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"We must not let violence drive us out", Deputy Secretary-General to Security Council on protection of UN personnel

DSG/SM/84 - SC/6804
Outlines Steps Needed to Improve Security, Including Increased Funding, Ratification of Rome Statute, Bringing Perpetrators to Justice

Following is the statement of Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the Security Council meeting on the protection of United Nations and associated personnel, and humanitarian personnel in conflict zones on 9 February:

Me complace muy especialmente dar la bienvenida al nuevo Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de la Argentina en su primera visita a las Naciones Unidas. Quisiera aprovechar esta oportunidad para agradecer a la Argentina el inestimable apoyo que ha prestado constantemente a esta Organización y, en particular, reconocer con profundo agradecimiento sus importantes contribuciones a las operaciones de mantenimiento de la paz en todo el mundo. La iniciativa de hoy demuestra que la Argentina sigue tan firmemente comprometida como siempre a apoyar nuestra labor en las regiones más peligrosas del mundo.

I want to thank you and your country for bringing us together to discuss a vital issue which is often overlooked: the protection of United Nations and associated personnel. There could be no finer way to use your Presidency than to focus attention on those brave men and women who risk their lives bringing peace to the world and relief to the victims of conflict.

It is not just United Nations personnel, but the international community as a whole, which stands to benefit from this initiative and the stronger sense of urgency I hope it will generate. For whenever a "Blue Helmet", a relief worker or a local interpreter falls victim to hatred and violence, their family, friends and colleagues are not alone in mourning their loss. It is felt also by those who depend on their help: sick and hungry children; refugees and displaced persons; and civilians threatened by armed conflicts.

We are faced with a dramatic increase in the number of killings, assaults and kidnappings of civilian staff since the early 1990s, and I may add that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and our non-governmental organizations partners in the field have suffered in the same measure. We cannot just go on with our business. Nor do we have the option of simply walking away from dangerous situations. Often the United Nations has to stay because it represents the last ray of hope for suffering populations. If we leave, there may be no one else to take our place. We cannot let threats intimidate us; we cannot let violence drive us out. We have too great a responsibility towards the people we promised to help.

But, this in no way reduces our responsibility towards those who deliver that help in high-risk environments. The least we can do is to make sure they are not exposed to unnecessary danger.

And let me, at this point, clarify one very important point: when I speak of United Nations personnel, I mean not only military and police staff, but also the thousands of civilians who serve in peacekeeping, peacemaking and humanitarian missions; and not only international staff, but also the locally recruited men and women without whom we simply could not fulfil the mandates that you, the Member States, give us. Our responsibility extends to them all.

I am grateful to you, Mr. President, for inviting Catherine Bertini, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Representative of the ICRC, to join us today. They are well placed to brief you on the difficult circumstances encountered by humanitarian workers in the hostile environments where they now most often serve.

When I say "we" are responsible, that includes us in the Secretariat, and it also includes you, the Member States. The people who venture into peril are our colleagues, but also your citizens. We, in the Secretariat, firmly believe there is much we can do ourselves to better safeguard the security of our United Nations colleagues. In recent months I have held consultations with the major United Nations operational agencies working in conflict situations and we are considering a number of concrete steps to improve our security procedures.

First is to strengthen the capacity of the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator (UNSECOORD) to perform its responsibilities as overall security manager of the United Nations system. This is not, by any standard, a small task. To do a good job, UNSECOORD needs to be able to not only carry out security assessment missions, training and investigations. It should also be able, for instance, to send short-term security personnel to the field in crisis situations; provide stress counselling; and design computer programmes to enhance its management capacity. To meet all these demands we need a larger team with adequate resources, a team headed by an experienced individual able to make the tough decisions the job entails.

That is why we welcomed the recent resolution in which the General Assembly recognized the need to strengthen the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator, and the need for a full-time Security Coordinator. I am pleased to inform you that the Secretary-General intends to act on this resolution by appointing a full-time Security Coordinator as soon as possible.

A second goal is to ensure that field missions are adequately staffed with security professionals and adequately provided with essential equipment such as radios, satellite telephones, flak jackets, etc. An urgent review has been initiated to establish the exact requirements, country by country.

A third and essential objective is to place much greater emphasis on security training. Troops normally receive extensive security training; a constant awareness of potential danger is instilled in them. But many non-military staff -- police officers, relief workers, human rights observers and others -- serve in conditions that are just as difficult. They must become as security-conscious as their military colleagues and be thoroughly prepared to cope with the dangers they may face.

One way this could be done could be to establish training centres where all international staff, whatever the mandate they are to fulfil, would receive intensive security training before being deployed. Member States may also wish to consider inviting non-military staff to attend the security segment of their training programmes for peace-keepers.

Your country, Mr. President, has an excellent programme in this respect, and during a recent training session for United Nations Volunteers, a one-day orientation was organized for them by your Government. Another good example has been the United Nations Mission in East Timor/United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNAMET/UNTAET). A pre-deployment base of operations was established outside the immediate mission area, in Darwin, Australia, to train security and other staff before deployment to East Timor.

Finally, we want to ensure much better coordination of security arrangements among the many United Nations actors often present in one location, as well as with other humanitarian organizations which might be present. Better coordination has been a key part of our reform efforts in other areas. In this case, it could literally be a question of life and death. Available information should be shared more widely and more systematically; clear procedures should be in place and be respected; and security equipment should be pooled when feasible.

To achieve all this, the Secretariat needs the support of the Member States on several levels.

First of all, we need all to recognize that good security costs money. Personnel costs money. Equipment costs money. Resources have to be sufficient, and they have to be predictable. At present, they are not. The financing of security management and training remains piecemeal -- with funds coming from a great many different sources -- and, I'm afraid to say, it also remains inadequate.

One innovation we have introduced this year is that most Inter-Agency Consolidated Appeals launched for 2000 include requests from humanitarian agencies to cover country-specific security requirments. I sincerely hope these appeals will be heard.

Another source of financing has been the Trust Fund for the Security of Personnel of the United Nations, established in the summer of 1998. Unfortunately, the level of contributions so far has been frankly disappointing. Contributions received amount to a little more than $1.2 million. This does not even allow us to provide training for those assigned to the 20 most precarious countries and regions. I take this opportunity to thank the Governments of Finland, Japan, Monaco, Norway and Senegal for their contributions to the Fund so far. And I appeal to all Members States to demonstrate their commitment to the security of personnel by contributing as generously as they can.

As I have said, resources for security must not only be increased. They must also be more predictable. In the longer run, we must move away from the ad hoc approach we have been taking. There should be nothing discretionary about financing staff security. It is a core responsibility of Member States, and budgetary arrangements should reflect this. Together, we must start exploring ways in which this could be achieved.

But there is much more Member States can do. Let me suggest a series of concrete actions you could take directly. First, those who have not yet done so can sign and ratify the 1994 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel, which finally entered into force last year but as yet has only 29 States parties. Sadly, this is the exact same number I quoted when I addressed the General Assembly on the same subject four months ago.

Second, the Convention currently covers United Nations and associated personnel providing support to a United Nations operation authorized by the Security Council or the General Assembly. Member States should consider extending its scope to cover categories of personnel who, at present, fall outside the Convention's protective regime.

Third, Member States should take steps to speed up ratification of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, which defines intentional attacks on personnel involved in humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping operations as war crimes.

And fourth, Member States should assist in investigating and bringing to justice those who have harmed or murdered people serving the United Nations, and indeed other organizations working to foster peace or bring relief in conflict areas. Since January 1992, 184 staff members have lost their lives in the service of the United Nations. Of these, 98 were murdered. And yet, to date, only two perpetrators have been brought to justice and convicted. What does this tell the world? That it is alright to kill United Nations personnel? That those who do so are guaranteed impunity? I trust not. But that is, in effect, the impression we will give until governments take the necessary measures to end impunity.

For example, this Council has recently received reports identifying those allegedly reponsible for the shooting down of two United Nations planes in Angola in December 1998 and January 1999, in which a total of 23 people were killed. In this case, as in the many others still unresolved, it is my sincere hope that Member States will do all they can to ensure a serious investigation is completed and the culprits are brought to justice.

This Council itself has a special responsibility to see that justice is done when our colleagues are the victims of deliberate acts of violence. And it has a crucial role to play in other respects too. The mandates given to United Nations operations have an enormous impact upon the security of our personnel in the field. That is why I urge you to bear in mind two issues when you formulate those mandates. First, the size and configuration of the force must be commensurate with the risk it is likely to face. If it is not, the parties will be tempted to test its will, which will in turn endanger the lives of our personnel. Second, mandates should not create unrealistic expectations among the local population. Too often, United Nations personnel become the targets of desperate people's anger and frustration when it turns out they cannot fulfil those expectations.

I believe I have clearly expressed my conviction that we must change the way we think about the security of United Nations personnel. Security is not a luxury. It is not a perk. It is not a favour to be granted. Security is something we owe the troops and civilians who volunteer to serve in far-away places under the most challenging of circumstances, and the local staff who help us fulfil our mandates. Security is also indispensable to the success of our work, and that of the other organizations which collaborate with us in the field. It is, in a word, part and parcel of any peacekeeping, humanitarian or other mission we undertake anywhere in the world. We must stop acting as if it were anything less than that.