Among a parade of ethnic costumes and other celebratory events marking Staff Day at United Nations Headquarters today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised the performance of personnel during "this rollercoaster year" at a staff assembly and, with other officials, paid tribute to all staff members at a wreath-laying for those 177 who died in service in the last 17 months.
Speaking of the high points and low points of the year at the assembly, he said the Organization had drawn the right lessons from the revelations of sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers and the investigation of the Iraq Oil-for-Food Programme.
At the same time, he recounted the UN World Summit in September, and the other accomplishments staff could be proud of in the past year.
"Whether it is responding to the tsunami and the UN leading the coordination of that major effort, whether it is reacting and responding to the quake in Kashmir effecting Pakistan and India, or sounding the alarm on avian flu, or organizing successful consequences, I think we have been a very busy organization," he said.
Acknowledging the work of both personnel in the field and at various headquarters at the wreath-laying ceremony, he said: "As I travel around the world, I am always struck by the courage, the dedication, and the determination of our colleagues."
Mr. Annan recalled from his recent trip that morale among staff members in Iraq was high two years after the attack on the UN Baghdad headquarters and that a UN military observer was determined to continue his work on the Indian-Pakistani border even after he lost his wife and three children in the October earthquake.
"These are the types of courage our colleagues have," he said.
Also speaking at the ceremony, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson said of the fallen UN staff: "It is a tragic and sad observation that so many people can die in this wonderful cause of peace and understanding.
"We must not give in to that violence, and we must deal with it in a way which is effective," he added, expressing satisfaction that the General Assembly's legal committee had agreed to extend the scope of the Convention on the Safety of UN Personnel to cover staff involved in humanitarian and development work.
In that light, Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security David Veness said that since last January his new Department for Safety and Security had worked hard to bring the United Nations security procedures and standards in line with today's needs, adding "all staff must be able to perform their duties with the full assurance of security and safety."
This is only right, he said, for "the women and men who tirelessly dedicate themselves to the work of the United Nations, often travelling to the far corners of the world, leaving behind family and friends" to support the ideals of peace, security, human rights and freedom."