Press Releases

    1 August 2005

    Dag Hammarskjöld, in His Vision and Courage, Took Risks for Humankind, Says Secretary-General to Centenary Celebration in Sweden

    NEW YORK, 29 July (UN Headquarters) -- Following is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s statement on the Centenary of Dag Hammarskjöld’s birth, delivered by Sir Brian Urquhart, former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, in Backåkra, Sweden, 29 July:

    On Dag Hammarskjöld’s death, a Swedish cabinet minister said that “1961 was the year humankind ceased to be a distant abstraction in the eyes of Swedish television viewers”.

    This day gives life to those words.  There can hardly be another people on earth more engaged in the cause of our common humanity than the people of Sweden; and no single factor did more to inspire and shape that engagement than the life and death of Dag Hammarskjöld.

    I am honoured and humbled to take part in this tribute to him in this, his spiritual resting place -- a place of purity and peace as eternal as the land and water that surround it.

    Our two inseparable families -- Sweden and the United Nations -- have come together to remember a beloved son of his country and the world:  a man who was -- in ways he would never have imagined -- a father to us all.  In his vision and courage, his integrity and spirituality, he took risks to help pave the way to where we find ourselves today.  Prime Minister, you have eloquently described some of his achievements.

    For us in the United Nations, Hammarskjöld set a standard to live up to:  for those of us who have had the challenge of succeeding him as Secretary-General, but for all of my colleagues as well.  His capacity for work, and his capacity for thought, his words and his actions, have done more to shape public expectations of the office of the Secretary-General, and indeed of the Organization, than those of anyone in its history.

    That is why so many of us, confronting the realities we face, have wondered how he would act, were he alive today; to ask ourselves, as we approach a new challenge or crisis, “how would Hammarskjöld have handled this?”

    In truth, his standard can seem impossible to live up to.  Yet ask ourselves we must.  Dag Hammarskjöld is the lodestar of our profession.

    If that is true for any Secretary-General, how much more so for one of my generation, who came of age during the years when Dag Hammarskjöld personified the United Nations, and who began my own career in the United Nations family within a year of his death.

    While Hammarskjöld was Secretary-General, I was growing up in Ghana, at a time when the struggle for independence was at its peak.  I was fortunate enough to experience the success of that endeavour; to see peaceful transition take place; to witness my countrymen taking charge of their own destiny; to see Ghana take up its place in the family of nations.

    During the seismic global shifts that characterized Hammarskjöld’s years at the helm, more than 25 countries gained independence and became Member States of the United Nations.  No one worked harder than he to help countries like mine find their feet in the international community.  No one tried harder to grasp the promise and problems of Africa.  No one searched more deeply for solutions.

    Hammarskjöld spoke of the duty of the United Nations to “further and support policies aiming at independence, not only in the constitutional sense, but in every sense of the word -- protecting the possibilities of the African peoples to choose their own way, without undue influence and without attempts to abuse the situation”.

    “That must be true”, he stressed, “in all fields -- the political, the economic, as well as the ideological -- if independence is to have any real meaning.”

    He visited my country in 1960, on a marathon, 25-country tour of the African continent.  He cabled back to headquarters that the tour provided “increasingly challenging food for thought”.  As we know, his appetite for such food was voracious.

    Hammarskjöld’s focus on the challenges facing developing countries was far more than philanthropic.  A visionary in so many ways, he understood already in his time:

    That development, security and human rights are not only ends in themselves -- they reinforce each other; they depend on each other.

    That in our interconnected world, the human family cannot enjoy security without development, cannot enjoy development without security, and cannot enjoy either without respect for human rights.

    And that to act on that understanding, we need a strong United Nations, and true solidarity among governments and peoples working together to fulfil those goals.

    Those principles sum up the mission the United Nations is undertaking in this, our sixtieth anniversary year.  It was a mission which Hammarskjöld, too, pursued tirelessly in his time.

    Hammarskjöld was the architect of our first peacekeeping operation -- 57 years ago in the Middle East.

    Today, we have almost 70,000 peacekeeping troops in 17 operations around the world.

    Hammarskjöld was a fervent champion of an independent civil service, “guided solely by the common aims and rules laid down for, and by, the Organization”.

    Today, we are asking Member States to empower the Secretary-General to manage the Organization effectively, and then collectively hold him or her accountable for the results.

    Hammarskjöld was constantly exploring new diplomatic techniques, from the creative use of his own office as Secretary-General to the pioneering practice of preventive diplomacy.

    Today, we are seeking to persuade governments to strengthen the United Nations’ mediation capacities, and to establish a Peacebuilding Commission, which could help prevent fragile peace agreements from collapsing and yielding to renewed violence.

    Hammarskjöld was an eloquent defender of human dignity, and described the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as “an international synthesis of the thinking of our generation”.

    Today, we are urging governments to realize fully the promise of that generation’s thinking; to accept the responsibility to protect their citizens from gross and systematic abuse of human rights; and to agree that where the government concerned is unwilling or unable to do it, then responsibility shifts to the international community.

    Hammarskjöld stressed the need for policies on trade and aid to support poorer nations -- both as necessities on their own right, and as prerequisites to the preservation of peace.

    Today, we are asking governments to redouble their efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals -- a partnership whereby rich countries have accepted their share of responsibility to support the efforts of poor countries, through aid, debt relief and trade.

    Hammarskjöld embodied the very definition of a visionary, for he saw things in a way that was far ahead of his time.

    That we are acting on that vision today is surely the best tribute we could pay to this exceptional human being, who saw himself as a servant as much as a leader, and who for that reason, was followed by many; who knew and loved his country deeply, and was inspired by its ideals to work for the good of the world.

    As we in our time go about our daily work, we continue to be inspired every day by Dag Hammarskjöld’s words.  Many of us count among our favourite quotes his last words to staff at United Nations Headquarters in New York.  They were to be his last public words ever. Just a week later, his plane crashed during a mission to the Congo.

    I would like to end by reading some of those words to you now.  And I quote:

    “It is false pride to boast to the world about the importance of one’s work, but it is false humility, and finally just as destructive, not to recognize -- and recognize with gratitude -- that one’s work has a sense.  Let us avoid the second fallacy as carefully as the first, and let us work in the conviction that our work has a meaning beyond the narrow and individual one and has meant something for humankind.”

    Thank you, Dag Hammarskjöld, for those words.

    And thank you all very much.

    * *** *