Looking back on a year when more than 100 United Nations personnel died in the service of peace, UN officials and diplomats today paid tribute to the memory of the fallen at a solemn ceremony in New York.
As the blue UN flag was ceremoniously raised, the Organization’s top peacekeeping official observed that the banner, which once stood as a shield, now itself needed protection in many places.
“We have all experienced a rude awakening,” Jean-Marie Guéhenno told those gathered at the outdoor ceremony, a Staff Day event. “The UN itself has become a target for terrorist groups and organizations [and] for those who benefit from conflict, those spoilers who use violence, against the UN and against their own people, to block the path to peace in war-torn lands,” he said.
“This cannot stand,” he declared. “The blue flag must once again become inviolable, because what its stands for is inviolable.”
Mr. Guéhenno stressed that colleagues, especially those in the field, deserve the utmost attention to their security as they go about their work to further the causes of peace, human rights and development. “We owe it to them to ensure they are protected, and we owe it to the memory of those who have perished in the past years,” he said.
The President of the Security Council, Ambassador Lauro L. Baja of the Philippines, underscored the need for all countries to ratify a treaty protecting UN and associated personnel. Concluded a decade ago, nearly two thirds of UN member countries have still not ratified that pact.
He added that the staff members who died left behind a lasting legacy. “Their passing will inspire us to carry with firmer resolve and renewed vigour the torch that translates the spirit of the UN Charter into reality – by keeping the peace, feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the roofless, caring for the sick, educating the illiterate and enabling the impoverished to help themselves in rebuilding their nations and their economies in conflict-stricken parts of the world.”
Offering a personal glimpse of the horrors of being deliberately targeted as a UN staff member, Marilyn Manuel recounted how she survived last year’s terrorist attack against the world body’s headquarters in Baghdad. She had originally been listed among the dead before the tally was finalized, with 22 people confirmed killed, including top UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.
Ms. Manuel, a veteran of UN missions in Somalia, Liberia and East Timor, was “soaked in blood” in the aftermath of the Baghdad bombing and was only able to call her family using a borrowed cell phone.
She issued a strong call for preventive steps. “All security measures must be taken before staff are deployed in the field,” she stressed.
The commemoration under cloudy skies culminated with a solemn reading of the names of all 111 UN workers – both military and civilian – who have died since the last Staff Day.