COLLEAGUES KILLED IN BAGHDAD EXAMPLE OF UN FAMILY
‘AT ITS MOST COMMITTED AND MOST COURAGEOUS’,
SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL TO MEMORIAL SERVICE
NEW YORK, 19 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following are Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s remarks to the Memorial Ceremony in honour of colleagues killed in the bombing of the United Nations Mission in Baghdad, held in New York, 19 September:
Let me start by thanking the families and friends who made the journey to be with us today, and by sending my prayers to those who could not be here. Spouses, mothers, fathers, children, siblings and others who have lost their loved ones -- our hearts go out to all of you.
I probably speak for most of us in saying that the past month has been among the longest and blackest in our lifetimes.
Today, we share our shock and sorrow at the loss of people we loved. We meet to bring their families together with our United Nations family. We pray for those who were wounded in this tragedy, for their strength and their recovery. We pray for those who survived, but who have to endure a trauma the rest of us cannot imagine.
We meet to express together what cannot be endured alone.
Even for those of us who have experience in dealing with human loss and suffering on a large scale, this tragedy is different, because it is our own.
When we learned the names of those we had lost on 19 August 2003, the very nature of loss became suddenly and acutely personal.
So many of us knew closely one or more of those who died. Even if we ourselves did not, we knew someone else who did. We felt as if we knew them all.
That is why, a month on, we feel that a deeper meaning has been given to the expression “United Nations family”.
And if people need an example of our United Nations family at its best and its brightest, at its most committed and most courageous, they have only to look at the men and women who perished in the Canal Hotel.
Many of them were at the height of their careers. Others were just beginning, and had yet to make their full mark when they volunteered for their assignment in Iraq. All of them were in the prime of life. All of them leave a huge void.
They form a roll call of heroes that would be the envy of any nation.
By no measure of the human imagination can I speak for those who shared their lives. That unwritten history can be informed only by the love of family, friends and close comrades. It forms the most eloquent history of all.
I can speak simply as one who shares in the groundswell of grief, affection and respect that follows their passing. In that spirit, let me try to speak to every one of them today.
First, to our national staff -- Raid, Leen, Ihssan, Emaad and Basim –- I say: you were not only invaluable to our work in Iraq, and dear members of our UN team there. You formed a precious human bridge between us and the Iraqi people. Many of you had worked for the UN for many years, under difficult circumstances, including at times when we were unable to keep an international presence in Iraq. We can never repay you for your courage.
To our international colleagues, I will speak one by one:
Reham, you were so young, yet had already achieved so much. There would have been no limits to what you could have done with your life. You chose to work for the United Nations because you wanted to do something for others. You went to Iraq to make a contribution to the lives of your Arab brothers and sisters. It is their loss as much as ours that you were denied the chance to do that.
Ranilo, you were quiet, diligent, considerate, and ready to work all the hours God gave you. You showed generosity to everyone around you. And you were such a devoted son and sibling to your family back home. You never let the distance to your homeland, or the years spent away, stand between you and your loved ones.
Rick, as a passionate Arabist, you were driven by an equally passionate commitment to peace, justice and human rights. You dazzled people with your brilliance and scholarship, but you also made friends for life through kindness and wisdom beyond your years. You devoted most of your career -- and most of the waking hours in many of your days -- to searching for ways to help people in the Middle East and the Arab world. And now you have lost your life while on a mission to the region you loved so dearly. Its people have lost a singularly gifted champion; we have lost a deeply beloved friend.
Reza, in your dedicated work to ease the plight of refugees, you never shied away from challenges or difficult assignments. Nor did you ever fail to win people’s affection through your warmth, your good humour and your gift for cooking good food. Your heart was as big as your smile -- and that was bigger than most.
Jean-Selim, wherever you went, you waged your war against indifference with a powerful weapon: a determination to translate your ideas into action, to seek practical ways to help others. A true citizen of the world, you were living proof of what it means to come from a UN family. We grieve with your wife, Laura, who is also our colleague. We send our prayers to your baby son, Mattia-Selim.
Christopher, you energized our work for children wherever you went, from Ethiopia to Kosovo to Iraq. Still young yourself, you were such a gifted advocate of young people’s right to health, education and a better future. You were a steadfast source of strength and support for your staff. You leave the finest legacy possible -- a legacy of hope in the hearts of children you served.
Martha, you combined deeply held humanitarian ideals with healthy realism. Professional, never pretentious, humorous and hardworking, you were the best kind of colleague anyone could wish for, in any UN mission to fight hunger and hardship. Your leadership qualities helped build team unity in the hardest of circumstances. You were good at what you did because you believed in it so fervently.
Fiona, your talent took you from your native Scotland to the Balkans, from New York to Baghdad. Throughout that journey, you were guided by your exceptionally clear head, steadfast principles, and infallible instinct for the right way forward. Your no-nonsense approach was matched by an equal measure of warmth and compassion. When you were taken from us, your young shoulders had already borne a great deal of responsibility. Invariably, they did so with strength, balance and poise.
Nadia, your wit, irreverence and laughter kept our spirits high. There was never anything affected about you; honesty was your defining characteristic. You set the standard in rising above the fray through confidence and humour. In more than 30 years with the UN, you inspired several generations of young women -- and men -- by showing that there are no limits to what a person with talent and courage could achieve. And you inspired all of us, regardless of age, by showing us that one can be principled without being pompous. Nadia, whenever we get needlessly overwrought, we will remember your voice telling us to “get a grip”; and whenever we are tempted to take ourselves too seriously, we will remember the sound of your laughter.
Finally, Sergio, my dear friend: since you were taken from us, there has been an outpouring of tributes to your achievements, accomplishments and talents. But lest we forget: you were a human being first and foremost. A human being who was exceptionally caring; with an exceptionally strong sense of right and wrong; driven by an exceptional need to go out and right the wrongs of this world.
Sergio, if you showed great confidence at all times, it was because you had so much to be confident about. Why did you never seem tired, even while working 18-hour days? Why did you never look crumpled, even after an 18-hour flight? Why were you never sick? Why were you never grumpy? And you were the only top official in the UN system known to everyone by their first name. Even to those who didn’t know you personally, you were always just “Sergio”.
Now that you are no longer with us, my dear friend, we must make do with your memory and your legacy. They shine bright, and they always will. Like you, they will never grow tired, or crumpled, or weary. Thank you, Sergio, for illuminating our lives.
Today, we also pay tribute to non-UN members of our dedicated and extended family -– Saad, Omar and Khidir, all Iraqi nationals; Manuel, who sought to coordinate the work of the Coalition Provisional Authority with that of UN agencies; Gillian, who worked tirelessly for the protection of children in crisis; Arthur, who devoted his life to championing the rights of the forcibly displaced; and Alya, who used to serve as one of our most dedicated and experienced translators in Baghdad.
The work of our United Nations colleagues in Iraq was driven solely by a desire to help the Iraqi people build a better future.
When we lost them, our Organization also suffered another loss, of a different kind: a loss of innocence for the United Nations.
We, who had assumed that our mission to help others served as its own and ultimate form of protection, now find ourselves threatened and exposed.
We, who have tried from the beginning to serve those targeted by violence and destruction, have become a target ourselves.
That means we will need to adapt the way we work to our new environment. We will have to learn to balance our mission on behalf of other people with the need to protect our own.
But our commitment -- our pledge in the name of “we the peoples” -- must never change. Today, let us renew that commitment in the name of our irreplaceable, inimitable, unforgettable friends. Let us work to heal these unhealable wounds, by working every day to live up to the standard they set us.
I now ask you to rise and join me in a minute of silence.
Thank you very much.
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