NEW YORK - In a sombre ceremony at the United Nations Headquarters, in New York, the Organization remembered and honoured the 188 personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty in 2023.

Among them were 135 women and men who worked for the UN agency assisting Palestine refugees (UNRWA), killed during Israeli military operations in Gaza since 7 October. Many were killed along with their families and within the communities they served.

“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,” Secretary-General António Guterres said.

He reiterated his call for “full accountability” for the deaths.

“We owe this to their family members and friends, to their colleagues, and to the world. Our UNRWA personnel lived and died as representatives of the international community in Gaza, and that community deserves an explanation.”


Families gone too


In the Trusteeship Council, overlooked by the iconic statue of a girl - her arms raised, reaching towards a bird in flight symbolizing “Mankind and Hope” - the names of the fallen were read out.

In line with the institution’s rules, the consent of family members was sought for the inclusion of their loved ones’ names in the service. However, for UNRWA, only 22 families could be contacted.

“Unfortunately, we were unable to contact many of the family members of our UNRWA colleagues because they have either been killed or forced from their homes by Israeli military operations,” Mr. Guterres said.

The remaining UNRWA personnel were remembered with their professional titles.

“They were teachers, drivers, doctors, sanitation workers, guards, pharmacists, administrative assistants and more. They were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives. They were our colleagues. They were our friends,” Mr. Guterres said.

“I am personally devastated that despite our best efforts, we could not protect our personnel in Gaza.”

‘Nations united’

Between 1 January and 31 December 2023, the UN personnel lost were from a total of 37 countries, working for 18 different 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,” Mr. Guterres said, stressing that in today’s politically divided world, the UN’s core values are more important than ever.

“Despite our differences, we should all agree that those who serve these values under the UN flag are entitled to protection,” he concluded.