Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the wreath‑laying ceremony marking the fifteenth anniversary of the bombing of the United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad, in New York today:
Dear colleagues and friends, survivors and families, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I would ask you all please to observe a minute of silence in memory of our dear fallen colleagues.
We are here to honour those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the values and the Charter of the United Nations, and for the people of Iraq. Fifteen years ago this week, 22 of our colleagues died in a horrific terrorist attack on the Canal Hotel in Baghdad.
I was personally close to some of those colleagues, including their leader, the incomparable Sergio Vieira de Mello. He devoted a large part of his career to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), where I also worked years afterwards. But I had the opportunity to be in close contact with him during his time in East Timor, where he played an absolutely essential role in guaranteeing the freedom of the people of East Timor and a smooth transition for their sovereignty. I know that many of you also lost friends from across the United Nations family. This was a huge personal loss to so many of us and an even greater blow to the families of those who were killed.
This was, as our head of the Staff Council has said, the first mass terror attack on the United Nations. It was traumatizing for the whole Organization, and we learned some very difficult lessons. The mechanisms in place to look after survivors and the families of victims were inadequate, and it has taken too many years to improve them. Before and since that day, United Nations staff have been targeted by those who would like to weaken us and make us afraid to do our jobs. From Algiers to Kabul to Mogadishu, Abuja and beyond, terrorists have attempted to silence and to banish us.
I am committed to improving security for all United Nations staff, but our work will never be free from risk. The blue flag of the United Nations flies high because of the brave women and men who carry it to the farthest corners of the world.
The legacy of the humanitarian workers, the peacekeepers, the military and civilian staff who have given their lives, is lasting and will be ever‑present in our hearts. The best tribute we can pay them is to continue our work, to go to dangerous places with the aim of making them safer, to [stand] with those who are suffering and to bring them the relief they need. Today, we remember our friends and colleagues who did just that. And we commit to continuing their mission.