Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour to be here today to present the Dag Hammarskjöld medal to the 128 men and women who lost their lives while serving under the UN flag.
These brave men and women made the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of peace. On behalf of the entire United Nations family, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of our fallen colleagues.
We also pay tribute to Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan, members of the Group of Experts for the Sanctions Committee, who were killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Peacekeeping has become increasingly dangerous and our peacekeepers are being targeted more and more frequently. Last year, 61 peacekeepers were killed in attacks -- the highest number in a quarter century. Many more perished in accidents or from sickness.
Those who died served as military, police and civilian personnel. Collectively and individually they had a profound impact on the communities they served.
Most were deployed far from home, while others served in their own conflict-affected countries as national staff. Every one of them made our world a better place.
Some peacekeeping missions bore a disproportionate share of the fatalities. In Mali, we lost 42 peacekeepers; 33 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 27 in the Central African Republic.
Some of the countries that generously contribute peacekeepers also bore a disproportionate burden. Tanzania suffered 20 losses, including 15 during one single horrific attack in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last December. I have just returned from Mali, where Chadian peacekeepers suffered 11 fatalities.
I offer my deepest condolences to all the affected countries, communities and families. I express my profound appreciation for your continued contributions to United Nations Peacekeeping, despite the inherent risks.
To the families of the fallen, there are no words that can adequately express our sympathies. But I assure you that the United Nations will forever remember and honour your loved ones.
I also assure you that we are working hard to make peacekeeping stronger, safer and more effective, through the Action for Peacekeeping initiative launched this year. I am committed to working together in strong partnership with Member States, to meet the scale of this challenge.
Coming from Mali, seeing the number of terrorist groups and criminal organisations operating in the territory where our peacekeepers are, it is clear for me that we need peacekeepers that are well-trained, well-prepared, well-equipped, well-supported, and at the same time with the right mindset to face the extremely challenging environments in which they will operate today. Peacekeepers with the strongest support from the whole of the international community - starting with the Security Council, with clear and focused mandates, as it is sometimes impossible for peacekeepers to do everything they are asked or expected to do.
As we remember those we have lost, we also reflect on what they have achieved for peace and stability around the world over the past seventy years. Thanks to their service and sacrifice, peacekeeping remains a defining activity for the United Nations and one of the strongest expressions of international solidarity and multilateralism. There is no better-known symbol of the UN than a blue helmet.
Dag Hammarskjöld paid the ultimate price for peace while he served as Secretary-General. He exemplifies the commitment we ask of all who serve under the United Nations flag. That is why each medal bears his name, together with the name of a fallen peacekeeper.
I now ask you to stand and join me in a moment of silence in honour of the fallen.
(Moment of silence)