as well as mercenaries. It also urged the convening of Parliament and the taking of necessary protective measures in that connection. 

The period immediately after the adoption of this resolution was a critical one for the United Nations Operation in the Congo. The situation was complicated by the continuing constitutional crisis, marked by the existence of several rival authorities in the country. The maintenance of law and order was the heaviest of all the tasks falling upon ONUC. 

The Secretary-General undertook intensive diplomatic efforts to bring about the withdrawal of the foreign military and political personnel. His position was that, while ONUC originated from a request by the Congolese Government, the purpose of United Nations intervention, as determined by the Security Council, was not to achieve the domestic aims of the Government but to preserve international peace and security. What the United Nations sought to do was to encourage efforts at reconciliation and to eliminate foreign interference. 

In April, the situation began to improve, first because of the increased strength of the Force, and secondly, because, after patient negotiations, ONUC reached an agreement with President Kasa-Vubu on 17 April for the implementation of the Security Council February resolution. The limited use of force, as authorized by the Council, was resorted to by ONUC at the beginning of April to stop the civil war, which was spreading dangerously in northern Katanga. 

It was at this point that United Nations troops intervened, stopped the gendarmes and established control of the area between Kabalo and Albertville.

After President Kasa-Vubu announced his intention to reconvene Parliament, on 12 May, ONUC spared no effort to help achieve this purpose. 

On 30 May, the Secretary-General delivered a lecture at Oxford University where he demonstrated the importance of an international civil service led by a Secretary-General with exclusively international responsibilities: "The International Civil Servant in Law and in Fact"

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Oscar Schachter, who worked closely with Dag Hammarskjöld in the preparation of the lecture, later noted: "That lecture was not a purely theoretical exercise. It was given at a time when  Hammarskjöld was under severe attack by the Soviet Union for an alleged lack of neutrality in his handling of the Congo crisis... Hammarskjöld who saw himself as exclusively guided by the ideals and principles of the United Nations and who had been almost universally lauded for his dedication and brilliance in pursuing those ends was then under vehement attack for bias and personal ambition. There was no doubt that he was deeply affected, and that he perceived the criticisms as an attack on his personal integrity... The Oxford lecture... in its defence of personal integrity against the claims of power... carries a powerful appeal even today. (Schachter in "Dag Hammarskjöld Revisited", 1983). 

In the Congo, Parliament reopened on 22 July with more than 200 - out of a total of 221 - members attending. 

On 2 August, Prime Minister Cyrille Adoula, at the request of President Kasa-Vubu, constituted a Government of national unity, which was unanimously approved by both Chambers (S/4913) [Chinese| French|Russian|Spanish]. With the act of approval of the national unity Government, the constitutional crisis was ended. 

In response to a letter from Prime Minister Adoula, the Secretary-General confirmed that the United Nations would deal with his Government as the Central Government of the Republic and would render to it whatever aid and support the United Nations was in position to give to the Congo (S/4923) [Chinese| French| Russian| Spanish]. The formation of the Adoula Government was of crucial importance in enabling the United Nations to proceed with the elimination of foreign elements.

On 24 August an ordinance was issued calling for the expulsion of all foreign officers and mercenaries standing behind the secessionist policy. Disorder occurred during the repatriation and the United Nations troops were violently attacked in Elisabethville (Katanga) by gendarmes led by non-Congolese personnel. 

In the morning of 13 September the Congolese Government requested a cease-fire, but attacks on United Nations troops continued. 

In the meantime, the Secretary-General had arrived in Leopoldville at Prime Minister Adoula's invitation to discuss future prospects of the United Nations Operation in what was hoped would be a new setting created by the completion of the principal tasks assigned by the Security Council and the General Assembly. He intended also to bring about a reconciliation between Leopoldville and Elisabethville. Confronted instead with a situation of confused fighting in Elisabethville, the Secretary-General devoted himself to the task of securing a cessation of the hostilities and achieving reconciliation among Congolese factions. In a quest of a cease-fire, he flew to Ndola (Northern Rhodesia) to meet Mr. Tshombé, the provincial president of Katanga. *

On this flight, on the night of 17 September, his aeroplane crashed and he was killed, together with seven other United Nations staff members, and the Swedish crew S/4940/Add.5 [Chinese| French| Russian| Spanish], S/4940/Add.9 [Chinese| French| Russian| Spanish]

Immediately upon receiving the tragic news, the United Nations appointed a Board of Investigation to clarify the conditions and circumstances resulting in the tragic death of Dag Hammarskjöld and members of the party accompanying him. (The Blue Helmets: a Review of United Nations Peace-keeping, pp. 182-192)

On 8 September, before leaving for his trip to Congo, the Secretary-General had addressed the staff for the last time on the occasion of Staff Day in the General Assembly Hall:
"I am happy to have this opportunity to meet with you today. Both in the world at large, and by way of repercussion of world events on the Organization, much has happened during the two years which have elapsed since the last Staff Day. 

During this period the General Assembly has met under most exacting circumstances and the Organization has had to undertake a major operation which in its magnitude and complexity has been quite unique in its history. As a result, the resources of the Secretariat have been heavily taxed, and I know that all of you have had to work under considerable pressure and that many of you have had to put in very long hours. 

Those of you who have responded to the call to go out to the Congo, mostly at short notice, have displayed your readiness often despite considerable personal and family inconvenience. Quite a few of those who went out to the Congo are now back in New York and their place has been taken by others. I hope that those of you who have had this opportunity of participating in the Congo operation feel as enriched by your experience as the Organization has been enriched by your contribution. 

I have publicly paid tribute to all those who have participated directly in the Congo operation; but tribute is due equally to those who stayed behind and did the backstopping from Headquarters. I therefore take this opportunity to record, and express, a deep gratitude to all of you for the way in which you have responded to the demands of the Organization. 

The general world situation and its repercussions on the Organization have unavoidably left their mark on the Secretariat. In particular the discussions in the last session of the General Assembly have raised far-reaching questions on the nature of the Secretariat. What is at stake is a basic question of principle: Is the Secretariat to develop as an international secretariat, with the full independence contemplated in Article 100 of the Charter, or is it to be looked upon as an intergovernmental - not international - secretariat providing merely the necessary administrative services for a conference machinery? This is a basic question and the answer to it affects not only the working of the Secretariat but the whole of the future of international relations. 

If the Secretariat is regarded as truly international, and its individual members as owing no allegiance to any national government, then the Secretariat may develop as an instrument for the preservation of peace and security of increasing significance and responsibilities. If a contrary view were to be taken, the Secretariat itself would not be available to Member governments as an instrument, additional to the normal diplomatic methods, for active and growing service in the common interest. 

I have dealt with this question at some length in various statements, most recently and fully in the introduction to the Annual Report. It is a question which the Secretariat itself cannot answer as it is up to the Member governments to decide what kind of Secretariat they want. But the quality and spirit of our work will necessarily greatly influence the reply. 

In a situation like the one now facing all peoples of the world, as represented in this Organization, it is understandable that staff members should sometimes feel frustrated and even depressed. In that they are not different from their fellow beings in other positions influenced by the trend of world events. There is only one answer to the human problem involved, and that is for all to maintain their professional pride, their sense of purpose, and their confidence in the higher destiny of the Organization itself, by keeping to the highest standards of personal integrity in their conduct as international civil servants and in the quality of the work that they turn out on behalf of the Organization. This is the way to defend what they believe in and to strengthen this Organization as an instrument of peace for which they wish to work. Dejection and despair lead to defeatism - and defeat. 

During this period of two years, one of the major changes affecting the Organization has been the introduction of many new Members, especially from Africa. The presence of these new Members is welcome, as it reflects the spread of independence and greater freedom, and as it greatly strengthens the Organization and its capacity for service, These new Members are entitled to get their fair share in the staff of the Organization. At the same time some of the older Members have shown greater interest than heretofore in the representation of their nationals in the Secretariat. 

These two factors have lent added urgency to a problem which affects every one of you, namely the problem of adjusting geographical distribution. It has been obvious to me that adjustments should be made as quickly as possible to the new situation on the basis of the present formula, and without waiting for the consideration by the General Assembly of a new one. It has been our concern to ensure that these changes should be carried out with the least possible adverse effect on the promotion prospects and other service rights of the existing staff. I have the feeling that on the whole it has been possible to strike an equitable balance. Special hardship aspects are still under study.

You are also aware that a number of important proposals dealing with salaries and allowances will be considered by the forthcoming session of the General Assembly. Some of these proposals have been based on the conclusions reached by the International Civil Service Advisory Board. Some others arise out of the recommendations submitted by the Expert Committee on Post Adjustments. 

Elements like salaries and promotion naturally are very close to all of us and their significance for the feeling of security and quiet of staff members is obvious. But the spirit of a corps like the United Nations Secretariat, as it develops within the framework set by working conditions, is finally determined by other factors. 

We all know that if we feel that what we do is purposeful, not to say essential for the progress of men and human society in a broader sense - yes, even if we believe that what we do is essential only for a small group of people and its future happiness - we are willing to accept hardships and serve gladly for the value of serving. This common truth naturally applies to this Secretariat as to any other group in which people work together for a common aim. Of course, this does not justify those who decide on the conditions of service of the Secretariat to take advantage of the international spirit of service and of the idealism which may be found within its ranks by maintaining less than fair conditions of work. A good worker should be treated on a basis of equity whatever the motives which guide or inspire him. But it does mean that for the staff members themselves, given the proper conditions of work, the ultimate satisfaction they derive from the work will depend on their personal engagement in it and on their understanding of the collective aim which the work is intended to serve and its significance for the world in which we want to live and which we want to see built for future generations. 

This leads me back to the international situation and to the role of the United Nations. It is true that we are passing through a period of unusual threats to human society and to peace. The dangers are too well known for me to add any comments here. If anything, you hear and see too much about them in the headlines of every paper. It is also true that the role of the Organization is necessarily a modest one, subordinated as it must be to governments, and through governments to the will of the peoples. 

But, although the dangers may be great and although our role may be modest, we can feel that the work of the Organization is the means through which we all, jointly, can work so as to reduce the dangers. It would be too dramatic to talk about our task as one of waging a war for peace, but it is quite realistic to look at it as an essential and - within its limits - effective work for building dams against the floods of disintegration and violence. 

Those who serve the Organization can take pride in what it has done already in many, many cases. I know what I am talking about if I say, for example, that short of the heavy work in which you, all of you, have had his or her part, the Congo would by now have been torn to pieces in a fight which in all likelihood would not have been limited to that territory, but spread far around, involving directly or indirectly many or all of the countries from which you come. I also know what the activities of the Organization in the economic and social fields have meant for the betterment of life of millions, and for the creation of a basis for a happier future. This is not said in a spirit of boastful satisfaction with what this Organization has been able to do - which, alas, falls far short of the needs - but as a realistic evaluation of the contribution we all of us, individually, have been permitted to make through our work for this Organization. It is false pride to register and to boast to the world about t he importance of one’s work, but it is false humility, and finally just as destructive, not to recognize - and recognize with gratitude - that one’s work has a sense. Let us avoid the second fallacy as carefully as the first, and let us work in the conviction that our work has a meaning beyond the narrow individual one and has meant something for man".

A Memorial ceremony was held in the General Assembly Hall for Dag Hammarsjöld and those who had died with him. The Philadelphia Orchestra played Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as it had done on United Nations Day 1960. The speech made by Dag Hammarskjöld on 24 October 1960 was played to a silent audience. 

* For additional information on the Congo and ONUC for 1961, please see UN Yearbook 1961.

Unless otherwise noted, the information included in these pages is based on the "Public Papers of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations: Volumes II-V: Dag Hammarskjöld", selected and edited with commentary by Andrew W.Cordier and Wilder Foote, Columbia University Press, 1974-1975.
Events of 1953 Events of 1954 Events of 1955 Events of 1956 Events of 1957 Events of 1958 Events of 1959 Events of 1960 Events of 1961