Press Releases

     

    SG/SM/8827
    IK/378
    22 August 2003

    IN REMARKS TO STAFF AFTER BAGHDAD BOMBING,
    SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS SERVICE WITH UN
    “IS NOT SIMPLY A JOB -- IT IS A CALLING”

    NEW YORK, 21 August (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to United Nations staff members today:

    Dear friends,

    Today our hearts are heavy with loss.

    Our senses reel from the sights and sounds of one of the darkest days in the history of the United Nations.

    Even now, two days later, the images continue to come at us:

    -- On television, the image of our colleagues carried out on stretchers from a Canal Hotel in ruins;

    -- In our minds, the image of the same colleagues as we remember them:  dynamic men and women in the prime of their lives -- active, intense, full of hope and laughter, of compassion, above all, of determination to make things better; and

    -- Here in New York, or in Geneva, Santiago or Addis Ababa, or elsewhere, images of offices once filled with purpose and life but now frozen in time -- mute memorials to careers spent serving the cause of peace.

    All this leaves us bewildered and numb.  It seems hard to believe that someone we shared an office with will never again walk through the door; never brighten our lives with their smiles; never excite us with their passions, or impress us with their talent.

    We, whose work is so wrapped up in the tragedies of others, now face one of our own.  The ache in our souls is almost too much to bear.

    Dear colleagues,

    At present, we know that 23 people are dead, but only 10 have yet been identified.  The death toll is expected to rise, since some of the injured are in a critical condition, while others are still missing and may lie buried beneath the rubble.  The recovery effort, and the process of identifying the bodies, is painfully slow.  United Nations doctors are canvassing the city’s hospitals to identify survivors, some of them unconscious or too wounded to speak.  Security officials are reassessing conditions in Iraq and at duty stations throughout the world.

    Several stress counsellors are already in Baghdad, and more are on their way, while others are available in Amman, Geneva, here in New York, and elsewhere.  The full resources of the United Nations system are being mobilized to respond to this emergency.

    United Nations personnel have been targeted before.  We have gathered all too often in recent years to mourn and remember fallen colleagues.  But Tuesday’s attack was more deliberate and vicious than anything that has been directed at us hitherto.

    It obliges us to look again at the conditions in which we work.  Some of them may have to change, however sad and painful that is.

    There are many implications to be considered.  But today we come together as a family -- to grieve, and to pay tribute to those we have lost.  As a family we must take time to mourn our dead.

    I wish I could say a few words about each of them.  I cannot, because the list is still incomplete, and because we are still in the process of notifying next of kin.

    But let me say this:

    Whether clerical worker, lawyer, driver or special representative, Iraqi or international, each of these men and women made a unique and invaluable contribution to our work.

    Each was committed to the human rights, sovereignty and well-being of the Iraqi people.  And many had served the needs of other peoples, too.

    Each braved hardships, set aside longings for home or for a quiet life, and conquered their fears in order to help others overcome an era of terrible suffering.

    Each showed the world the caring, principled face of the international civil service.

    Each gave us something to be proud of.

    Now let me say a special word to the Baghdad staff:

    We cannot know the shock you feel.  We can only say “thank you” for the tremendous fortitude you are showing in the midst of this terrible misfortune.

    Your work has been a source of great inspiration to all of us, and most of all to the people of Iraq.

     Dear friends,

    Condolences are reaching us from all over the world.  Leaders and ordinary citizens alike are expressing enormous sorrow at what has happened.  I hope you will all take some comfort from this outpouring of support and sympathy.

    If there is one way to honour the memory of colleagues murdered in the line of duty, it is to carry on with our work, determined and undaunted.

    The United Nations will not be reckless.  Nor, however, will it be intimidated.  The service of the United Nations is not simply a job.  It is a calling, and those who have attacked us will not deflect us from it.  We shall find a way to continue our work -- that is, to continue helping the Iraqi people to rebuild their country and regain their sovereignty, under leaders of their own choosing.

    In that spirit, I ask you all to stand and join me in a minute of silence, in honour of all the victims, and in sympathy for all the bereaved.

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