Ban calls on countries to ensure safety of ‘increasingly vulnerable’ UN staff

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Gert Danielsen (facing camera), a UN staff member with UNDP, embraces a colleague after his release from captivity in Sana’a, Yemen in 2012. © UN Photo/UNDP/Noeman Al Sayyad

25 March 2013 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged countries to ensure the protection of thousands of United Nations personnel who risk their lives to help people in need around the world.

“United Nations staff are becoming increasingly vulnerable in carrying out their work,” Mr. Ban said in a message marking the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members. “The United Nations flag, which represents hope, safety and a better life for the most vulnerable, has in some places now become a target.”

According to preliminary reports, some 200 UN personnel were detained by national authorities and 30 were abducted by non-State actors in 2012. Fifteen of these abductions were politically motivated and resulted in hostage situations. All were safely released. However, the vast majority of cases of arrested, detained and missing UN staff members do not result in prosecution.

Mr. Ban noted that less than half of the UN’s 193 Member States have ratified the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel, even though it entered into force 14 years ago, and more than four out of five Member States have yet to ratify its 2005 Protocol, which extends protection to UN personnel delivering humanitarian, political or development assistance.

“I urge Member States who have not done so to sign and ratify the Convention and its Optional Protocol. Ensuring the safety of staff members is paramount,” Mr. Ban said.

UN Staff Union President Barbara Tavora-Jainchill stressed that only Member States are capable of ensuring UN personnel protection.

“We urge Member States, when discussing budget cuts that may affect the security and safety of United Nations personnel, to think that their nationals are the ones who will suffer the consequences of those so-called ‘savings’,” she said.

“We are ready and willing to go anywhere we are needed, but when our mission is over we want to go back to our families safe and sound. This is not too much to ask.”

The International Day commemorates the anniversary of the abduction of Alec Collett, who was working for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) when he was taken in Lebanon in 1985. His body was finally found in 2009.