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Homage to a slain delegate

09-04-2003

Ricardo Munguia (39), ICRC water engineer, was shot dead in Afghanistan on 27 March 2003. Family, friends and colleagues paid tribute to him at a ceremony in Geneva on 2 April, during a day of mourning declared by the ICRC.

(See ICRC press release 03/23 of 27.03.03)

Ricardo " preferred laughing to crying " , said ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger . As a Red Cross volunteer he worked through " the worst years of the war " in his native El Salvador " . Later, as a water engineer with the ICRC, he " made a great impression on both the beneficiaries and his colleagues. He himself came from a country at war, and understood the pain of those he met... " . Mr. Kellenberger said Ricardo's death added another name to the " grim list – already far too long – of men and women working for the ICRC and other humanitarian organizations who have been the victims of deliberate attacks.... "

In a message from San Salvador, Ricardo's family said his death reminds us all that much remains to be done to attain peace in the world. His mother, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, spoke of the murdered delegate as a " model of devotion to duty and altruism " . His war-time experience in his native land (he became a Red Cross volunteer at 19) marked him deeply, leading him to yearn for a career working internationally for the Red Cross – a dream he made reality, becoming the only Salvadorian to have worked in so many places for the ICRC (missions in Colombia, Congo, Angola).

 Mr. Kamel Morjane , Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, emphasized the pain shared by his UNHCR colleagues: " The whole humanitarian family is targe ted by this, " he stated. He said the simplistic view would be to say that Ricardo had been " in the wrong place at the wrong time " . But in that case, he added, " we are all in the wrong place at the wrong time " . Mr. Morjane reflected on the irony that one of the assassins might well have been treated earlier at a hospital supported by the ICRC – perhaps had drunk water from a source repaired by the slain engineer.

 Ricardo's colleagues in Afghanistan remembered him as someone who always put others first – his waking thought was to ask: " You OK? Sleep well?... "  While strictly serious about his work, he loved to have fun in his free time – with ideas such as wanting to teach everyone in Afghanistan to Salsa (an endeavour which earned him a twisted ankle and a few days on forced standby). A personal, moving tribute was delivered by two of his closest colleagues, Mr. Shir Shah, a water engineer, and William Hemens, translator.

Afghanistan's senior envoy to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Kazemi , spoke of the " deep shock " he experienced when informed of the killing: " This was a representative of an organization that has served our country for more than 20 years. " The ambassador expressed the apologies of his government for this " act of folly committed against a helping hand. "

In the view of Yves Etienne , head of the ICRC's assistance division and himself a water engineer, the ICRC had lost not only a friend but a top professional. Ricardo, he said, managed to " combine professional skills with compassion, which is what first-class humanitarian work should be about " .

But perhaps the emotion was summed up in the words of a fri end, Sandra : " Be brave – it's the best way of paying homage to him " .