Portrait of Secretary-General Portrait of Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary-General of the United Nations. 01 June 1959 United Nations, New York

Dag Hammarskjöld and the UN

Yesterday, an event was held at the Swedish residence in London to mark the 50th anniversary of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld’s tragic and untimely death.

Hammarskjöld did great service to the world. He was a true internationalist whose exceptional intellectual capacity and diplomatic skills made him a much admired and respected UN Secretary-General. He managed to combine both tradition and modernity in his leadership role at the UN. Hammarskjöld is the only person to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously.

The special programme for last night’s event thoughtfully combined music by Ludwig van Beethoven with readings from Hammarskjöld’s diary Markings and reflections about the former Secretary-General by prominent speakers with extensive UN experience. Former British UN Ambassador David Hannay’s speech captured the spirit of Hammarskjöld in a most wonderful way. Dag Hammarskjöld’s nephew Knut Hammarskjöld attended the event. Also present was Dame Margaret Anstee, who served under Hammarskjöld during his time as Secretary-General and knew him personally. She wrote about her experience in her autobiography: Never Learn to Type: A Woman at the United Nations.

On a more personal note, I brought with me a letter that Hammarskjöld sent to my grandfather in August 1953. In the letter Hammarskjöld writes that Sweden has a moral obligation to promote peace and freedom for all people. He further writes that as a Swede in his post he feels that the Swedish legal tradition provides a solid base and the he has a great sense of international responsibility. He realises that there is a need to increase knowledge about the values of the UN. The letter used to hang on the wall next to my bed when I visited my grandparents as a child. It was the last thing I looked at before falling asleep and it made me curious to know more about Hammarskjöld and his legacy.

The event was recorded by the BBC World Service as there are plans to produce a programme about the legacy of Dag Hammarskjöld. Today, the marking of the 50th anniversary of Hammarskjöld’s death continues with a conference at the University of London “Dag Hammarskjöld, the United Nations and End of Empire”.

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