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UN staff remember colleagues killed by terrorists in Algiers one year ago

UN staff remember colleagues killed by terrorists in Algiers one year ago

UNHCR Algiers headquarters destroyed by suicide bomb attack
United Nations staff members in Algiers and New York gathered today to pay tribute to 17 of their colleagues killed by terrorists in the Algerian capital last year on the first anniversary of the attack that took their lives.

“As in so many countries around the world, the UN presence possessed wonderfully varied skills and expertise,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message, which was delivered by Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro at a ceremony in New York.

“Some cared for refugees; others fought disease. Still others were drivers and support staff. Whatever their unique contributions, all were motivated by the same desire – the desire that forms the very backbone of this Organization – to serve the common, greater good…

“One year after the attack, we still feel the searing pain and irreplaceable loss of the lives cut short on that day.

“Terrorists have taken these noble individuals from us. But they can never extinguish our hopes for global harmony nor our conviction that working together is the only path to a better world,” Mr. Ban stated.

The 17 UN staff members were killed, and 40 others injured, when a car bomb destroyed the offices of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and damaged those of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Algiers.

Just 20 minutes before the attack on the UN offices, terrorists struck the Algerian Constitutional Court, killing at least 14 people.

“I was deeply humbled by the courage shown by our colleagues and their families in the face of such adversity,” UNDP Administrator Kemal Derviş said at the ceremony.

Mr. Derviş called on UN staff and Member States to show that UN personnel are in the field to serve the ideals of the UN Charter “and that our work in development issues and peace is in the interest of all humanity.”

Dimitri Samaras, Chair of the UN International Civil Servants Federation, called for updating UN policies to better respond to staff needs, especially the staff who had been injured, as well as their families. “Staff must be fully covered by legal instruments and safeguards,” he said. “Staff must know that appropriate adequate human and financial resources for effective risk management and security support are earmarked.”

In addition, UN Staff Union President Stephen Kisambira stressed the need “to take care of those who were injured both physically and emotionally in Algiers, as well as their families.”

“It is unacceptable that those who kill or attack UN staff and associate personnel do so with impunity,” Mr. Kisambira said. “We demand justice, since without a clear message of justice being done, more UN staff will be killed, wounded or kidnapped.”

UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Thoraya Obaid, as Chair of the High Level Committee on Management, said that she had seen a real change expressed through a system-wide response to UN staff safety and security. All the heads of UN system organizations, she said, “are fully backing a strong security system that protects the staff, and a strong management system that supports the staff in times of crisis.”

“This will require resources that we have to make available, because the lives of our colleagues are priceless to the Organization and to their families,” Ms. Obaid said.

After receiving the report of the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of UN Personnel and Premises, chaired by Lakhdar Brahimi, in June, Mr. Ban set up a steering committee to follow up on the Panel’s recommendations.

That committee presented its findings at the October meeting of the Chief Executives Board, which brings together the heads of various UN agencies and entities, and, since then, further work has been done to develop a comprehensive plan for a system-wide security management system.

“The Chief Executives Board will consider that plan at its spring 2009 session, to ensure that we have the best possible security system for our staff,” UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters in New York.

“As we make progress on the recommendations of various expert committees, the Secretary-General is also committed to look at how the UN can better support the families of victims,” she added.

A working group has been formed under the leadership of the head of the Department of Management to examine how the UN can better respond to the need for sustained support for surviving staff and families of deceased staff.

This includes improving institutional capacity for counselling, reviewing and updating insurance claim procedures, carrying out a lessons-learned exercise, and assessing the feasibility of establishing a trust fund to further assist the families of the victims and survivors, she said.