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UN: New legal protections for humanitarian workers

UN General Assembly adopts new legal protections for humanitarian workers

With over 200 United Nations civilian staff killed by hostile acts, and many others kidnapped, hurt or abused in the line of duty since 1992, the General Assembly today expanded legal protection for post-conflict humanitarian workers, to the acclaim of Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Assembly President Jan Eliasson.

The new Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Safety of UN and Associated Personnel expands the scope of the 1994 Convention, which covers peacekeeping operations, to include UN and other staff delivering emergency aid or providing humanitarian, political or development assistance in peace-building.

“At a time when the United Nations continues to face a security environment of unprecedented risk, I thank Member States for supporting our efforts to improve the overall security environment as well as our security management system under the leadership of the new Department of Safety and Security,” said Mr. Annan, who present at the adoption.

“Without security, our work for the peoples around the world suffers,” he added, urging all Member States to become party to the Protocol.

Assembly President Jan Eliasson of Sweden said: “The Protocol will effectively help to protect and boost the morale of those United Nations and associated personnel who risk their lives to serve the vulnerable and the needy of the world.”

Amid the plaudits, some observers today pointed out that application of the Protocol is not automatic since it allows a host State to declare that it shall not abide by its obligations in the case of a response to natural disaster.

“The adoption of the Protocol is a good development because it extends the legal protection of staff,” said UN Staff Union first-Vice-President Guy Candusso. “But this is still an optional treaty, it allows Member States to opt out in case of natural disaster, and less than half of the United Nations membership has become party to the original Convention.”

During the three-year negotiations, some countries argued that the Protocol should not apply to pre-conflict situations, while others said it should apply only to natural disasters that create exceptional risks.

Since 1992, 229 UN civilian staff members have been killed as result of malicious acts, according to the latest report of the Secretary-General on the safety and security of humanitarian personnel. Eleven civilian staff members died because of malicious acts between 1 July 2004 to 30 June 2005.

The Protocol will be open for signature at UN Headquarters for 12 months, starting on 16 January 2006. It will enter into force 30 days after 22 countries have ratified it.

At today’s Assembly meeting, Secretary-General Annan also urged all countries to move forward to finalize the text of a Comprehensive Convention dealing with terrorism, saying that everyone must participate in forging a coordinated response against the scourge.

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