Statement by Ms. Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the occasion of World Humanitarian Day - Geneva, 19 August 2010

Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to join you in the commemoration of the second anniversary of World Humanitarian Day.

We should not forget that on this very day, seven years ago, a great humanitarian, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq and High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 colleagues lost their lives in the attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad.

We mourn their loss with their families and friends. Our thoughts are also with the colleagues who survived the attack and who have had to come to terms with a tragedy that shattered their lives.

World Humanitarian Day allows us to reflect upon the courage of Sergio and his fellow workers and many other brave colleagues who often work in very difficult circumstances to save lives, alleviate suffering and offer protection.

We commemorate too, the thousands who have lost their lives trying to assist others in situations of immense suffering and hardship.
Humanitarian work requires great commitment as well as physical and intellectual stamina. It can be immensely satisfying, but it is very often dangerous, unpredictable, frustrating, and heartbreaking. 

Nevertheless, to their great credit, these women and men, some of whom are here today to share their experiences, continue to carry on selflessly.  They set a shining example for their peers and inspire the young to emulate their efforts.

Humanitarian workers have two essential roles.

They coordinate and ensure the prompt delivery of life-saving assistance under the most challenging operational constraints, in situations where the capacity of local authorities has been outpaced by the scale of the emergencies.

In so doing they represent the international community’s commitment to maintaining, in the most practical sense, a fundamental respect for human rights and dignity. 

The on going global support for humanitarian assistance is underpinned by a fundamental conviction that the Principles set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights apply to every individual and must be defended and upheld in all situations.
This is particularly true in exceptional circumstances following a sudden natural disaster or man-made calamities where the rights of the most vulnerable are easily trampled.

Let us not forget that right now Pakistan is struggling with the worst natural disaster in its history –more than 20 million people are homeless because of the flooding and the situation continues to worsen.   Humanitarian workers from UN agencies and non governmental organizations are there and elsewhere, wherever and whenever needed, assisting in the face of unimaginable difficulties.  

Ladies and gentlemen

We must strive to ensure that all governments and communities understand that respect for human rights and humanitarian law are the essential prerequisites for peace, security and prosperity.

And we must keep celebrating these valiant colleagues.
I am looking forward and invite all of you to carefully listen to and learn from their stories. 

Thank you.