The United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) held a solemn ceremony today at UN Headquarters in New York to mark the Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members.
The annual commemoration highlights the plight of UN staff members who have been arrested, detained, abducted or "disappeared" while working for the world body, and draws attention to the wider issues of staff security and safety.
According to the most recent UN statistics on the safety and security of humanitarian personnel, 34 UN staff members are either under arrest, missing or have been detained.
Last year alone, 10 UN staff members were taken hostage in Liberia, Georgia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In January of this year, a UN staff member was kidnapped in Somalia and held for more than a week.
The Day was instituted after the 1985 abduction in Beirut of Alec Collett, who had been working for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Mr. Collett's fate remains unknown.
Mr. Collett's wife Elaine joined Secretary-General Kofi Annan, General Assembly President Julian R. Hunte of St. Lucia, and UNCA President Tony Jenkins at the ceremony.
Mr. Annan said the feelings at the UN on the subject of the Day are especially raw after last year's deadly terrorist attack in Baghdad, where his senior envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 others were killed.
"I wish to assure all staff that their safety remains my foremost concern, and I am committed to ensuring that the policies, protections and accountability measures are in place that will enable them to carry out their vital work," the Secretary-General said.
He also urged the 120 countries that are not party to the United Nations Convention on the Safety of UN and Associated Personnel to join that pact without delay.
"But that, of course, is merely a first step, and one on paper, too; there is far more that states can and must do to provide secure and safe working conditions, to prevent hostage-taking, arbitrary detentions and 'disappearances,' and to seek justice when such things occur," he added.
Video of ceremony