9 November 2005

Secretary-General, in Cairo Lecture, Describes "Burning Sense of Justice" of Nadia Younes, Egyptian UN Official Killed in 2003 Baghdad Bombing

NEW YORK, 8 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Nadia Younes Memorial Lecture, delivered at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, on 8 November:

It is wonderful to be here with you all at American University in Cairo.  I am deeply honoured to be invited to deliver this lecture in memory of my dear friend and colleague, Nadia Younes.  How I wish she were still alive, and did not need to be commemorated. 

As you know, Nadia was one of a group of the very best servants of the United Nations, whom we lost in one single, terrible blow on 19 August 2003.  Another was Jean-Selim Kanaan, an outstanding Egyptian humanitarian, several of whose relatives are here with us today.

Jean-Selim was only 33 years old at the time of his death -- which means he was born in the year that Nadia joined the United Nations.  Had he lived, he would undoubtedly have had a career as distinguished as hers.  Even in his short life, he had already rendered great service to the Organization, and to humanity, in several countries. 

In her career, Nadia worked in New York, in Rome, in Kosovo, in Geneva, and last, of course, in Iraq.  She contributed to many of the UN's successes, including the Beijing Women's Conference in 1995, the Millennium Summit in 2000 and the World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002.  She moved effortlessly from work in public information, where she served as Spokeswoman for two of my predecessors, to being Chief of Protocol, and then to the World Health Organization, before being assigned to Baghdad as Chief of Staff to Sergio Vieira de Mello.  And she was just about to come back to New York, as Assistant Secretary-General for General Assembly affairs, when her life was so cruelly cut short.

To all those places, and all those roles, she brought a burning sense of justice, leavened by extraordinary generosity of spirit and a wonderful sense of humour, as well as clear-eyed realism and excellent political antennae.  Perhaps these qualities are best summed up in the words which her former colleagues have inscribed on the wall of the Spokesman's Office in New York:  "She reached for the highest professional standards in her work, earned the respect and affection of her colleagues, and took profound pleasure in life.  Her throaty laughter fills this room still."

Indeed, almost everyone who worked with her for more than a few weeks came to think of her as a special friend.  I remember many solemn meetings that I could hardly have sat through, had not Nadia lightened them up by growling out some sardonic comment in that unforgettable gravely voice.  Without her, life at the UN has lost some of its savour.

Serving the UN inevitably takes you away from your home country -- and so it took Nadia away from Egypt.  She made the sacrifice of being away from her family and the friends of her youth, and from this city, which she loved so much. 

But wherever she went, she brought with her something of this city, of this country and this region. 

Her humour had a definite Cairene quality to it -- the twinkle of an eye that has witnessed all the follies and foibles of humanity, and confronts them with infinite patience. 

She was almost a prototype of the modern Egyptian woman.  She wore the multiple identities implied in that phrase, together with the global identity that she effortlessly layered over them, with equal pride and equal comfort.  For her, these various identities were never in conflict with each other.

And her moral stance was in the best traditions of the Arab intellectual.  Her feeling of solidarity with Palestinian suffering, and her frustration at the prolonged occupation of Palestinian land, never stopped her from embracing Jews or Israelis as fellow human beings.  Her anger, such as it was, was reserved for corrupt or oppressive rulers -- in the Arab world and anywhere else in the world.

Her life began in Cairo and ended in Baghdad.  She came as an Arab to work for the United Nations, and she returned to the Arab world bringing help from the United Nations to the suffering people of Iraq.  She brought with her everywhere a special Arab brand of enlightenment and tolerance -- only to fall victim, in the end, to a special brand of extremism and intolerance. 

The lesson we must learn from her tragic death is that we need to work even harder to spread enlightenment and tolerance, and to overcome extremism and intolerance.

I'm sure we all remember what Iraq's situation was, in the summer of 2003.  Opinions among Iraqis differed widely -- as they still do -- about the reasons for the foreign military presence in their country, about its consequences, and about the right way to respond. 

It was foreseeable that some would choose to resist by force of arms.  But what cannot be justified or accepted is the deliberate targeting of people who could in no way be identified with the foreign occupation:  mainly Iraqi civilians, but also non-Iraqis like Nadia Younes and Jean-Selim Kanaan who had come to Iraq without weapons, with the sole purpose of helping the Iraqi people.  To target such people, or to throw a bomb inside a mosque or a school, is not resistance.  It is murder.  It is terrorism.

Nadia is not the only Arab diplomat to have fallen victim to such senseless, criminal violence in Iraq.  It is right that I also pay homage here to the memory of Ihab al-Sherif, the Egyptian Ambassador, and to the two Algerian diplomats, who were brutally murdered there earlier this year, and to countless other victims. 

If anything can make such murders even worse, it is the fact that they appear to be part of a deliberate strategy to foster division and hatred, both within Iraq and in the wider world.  The objective, it seems, is to turn Muslims not only against the West, but against each other. 

This tendency to divide humanity into mutually exclusive groups or categories, and to treat anyone who tries to cross the dividing lines as a traitor, is certainly not confined to the Middle East.  It seems at times as if the whole world is falling prey to it.

We must break free from these cycles of violence and exclusion, which are stifling the human spirit.  But we cannot do so by replying in kind.  If we respond blindly to violence with violence, to anathema with anathema, to exclusion with exclusion, we will be accepting the logic of the very people we seek to defeat, and thereby helping them win new converts to their ideas.

On the contrary, we must respond to their logic with our own logic -- the logic of peace, of reconciliation, of inclusion and mutual respect. 

We must resolve, even more firmly, to build nations within which people of different communities can coexist, and enjoy equal rights.

We must resolve, as United Nations resolutions have repeatedly urged, to make the Middle East a region where all nations, including Israelis and Palestinians, can live side by side in peace and justice -- each in their own State, within secure and recognized boundaries, free from threats or acts of force.  In other words, we must keep alive the vision of a viable, contiguous Palestinian State.

And we must resolve to build a world in which no nation, and no community, will be punished collectively for the crimes of some of its members; a world in which no religion will be demonized for the aberrations of some of its adherents;; a world in which there will be no "clash of civilizations", because people will strive to discover the best in each other's traditions and cultures, and to learn from it.  As I have said, the problem is not the faith, but the faithful.

That is the kind of world that Nadia Younes stood for.  It is the world that she worked for.  It is the world which, in her own character, she prefigured and personified.  She was no starry-eyed utopian, but an idealist endowed with keen political insight and a clear understanding of the real world.  At times, to a casual listener, she might even have sounded cynical.  But a cynic does not risk her life to help bring about peace and progress in a land torn by conflict.

Nadia was a true daughter of Egypt, and no doubt Egypt could ill spare such an outstanding citizen.  So we should be grateful to Egypt, not only for giving birth to her but also for seconding her, so to speak, to the cause of humanity - although, of course, in serving that cause she served Egypt's interest, too. 

Too often, people speak as if there were a clash between national and global interests.  But that is really a misconception.  The global interest -- the interest of humanity -- includes, by definition, the interest of all nations.  In the globalized and closely integrated world that we now inhabit, there are no longer any zero-sum games.

If we lose the battle against poverty, disease, injustice and environmental degradation, we will all lose.

If we allow conflict to persist between nations, or within them, we will all lose.

If we allow the continued proliferation of nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons, we will all lose.

If we lose the battle against terrorism, we will all lose.

And if we fail to prevent or halt genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity, we will all lose -- which is why I am greatly encouraged by the decision of world leaders, at the United Nations Summit in September, to accept the responsibility to protect populations from such crimes, and their pledge to act in accordance with that responsibility.

But if we win the battle for justice -- which means balanced and sustainable development, collective security, and universal human rights, underpinned by the rule of law both among nations and within them -- then we will all win. 

Those are not separate battles, but one -- because, in the long run, we will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development, and we will enjoy neither without respect for human rights.

To justice in that broad sense, comprising those three essential aspects of the UN's mission, Nadia Younes devoted, and in the end sacrificed, her life.  The best way for us to commemorate her is to work even harder to achieve that goal.

* *** *