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Annan urges States to ‘turn the tide’ against insecurity for humanitarian workers

Annan urges States to ‘turn the tide’ against insecurity for humanitarian workers

Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged governments to “turn the tide” against the insecurity faced by United Nations personnel, as well as other humanitarian workers and journalists, serving in war-torn locations.

“We need greater political will on the part of governments and all other parties involved in armed conflicts to meet their obligations to provide the protection and access that UN staff, humanitarian personnel and journalists not only need, but have a right to expect,” Mr. Annan said in a message marking International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members.

The Day marks the 1985 abduction near Beirut Airport of Alec Collett, a former UN Information Centre Director and journalist. The fate of Mr. Collett, who was at that time on assignment for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), has never been determined. The observance intends to draw attention to the staff members who over the years have been arrested, detained, abducted or “disappeared” while in the UN’s service.

“Risk comes with the territory, but greater protection is possible,” the Secretary-General stressed, noting that almost every UN entity has lost a staff member in the line of duty. Non-governmental organizations have also lost personnel, who have often been deliberately targeted, and the murder of reporter Daniel Pearl highlighted yet again the dangers faced by journalists, “whose efforts play an enormous role in raising public awareness and rousing Governments to act,” he added.

Mr. Annan pointed out that for the UN, funding was one key requirement and he was encouraged that the General Assembly had just provided additional resources for training, equipment, counselling and personnel.

Meanwhile, the search for justice should also receive a significant boost with the entry into force – just five ratifications away – of the Statute for the International Criminal Court, which defines attacks on peacekeepers and humanitarian personnel as war crimes.

“There must also be more concerted action for peace and development in the broadest sense, to turn the tide against the insecurity that draws our colleagues into the field in the first place,” he said.

These issues were the focus of a panel discussion at UN Headquarters in New York, which brought together journalists and UN officials to examine the theme, “Hazards of working on the front lines.”

According to moderator Shashi Tharoor, Interim Head of the UN Department of Public Information, 12 UN personnel lost their lives last year as a result of malicious acts such as murder, military action or landmine explosion. The strongest deterrent against such attacks, he added, was the swift application of justice by Member States.

The panel included Pulitzer Prize winner Joshua Friedman of Newsday, Joel Simon, Deputy Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists and Raghida Dergham, correspondent of the London newspaper Al-Hayat. Azim Mian, President of the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA) and Marcus Brauchli, National Editor of The Wall Street Journal, also participated in the discussion.