Secretary-General, at Headquarters Memorial for Fallen Staff, Announces Annual Ceremony to Honour Service, Sacrifice of Those Who Die Serving United Nations

21 November 2011

Secretary-General, at Headquarters Memorial for Fallen Staff, Announces Annual Ceremony to Honour Service, Sacrifice of Those Who Die Serving United Nations

21 November 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General, at Headquarters Memorial for Fallen Staff, Announces Annual

Ceremony to Honour Service, Sacrifice of Those Who Die Serving United Nations

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at a memorial for fallen staff, in New York on 21 November:

Thank you for being here.  I would like to acknowledge the Deputy Secretary-General, who is participating by video conference from Addis Ababa.  I also welcome all the other United Nations headquarters, duty stations and missions who are joining by video or webcast.

It has been a long time since we gathered in this way to remember and pay tribute to our fallen colleagues.  The last such full memorial was held in March last year, two months after the earthquake in Haiti.  We were all still in shock.  Even today, those losses still bring tears.

Many other beloved colleagues have died in the line of duty since then.  There have been ambushes on peacekeepers and assaults on humanitarians delivering food and medicine.  There have been airplane and helicopter crashes, acts of violence, acts of God.  And there have been more terrorist attacks on our premises — atrocious bombings and assaults in Kabul and Abuja — an unconscionable targeting of people working only to improve the lives of others.

We have mourned again and again.  We have flown our flag at half mast.  We have laid wreaths.  We have paused for moments of silence.  We have sought solace, and found strength, by turning to each other in our sorrow.  But we have also tended to hold such observances on a case-by-case basis.  This has left precious members of our extended family feeling alone or saddened by our inability to grieve for and salute those we lost together.

So, today we begin a new tradition.  Each year, we will have a memorial ceremony for all staff who die while serving the United Nations.  We will honour their service and their sacrifice.

Since March of last year, 195 men and women perished — 95 military personnel, 23 police, 77 civilians.  Today, we are also recognizing the two staff members who died in the attack on the United Nations Guest House in Kabul two years ago this month.

These 197 women and men gave themselves fully to this Organization.  We salute their commitment to our global mission.  We remember how they lit up our lives.  We offer profound condolences to their families and loved ones, whose pain remains all too fresh.

I would like us now to observe a moment of silence in honour of these cherished members of our United Nations family.  Let us stand and reflect.

Thank you.  Please take a seat.

It is a sad, but undeniable reality that people have died in the line of duty since the earliest days of the United Nations.  The first was Ole Bakke, a Norwegian member of the United Nations guard detachment, shot and killed in Palestine in 1948.  The toll since then has included colleagues at all levels.

Among them was my illustrious predecessor, Dag Hammarskjöld, 50 years ago.  Just last month, I made a pilgrimage to his gravesite in Sweden.  Hammarskjöld knew then, as we all know today, that risk is often part of the job we do.  In our battle for peace, the front lines are not comfortable homes or modern offices, but some of the harshest and most unstable environments on earth.

Our work for human dignity is often lonely, and almost always an uphill climb.  At times, our efforts are misunderstood and we are mistaken for the enemy.  There has been a clear erosion of respect for United Nations blue and our impartiality.

The challenges of ensuring staff security have grown more numerous and complex.  We continue modernizing our security operations, from infrastructure to threat analysis, training and protection.

We are strengthening what we do for families in the aftermath of death and disaster.  And we are pressing Governments to uphold their responsibility not only to provide security, but to prosecute those who target United Nations staff for violence.  Risk will continue to mark our path, but we are committed to doing everything we can to do the vital work that people expect of us.

Our fallen colleagues were wonderfully diverse.  But they were united by their belief in the United Nations.  They were like so many others I have seen, day in and day out, over the past five years.

United Nations staff gives the world daily profiles in courage and commitment.  I am thinking of the two security officers in Kabul who fought off attackers with every last bit of their ammunition and courage, saving the lives of many other colleagues.  I am thinking of the aid worker buried for days in the rubble in Haiti, who emerged wanting only to go right back to work.  I am thinking of the development experts in Nigeria, who never expected to have such darkness descend on their efforts to help the country improve public health and raise standards of living.

There are so many more like them, around the world — and like you, here in this room.  Immersing themselves in their work and their communities, they show the world the great, caring face of the United Nations.

Our best tribute to them, beyond today’s memorial, is to continue the life-saving and life-enhancing work for which they gave their lives.

May they all rest in peace and in eternity.   May our work for peace succeed in their name.

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