Fallen UN official should inspire action to ‘transform our world,’ Ban says in Geneva

1 March 2013

Delivering the annual lecture dedicated to Sergio Vieira de Mello, a United Nations official who died in a 2003 terrorist bombing in Baghdad, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for leaders everywhere to demonstrate the fallen envoy’s commitment to action to help people beset by war and want.

“Let his example and that of all our fallen colleagues continue to inspire us to believe – push us to act – and remind us that the power to transform our world is in our hands if we have the courage to use it,” Mr. Ban said in his remarks, which noted a wide range of challenges in which the resultant humanitarian misery must be addressed, from the crisis destroying Syria to what he called a “pandemic” of sexual violence around the world.

The 2003 Canal Hotel bombing wounded more than 150 people and claimed the lives of 22 UN staff members, including Mr. Vieira de Mello, who was then the UN’s chief envoy to Iraq but was also well known for the various posts he had held with the Organization around the world.

“As Sergio and our fallen colleagues proved in their too-short lifetimes, and as UN staff and our partners show today on the front-lines of war and disaster, the UN is dedicated to fulfilling its humanitarian imperative,” Mr. Ban said.

“You can turn despair around. Never give up,” he urged, citing what he said was the lasting message of Mr. Vieira de Mello.

In relation to Syria, where he noted that the UN and its humanitarian partners are doing all they can to provide assistance, Mr. Ban said, however, that “those with the political power to change things must answer to every mother and every girl and explain why they are not losing sleep over the relentless killing.”

He stressed that the effort to pursue a military solution in Syria is leading to the dissolution of the Middle East country.

Action was also needed to end the humanitarian misery in Mali, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Gaza, he said, calling them “headline crises,” that were the subject of steady media attention, which had not brought about decisive solutions.

Less attention had been devoted to what he called forgotten crises, including the hostilities in the Central African Republic (CAR), where hundreds of thousands were in need and children were forced into fighting.

In response to the UN appeal to donors for $129 million to relieve suffering in the CAR, he said, “to date, not one penny has been received. Not one penny.”

Still less attention was devoted to what he called silent crises, such as sexual violence and the death of nearly one and a half million children suffering from easily preventable diseases, in addition to the thousands who die every day from hunger.

“Where is the outrage?” he asked.

“Whether headline crisis... forgotten crisis... or silent crisis... there should be no more indifference; no more neglect of early warning signs; no more excuses that problems are too big, too costly, too difficult,” he said.

He said that the example of Timor-Leste, where Mr. Vieira de Mello served as transitional administrator and which successfully emerged from an independence struggle and several security crises in its short history, showed that the most difficult crises can end.

Mr. Vieira de Mello did not shy away from those tough challenges and his example must be followed, Mr. Ban said. “Our shared challenge is to translate our humanitarian imperative into action.”

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