On Day of Solidarity with missing staff, UN calls for wide safety guarantees
With the number of its personnel arrested, under detention or missing increasing from 26 to 43, the United Nations today called on all countries where its peacekeepers are deployed and all parties to armed conflict to ensure the safety of every one of the world organization’s workers or associated staff.
“Violence, hostility and crime continue to plague the ability of the United Nations and others to do their jobs,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message marking the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members.
The Day “offers an opportunity to raise global awareness about the significant threats and risks faced in the line of duty by United Nations staff and peacekeepers, our colleagues in the non-governmental community and our friends in the press,” he added.
The event marks the abduction by armed men, in 1985, near Beirut Airport, of Alec Collett, 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.
As 25 March is a Saturday, this year’s Day, the 21st anniversary of Mr. Collett’s abduction, is being celebrated today at UN Headquarters in New York with the distribution of lapel pins, intended to highlight the importance of staff safety and security. General Assembly President Jan Eliasson was to receive the first pin from Mr. Collett’s wife Elaine.
“In many places, the threat of being taken hostage is prevalent,” Mr. Annan said in his message. “Some host Governments remain unwilling to provide timely information when locally recruited United Nations personnel are arrested or detained. And very few countries have fully investigated attacks or other threats.
“Such problems, troubling at any time, have become an even greater concern today, with the dramatic increase in the number of United Nations field personnel, and with the expansion of mandates into delicate areas, such as criminal justice,” he added.
He congratulated the 80 Member States who have already joined the UN Convention on the Safety of UN and Associated Personnel. “However, very few of the parties are countries in whose territories peacekeeping forces are currently deployed, where the greatest threats typically exist,” he noted.
“I call on these countries, in particular, and all parties to armed conflicts, to uphold their responsibilities under international humanitarian law, to ensure the safety of all civilians caught in combat. A culture of accountability is the best antidote to impunity, and remains the surest means of enabling United Nations staff members to safely apply their courage and commitment in meeting the needs of the world.”
As an example of the risks facing UN personnel, 27 national staff working for the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) were arrested by the Eritrean authorities in February for varying durations, and militia groups kidnapped two staff members in Somalia earlier this month.