Following are UN Secretary General António Guterres’ remarks at the annual memorial service to honour United Nations personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty from 1 January to 31 December 2020, today:
Dear Colleagues and family members,
We gather to remember and honour United Nations personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty over the course of last year. While we unfortunately cannot yet gather in person, this solemn ceremony powerfully reflects how those bonds transcend physical distance. We may not be in the same room, but we are together — with unity in purpose and solidarity in sorrow.
The year 2020 was like no other in the history of the United Nations. The world faced a merciless pandemic that continues to sow tremendous suffering. Millions of families lost loved ones. The United Nations family was no different.
This ceremony is an opportunity to recognize colleagues lost because of malicious acts, natural disasters and other incidents. In view of the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic and its extraordinary impact, this memorial service also honours all colleagues who passed from illness in 2020.
By doing so, we recognize colleagues who died from COVID-19, along with those whose illness may not have been recorded as COVID-19, but may still be related to it, and those who passed as the result of reduced accessibility to health care during the pandemic.
As a result, this year’s memorial service pays tribute to the highest number of colleagues lost in a single year. We honour 336 United Nations personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty and due to the COVID-19 and related circumstances between 1 January and 31 December 2020.
Those dear colleagues were a reflection of the diversity and richness of experience of the United Nations. They hailed from every corner of the globe — representing 82 nations in total. They devoted their careers to advancing the vision and the values of the United Nations — securing peace, promoting sustainable development, advancing human rights.
This ceremony is both a reminder of the risks inherent in carrying out that vital work, and an opportunity to recommit ourselves to that essential mission. All of those colleagues who lost their lives while serving our noble flag will remain in our hearts. We will never forget them. Please join me in a moment of silence as we remember their lives and service.
[moment of silence]
There are great challenges before our world. Great divides that require bridging. We live in a world in desperate need of healing and hope. The United Nations represents a measure of that hope. The colleagues we honour today helped bring that hope to life. They embodied the essence of multilateralism — people around the globe joining forces to build a better world.
In their name, we pledge to continue that work. We vow to continue supporting their families. And we commit as an organization to continue reviewing and improving practices related to safety and care of our staff. As we honour our dear colleagues, let us keep their memories alive through our work to build a life of dignity and hope for all.