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UN, Humanitarian Staff Face Major Safety Threats

Citing major threats, Ban urges collective responsibility to protect UN staff

1 October 2008 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for collective responsibility and closer collaboration between the United Nations and Member States to protect the Organization’s staff, who, along with humanitarian workers, are facing increasingly serious threats to their safety in many parts of the world.

“I’m gravely concerned by the wide scale of threats, the rise in deliberate targeting of humanitarian and UN personnel and their vulnerability worldwide,” Mr. Ban states in a new report, which covers the period from 1 July 2007 to 30 June 2008.

“The security of humanitarian and United Nations personnel continues to deteriorate,” he adds, noting that over the course of the past year, they were “the targets of deliberate attacks by extremists, armed groups and disgruntled sections of populations in all areas of humanitarian and United Nations operations.”

The period under review saw 490 attacks against UN offices, convoys and premises, with a 38 per cent increase in deaths of UN staff – or 26 deaths compared to 16 in the previous year. The majority of those casualties, 22 of the 26, were locally-recruited humanitarian and UN personnel.

It was also the worst period in recorded history for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which lost 63 workers to malicious acts.

Most of the security incidents directed against UN staff occurred in Africa. However, the Secretary-General notes, “while threats by extremists existed in the past in a few locations, the threats have expanded indiscriminately to all locations.” The attack against UN offices in Algiers on 11 December 2007, in which 17 UN staff members were killed, provides “stark evidence of this disturbing trend.”

Among the main factors behind the growth in such incidents are expanded and sustained UN operations, particularly in conflict or post-conflict areas; rising criminality; the spread of terrorist acts; sharp increases in food and fuel prices leading to violent protests; rising public expectations and local misconceptions about UN operations or presence; and the climate of impunity for violent acts against UN and humanitarian personnel.

Mr. Ban points out that the primary responsibility for the security and protection of the world body’s staff rests with the host governments, which are the “first line of defence in the protection of humanitarian and UN personnel.”

The Algiers attack “is another telling reminder, not only of the changing nature and scale of threats, but also of the urgent need for closer cooperation between the United Nations and the host Governments on security matters,” he adds.

The Secretary-General calls on all Member States to address three issues: unlawful arrest, detention and harassments of UN staff, obstruction of freedom of movement of UN and humanitarian workers, and impunity for crimes committed against humanitarian and UN personnel.

Mr. Ban adds that he will continue to strengthen the UN’s security management system by improving accountability, leadership and internal management. He calls in particular for an urgent review of the “policies and arrangements necessary to provide locally recruited personnel with adequate safety and security.”

In June the Secretary-General set up a group to examine whether any UN staff should be held individually accountable over the attack in Algiers, in response to a recommendation issued by the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of UN Personnel and Premises Worldwide, itself created in the wake of the December 2007 bombings.

The report of the accountability panel is expected soon.


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