Press Release

Secretary-General: Despite Our Differences, ‘Those Who Serve Under the UN Flag Are Entitled to Protection’

10 June 2024

Caption: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the annual memorial service for fallen staff, in New York on 6 June:

Today we remember and honour the 188 United Nations personnel who lost their lives in 2023 in the line of duty.

I welcome the family members who have joined us, both in person and online.  Our hearts are with you.

Among those personnel are 135 women and men who worked for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, in Gaza.  That is by far the highest number of our personnel killed in a single conflict or natural disaster since the creation of the United Nations -- a reality we can never accept.

Some were killed with their families by bombardment of their homes; others were at work, both in offices and shelters.  I repeat my call for a full accounting for each and every one of these deaths.  We owe this to their family members and friends; to their colleagues; and to the world.

Our UNRWA personnel lived and died as representatives of the international community in Gaza, and that community deserves an explanation.

The United Nations has sought the consent of family members for the inclusion of their loved ones’ names in today’s service.  This is the practice established by our rules.

Unfortunately, we were unable to contact many of the family members of our UNRWA colleagues because they have either been killed or forced from their homes by Israeli military operations.  So today, we commemorate and honour some of those colleagues with their full names and pay tribute to others with their professional titles.

They were teachers, drivers, doctors, sanitation workers, guards, pharmacists, administrative assistants and more.  They were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives.  They were our colleagues.  They were our friends.

I am personally devastated that despite our best efforts, we could not protect our personnel in Gaza.  Today, we remember them, and we honour their dedication and service.

The United Nations personnel who lost their lives in 2023 were from a total of 37 countries and 18 different United Nations entities.  They were military, police and civilian personnel. They were the embodiment of nations united.  They were multilateralism in action.  And they made the ultimate sacrifice for that cause.

In our divided world, the values of the United Nations are more important than ever:

As conflicts proliferate and countries devote more resources to weapons, we stand for peace through diplomacy and dialogue.

As hatred and discrimination increase, we stand for the human rights and dignity of every single person.

And as the global majority endure economic turmoil, we stand for inclusive, sustainable development that leaves no one behind.

Despite our differences, we should all agree that those who serve these values under the UN flag are entitled to protection.

Let us spend a moment of reflection in memory of our dear colleagues.

We thank all our fallen colleagues for their service.  We will do our best to provide adequate support to their surviving family members; we will continually review and improve our safety standards; and we will keep their memories alive.

Today, we recommit to continuing their essential work to build lives of dignity and hope for all.


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