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UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres

UN chief, others honour colleagues killed in Gaza conflict

Staff Union Ceremony to honor colleagues killed in Gaza

By Cecilia Ologunagba

New York, Nov. 14,  2023

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday led a minute of silence at UN Headquarters in New York in honour of 101 staff killed so far during in the Gaza conflict.

According to the UN, the number is the largest killed during a conflict in the 78-year history of the organisation.

The fallen colleagues worked for the UN agency that assists Palestine refugees, (UNRWA), providing life-saving aid to Gaza’s 2.2 million people, amid constant bombardment over the past month and a complete siege of the enclave.

They were school principals, teachers, health workers, including a gynaecologist, engineers, support staff and a psychologist.

The New Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Guterres led the minute’s silence at the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Chamber at the UN headquarters in memory of the departed.

He stood before UN Resident Coordinators from around the world, who are meeting this week, flanked by Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and the President of the UN General Assembly, Dennis Francis.

“Today, the family observed a moment of silence to mourn and  honour our colleagues killed in Gaza. Since the start of this conflict, more than 100 staff have lost their lives – the highest number of UN aid workers killed in a conflict in such a short time.

“They will never be forgotten,” he said.

The commemoration at the Secretariat began around 7:30 AM, with the UN flag being raised to half-mast – the sole one flying that day.

Normally all the flags of the UN’s 193 Member States and two observer States – Palestine and Vatican City – are raised each weekday morning, and in alphabetical order, then lowered in the afternoon.

The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, Riyad Mansour who attended the simple ceremony in front of the Secretariat, said the gesture honoured the deceased UNRWA staff members and all “Palestinian martyrs”, including thousands of children killed in the “barbaric war”.

He stressed the need for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, along with “hundreds of truckloads” of aid, medicine and water.

“And we want to stop the crime against humanity of forced mass transfer…to allow the Palestinian people to stay in the Gaza Strip. It is our homeland.

“We don’t want to live a second Nakba. We want to stay in our homeland and to rebuild the Gaza Strip.”

Mansour also expressed hope for “a political horizon” to end the occupation “so that Palestinian people can live in freedom and dignity in our independent State, with Holy Jerusalem as the capital of our State.”

“UNRWA staff in Gaza appreciate the UN lowering the flag around the world. In Gaza however, we have to keep the UN flag flying high as a sign that we are still standing and serving the people of Gaza,” Tom White, the agency’s Director in the Gaza Strip, said speaking from Rafah.

UN officials and staff at duty stations worldwide observed a minute of silence in memory of their deceased colleagues, while the UN flag was flown at half-mast.

Meanwhile, the UN Staff Union held a ceremony in the Secretariat lobby where the names of the deceased colleagues were read aloud.

“May they rest in eternal power and peace,”  First Vice-President Francisco Brito said, surrounded by staff members, some of whom held signs that said ‘responsibility to protect,’ ‘stop the killing,’ ‘protect civilians’ and other appeals.

Speaking in Geneva, Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General of the UN Office in the Swiss city said their deaths represented the highest number of aid workers killed in UN history in such a short time.

“Thousands of our colleagues continue to work under the UN flag in [the] most risky parts of the world. And let’s pay tribute to their activities, to their work, to their devotion,” she said.

The UNRWA staff members “embodied the spirit of the United Nations, standing on the frontlines of conflict zones to provide much-needed humanitarian assistance and support,” said the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), speaking at its headquarters in Geneva.

“Their unwavering dedication to peace, justice, and the well-being of others serves as a guiding light and a reminder of the importance of our shared mission,” Tedros Ghebreysus told WHO personnel.

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