UN staff pay last respects to colleagues killed in Baghdad

News Stories, 29 August 2003

© UNHCR/S.Hopper
More than 2,000 people took part in the silent march in Geneva on August 26 to honour the victims of the recent Baghdad bombing.

GENEVA, August 29 (UNHCR) Hundreds of United Nations staff today gathered at the world body's European headquarters in Geneva to pay their final respect to friends and colleagues killed in last week's bombing in Baghdad. This followed a week of mourning around the world.

On Friday, staff from the UN and other international organisations converged at the Assembly Hall of the Palais des Nations in Geneva to remember the victims of last Tuesday's blast at the UN headquarters in the Iraqi capital. Of the 23 people killed, 19 were UN staff.

"They may have passed on, but they also passed on their ideals and their commitment," said Ross Mountain, Assistant Emergency Relief Co-ordinator and Director of the Geneva Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director-General of the UN Office of Geneva (UNOG), added, "We must continue their legacy" and show the world they won't be forgotten, that their work was not in vain."

Other speakers at the two-hour memorial service included Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, Brazilian Ambassador Luiz Felipe de Seixas Correa and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers. They paid tribute to the courage of those who died, and prayed for the more than 100 others injured in the attack.

On Thursday, UN Special Envoy to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello was finally laid to rest in Geneva's "Cemetery of Kings". Hundreds of mourners attended his funeral mass, packing Saint Paul's Church and spilling out into the streets.

They joined Vieira de Mello's family; UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette; and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's wife, Nane. Annan himself attended an earlier memorial service for the slain Brazilian diplomat in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro last week, saying he would "shine forever among our brightest stars."

Former East Timorese Foreign Minister José Ramos Horta, who worked closely with Vieira de Mello to guide the former Indonesian territory to freedom, said, "The United Nations will find others to do the work of Sergio, but no one will replace him; he was unique."

At another memorial service later that evening, Vieira de Mello's personal friend and UNHCR's Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks sang "We Shall Overcome" amid an emotional outpouring of recollections from his friends and colleagues.

In Paris, some 200 French ambassadors met at the foreign ministry on Thursday to pay respects to the late UN envoy. A large crowd also gathered to mourn Vieira de Mello's colleague in Baghdad, Jean-Selim Kanaan.

Tuesday saw two silent marches to honour the victims of the Baghdad blast. In New York, Secretary-General Annan led some 2,000 staff in a procession outside the UN headquarters. Among the crowd were posters that read: "When will it end?" and "We will never forget you".

In Geneva, more than 2,000 people joined UNHCR chief Lubbers, acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan and UNOG chief Ordzhonikidze in a similar march. They laid flowers at the entrance of the Palais des Nations, and carried placards with the victims' names.

Deputy Secretary-General Fréchette summed up sentiments when she said at the UN memorial service on Friday: "Having given their lives for peace, we hope that they will now rest in peace."