I am honoured to be here today on this solemn occasion.
Today, we posthumously award the Dag Hammarskjöld medal to 126 peacekeepers from 38 countries who died last year while serving under the United Nations flag.
I regret to say this is the seventh year in a row that more than 100 peacekeepers lost their lives. The risks that our peacekeepers face are growing steadily – from attacks by extremists and rebel groups to the threat of diseases, including Ebola.
Of all the ceremonies that the UN organizes, this is perhaps the most solemn and most difficult. But in many ways it is the most inspiring. The peacekeeping community gathers together to honour courageous men and women who lost their lives while defending the most vulnerable people in some of the most dangerous places on earth. Their sacrifice, and the way that they lived their lives, makes us all proud and spurs us on to work harder to ensure that their lives were not lost in vain.
UN Peacekeeping will continue to carry risks and sadly this will not be the last time we gather together to mourn. Our peacekeepers carry a heavy burden for all of us.
But their hard work and successes have made UN peacekeeping an irreplaceable tool for the international community to address countries in conflict and to help the millions of people affected by war. The fact that 125,000 peacekeepers serve today, an all-time high, is a true testament to the faith and confidence entrusted in them.
Among those honoured today are peacekeepers who lost their lives in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Mali, the Middle East, Liberia, Sudan and South Sudan.
41 of the peacekeepers honoured here today lost their lives in Mali, 28 due to acts of violence. We may be gathered in New York, but our thoughts are with our colleagues still deployed around the world.
When many people think of peacekeepers they often think of our heroic “blue-helmeted” military personnel. But those we honour today were also police officers, medical personnel, public affairs officers and national staff. They all played their own special role in our multi-dimensional peacekeeping operations which not only try to keep peace, but to also build it so that the countries don’t relapse into conflict.
Today, I offer my highest tribute to those we honour, and my sincerest condolences to their loved ones.
The medal bestowed today is named after Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, who was a true champion of peace and, like those we honour here today, gave his life for it. Let us honour his memory and theirs by working to ensure that the United Nations becomes an even more effective institution in bringing peace, security and prosperity to the peoples of the world.