UN SG BAN Ki-Moon returned from a visit to the site of the 11 car bombing in Algiers, in which 17 UN staff members died, with the UN Flag that was torn in the force of the blast:
BAN told UN staff in NY upon his return: “At the end of my visit to Algiers, the Resident Coordinator presented me with the UN flag that flew outside the UN House at the time of the attack. I have brought it back with me today and I am going to display it wherever it may be appropriate so that we will always remember our fallen colleagues, and to make us resolve our commitment to fight against terrorism. Torn and bruised, but still proud and unbowed, this flag symbolizes the sacrifice of our colleagues, and our determination to persevere”.
It was a rather remarkable performance. BAN’s predecessor, UNSG Kofi Annan, did not go to Iraq after the 2003 bombing of UN HQ in Baghdad whose aftermath was covered live on major TV networks, in which Salim Lone (who had been in the building at the time of the blast) had a hard time hiding his knowledge of the news that the then-head of the UN mission in Iraq, Brazilian “Golden Boy” Sergio Vieira de Mello had died of his injuries — several floors below where he had been sitting at the time of the blast — after three hours of being pinned down in the rubble.
BAN told the staff in NY: “[D]uring my visit to Algiers, I was shocked and overwhelmed by what I saw there. The bomb explosion which ripped through the UN compound in Algiers last Tuesday had a devastating impact. One part of the UNDP building is completely flattened. Rubble is strewn far and wide. Scattered on the ground are the items of our every day life — files, computers, highlighters. I was so humbled looking at all those things which were used by our colleagues at the time of the explosion. It is clear that at the UN House in Algiers, life stopped at 9:30am on December 11th 2007 … I was humbled by the courage and dignity of these colleagues and families of the victims. I met the father of a brave Algerian security guard who was killed when he literally threw himself at the oncoming suicide truck. I met a courageous young UNFPA staffer who, after being thrown to the ground by the impact of the blast, spent hours upon hours digging through the rubble searching for survivors, at great risk even to himself”…
BAN said that “In the immediate aftermath of this tragedy, our first duty is to ensure that the UN family takes care of its own. A large number of the national staff members who perished in the bombing were the sole bread winners in their family. It is vital that we extend to them some form of solidarity payment to tide them over until the insurance pays out. Agencies have proposed to make this kind of payment to help those affected cope with initial hardship, not as an attempt as compensation for those who sacrificed their lives. I have asked the Resident Coordinator in Algiers to distribute the payment of solidarity to families of the fallen and to those injured”.
BAN also said: “I will ask Governments to act on their obligations under General Assembly resolution 59/276, which spells out that the primary responsibility for ensuring the safety and security of United Nations staff and premises rests with the host country. And I will make a number of specific suggestions to all Governments hosting a UN presence on ways to improve security and safety measures – ranging from locations to communications. We will also do all in our power to put into place communications systems in duty stations that function adequately when an emergency occurs. The UN family in Algiers faced severe logistical problems in communicating over the past week, and that made their terrible ordeal even worse. We must and will remedy this, in duty stations around the world. We also face a wider communications challenge. We must do even better in explaining to the public and the media the role of the United Nations, wherever we operate — why we are there, what we do, what we stand for and what we don’t. We must make clear we are not there to represent the interests of any one group of nations over another. We must make clear that we are there to clear mines, build schools, run clinics, advance the rule of law, help protect the environment and help protect human rights – in short, to build better lives for the men, women and children we exist to serve”.
But, the body language of the UN Staff members listening to SG BAN in the lobby of the UN HQ building in New York says a lot — look at all those crossed arms, indicating resistance to what they are hearing…
In Algiers, SG BAN promised to put a better system of emergency communication in place, and to provide adequate security to UN Staff members.
In Algiers, BAN’s speech was emotional: “Since Tuesday last week, you have been on my mind every hour of every day. I very much regret I was not able to reach you until now. Few of us can imagine the pain you are grappling with. You work here with no other mission than to help the people of Algeria create a better future. One of your injured colleagues, an Algerian national, put it so well: ‘When you love your country, you build it, you don’t destroy it’. I owe every one of you a debt of gratitude for your dedication and professionalism. And I stand with the entire people of Algeria in the face of the scourge of terrorism. Those who target innocent civilians in this way commit an unspeakable crime. Terrorism hurts all nations — large and small, rich and poor. It takes its toll on human beings of every age and income, culture and religion. Less than half an hour ago, I visited the site of the bombing, and I cannot tell you how shocked I was, how saddened and distressed I was by this terrible event. What I saw before me was awful, and now that I see before me the families of the victims, I have no words to say how profoundly I feel about what has happened. I see these children and I have no words to express my emotions. But we will not be intimidated, we will not be discouraged. Today, I promise you that I will spare no effort in ensuring that the United Nations provides adequate security for its staff, wherever you serve. … I promise that we will do all in our power to put into place a communications system that is adequate when an emergency occurs. I know the UN family in Algiers faced severe logistical problems in communicating over the past week, and that made your terrible ordeal even worse. We must and will remedy this, here and in duty stations around the world. Staff must be able to access basic information about their situation and that of their colleagues ... We will complete the work that you and your fallen colleagues have begun. We will not be deterred. We will go on doing whatever we can to help build a better future for the people of Algeria. Only by carrying on with that mission can we begin to do justice to the memory of the friends we have lost. I cannot continue with my speech, I am too emotional, but my heart is with you. I am with you, with your families, with your children….”