United Nations History/Dag Hammarskjöld

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Who was he?[edit | edit source]

Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld (July 29, 1905 – September 18, 1961) was a Swedish diplomat and the second Secretary-General of the United Nations. He served from April 1953 until his death in a plane crash in September 1961 under mysterious circumstances. The exact cause of his death has never been conclusively determined. He is the only person to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously.

As Secretary General[edit | edit source]

When Trygve Lie resigned from his post as UN Secretary General in 1953, the Security Council decided to recommend Hammarskjöld to the post. It came as a surprise to him. He was selected on March 31 with the majority of 10 out of eleven states. The UN General Assembly elected him in the April 7–10 session, by 57 votes out of 60. In 1957, he was re-elected.

Hammarskjöld started his term by establishing his own secretariat of 4,000 administrators. He set up regulations that defined their responsibilities. He insisted that the secretary-general be able to take emergency action without the prior approval of either the Security Council or General Assembly.

Relations Abroad[edit | edit source]

During his term, Hammarskjöld tried to soothe relations between Israel and the Arab states. In 1955, he went to mainland China to negotiate the release of 15 US pilots who had served in the Korean War and been captured by the Chinese. In 1956, he established the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF). In 1957, he intervened in the Suez Crisis.

Death[edit | edit source]

In September 1961, Hammarskjöld found out about the fighting between non-combatant UN forces and Katanga troops of Moise Tshombe. He was en route to negotiate a cease-fire on the night of September 17-18 when his DC-6B plane (SE-BDY) crashed near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). The crew had filed no flight plan (for security reasons), and a decoy aircraft went (via a different route) ahead of Hammarskjöld's aircraft. He and fifteen others perished.

On August 19, 1998, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), stated that recently-uncovered letters had implicated British MI5, American CIA and South African intelligence services in the crash. One TRC letter said that a bomb in the aircraft's wheel-bay was set to detonate when the wheels came down for landing. Tutu said that the veracity of the letters was unclear; the British Foreign Office suggested that they may have been created as Soviet misinformation.

On July 29, 2005, 100 years after Hammarskjöld's birth, the Norwegian Major General, Bjørn Egge, gave an interview to the newspaper Aftenposten on the events surrounding his death. According to Egge, who was the first UN officer to see the body, Hammarskjöld had a hole in his forehead, and this hole was subsequently airbrushed from photos taken of the body. It appeared to Egge that Hammarskjöld had been thrown from the plane, and grass and leaves in his hands might indicate that he survived the crash, and had tried to scramble away from the wreckage. Egge does not claim directly that the wound was a gunshot wound, and his statement does not align with Archbishop Tutu's information or with the findings of the official inquiry. In an interview on March 24, 2007 on the Norwegian TV channel NRK, an anonymous retired mercenary claimed to have shared a room with an unnamed South African mercenary who claimed to have shot Hammarskjöld. The alleged killer was claimed to have died in the late 1990s.

Hammarskjöld is still the only U.N. Secretary-General to die in office.