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World Humanitarian Day
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


19 August 2019

Director-General,
Distinguished panellists,
Excellencies and colleagues,

It is an honour to speak at this ceremony of tribute for humanitarians who have lost their lives in their service to people across the world.

As you know, it was on this day, 16 years ago, that Sergio Vieira de Mello – our acting High Commissioner, and 22 colleagues were killed in the Canal Hotel bombing on the UN headquarters in Baghdad. We will forever mourn their loss – as well as the loss of many other UN colleagues and aid-workers who have been killed in the course of their work. My thoughts go out particularly to the families of the UN staff who were killed or wounded by a car bomb in Benghazi earlier this month.

But our family extends well beyond international aid workers and UN staff.

I commend all those who work for the dignity and rights of others in this world. I mourn the deaths of all those selfless, generous, principled and humanitarians, and human rights defenders, who have been killed because of their work to provide life-saving services to other people – and to ensure respect for their rights.

This year, International Humanitarian Day is dedicated to women humanitarians.

So often, women are characterised as the victims in times of crisis. It is rare that we emphasize the role of women as first responders; as leaders within their communities; and as brave human rights defenders.

I especially want to recognize the women who work at the grassroots level.

In the current Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, women, as traditional care-givers, are deeply engaged in responding to family and community members who fall ill.

In every refugee crisis in the world – whether we are talking about people fleeing Syria, Somalia or Myanmar – we see women from neighbouring communities organising collective kitchens and shelters to care for displaced families.

These women are heroes – but too often, they are invisible heroes.
Women at the grassroots need to be actively included in the design and implementation of all humanitarian operations.

We also need to direct more support to grassroots organizations led by women.

Struggling to uphold the rights of everyone – even in times of conflict and disaster – constitutes one of the hardest tasks in the world. We are here to pay tribute to all the heroes whose lives have been cut short as they engaged in that exemplary work.

Their deaths demand that we redouble our efforts to prevent further killings and suffering.   

In solidarity with all their families and friends, I honour their memory.