Death of Dag Hammarskjöld

The UN Secretary-General DThe UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld arrived in Katanga on the 12th for talks with Katanga authorities and Belgian representatives concerning the modalities of the withdrawal of the Belgian troops and the deployment of the UN Force. At Elisabethville airport prior to his return in Leopoldville.ag Hammarskjöld arrived in Katanga on the 12th for talks with Katanga authorities and Belgian representatives concerning the modalities of the withdrawal of the Belgian troops and the deployment of the UN Force. [Photo shows him] at Elisabethville airport prior to his return in Leopoldville.

Mr. Hammarskjold, whose name is on buildings in and around the United Nations headquarters in New York, was an iconic Swedish diplomat, the organization’s second secretary general and a strong advocate for decolonization in Africa.

He is the only person to have been posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and was described by President John F. Kennedy as “the greatest statesman of our century.”

Mr. Hammarskjold was in his eighth year in the job when he was killed at 56 while flying to Ndola on the night of Sept. 18, 1961, for negotiations to end secession and civil war in the neighboring mineral-rich Congolese province of Katanga.

He had arranged to meet with the Katangese separatist leader, Moïse Tshombe, whose forces were backed by Western political and mining interests not eager for Mr. Hammarskjold to succeed.

The official inquiries that immediately followed suggested that pilot error was the cause, but one of the reports, by the United Nations Commission of Investigation in 1962, said that sabotage could not be ruled out. That possibility helped feed suspicions and conspiracy theories.

Since then, independent investigators and academics have spent years collecting and scrutinizing evidence that had been dismissed or suppressed. In her 2011 book “Who Killed Hammarskjold?,” Susan Williams, a University of London scholar of African decolonization, concluded that “his death was almost certainly the result of a sinister intervention.”

Her work raised further questions about whether Western intelligence agencies, including those of Britain, the United States and Belgium, the former colonial power in Congo, had withheld information relating to Mr. Hammarskjold’s death.

U.N. Renews Push to Solve Its Biggest Mystery: Hammarskjold’s DeathNew York Times, 27 March 2018

At the Archives

United Nations Commission of Investigation into the Death of Mr. Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary-General, and Members of His Party

United Nations Operations in the Congo - ONUC (1960-1964) [please note that the majority of these files have been declassified since 2016, in an effort to provide researchers more access to records about the circumstances surrounding the plane crash.]

Investigation-related files

Dag Hammarskjold archival collectio

Dag Hammarskjöld, 1953-1961

"I have no doubt that 40 years from now we shall be engaged in the same pursuit. How could we expect otherwise? World organization is still a new adventure in human history." - Dag Hammarskjöld, 20 May 1956.

Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld was Secretary-General of the United Nations from 10 April 1953 until 18 September 1961 when he was killed in a plane accident while on a peace mission in the Congo. Born on 29 July 1905 in Jonkoping, Sweden, Mr. Hammarskjöld was educated at Uppsala University and University of Stockholm, where he obtained a doctorate in economics in 1933.

Mr. Hammarskjöld was appointed to the post of Permanent Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Finance (1936) and became an adviser to the Cabinet on financial and economic problems (1946), organizing and coordinating different governmental planning for the various economic problems that during the post-war period. He was appointed to the Foreign Office (1947) and was appointed Secretary-General of the same (1949) before joining the Cabinet as Minister (1951). He was Vice-Chairman of the Swedish Delegation to the Sixth Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly in Paris (1951-1952), and acting Chairman of Sweden’s delegation to the Seventh General Assembly (1952-1953).

Mr. Hammarskjöld was unanimously appointed Secretary-General of the United Nations by the General Assembly on 7 April 1953 on the recommendation of the Security Council. He was re-elected unanimously for another term of five years in September 1957.

During his terms as Secretary-General, Mr. Hammarskjöld carried out many responsibilities for the United Nations in the course of its efforts to prevent war and serve the other aims of the Charter. In 1960, President Joseph Kasa-Vubu and Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba of the Republic of the Congo sent a cable on 12 July asking for the "urgent dispatch" of United Nations military assistance to the Congo. Following Security Council actions, the United Nations Force in the Congo was established and the Secretary-General himself made four trips to the Congo in connection with the United Nations operations there throughout 1960 and 1961. The fourth trip to the Congo began on 12 September and ended on 18 September 1961 with the plane crash that killed the Secretary-General.

Archival Finding Aid consists of a very small portion of the archives of Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld; those which were left at the Secretariat after selected archives were transferred to Mr. Andrew Cordier and the Royal Library of Sweden. 

Death of Dag Hammarskjöld research guide

Official United Nations Biography

Dag Hammarskjold Library Research Guide

Speeches and Recordings

Commission of Investigation into the Death of Mr. Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary-General, and Members of His Party

United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) - Files and Correspondence

United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) - Advisory Committee Verbatim Minutes

Dag Hammarskjöld Collection, Royal Library of Sweden 

Andrew Cordier Papers, Columbia University Library Rare Book and Manuscript Division

Key Documents

The Hammarskjöld Commission is a voluntary body of four international jurists who have been invited by an international Enabling Committee to report whether in their view the evidence now available would justify the United Nations in reopening its inquiry pursuant to General Assembly resolution 1759 (XVII) of 26 October 1962. Their 2016 report can be downloaded here. Further documentation collected by the Commission:

General Assembly resolution 1759 (XVII), 26 October 1962

Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Department of Civil Aviation, Report into the accident of 1961, chaired by Colonel Maurice Barber, Federal Director of Civil Aviation, November 1961

Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Report of the Commission on the Accident Involving Aircraft SE-BDY, chaired by Sir John Clayden, Chief Justice of the Federation, presented to the Federal Assembly, Salisbury, Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, February 1962

United Nations General Assembly, Report of the Commission of the Investigation into the Conditions and Circumstances Resulting in the Tragic Death of Mr Dag Hammarskjöld and of Members of the Party Accompanying Him, chaired by Rishikesh Shaha, 24 April 1962 (UN A/5069)

Rösiö, Bengt, ‘The Ndola Disaster. Revised version’, Stockholm, for Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, November 1992 - February 1993

Medico-Legal Aspects on the Death of Dag Hammarskjöld, by Prof. Lennart Rammer, Prof. Christer Busch and Dr Deryk James Linköping, Uppsala and Cardiff, 24 July 2013

Accident Investigator’s Report to the Hammarskjöld Commission, by Sven E Hammarberg, MSc, MBA, Accident Investigator Kristianstad, Sweden, 15 August 2013

Report on the statements of witnesses in former inquiries into the Death of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld written upon the request of The Hammarskjöld Commission, by Annelore Beukema, Thijs Beumers, Kitty ten Bras, Martijn Hekkenberg, Abram Klop, Danielle Troost, under the supervision of Prof. Dr Alex Geert Castermans Leiden Law School, Leiden, 31 May 2013