Iraqi bombing panel finds UN security systems dysfunctional, in need of reform

22 October 2003

An independent panel investigating the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad said today that the UN's security systems were "dysfunctional," providing little guarantee for personnel safety, and needing to be reformed.

What procedures were in place in Baghdad when the 19 August attack took 22 lives were "sloppy" in observance, and non-compliance with regulations was "commonplace," according to the report of the panel led by Martti Ahtisaari, a former President of Finland. He was appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in September to examine "all relevant facts about the security situation in Iraq before the attack, the UN security mechanisms, procedure and measures in place," and identify key lessons for future security arrangements.

The Secretary-General thanked Mr. Ahtisaari for the report, according to a spokesperson for Mr. Annan, who said it “will be closely studied and steps taken to ensure early implementation of its main recommendations.”

In remarks at a press briefing to present the report, Mr. Ahtisaari said, "Everyone bears responsibility: the Member States, who are asking the UN to carry out those responsibilities, and of course the Secretary-General himself - the buck stops always with the Secretary General."

In its executive summary the report said, "In the view of the Panel, the UN security management system failed in its mission to provide adequate security to UN staff in Iraq."

"The failure of UN management and staff to comply with standard security regulations and directives left the UN open and vulnerable" to the attack, it said.

"In particular, the UN security system failed adequately to analyze and utilize information made available to the system on threats against UN staff and premises. The security awareness within the country team did not match the hostile environment. The observance and implementation of security regulations and procedures were sloppy and non-compliance with security rules commonplace."

The report said that had security arrangements been adequate they may not have prevented the attack, but they "would certainly have minimized the vulnerability of the staff and premises and reduced the number of casualties caused by the attack."

"The main conclusion…is that the current security management system is dysfunctional. It provides little guarantee of security to UN staff in Iraq or other high-risk environments and needs to be reformed," the panel said.

The panel labelled as a major deficiency a "lack of accountability for the decisions and positions taken by UN managers with regard to the security of UN staff."

"The United Nations," it said, "needs a new culture of accountability in security management."

The panel noted there was no place without risk in Iraq and recommended that a new assessment be made there before any decision to resume activities in that country.

"A new security approach is needed in order to ensure staff security in such a high-risk environment. The key objective for the UN system in these circumstances is to reach and maintain an acceptable balance between UN operational objectives in Iraq and the security and protection of its staff and assets, both national and international.

"Before the decision to resume the activities in Iraq is made, a thorough and professional security assessment should be undertaken in order to determine whether the return of international staff is possible and, if so, under what kind of security arrangements. These arrangements should be set in place prior to the return of UN staff."

The panel said that it strongly recommended "these principles should be applied to all UN missions."

In his briefing for reporters, Mr. Ahtisaari said, "There has been a dramatic shift. Earlier we all believed that the UN flags protected us…We need a much more professional approach, a professional staff, and resources available for the organization."

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Video of the press briefing

 

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