2 September 2008


2 September 2008
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

every possible measure will be taken to ensure staff are protected worldwide,

Secretary-General pledges in remarks at baghdad bombing commemoration


Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the ceremony to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the bombing of United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, in Geneva yesterday, 1 September:

May I ask all to rise and join me in a minute of silence.  Thank you, please sit down.

First, let me thank those who have travelled long distances to be here today with us.  I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of you before, but this is the first time that we are all here together.

This is a solemn gathering, but I hope it can also be an opportunity for us to look forward.

The bombing in Baghdad stunned me, even though I wasn’t with the United Nations at the time.  When the United Nations was hit again, last year in Algiers, I experienced the devastation at first hand.  It was heartbreaking.  But then you don’t need me to tell you that.  You know it all too well.

The past five years have been hard for many of you.  Reliving what happened.  Wondering why it did.  Thinking about whether and how it could have been prevented.

Today, my team from Headquarters will give you a full account of the status of the various investigations into the bombing, and will respond to all of your questions.  Do use this opportunity to get as many of the answers you need.  We owe you that much.

And rest assured that I have moved decisively to ensure that we take every possible measure to protect our staff around the world.

For now, let me just say a few words from the heart.  There have been many tributes to your loved ones.  Yet no words can do justice to what they gave us.  No acts can right the injustice of their deaths.

That they were each such exceptional individuals makes their absence even harder to bear.

But we have two precious heirlooms that our colleagues left us:  the memory of the lives they lived, and the power of the ideals they embodied.

The only way I can honour this legacy is to ensure that the United Nations continues to help the Iraqi people while protecting its staff -- there and everywhere.

Our work in Iraq continues on many fronts.  In the political realm, we are helping to seek a compromise on the impasse in Parliament.  We are addressing the sensitive issue of internal boundaries.  We recently announced, with the Government, a new strategy to help Iraq use more of its own resources for relief, reconstruction and development.  Just today, we took another step forward with the signing of an agreement paving the way for greater cooperation between Iraq and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development [UNCTAD].  I witnessed the signing between the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Supachai Panitchpakdi, and Mr. Raed Fahmi, Iraq’s Minister for Science and Technology.

Our Iraqi national colleagues work with 300 international staff on the ground, mostly in Baghdad’s Green Zone, though we have been increasing our numbers in the provinces.  With financial support from Member States and the Government, we plan to construct a larger, better-fortified compound that can safely house additional United Nations staff.

You will hear more about our way forward in Iraq from my Special Representative, Mr. Staffan de Mistura.

For now, let me say that I am determined to do all we can to prevent such tragedies from happening again.  We cannot eliminate risk, of course.  The world in which the United Nations operates is growing more dangerous, not less.

But we will do all we can to ensure the safety and security of United Nations staff.  After the December bombing in Algiers, we commissioned the Independent Panel on Safety and Security to do a worldwide review of United Nations security.  We shall act decisively on its recommendations.

We must also address the root of the problem.  Too many people in the world do not understand what the United Nations does, or its role as an impartial friend to all.  This remains one of our most significant strategic communications challenges.

The flag that flew outside United Nations headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August 2003 was badly damaged.  Today, it hangs in pride of place in the Visitors’ Lobby of United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Before I came here to attend this solemn ceremony, I paid my respects to the flag that flew outside UN House in Algiers, and which now hangs here in the Palais des Nations.  It was even more severely damaged than the one in Baghdad.

Yet the symbol of these two flags -- the symbol that for more than 60 years has carried such hope for millions of people around the world -- stands proud and unbowed.  It stands for the sacrifice of our colleagues.  It stands for our determination to persevere.

We who survive have a duty to honour this symbol and our fallen friends.  We will strive to be worthy guardians of their memory and of their legacy.  You can count on that.

Our commitment -- our pledge in the name of “we the peoples” -- must never change.  We will work every day to live up to the standards they set us.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.