New York

19 August 2014

Secretary-General's remarks at event marking World Humanitarian Day

Eleven years ago today, a massive truck bomb tore through United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. The blast killed 22 people, including Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello.

The Canal Hotel attack violated every principle of humanity and solidarity on which this Organization is founded.

On World Humanitarian Day, we remember Sergio Vieira de Mello and all humanitarian aid workers who have paid with their lives and their health while helping people in need.

Despite our best efforts, attacks on humanitarian workers are increasing. Last year, more than 150 aid workers were killed – the highest number since we began keeping records. More humanitarian workers were kidnapped or seriously injured than ever before.

In the past few weeks alone, the United Nations and our partners have lost dozens of staff working in Gaza and in South Sudan.

This is an outrage.

Attacks on humanitarian workers are attacks on humanitarian aid itself. They force aid agencies to cut back their efforts to help the most vulnerable people.

They leave children unvaccinated, the sick and wounded untreated, and people forced from their homes without shelter, food or water.

Humanitarian staff must be able to save lives without fearing for their own.

I pledge to do everything in my power to end impunity for these attacks.
Colleagues, friends,

Despite our anger and frustration, today is also a moment to celebrate the unsung humanitarians from every corner of the globe who perform great acts of kindness in their daily work.

I invite you to learn more from the Humanitarian Heroes website, where more than 300 aid workers tell their moving stories. 

I also encourage you to sign up as a Messenger of Humanity, and to do your part in advancing the great spirit of people helping people.

This is some of the most important work anyone can do.  But don’t just take my word for it.  Let me share with you the words of Gervais Beninga, a driver for the World Food Programme in the Central African Republic, where communal violence has left 2.5 million in need of urgent help. 

Gervais faces serious risks every day. Armed groups could loot his precious cargo.  He himself could be targeted for violence and intimidation.

Yet he is not deterred.  As he drives toward people in need, he is driven by the humanitarian imperative.    

As he has said, “I am proud when my fellow citizens, for example those in camps for displaced people, thank us for the food we give them. I became a driver because I like the idea of helping people.”

To Gervais, and to everyone working for the humanitarian cause, we say thank you.

Thank you for your commitment to humanity.