SECRETARY-GENERAL PAYS HOMAGE TO NINE UNITED NATIONS WORKERS KILLED IN CRASH OF SWISSAIR FLIGHT 111

SG/SM/6696
11 September 1998

SECRETARY-GENERAL PAYS HOMAGE TO NINE UNITED NATIONS WORKERS KILLED IN CRASH OF SWISSAIR FLIGHT 111

11 September 1998


Press Release
SG/SM/6696


SECRETARY-GENERAL PAYS HOMAGE TO NINE UNITED NATIONS WORKERS KILLED IN CRASH OF SWISSAIR FLIGHT 111

19980911 Tragedy Gives Occasion To Reflect on Work Of 'United Nations Family' in Fight for Good, Peace and Life

The following is the text of the statement given today by Secretary- General Kofi Annan at the memorial service for the victims of the Swissair flight 111 air crash:

We have gathered today to pay homage to irreplaceable colleagues. Ingrid Acevedo, of the United States; Ludwig Baumer and Joachim Bilger, of Germany; Catherine Calvet-Mazy, of France; Pierce Gerety, Jonathan Mann and Mary-Lou Clements-Mann, of the United States; Ahamad Omran, of Chad; and Yves de Roussan, of Canada. We will not see their like again. I would like to ask you to join me in observing a minute of silence in their memory.

Some of their families and friends have come to join us today. Our hearts go out to you, first and foremost. We share your grief all the more because the deaths of these nine exceptional people -- on a flight so familiar to many of us that we called it "the United Nations airbus", come as a deep blow to their other family: that which we call the "United Nations family". And the loss of these individuals who worked so hard to ease suffering, and did so much to make this world a better place, are a loss to all of humankind.

It is some measure of the impact of their passing to see how the media reported it. The USA Today said some of the world's best were on board. The New York Times, in paying tribute to the achievements of each one of them, wrote that the tragedy claimed "an uncommon number of lives of dogged humanitarianism".

The Times added that the flight "took a contingent of United Nations workers settled into a flight as familiar and reassuring to them as the evening commuter train, people who intrepidly hopscotched across the tender borders of war-torn nations, but met their end near a tranquil fishing village".

- 2 - Press Release SG/SM/6696 11 September 1998

Such a bereavement seems so meaningless to us that we risk descending into despair. But, if we were to seek to find a meaning to it, it would surely be this: that the tragedy gives not only us, but the rest of the world, an occasion to reflect upon what we do as members of this vast and varied family that makes up the United Nations, and to ask ourselves again why we do it.

It would be immodest to claim that our work is to save humankind, but it is appropriate to say that we seek to build defences against disease, poverty, injustice and destruction.

It would be boastful to state that our actions change the course of history, but it would be wrong -- and just as destructive -- not to recognize that our work does have importance and does make a difference.

As we have come under criticism in recent years from those who may not understand what we do, we have been singularly blessed in the gift of colleagues such as those we honour today -- for they provide an exemplary sense of our mission.

You have only to look at the lives of these nine -- indeed, some of the world's best -- to understand what the United Nations is and does when it is at its best.

Friends, there is never any one moment when we can declare victory in the fight for good, for peace, for life.

There is only an ongoing process in which we can take action for what is life-enhancing. Since the signing of the United Nations Charter 53 years ago, we remain undefeated only because we have continued trying. And so we must carry on that work wherever we can make a difference; no matter how great the risk; no matter how absent the immediate reward; and, sometimes, with only the wings of faith and hope to sustain us.

These colleagues will be remembered for doing just that. Our thoughts and prayers go today to their families and friends, whether they be with us here or halfway across the world. Your hurt is our hurt. Our prayers go to the men and women who risk their lives in the field every day. But our prayers also go to the hope that the example set by those who perished in this terrible accident will provide us with a lasting legacy. I ask you, therefore, to join me in one prayer above all: that they will know, wherever they are, that their work on behalf of the United Nations, and in the cause of building a better world, will not have been in vain; and that we will always carry on the work of these souls borne on wings. Thank you all.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.