Honouring lives lost in the service of human rights

UN Human Rights staff gathered at the Geneva headquarters on World Humanitarian Day to commemorate colleagues who lost their lives while working in the service of the United Nations and human rights.

Fourteen years ago, on 19 August 2003, a terrorist attack at the UN headquarters in Baghdad claimed the lives of 22 UN workers, among them UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

"They were remarkable people, who with simple and selfless courage stood up for people's rights. All of us, wherever we are, will always mourn them, and the many other colleagues who have been killed or wounded in the course of their work," UN Human Rights Chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said in a video message to staff.

Those who perished on that fateful day were commemorated by their family, friends and colleagues at OHCHR’s annual rite of remembrance.

"You were our husband, our wife, our father, our mother, our son, our daughter, our brother and our sister," said Laura Dolci-Kanaan, who lost her husband Jean-Sélim Kanaan in the Baghdad attack. "Since that tragic Tuesday in August, we have had to learn to live without you, to see seasons pass and your children grow despite your absence, in your absence. We have missed you and loved you every single day for the last 14 years."

Dolci-Kanaan has called on the international community to recognize the severe degree of suffering, both physical and psychological, inflicted on victims of terrorism. "Terrorism victims should no longer be an afterthought, but rather included in counterterrorism strategies and programs, at the national and international levels," she wrote in an OpEd published in the Washington Post. "Today every country is a potential target of terrorism, so every country should establish a national support program to assist victims and their families."

The UN Human Rights Office also paid tribute to colleagues lost in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and Rwanda, as well as in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

"We mourn the loss of our fallen colleagues, and we honour their work, their courage and their dedication to the cause of peace, equality and justice," said Peggy Hicks, director of the Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division.

"They continue to inspire us as we follow in their footsteps to serve these same values."

21 August 2017

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