Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called today for the release of all United Nations personnel who have been unlawfully arrested and detained, in a message to mark the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members.
“I call on relevant Member States to respect the status, privileges and immunities of the United Nations and to immediately release all UN staff members and associated personnel who are being unlawfully detained,” said Mr. Ban, noting intensified demand for UN engagement around the world. “In addition, I appeal to those non-State actors that are holding staff members to immediately release them.”
The International Day is held on the anniversary of the abduction of Alec Collett, who was taken by armed gunmen in 1985 while working for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). With his remains having been found and returned to his family in 2009, the Day also honours his memory, and that of all those who have suffered a similar fate.
As of 15 March 2015, 33 UN and associated personnel were detained by State authorities in 15 countries. One staff member is missing and two contractors remain in the custody of abductors. In the first two months of 2015, abductions of UN personnel occurred in Afghanistan and the Central African Republic. Two contractors working for the Joint UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) were kidnapped in Zalingei at gunpoint and remain in custody.
“Abductions of United Nations personnel are increasingly carried out by unscrupulous actors seeking to extract ransom, make a political point, or impede the Organization’s operations,” said Mr. Ban.
He expressed particular concern about the insecurity faced by staff in South Sudan and Syria, pointing to the abduction of a World Food Programme staff member in South Sudan last October, and the numerous UNRWA staff members detained, arrested or missing in Syria.
Those concerns were echoed in a statement released by the UN Staff Union, which said the situation in South Sudan was “particularly troublesome,” as humanitarian workers face the constant threat of kidnapping and harassment in trying to carry out their work. It noted that national staff members were particularly badly affected by detention and abduction, with nine out of 10 UN personnel detained or arrested by State authorities locally recruited.
“Every day that goes by is one too many for our abducted colleagues,” Ian Richards, Vice President of the UN Staff Management Committee, said in the statement.
The statement called for the immediate release of all unlawfully arrested and detained UN personnel, and noted that States held responsibility for obtaining the release of personnel, prosecuting the perpetrators and providing security to UN personnel.
“These are men and women who joined the United Nations to help others, but instead they must live daily in fear of their lives,” said Mr. Richards. “The thoughts and prayers of the 70,000 staff of the United Nations are with them at this time and every day.
“It is an outrage that those who abduct relief workers should continue to go unpunished,” he added. “The United Nations and its member governments must do all they can, and more than they are doing now, to secure our colleagues' release and bring their abductors to justice.”