First Person: ‘A piece of me also died,’ in 2003 UN Canal Hotel bombing

UN Photo/Timothy Sopp | The United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, was destroyed by a truck bomb on August 19, 2003.

United Nations, 17 August 2023

The widow of a UN staff member who died in the terrorist attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq has been describing how “a piece of me also died on that tragic day.”

Laura Dolci’s husband, Jean-Selim Kanaan, had been deployed by the UN Office for Project Services to work as Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq.

Twenty years after the attack and to mark World Humanitarian Day which is commemorated annually on 19 August, she remembers her husband.  

“In the terrorist attack against the UN headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August 2003, I lost Jean-Selim Kanaan, my 33-year-old husband and father of our newly born son. 

We had met in Bosnia, and then moved together to Kosovo and later to New York, fiercely in love and sharing the same values and love for the blue flag. With him and our colleagues, a piece of me also died on that tragic day. 

© Laura Dolci | Laura Dolci and her late husband, Jean-Selim Kanaan.

Continuing to work for the UN was a difficult choice for me, but one that has helped me give purpose and meaning in the face of that heinous criminal act. I’m currently Secretary of the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council.

The 19th of August is engraved in every cell of my body. It is part of me and the life of our family. It means a child who grew up without knowing his father. That two-ton bomb brutally maimed our family, but we held together, inspired by Jean-Selim’s sacrifice, and we carried on, giving meaning to our existence and holding high the values of humanity and justice, at home and at work.

The attack and the UN’s response shows that the world is complex, with new threats emerging. 

Yet, this is a great profession, and I am happy to see that the legacy of Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the then UN Special Representative in Iraq who also died in the attack. He and his colleagues continue to inspire the new generation of UN civil servants in the field. 

I hope, however, that this twentieth anniversary will also be an occasion for the UN family to reflect on how best to operate in today’s complex scenarios. 

I hope the UN flag will regain its brightness. We need a stronger UN, negotiating for peace, mediating to prevent and stop conflicts. 

Our fallen colleagues would want just that.”

The original article appeared here.

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