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Memorial Ceremony at OHCHR in remembrance of those killed in the service of human rights
Statement by Michelle Bachelet,
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
19 August 2020


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My dear colleagues,

It is my honour to stand with you today on this day of remembrance, sorrow and resilience.

Today, we pay tribute to our 22 colleagues who lost their lives in the Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad in 2003 – including my predecessor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, a man who made remarkable contributions to world peace and human dignity.

And we honour the memory of the many others who have been killed over the years in the service of human rights worldwide.

This is also a day of commitment. Because there is no better way to honour the courage, sense of duty and sacrifice of our fallen colleagues than to recommit ourselves to the values and goals they held so dear -- in the knowledge that we are one sole humanity, bound by universal, invaluable and indivisible human rights.

To honour this commitment, and contribute to protecting the rights and dignity of the women, men and children most in need, means being prepared to meet many unforeseen challenges.

When we began 2020, none of us could possibly imagine where we would be right now. COVID-19 and its severe impacts on health, societies and economies threaten human rights, development and peace, amplifying or creating grievances and tensions. For months now, our front-line colleagues have been facing additional stress, and even danger, in the course of fulfilling their duties.

And yet, you have met these challenges by standing up for human rights, online and offline. I honour your work.

I know these are uncertain and troubling times. Travel restrictions are keeping some of our staff away from their families and in dangerous hardship posts or areas of high contagion risk. We pledge our full support to our colleagues who are helping to guide responses and recovery efforts; assessing the effectiveness and enforcement of COVID-19 containment measures; identifying the pandemic's impact on vulnerable groups and specific economic, social and cultural rights; and monitoring increases in stigmatization and discrimination.

Thank you for your service, as we strive to build back better from the pandemic around the world. We remember, today, many real life heroes who have worked to help others in need – and made the ultimate sacrifice. And we pay tribute to you, who continue that extraordinary work, in these extraordinary times. Thank you for leading the world to stand up for human rights.