Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the memorial service for Babatunde Osotimehin, the former Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in New York today:
The news of Dr. Babatunde’s sudden death last week devastated our United Nations family. Today we mourn this heartbreaking loss. And we remember his inspiring life.
Babatunde was completely devoted to the cause of women and girls — especially those who are most marginalized.
He was driven by the conviction that every single family on Earth should be free to decide on the timing and spacing of their children. That no one would suffer from harmful traditional practices. That there would be no more female genital mutilation. No more prenatal sex selection. No more child brides. And no more maternal deaths. Babatunde worked day and night to achieve this just future.
Let me share just one small anecdote that offers a window onto his dedication.
When he was appointed Executive Director of UNFPA, he was due to start at the beginning of 2011. 1 January was a Saturday, so his staff suggested that they put out a press release saying he would be in the office as of 3 January. As a matter of fact, that is what happened to me when I became Secretary-General.
But he completely dismissed the idea. He was ready to start on the first. And he did go into the office that day and stayed through the holiday weekend.
Babatunde embodied that ethic of service throughout his term — working every day to help people who were suffering.
He was a powerful voice shaping the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
He continually made UNFPA an even more effective organization that stood as a respected international authority on sexual and reproductive rights. His loss is felt most deeply by his family and by the staff of UNFPA. But his passing is also a loss for the world.
The name “Babatunde” means “father comes back”. Though he is now gone, I have no doubt this father will come back every time we speak out — as he did — for women and girls.
Babatunde will be with us every time we champion the rights of individuals and families of all kinds. He will live in our hearts as long as we carry on his fight for justice — for a better world for all people.
Let us honour his memory with the actions Babatunde would have wanted us to take — actions for the sake of others and especially women and girls.