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Statement delivered by H.E. Ambassador Ib Petersen, Permanent Representative of Denmark to the UN, on the occasion of the passing of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, 5 June 2017 in New York.

05.06.2017  22:44

(Check against delivery)

Excellences, distinguished members of the executive board and colleagues, Ms. Laura Londén, Deputy Executive Director, and Ms. Natalia Kanem, Deputy Executive Director, staff members of UNFPA:

It is with great sadness that I inform the board of the sudden passing away of Dr. Babatudne Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA. As you are aware, Dr. Babatunde was going to address the board this morning and be with us for the whole day for the UNFPA segment. On behalf of my fellow colleagues in the bureau, I wish to convey to his family, to the entire staff in UNFPA and to the United Nations, our deepest condolences on the passing of Dr. Babatunde. May I ask you to join me in one minute of silence in memory?

[A minute passes in silence]

After consulting with the management of UNFPA, I wish to inform you that today’s session will be cancelled, given the circumstances, and that we will resume the UNFPA segment at 10am tomorrow 6th of June. Unless there are any objections, this is so decided. I also wish to propose that we begin UNFPA’s segment tomorrow with a formal tribute to Dr. Babatunde. Delegations, through the regional chairs, and agencies will be given an opportunity to make statements in tribute to the late Executive Director. We will inform member states of this arrangement as well as the rescheduling of this week’s programme and that the revised work plan, which accommodates these changes, has been agreed by the bureau.

Before adjourning, allow me nevertheless a few remarks in memory of Dr. Babatunde. It is certainly with great sadness that we have learned of his sudden death this morning. He served as the Executive Director since January 2011, and before that as Minister of Health in Nigeria. The news were doubly shocking in the way that we were to listen to his statement this morning, from this chair, and no doubt it would have, as always, been with energy, determination, and first of all an unwavering commitment to the fight for the rights of women and girls all over the world, to ensure that they themselves can decide over their life.

I met Dr. Babatunde for the first time in Copenhagen in early 2011 shortly after his appointment, and I was immediately struck by his strong determination – clearly the right man, in the right place, at the right time. I feel proud and privileged to say that we got along really well right from the start. He was a partner in spirit, a good colleague, and a dear friend. 

I recall – and we all recall – strong moments with Dr. Babatunde over the past years during his tenure. In particular, one moment stands clear to me: During the negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals, in the spring of 2015, we were fighting for having the necessary assurances of the rights of women and girls in the 2030 agenda. I remember Dr. Babatunde coming to negotiations late one night, feeling that this was wrong, if there were not enough assurances and not enough political will to ensure those rights. So he made a statement, very personal, starting with the example, as he often did, of the ten year old girl from Nigeria. Why was it, that she would not be given the same opportunities, the same possibilities, and the same rights as everybody else? A very strong commitment – no doubt that Dr. Babatunde played a very strong role in assuring the result we got in the 2030 agenda.

And just a few weeks ago, to show his dedication, in some of our informal discussions he reacted very strongly to a notion put forward that the mandate of UNFPA was not about human rights. He came up with a strong statement underlining that what he was fighting for, what he was working for with the rest of us, was indeed the rights of women and girls all over the world, to decide on their own life.

We will miss him so much in these times, and as I said we will have time tomorrow morning for a few remarks on behalf of the regional groups.

So let me just end here by these words. Thank you all for agreeing to this change of schedule. Our thoughts go to the staff of UNFPA, and in respect for them to have a solemn day to reflect and remember. Thank you very much.

The meeting is adjourned.