19 August 2014
My dear friends and colleagues,
On this day eleven years ago, members of the staff of our Office were deliberately targeted and murdered in an attack on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. It was a terrible blow that took the lives of many remarkable people – true human rights workers, driven by a selfless and restless passion to devote their lives to freeing others from want and from fear.
We grieve the departure of those 22 men and women. Among them was Sergio Vieira de Mello, a brilliant and thoughtful High Commissioner for Human Rights who, following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, was asked by Secretary General Kofi Annan to serve as his Special Representative there, to help bring reconciliation to a country torn by violence and hatred.
Time after time, we see similar acts of simple and unselfish courage by UN and NGO staff. They deliberately choose to walk into situations of intense volatility, discomfort and danger – places where many other people would certainly not choose to go. They do this in order to mitigate oppression, repair disaster and heal the scars of conflict. The motivations of these humanitarian workers are the universal values that underpin the work of the United Nations: justice, freedom, human rights, safety, integrity and the embrace of human diversity. They seek to improve the human condition, so that all human beings may live in freedom, equality and dignity. And their work is impartial, performed on the sole basis of need, without regard to ethnic divisions or other forms of discrimination.
As I look around this room, and reflect on the many field visits I have made to the far-flung offices of OHCHR, I realise how many staff-members among us embody those values. I am proud to have worked with such a remarkable team of people, and I am moved by the hardships and hazards so many of you endure. May all of you continue to thrive as you perform the vital work of this Office.
UN staff, aid workers, journalists and medical personnel are increasingly becoming deliberate targets for attacks and abductions I welcome UN’s changed approach of seeking to maintain operations by emphasising “how to stay” rather than a “when to leave” approach to security.
Today, on World Humanitarian Day, we mourn colleagues from OHCHR and throughout the UN who have lost their lives in the course of humanitarian work, in Baghdad and also in Afghanistan, Algeria, Gaza, Haiti, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, Somalia and elsewhere. We pay tribute to their sacrifice. We honour their dedication and the cause for which they worked.
We also embrace the survivors and all those who bear the physical and psychological scars of attacks – not only of the Iraq bombing, but more recently colleagues who survived abduction by armed rebels in Central African Republic, and UNMISS colleagues in South Sudan – who not only survived attacks, but also helped shelter tens of thousands of internally displaced people from the bloodshed.
Our thoughts must also go to the Iraqi people, as well as to those in other parts of the Middle East and worldwide who are victims of armed conflict and instability. Today, as we mourn Sergio and the colleagues who perished with him, we reaffirm our own commitment to pursuing their ideals by continuing to protect and promote the human rights of all – no matter where they are.
Thank you. Our colleague Mona Rishmawi will now read a poem by Isel Rivero in memory of Nadia Younes, one of those who died in the Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad.