Commemorating Fiftieth Anniversary of Dag Hammarskjöld’s Death, Secretary-General Praises Late Statesman as Tireless Advocate for Democracy, Peacebuilding

12 October 2011

Commemorating Fiftieth Anniversary of Dag Hammarskjöld’s Death, Secretary-General Praises Late Statesman as Tireless Advocate for Democracy, Peacebuilding

12 October 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commemorating FIFTIETH Anniversary of Dag Hammarskjöld’s Death, Secretary-General

Praises Late Statesman as Tireless Advocate for Democracy, Peacebuilding


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks as delivered to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Dag Hammarskjöld, today, 12 October, in Uppsala, Sweden:

It is with deep emotion that I stand by the graveside of my predecessor to pay tribute to him 50 years after his death.  I am honoured to do so before you, Mr. Mayor, and before distinguished members of Dag Hammarskjöld’s family.

Over the past few weeks, I have been honoured to participate in various commemorations of the fiftieth anniversary of Hammarskjöld’s untimely passing.  There have been eloquent speeches, stimulating discussions and insightful analyses of his leadership, legacy and achievements.  Many statesmen, including the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, have described well the accomplishments that serve us to this day.

We have discussed how Dag Hammarskjöld was the architect of peacekeeping as we know it today; how he designed the first complex peace operations, including what we know now as peacemaking and peacebuilding; how he pioneered the concept of the Secretary-General working with the Security Council to overcome deadlock; how, as problem-solver and mediator, he created the practice of direct, personal and quiet diplomacy; how he championed the concept of action taken on the basis of conviction and principle; and more than anything else, how he defined the role of United Nations Secretary-General and set a standard for the rest of us to aspire to.

The anniversary of his death has given us a valuable chance to remember these accomplishments — even more important, to share them with succeeding generations.

Today, in the stillness of this sanctuary, I have the chance to do something else, something which was also one of Hammarskjöld’s strengths:  to stand in peaceful contemplation; to reflect on what it means and what it takes to serve in the interest of the greater good.

As Hammarskjöld wrote in his personal reflections, published posthumously as Markings, and I quote:  "The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you hear what is sounding outside.  And only he who listens can speak."  End quote.

Today, we know that this voice within guided Hammarskjöld never to do what was expedient or popular always to do what he believed was right.  For that, he stands out among the leaders of the past century.

Those close to Hammarskjöld said he saw himself as a servant as much as a leader, and for that reason, he was followed by many.  For that equally, he stands out among the leaders of the past century.

This morning, as we stand in the ancient city of learning and enlightenment that shaped Dag Hammarskjöld from his earliest days, we are reminded of another profound characteristic of his:  the love he had for his own country, its traditions and its ideals, which inspired him to work in service to the world.

And so today, I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the people of Sweden for their unwavering commitment to the United Nations, 50 years after Hammarskjöld's death.  Your contributions to peacekeeping and the rule of law, to humanitarian efforts and human rights, to democracy and governance support, speak for a tradition of solidarity that is enshrined in the very identity of your nation.

Fifty years ago, Dag Hammarskjöld made the long and final journey home from Ndola, 5,000 miles way, to this resting place.  A quarter of a million Swedes gathered for a torchlight procession along the route his coffin took.  At Uppsala cathedral, 15,000 of his fellow Uppsalians came to say their farewells.  At the end of the service, church bells tolled across Sweden.  The country came to a halt for a moment of silence.  Before I ask you to observe a minute, I would like to introduce my personal reflection; personal anecdote.

Without knowing that one day, maybe 50 years later, I would become a Secretary-General, at that time I was a sixth grader in an elementary school in my country.  At that time in 1956, there was some democratic uprising in Hungary.  As the student chair at the elementary school, I read out in front of all the school children a letter appealing to then-Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, “Mr. Secretary-General, please help the people of Hungary so they can have freedom and democracy.”

I do not know whether he heard my appeal, but I am sure he had heard and he had acted, that is why people in Eastern Europe and Hungary are now enjoying freedom and democracy.

When I was elected, I was thinking what message I should send out to the world.  And in my acceptance speech in 2006, as recorded in the General Assembly record, I introduced this personal experience and anecdote.  And I said that while I served as Secretary-General, I hoped I would not receive this kind of appeal any more from young people around the world.

In reality, unfortunately I am still receiving those kinds of appeals from many people, particularly what we are observing in Arab [countries], in North Africa and in many parts of the world where people are oppressed, where people do not have freedom of expression, freedom of assembly.  I am speaking out again today and I will continue to do so to the leaders of those countries [to] please listen sincerely and attentively to the voices of people.  What are their aspirations?

We must all work together to uphold the fundamental principle of democracy so these people, and all people, men and women, countries big or small, rich or poor, can enjoy genuine freedom and people can live without fear.  This is what we have to do, upholding the torch Dag Hammarskjöld has left for us.  I am committed to that mission.  And I am very much humbled to serve as one of his [successors].

I would like to observe that moment of silence again today.  Let us join together in tribute to this giant among men whose life was too short, but whose legacy is eternal.

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