The United Nations held a memorial ceremony honoring the lives of 21 U.N. staff members who died Sunday when an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed shortly after leaving Addis Ababa.
Michael Moller, the director-general of the U.N. office in Geneva, spoke with sadness and pride Friday about the passion, dedication and expertise of the young professionals and seasoned officials who were among the 157 victims of the crash.
The U.N. staff members aboard the plane were headed to a major U.N. environment conference in Nairobi.
“They were people like Michael Ryan from the World Food Program, who fought the Ebola outbreak, helped Rohingya refugees, helped in countless other places,” Moller said. “I was touched by what his mother said on Irish television about him: ‘He tried to do the best for others. He was,’ she said, ‘our hero.’ And that is, I believe, true for every one of our colleagues. They are all our heroes.”
Prisca Chaoui, who spoke on behalf of the U.N. staff, called the tragedy one of the most serious to have befallen the United Nations.
“The 21 staff members who were taken away from us without the time to bid farewell to their loved ones or to their colleagues belonged to 12 specialized agencies and to one peacekeeping mission. Every day, we learn a little more about them and discover what extraordinary women and men they were,” Chaoui said through an interpreter.
Tragedy has struck the U.N. family before. In 2003, a terrorist attack on the U.N. office in Baghdad killed 22 staff members. In 2007, 17 staff members died in an attack in Algiers. In 2011, an air crash in the Democratic Republic of the Congo killed 33 people, many of them from the U.N. staff.
Chaoui said it was important to celebrate the lives of these colleagues and to recognize the heavy price some people pay to serve the United Nations and its ideals.