Photo crediit: UN Peacekeeping - Photo: 2024

The Highest Number of UN Staffers Killed in Conflicts in 79 Years

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS | 8 June 2024 (IDN) —The growing military conflicts worldwide—and specifically the eight-month-old war in Gaza—are continuing to claim the lives of both UN staffers and UN peacekeepers.

At the June 6 memorial service for fallen staff members, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “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,” he said.

Among those personnel killed were 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,” he said.

Guterres said they were teachers, drivers, doctors, sanitation workers, guards, pharmacists, administrative assistants and more. And they were also mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, husbands and wives.

Fatal multilaterism in action

“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.”

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, Guterres said.

Meanwhile, Philippe Lazzarini, the Commissioner General of UNRWA said on June 6 that an UNRWA shelter was attacked in Nuseirat, in the Middle Area of Gaza. It was hit overnight by the Israeli Forces without prior warning to the displaced people or to the UNRWA staff in the building.

At least 35 people were killed and many more injured, he said. The school was sheltering 6,000 men, woman and children who were displaced.

The Commissioner General added that attacking, targeting or using UN buildings for military purposes are a blatant disregard of international humanitarian law. UN staff, premises and operations must be protected at all times.

In our divided world, said Guterres, 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, he said, “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”. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo credit: UN Peacekeeping

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