On 18 September 1961, Dag Hammarskjöld and the persons accompanying him tragically died in a plane crash in Ndola, Zambia. His life and work as a peacemaker was abruptly cut short but his ideals and values still serve as a source of inspiration today, as evidenced in the number of events hosted globally in his honour this month.
At the United Nations headquarters in New York, there was a commemorative event already on 12 September, ahead of the opening of the General Assembly. Remarks were given both by Secretary-General António Guterres and Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog.
‘Dag Hammarskjöld not only believed in the United Nations, he inspired so many others to believe in it, too,’ said António Guterres. ‘We need that spirit more than ever today. Multilateralism is under strain, yet effective multilateral cooperation is essential if we are to rise to our global challenges and achieve our global goals. Hammarskjöld understood that the United Nations – like our world — is not perfect. But he knew it is indispensable.’
In Uppsala, the city where Dag Hammarskjöld grew up and completed his studies, a small commemorative event was also organised at the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation. Professor Henning Melber, the Foundation’s Executive Director Emeritus, gave a short presentation of Hammarskjöld’s life and legacy, and the group then walked to Hammarskjöld’s grave to pay their respects and place flowers.
An inspiration for youth
The United Nations Information Centre hosted a seminar in honour of the Dag Hammarskjöld in Lusaka, Zambia with the theme “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for all”. This was chosen to reflect the ‘notable increase of threats to peace around the world’. Particular focus was attributed to the role of young people in peace building, as ‘youth form most of Zambia’s population and their participation in peace building is cardinal.’
It was noted that in recent years Zambia has witnessed violence involving political party supporters, particularly youth, and this trend threatens to disrupt the peace that the country has enjoyed since independence. The event thus served as a good opportunity to gather youth groups and organisations to discuss how they can move away from political violence and proactively influence decision-making processes, as well as contribute to peace building.
At the seminar Henrik Cederin, Swedish Ambassador to Zambia, reminded young people that as future leaders, they are critical actors for positive change and that Hammarskjöld offers valuable lessons that can be used in efforts to build sustainable development and peace today.
‘We can all draw inspiration from Dag Hammarskjöld’s way of reasoning as a great statesman, humanist and internationalist. And we can draw inspiration from the guidance that he still gives us on the importance of ethics, solidarity, and of upholding the universal and fundamental principles of human rights,’ Ambassador Cederin stated.
Back where it ended
Every year, an official commemoration is held in Ndola, Zambia, at the Dag Hammarskjöld Memorial Crash Site. This year too the Dag Hammarskjöld Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at the Copperbelt University hosted a high-level event. Remarks were given by the Zambian National Heritage Conservation Commission, the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, the Swedish ambassador to Zambia, and the Copperbelt Provincial Minister. School choirs and musical groups performed songs and a brass band played the Zambian national anthem as well as solemn music for the laying of wreaths.
At the crash site there is also a small museum, opened at the site in 1981, displaying photos of Hammarskjöld’s life and service at the UN. The museum is also used for collecting materials and books on the life of Dag Hammarskjöld and the role of the United Nations. At the conclusion of the commemoration, a short tour was given of the crash site, including a visit to the small museum and a short presentation at the ant hill where Hammarskjöld is said to have been found after the crash.
‘It is a historic place; it is a place of great sorrow, of quiet contemplation, but also of hope,’ noted Karin Abbor-Svensson, who represented the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation at the crash site in Ndola. ‘It is great to see that Hammarskjöld’s legacy still lives on and that his leadership and firm belief in the values of the UN Charter are still a source of inspiration in today’s world.’