16 August 2018
World Humanitarian Day
Remarks by Mr. Michael Møller
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
World Humanitarian Day
Thursday, 16 August 2018, 4 p.m.
Room XX, Palais des Nations
Ladies and gentlemen,
Please join me in a minute of silence.
Today we honour the sacrifice of our courageous colleagues, we mourn our fallen friends and family, and we recognize the resilience of the survivors.
We honour the twenty-two men and women killed in Baghdad 15 years ago. They were - as the former Secretary-General once said - “the best of the best, the most committed of the committed.” I was personally close to several of them, serving together in New York and Geneva, and I know how right he was. They were the hope and the future of the United Nations - their lives cut short in their prime.
Every year for the past 15 years, we commemorate August 19 – which was declared as World Humanitarian Day by the UN General Assembly in 2009 to honour the victims of all the harrowing attacks against humanitarian workers.
That horrible afternoon in Iraq does not stand in isolation; it was followed by other attacks against the United Nations.
At the end of 2007, we lost seventeen colleagues in Algiers.
Last year alone, 138 peacekeepers and 139 humanitarian aid workers were killed - the fifth year in a row that over 100 humanitarians lost their lives on the job.
Whenever UN staff members are attacked, a great proportion of them are national staff. Locally recruited colleagues are the backbone of every single United Nations Mission anywhere in the world. The United Nations would not be able to fulfil its mandate without the professionalism, the invaluable knowledge and commitment of our local colleagues. And local staff are always faced with more serious situations than their internationally recruited colleagues: When international staff leaves following violent incidents, local staff often remain to continue the UN’s work in the world’s most dangerous places.
On this 15th anniversary of the Canal Hotel bombing, let us pay special tribute to the victims and the survivors who were locally recruited and of course to their families, some of which are here with us today. Your lives were disrupted by the terrorist attack, and many of you remain discouraged at how the UN responded in the aftermath of this terrible event and I fully understand you. Here in Geneva, we organize this commemoration every year to stand in solidarity with all of you and thank you for your continuous courage and commitment. Thank you.
This is also a day to pay homage to the thousands of civilians – who don’t work for the UN – attacked, assaulted and killed in conflicts around the world.
And to remember the many victims of terrorism. In support of their struggle for accountability, we will observe on August 21 the first International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism.
Standing with you today, we pay tribute to your strength, to your generosity, and express our very deep solidarity.
We have all lost colleagues and friends. And many of us here have lost fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives.
Thank you Mr. Al-Orfali, Mattia Selim, and Carole; thank you Adrien, Susanne; thank you for sharing your memories and thoughts during this afternoon. Your words help all of us keep alive the memory of those we lost.
Thank you all for being with us today - whether right here in Geneva, or virtually, joining us from Baghdad, Algiers, New York, and elsewhere.
Everyone lost - in Baghdad, in Algiers, and across the world before and since - will never be forgotten. Their legacy lives on.
It lives on in our efforts to help those most in need and most vulnerable.
It lives on in our determination to create a future of peace and justice; to build a world in which everyone can live lives of dignity and freedom.
It lives on, finally, in our unwavering commitment to the noble mission for which our colleagues paid the ultimate price.
They knew that the blue flag, our blue flag, only flies because committed people wave it.
Committed, courageous people - like Sérgio Vieira de Mello.
In a speech in March 2003 here in Geneva, Sérgio said that “it may sometimes feel as if we no longer have any stable points of reference to chart our way through the uncertainties of the world.”
And his response to that was powerful and clear: security, he said, can and must be guided by the rule of law and respect for human rights.
His words resonate strongly amidst today’s sense of uncertainty and turmoil, of anxiety and flux.
Then as now, we feel the absence of “stable points of reference” sometimes.
Then as now, the rule of law and human rights must be our beacon.
In times like these, it is by thinking about Sergio and the many other inspiring men and women that we have lost, that we can draw new strength. Their example remains a guiding light to everyone in our UN family.
We will pay our most meaningful tribute to them by carrying on their work.
Today, I encourage you to join the #NotATarget movement and sign the petition with a selfie.
Together we want to create powerful portraits of solidarity that will force world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly and beyond to take note. To make it impossible for them to look away as civilians and aid workers face danger, and too often, death. And to push them into action to help the growing number of victims.
I Thank you all for being here today.