Ten years ago, on 19 August 2003, the UN Headquarters in the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq, was bombed. Twenty-two staff UN members died, including the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello.
“That day, ten years ago, changed the way we operate,” said UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay during a memorial ceremony to honour staff members who have lost their lives while serving the cause of human rights. “It changed the way we think about ourselves, and it changed the way others perceive us. The veneer of inviolability, that had protected UN staff during many previous dangerous missions, was stripped away.”
“The date marks the atrocity in Baghdad, but the day commemorates all those who have died, and continue to die, working for the benefits of others,” she added.
The UN Human Rights office lost five staff members during an ambush in Cyangugu, Rwanda in 1997 and a colleague in Afghanistan, in 2011. Two other colleagues died in the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January 2010.
Human rights officers work in the world’s most volatile and dangerous environments to make the world a better place.
“Our work in the field really counts,” Pillay stressed. “All of us who have worked directly with victims of human rights violations and humanitarian crises, know that there is immense fulfilment as well as occasional dangers.”
“When we help to change a bad law, or to create a better constitution, or to jail a torturer or war criminal, we know that – whatever risks and discomforts we may face from time to time – our work is immensely worthwhile, and we can feel great pride in what we do, and what we stand for,” she said.
After Pillay spoke, human rights staff members took turns reading the names of the fallen. Readers included survivors and friends of the victims.
After a minute of silence, bouquets of flowers were laid at a memorial plaque outside the UN Human Rights office headquarters. Special music composed for the occasion by a UN human rights staff member was played during the ceremony.
A page on the website of the UN Human Rights office honours all staff members who lost their lives while serving the United Nations in the cause of human rights.
19 August has been proclaimed by the United Nations as World Humanitarian Day.
In memory of
Saad Hermiz Abona, Reham Al-Farra, Emaad Ahmed Salman Al-Jobory,
Raid Shaker Mustafa Al-Mahdawi, Omar Kahtan Mohamed Al-Orfali,
Leen Assad Al-Quadi, Ranilo Buenaventura, Sastra Chim Chan, Gilian Clark,
Joakim Dungel, Manuel Martín-Oar Fernandez-Heredia, Arthur Helton, Rick Hooper, Reza Hosseini, Ihssan Taha Husain, Jean-Sélim Kanaan, Christopher Klein-Beekman,
Lisa Mbele-Mbong, Jean Bosco Munyaneza, Agrippin Ngabo, Aimable Nsengiyumvu, Khidir Saleem Sahir, Alya Ahmad Sousa, Martha Teas, GrahamTurnbull, Basim Mahmood Utaiwi, Andrea Loi Valenzuela, Sergio Vieira De Mello,
Fiona Watson, Nadia Younes.
19 August 2013