I am honoured to award the Dag Hammarskjöld medal to 103 peacekeepers who died while serving the United Nations in 2012.
I am deeply saddened to report that this marks the fifth year in a row that more than 100 peacekeepers lost their lives in the line of duty.
This International Day is always a sober occasion. This ceremony is a reminder that our decisions can have very painful consequences. The people whose memories we honour today died doing work that we asked them to do.
Peacekeeping is fraught with risk, but it is also filled with promise. Our blue helmets bring hope to millions of people in some of the most troubled parts of the world.
I saw this on every stop of my trip to Africa last week.
In Mozambique, where peace today traces back to a United Nations peacekeeping mission fielded some two decades ago.
In the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where thousands of people greeted me with signs that said “No War. Peace.” This was their simple plea for an end to the fighting in that country.
Our peacekeepers strive every day to answer this call. Today we remember the price. Seventeen of these medals honour those who lost their lives in the DRC last year.
In Rwanda, I paid my respects at the Gisozi Genocide Memorial -- a stark reminder of what can happen when peacekeepers are pulled out just when they are needed most.
In Uganda, I met with blue helmets serving at the logistics base at Entebbe where we are modernizing our operations.
Our aim is to make peacekeeping more effective for the people we serve, and safer for the staff who carry out this life-saving work.
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
A few weeks ago, we marked the sixtieth anniversary of the day Dag Hammarskjöld took the oath of office as Secretary-General.
It was a chance to celebrate his legacy. One of his greatest contributions was advancing the concept of peacekeeping.
We also remembered his tragic death.
At the time, one official was assigned to accompany Hammarskjöld’s body back to Sweden. This man wondered whether the dream of peace had died along with the Secretary-General. But then he continued on to Headquarters, and into the embrace of his colleagues. Their solidarity reminded him that the dream of peace could never die.
Today we show that same solidarity.
These medals are a symbol of our resolve. I hope they offer some comfort to the families. The memory of their loved ones lives on in our dedicated work for peace.