The United Nations paid homage to detained, abducted or missing colleagues today with a call from Secretary-General Kofi Annan to punish those responsible and the distribution to staff of lapel pins intended to highlight the importance of staff security and safety.
“It is particularly troubling that so few perpetrators have been prosecuted for crimes against United Nations staff,” Mr. Annan said in a message marking the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members. “Surely, the swift application of justice would be a real deterrent and a blow against such impunity.”
The Day marks the armed abduction 18 years ago to the day of Alec Collett near Beirut Airport while on assignment for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The fate of Mr. Collett, a former journalist and Director of the UN Information Centre in Ghana, has never been determined.
“Your efforts are especially timely at a moment when many of our colleagues are braving danger and difficulties in responding to the humanitarian needs of the conflict in Iraq,” Mr. Annan told the UN Staff Union on receiving his lapel pin from Mr. Collett’s wife Elaine at UN headquarters in New York. “But of course, quite apart from those hostilities, UN staff around the world face risks and threats every single day.”
Mr. Annan called on Member States who have not yet done so to sign and ratify the 1994 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel.
At least 39 staff members of the UN family of organizations are currently missing or “disappeared” – possibly under arrest or being held in detention.