Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the memorial service for fallen staff, in New York today:
Each year we meet to pay tribute to our colleagues and friends who have lost their lives on United Nations duty. It is a sad reminder of the often perilous nature of our work. And it is a testament to the commitment of the thousands of women and men from around the globe who are prepared to risk all to promote peace and provide assistance to some of the world’s most vulnerable and needy people.
This year we honour 115 colleagues from 43 nations who lost their lives between January 2018 and March this year. Most were involved in peacekeeping, which faces increasingly complex and deadly challenges, and the vast majority – 103 of those 115 – were our African peacekeeping colleagues, and I am very grateful to Chairperson [Moussa] Faki [Mahamat] for his presence today with us.
This number is striking and is a stark testament to the commitment and sacrifices of our African partners to our joint endeavours toward global peace and security. We also lost 19 civilians from agencies, funds and programmes. And we remember with sadness our 21 colleagues who perished in the Ethiopian air disaster in March. Our deepest condolences go to all their families and loved ones, many of whom are present here today with us.
Please join me in a moment of silence as we reflect on their sacrifice.
[MOMENT OF SILENCE]
Our Organization, by its very nature, is compelled to operate in some of the world’s most dangerous and unstable environments. Our duty, therefore, is to mitigate, as far as possible, the risks our colleagues face, and to provide adequate support for bereaved families when the worst happens.
To that end, we are promoting better individual preparedness for crises and providing enhanced medical and psychological support to victims. We are working to speedily settle claims and we are providing more comprehensive counselling, care and assistance to survivors and families. But I am aware that there is always more we can do, and I am committed to ensuring our Organization reviews and constantly improves our practices related to the safety and care of staff.
Ultimately, the United Nations is about “We the peoples” – the people we serve. But today – and every day – we must also think of and support the people who serve – the courageous women and men, uniformed and civilian, who work under the blue flag in the world’s crisis zones. I am particularly outraged when our humanitarian and peacekeeping colleagues are directly targeted for the work they do. It is essential that we demand justice and accountability for what, in many instances, constitute war crimes.
When our colleagues pay the ultimate sacrifice, it is our duty to honour them and support their families. Today we mourn. But we should also be proud, for the colleagues we remember today died in the service of humanity – keeping the peace, providing humanitarian assistance and helping further the Sustainable Development Goals. On this solemn occasion, let us honour their memory by rededicating ourselves to the noble cause of promoting peace, prosperity and opportunity for every woman, man and child on the planet.