Message of the Secretary-General on the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members

By | 25 March 2008

Every day, around the world, countless brave women and men put their lives at risk in service of the international public good. These include United Nations staff and peacekeepers, as well as our colleagues in the non-governmental community and our friends in the press. The International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members is a moment to honour them, increase public awareness and redouble our efforts to reduce the significant threats and risks they face.

This is also the day 23 years ago when terrorists in Beirut forcibly abducted Alec Collet from his car. Alec Collet was working for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. His case remains unresolved.

Since then, scores of others of our colleagues have suffered unjust detention or even abduction. Today, there are 40 United Nations staff members under arrest, detained or missing. Most of them are national staff, whose plight we must not forget.

While it is true that threats of violence, hostility and crime have always been with us, they have been compounded increasingly by the threat of international terrorism. At a time when the UN is needed to do more in a rising number of high-risk locations, the dangers are ever greater. We must meet this challenge and do much more to protect our staff.

The attack of 11 December 2007 on the UN offices in Algiers, where 17 UN staff members were killed and 40 injured, brought home this grim reality.

I am determined to make paramount the safety and security of our staff. That is why I have appointed an Independent Investigative Panel, led by Lakhdar Brahimi, to undertake a comprehensive review of our safety and security measures worldwide. Our work will not end with the conclusion of the panel’s report; it will intensify.

I will spare no effort in ensuring effective cooperation at the highest levels. I will take every occasion to urge Member States to honour their responsibility for the security of our staff working in their countries. Above all, I will work to ensure that the will and the commitment are there.

And I will work to ensure that host countries of our peacekeeping operations meet their obligations. Increasingly, some host countries obstruct implementation of UN mandates, including by resisting security imperatives and other measures — all under the cover of “host country consent” but in direct contravention of the Status of Forces Agreement. Some raise the security risk for our staff through anti-UN polemics, or even abuse of UN personnel.

I look to Security Council members and its individual members to do their part to keep host countries on board, persuading them to cooperate and bear their share of the burden.

And I look to Member States to ensure that those committing crimes against the UN are brought to justice. Today, 82 countries are party to the Convention on the Safety of UN and Associated Personnel, and another 43 have signed it. I urge the remaining Member States to embrace this key part of the architecture of protection, which also includes the Optional Protocol to the Convention arising from Resolution 60/42 of 5 December 2005, as well as the Geneva Conventions, the Statute of the International Criminal Court and other instruments.

On this day of observance, I thank the UN Staff Union’s Committee on the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service for their consistent support in raising public awareness. Let us work together to provide our staff with the protection they need as they carry out their vital work throughout the world.

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