The Tomb of My Murdered Friends
By Bernard Kouchner
Friday 22 August 2003
They were there for all the real battles, the ones that do us honor because their stakes are peace, justice, democracy, and the protection of the weak. Their names: Sergio Vieira de Mello, Nadia Youn s, Jean-S lim Kanaan, Fiona Watson and many others. Together in Kosovo and elsewhere, we ve shared fraternity, hope, promises that barbarism has just sacked.
They re dead in Baghdad, murdered for our lives purpose: to act without respite on the ground, so that the world may be less stupid and bloody.
They died as they lived, with courage, with talent, and with lucidity, in the service of a forgetful, fickle, and ungrateful international community.
Beyond their specific mission, defined by a skimpy UN Security Council mandate easily criticized from our still peaceful countries: at the margin of the Ango-American command, they tried to establish a dialogue, to start reconciliation, to prevent all fanaticism.
Their bodies were cleared as well as they could be from the rubble of the barely guarded UN headquarters. Dozens of Iraqis died or were wounded along with them. After having attacked the embassy of Jordan, a moderate Muslim country, the terrorists chose for their target the symbol of neutrality and peace that is the United Nations.
Sergio wasn t only the handsome and brave Brazilian diplomat who went from one war to another, one impossible mission to one still more exposed.
I bear witness for the more than thirty years he was my friend: he was a committed politician of the left, a militant for human rights, and a righteous person. From Latin America to Africa, from the Balkans to East Timor, he stamped a new form of diplomatic interference that I consider the true globalization of hope with his elegance, his charm, his stubbornness also, and his friendly loyalty to Kofi Annan.
Nadia was my Egyptian princess. After a brilliant career at Headquarters and in Rome, she reigned over information and protocol at the United Nations. Afterwards, she preferred being on the ground and, for two years she joined our Kosovo mission, demonstrating remarkable efficiency and political sense, welcoming all the pain, all the doubts, all the fears that had us in their grip into her heart and then chasing them away with her raucous laugh, her Mediterranean tenderness. She spent a short time with the World Health Organization (WHO) before reaching Iraq. The Secretary General had just called her back to his side in New York, naming her Assistant Secretary to the United Nations.
I considered Jean-S lim Kanaan as a son. A young man of the world, of three nationalities and a single devotion. A mix of youth and grandeur. European Parliament, Harvard, Bosnia, Kosovo: everywhere a volunteer and always in the worst places, he told the story of his disappointments and his hopes in a recent book. (Ma guerre contre l'indiff rence, Robert Laffont, 2002 (My War Against Indifference-tn)). He had just married Laura, she also, another rash veteran of Kosovo, who single-handedly administered one of the most difficult and dangerous municipalities. Their son, Mati-S lim, is exactly three weeks old. There is much this little boy must be told, how good and kind his father was.
Fiona Watson, Scottish, a brilliant political scientist, joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to organize the first free elections in Kosovo. She became a political advisor there before returning to New York to the Peacekeeping Missions office and volunteering to serve in Baghdad. Who killed our friends? Officially recognized investigators will search. Maybe they won t find the precise signature of this attack before similar other bombs, other booby-trapped cars, other suicide attacks extend their ravages.
We already know who is responsible, whether they come from Al-Queda, Al-Ansar, Saddam s heirs; all their nationalities and ideologies melt together into the same hate. Intolerance, fanaticism, and religious extremism combine and take advantage of George Bush s advisors serious errors of understanding and failures of preparation. Peace-keeping missions are not improvised: they have their own pedagogy and their own apprenticeships. Who murdered our friends? Intolerance and the inappeasable taste for dictatorship.
What do these fanatics target? What will they target from now on? The succession of crimes bears the trademark of the pathologically intolerant. Did some naively imagine that the murders would only target Americans? At the Jordanian embassy, Muslims of a reasonable Islam, respectable and respected, were murdered. At the UN, our dead friends Sergio, Nadia, Jean-S lim, Fiona, represented a community of thought put off by a part of the American administration s violent simplifications. They wanted to give Iraqis the keys to their own newly democratic house.
As for us, as so often draped in our certitudes, let us not imagine ourselves protected from barbarism. Europeans lukewarm interest in maintaining their American and British alliances won t protect them. Those who think so commit a fearsome mistake of analysis. Soon, the Americans won t be the only target of the fanatics, but all democrats, all too moderate believers, and first of all, women.
Will those who are concerned react before it s too late? I m aware as I write this that all reasonable people, all religious men and women of faith and kindness know that I do not attack their belief. But fanaticism will take care of that.
In Baghdad, they wanted to murder the international community.
What can we do now?
Continue at all costs the heavy task our friends harnessed themselves to. Persist in stopping the murderers, in disarming the loyalists of Saddam Hussein, of whom we no longer know whether he murdered only 500,000 or, as they tell it in Baghdad, 4 million Iraqis.
We must follow in the footsteps of our valiant friends and give power to the Iraqis through elections. To this end, it is urgent to enlarge the UN mandate and give them the mission and the means to reconstruct and democratize Iraq. If a specific resolution is finally voted, then the international community will be furnished with a clear mandate that it would be appropriate to fulfill in coordination with the Provisional Iraqi Council. With soldiers for military duties, police for the indispensable security and tranquility of families, technicians to reestablish electricity, gas distribution, and all the essentials of daily life, civilian volunteers to help set up political parties and prepare elections
France, given its previous positions, would be well-advised to take the initiative for this indispensable collective surge. Our enemies are not the Americans, but terrorism. And still the Americans must realize that it s also in their interest. If not, we will soon be saying that Beirut was nothing compared to Baghdad.
Adieu Sergio, Nadia, Fiona, Jean-S lim and the others who represented us so well. You have fallen on the field of battle as soldiers of peace. A piece of my heart lies there with you. A scrap of the last humanitarian innocence, a little of the hope for humanism will go under ground along with you.
Bernard Kouchner is the former High representative for the United Nations in Kosovo, cofounder of Doctors Without Borders, former (French) Minister of Health.
Translation: Truthout French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.
Jump to TO Features for Tuesday 26 August 2003