UNSpecial N° 600 — Octobre – October 2001

UN Special proposed an initiative to create a memorial to honour those who lost their lives in the service of the United Nations. The Editorial Committee has received numerous letters, visits, and calls from colleagues who unanimously support this initiative. At their request we reproduce the text in this anniversary 600th issue of the UN Special and we publish some of you reactions.

In the service of the United Nations and other humanitarian offices

To Honour Those Who Lost Their Lives

by Evelina Rioukhina, UNECE

Palais des NAtions Almost every month, tragedy knocks on the doors of the international community. Often, far too often, the international and non-governmental organisations lose staff in their peace- keeping and humanitarian missions.

Last month we were all shocked by the death of OCHA staff … This month six persons were killed in the Congo.

Pure accident, some will say – it might happen everywhere. We all remember the accident to the SR 111 flight where many people, including international staff from Geneva lost their lives. Perhaps, they were inspired by high, humanitarian ideals, perhaps not. Just a pure accident.

There are many among us, however, for whom the United Nations is the Organisation that serves the highest, the most sublime, purpose – peace in the world. Some of us come to be here, during working hours, to earn a good salary for an honest job. Many of us go further, or would do so if asked, to serve in the most risky areas, in the most dangerous missions irrespective of financial reward. They just go there, they usually do not talk much about it. They just do what they consider is their duty. We know some who constantly go to Chechnya, for example, where each step brings them to the brink of death. We remember our colleagues, people like you and me, who died in East Timor. Others who, despite the daily risk, continue to serve in refugee camps in Africa, who in the past have served in El Salvador, Nagorno Karabakh, Haiti, Afghanistan in the midst of armed conflict.

A friend from a humanitarian agency, riding his car through the Kyber Pass, came under fire. His associate was killed on the spot. He himself escaped on foot perilously through mine fields. A colleague, working in Abkhazia, recently told me that he had come to Geneva to buy himself a new jacket. He had repeatedly come under fire from local militant snipers because his previous jacket, although civilian, had a military cut and colour. Friends from a sister-agency were held at gun-point for hours in a refugee camp in a case of mistaken identity. These are some of the innumerable, boring stories that no one wants to listen to – until… until one day there is a death. Unfortunately, some of our colleagues have paid a high price – for their idealism or just in doing an honest job.

Perhaps we should in some permanent manner remember and commemorate those of our colleagues – and perhaps one day it will be you or me – who lost their lives in the course of duty. They served a high goal in dangerous places. They were there because they were needed. And in doing their duty they lost the most precious they had – their lives.

Nobody had compelled them to run the risk. For non-combatant, international civil servants, service is a deliberate deed, an act of conscious will.

We should always remember them, and we should commemorate them. It could be a small site in the grounds of the Palais des Nations, on which we might place a modest slab of pink marble and an eternal flame or perhaps living flowers. The marble would symbolize a life suddenly stopped in the full flight. We could list the names, or just write on this slab of marble “In the honour of those who lost their lives in the service of the United Nations” and we will know whose memory it will help to sustain.

We hope that our colleagues from UNOG and all international organisations would support this idea.

(Written in May 2001)

Here are some reactions sent to the UN Special Editorial Committee:

Date: 18/06/2001 09:58
Sender: arattray@uncc.ch
To: UNSpecial

I read the article about the need for a memorial to honour “those who have lost their lives” while serving the UN with great interest.
I SUPPORT this initiative wholeheartedly.
Adam Rattray UNCCLegal Officer.

Date: 14/06/2001 14:41 
Sender: Nicole.Winch@unctad.org
To: UNSpecial

Dear Colleagues,
I have just read Evelina Rioukhina’s proposal for a memorial in the grounds of the Palais “to honour those who lost their lives” in the service of the United Nations’ peacekeeping activities.
I think that this is a meritorious idea. The establishment of such a memorial would constitute a long overdue honour to the deceased, and perhaps also service as an encouragement to present and future UN peacekeepers.
It might also be desirable for a memorial plaque to contain the names of our fallen colleagues and UN heroes.
As for the funding, surely it would be asking too little of our noble Organization to do so much to honour the memory of those of its staff members who have bravely and voluntarily given up their lives – often in atrocious circumstances – in the service of humanity and the high ideals of the UN Charter?
Should you wish to reproduce the above in a future “UN Special”, you are welcome to.
N.A. Winch, UNCTAD.

Date: 18/06/2001 14:05 
Sender: “Margaret Anderson” <Anderson_M@gateway.wmo.ch>
To: UNSpecial

I think it is an excellent idea to create a memorial to those colleagues who have lost their lives in the line of duty. They deserve to be remembered for ever and I believe it would be more meaningful for their families if the names were listed. I would support the suggestion of a pink marble slab with an eternal flame.
Margaret Anderson.
Administrative Assistant World Climate Programme Department
Tel: (+41 22) 730 84 52
Fax: (+41 22) 730 80 42

Date: 14/06/2001 16:13
Sender: “Margaret ERTAN”
To: UNSpecial

I would like to support the idea of a MEMORIAL. Can I be kept up to date on what steps have been taken (or will be taken) to implement the idea?
Thank you,
Margaret Ertan

Date: 14/06/2001 15:50
Sender: "Nadine Mattana" nmattana@unccd.int
To: UNSpecial

Je soutiens de tout coeur votre idée de créer un espace à la mémoire de nos collègues et amis disparus. De quelle manière puis-je contribuer à la réussite de votre projet?
Bravo pour cette formidable initiative.
Nadine Mattana
United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification Geneva Liaison Office
Tel.: (41-22) 917.8407
Fax: (41-22) 917.8032
E-mail: nmattana@unccd.int

Thank you again

“I would like to thank those colleagues who wrote to UN Special or simply expressed their support to our initiative. I would especially like to thank the members of the affected families who visited me personally. I was extremely touched by this gesture.

The time has now come to turn our intentions into deeds and set up this memorial. We could urge the Director- General and UNOG Administration to help us with the practical organization of this initiative, possible involving the Permanent Missions as well. If you have any ideas yourself, please send your proposals marked “Memorial” to: evelina.rioukhina@unece.org, with a copy to unspecial@unece.org).

I know that some international organizations here, in Geneva, have plaques in memory of the staff they lost or have paid tribute to them in other ways. The countries where the tragedies happened have also honoured the United Nations staff who have perished there. The most recent Memorial was inaugurated on 20 June 2001 in Mongolia to pay tribute and respect to the victims of the helicopter crash during a UN mission in which two of our colleagues from OCHA, Sabine and Gerry, lost their lives (see UNS No. 583).

The Memorial for all the UN staff who have perished in the service of the United Nations should be set up here, within the United Nations Office, in the grounds of the Palais. Every one of us should feel part of it. 

Thank you again for your support.

Evelina Rioukhina.