5 April 2005

“Calling Ourselves Colleagues of Dag Hammarskjöld Is a Badge of Honour We All Wear” Says Secretary-General, Opening Commemorative Lecture Series

NEW YORK, 4 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following are UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s remarks to open the  Dag Hammarskjöld Lectures and Conversations Series in New York, 4 April:

Let me start by saying that calling ourselves colleagues of Dag Hammarskjöld is a badge of honour we all wear.

More than four decades after his death, Dag continues to compel fascination among people around the world.  Many continue to ask where Dag Hammarskjöld found the strength of character that came to form his years at the helm of the United Nations.  Many have sought to trace the roots of his personal integrity that marked his service in the cause of peace and development.  Many have studied the sense of devotion and spirituality that guided him until his untimely death in 1961. 

And many, including myself, have pondered how he would act were he alive today, confronting the realities and problems and difficulties we face.  Dag’s life and death, his words and his action, have done more to shape public expectations of the office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and indeed of the Organization, than those of any other man or woman in its history.

There can be no better rule of thumb for a Secretary-General, as he approaches each new challenge or crisis, than to ask himself, “how would Hammarskjöld have handled this?”

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

What is clear to all of us is that Hammarskjöld’s core ideas remain highly relevant in today’s international context.  The challenge for us is to see how they can be adapted to take account of it in this new environment.

How appropriate, then, that the centenary of his birth coincides with this special year for the United Nations.  This year not only marks our sixtieth anniversary, but it is also a year in which we are thinking ahead, engaging in a constructive debate about the future:  how to build a collective security system able to meet our common threats; how to defeat poverty; and how to increase respect for human dignity in every land.

I feel privileged, therefore, to open this series of commemorative events for the centenary of Hammarskjöld’s birth.  We are especially fortunate to have with us Sir Brian Urquhart, who served with Hammarskjöld, and has since served in so many ways as a custodian of his legacy, having written a wonderful book about Dag. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, may this series inspire us all, as we strive to make the United Nations the most effective instrument it can be in addressing the challenges of the twenty-first century.

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