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In the Line of Duty

In the Line of Duty

This week, we lost a friend and a sister in the line of duty. She was traveling to Durban, South Africa for the 17th Conference of Parties (CoP-17, or climate change negotiations).

Marie Aminata Khan, who served as Programme Officer at the Secretariat of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in Montreal, Canada. The memorial posted on the website of CBD provides a vivid look into her illustrious 17-year career at the United Nations. 

Marie epitomised the true spirit of those who have dedicated themselves to saving the world. A famous global leader once said that the UN was created after World War II “to make sure we did not create hell on earth”.  Marie was one of the silent soldiers in that quest.  At many of the major international negotiations in which I took part, I saw Marie in action either beside her bosses (such as the CEO of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the Executive Director of CBD); or in most cases as an expert panelist in public forums.


L-R: Lorena Aguilar, IUCN; Marie Aminata Khan, CBD Secretariat; Yoko Watanabe, GEF and Yukic Horie, UNCCD Secretariat

It is noteworthy that both her father and mother also served the UN and the Organization of African Unity (OAU), respectively, for decades.

She fell ill suddenly while she was on the long flight from Zurich to Johannesburg. When we visited her at the hospital a week ago, her father and I joked with her, talking about her speedy recovery and her return to Canada. But alas, the Almighty had other plans.  

Her sudden passing brings home the shocking reality that while our jobs in the multilateral system may sound glamorous, there are real health risks and in many cases security risks associated with what we do. 

Further, while some are always in the spotlight, Marie and many others are the unsung heroes those who toil behind the scenes, ensuring that documents are ready; getting the negotiators and the big bosses in the right place at the right time; making sure the titans say the right words so that sanity will prevail; helping the protagonists put aside national interests in order to protect the global commons.

May the good Lord receive her, and may she rest in peace.

Marie will be laid to rest on Sunday, 18/12/11. 

La luta continua.

by Kandeh Yumkella

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