New York

10 April 2013

Secretary-General's remarks at Commemoration of 60 years since Dag Hammarskjöld took office as Secretary-General [as prepared for delivery]

It is poignant that we gather here to remember Dag Hammarskjöld – who gave his life for peace – as more UN staff continue to die for the cause.

Just this week, a dozen staff were killed during an atrocious ambush in South Sudan.

The UN blue helmets responded heroically to this despicable attack. They showed true courage to the end.

The perpetrators must be punished for their crimes.

Today’s commemoration is a reminder of the dangers facing those who serve the UN. 

Since Dag Hammarskjöld’s death, thousands of other staff and peacekeepers have lost their lives while serving under the blue flag. But their legacy continues, thanks to the many others who carry on our collective work for peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank you all for being here.

I am especially grateful to the impressive experts on Dag Hammarskjöld who join us today.

I wish to pay special tribute to Sir Brian Urquhart, who lived the events that most of us have only read about.  You embody UN values and represent the best face of the Organization in a way that nobody else ever has. Thank you very much, Sir Brian, for your immense contributions to the United Nations – then and now. 

With all of you having such detailed knowledge of Dag Hammarskjöld, I must confess I struggled at first with what I could add to our conversation.

Then I realized that we are commemorating the moment of Dag Hammarskjöld’s inauguration. This is an event that I, too, experienced.

We can trace the history of the United Nations through successive oaths of office. Not only the Secretary-General but every staff member takes an oath. I recently launched an initiative for all staff to discuss what this means in organized sessions called “Leadership Dialogues.”

When Dag Hammarskjöld was sworn in, the General Assembly had only 60 Members. But this certainly did not mean times were simpler or easier. Over the course of Dag Hammarskjöld’s tenure, the Cold War was deep, many conflicts reached boiling points and the UN would add some 40 members, many after difficult liberation struggles.

He and I looked out at different Assemblies reflecting different worlds. But I can imagine that he might have asked himself many of the same questions I am facing today.

Questions about responsibility toward the millions of people who look to the United Nations for help in ending the misery of war, poverty and repression.

Questions about how to enable governments to see their national interests in the global perspective.

Questions about the lasting impact of this United Nations that we treasure so deeply.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the Fall of 2011, I travelled to Uppsala to lay a wreath marking the fiftieth anniversary of Dag Hammarskjöld’s death. I was especially moved to meet Swedish peacekeepers there who had served in the Congo. They told me about their utter sense of devastation after his plane went down in September 1961.

Many of you may have read the account of John A. Olver, the UN official who had the grim task of accompanying the remains back to the various home countries.

After that exhausting journey, he wondered to himself – as he put it – “whether the United Nations was a wonderful, dead dream that had received its final shattering in a fiery crash on a hill in the African bush.”

Just as he had this thought, he was surrounded by colleagues and friends from the Secretariat. It was then, he said, that he realized “the dream was far from dead and that it could never die.”

Our shared sense of mission was one of Dag Hammarskjöld’s legacies. Today’s 60th anniversary gathering recognizes this and his many other contributions.

But I also think of Dag Hammarskjöld on quiet days not marked on the calendar.

You may be surprised to hear me say that I feel particularly close to my predecessor not when I confront a crisis, but when I do calligraphy.

Although I am not especially good at it, I draw spiritual strength from the effort. Calligraphy is my chance to recover, to think, to meditate.

I am confident that Dag Hammarskjöld would understand.

As a deeply spiritual man, he knew that inner contemplation must accompany outward effort.

Hammarskjöld’s self-reflection led to selflessness. And his dedication to the United Nations and our world created the foundation that we still build on today.

Now we will have the pleasure of hearing his inauguration speech.  Many of us may have read it, but it is much richer in his voice. I am grateful to the Department of Public Information for preparing the valuable footage we are about to show.

You will see a man who maintains his calm even as the room around him explodes with applause on his investiture.

Let us watch in the spirit of reflection that Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld so valued.

Thank you.