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Memorial Ceremony at OHCHR in remembrance of those killed in the service of human rights
Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet


19 August 2018

Dear Mrs. Vieira de Mello,
Your Excellency, Ambassador Alkhateeb,
My dear colleagues,

This is a solemn and painful day.  We have come together to remember the 22 colleagues killed in the Baghdad bombing 16 years ago, and the many others who have been killed in the service of human rights.

We honour the courage and commitment of all those who have acted to protect the lives of others, and we renew the fellowship which bind us together as a family, with shared values and goals.

We will never forget the selflessness and dedication of Sergio Vieira de Mello, his team, and the many other staffers who have been killed or wounded in attacks around the world.

With us in this ceremony, here and around the world, stand many survivors of the Canal Hotel bombing: Mona Rishmawi; Shawbo Taher-Al-Talabani; Adam Abdelmoula; David Marshall, Dhafer Al Hussini and Carole Ray who will forever grieve their fallen team-mates. My thoughts go also to Laura Dolci Kanaan and her son Mattia-Sélim, who was just 3 weeks old when his father was killed.

The men and women of this Office honour the legacy of those whom we have lost, by living up to their example.

We have promoted peaceful resolution of conflicts, sustainable development, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. We have prevented violence and hatred.

We have saved lives.

I know that this work means that many among us have endured sacrifices and hardship, in contexts that are dangerous and unstable.

We need to do everything we can to mitigate that burden. But it cannot be eliminated: it is an intrinsic part of the job we have chosen to do.

Protecting the rights of people, who are at risk of suffering deprivation, discrimination, oppression and other forms of injustice, means that we step up when they are in danger. We stand alongside them. We push forward and raise our voice to ask for change. We may be called upon to confront powerful interests – and even threats.

In going out to help the world right the wrongs that are suffered by so many women, men and children – the staff of this Office are doing essential, principled work.

For many of us, this is the work of a lifetime – an opportunity to help transform the lives of many people, and a gift, which motivates and gives purpose to our existence. We know that we are striving to enable a safer, more equitable, more peaceful, more sustainably productive global community.

In doing that work, the staff of this Office may face danger.  Just over a week ago, a bomb exploded outside a Benghazi supermarket in Libya, claiming the lives of three (3) UN staff members. A staff member working for the Human Rights Component of the Peacekeeping Mission was among the injured.  I reiterate my condolences to the relatives of the victims and wish a quick recovery to those injured.

As leaders and managers, we need to do everything we can to minimise that danger. We have a duty to protect you from harm, both in terms of physical assaults and emotional trauma, whether you are at headquarters or in the field.

Your work and expertise are precious to us. You are precious to us.

The United Nations asks that each of us give the best of ourselves to our jobs. But we also need to take the best care we can of our colleagues. I am absolutely committed to ensuring that appropriate counselling and care is available to every one of you – free of any stigma – to help with recovery and resolution of trauma, and to support your well-being, so that we can all continue our challenging and valuable work.

I also want to say today that I am deeply moved, and deeply proud, of the courage and dedication so many of you have shown.

As we stand in memory of our fallen colleagues, I thank all of you for your service. Thank you Annie, thank you Ambassador for being with us today. From this painful symbolic representation of the never-ending grief we suffer from this loss, I hope we can draw the strength to renew our commitment to building a world where violence can be replaced by respect for human rights, human dignity, equality, and justice.