Press Releases

    SG/SM/7869
    29 June 2001

    SECRETARY-GENERAL, AT STAFF SECURITY SUMMIT, URGES
    STATES TO RATIFY TREATY ON SAFETY OF UNITED NATIONS
    AND ASSOCIATED PERSONNEL

    Statement Deplores Deaths Since 1992 of Hundreds of Peacekeepers
    And 200 Civilians; Says Violence Must Not Be Allowed to Deter "Noble Calling"


    NEW YORK, 28 June (UN Headquarters) -- This is the text of a statement today by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at a summit meeting at Headquarters on the Security of International Staff:

    I am delighted to join you today for this event. I applaud the Staff Committee for continuing its vigorous campaign to shine an international spotlight on this crucial issue. Staff security is a basic requirement. It is essential for our effectiveness, and crucial for morale. It is also a matter of principle. The men and women of the international civil service must have the protection to which they are entitled under international law.

    Yet peacekeepers and civilian personnel continue to face a frightening array of threats, from hostage-taking to assault and rape. Many, tragically, make the ultimate sacrifice, dying in aircraft accidents or from gunshot wounds, bombings or landmine explosions. Let us all remember our partners in civil society, with whom we work side by side, and our friends in the media, whose efforts to inform the world about human suffering often place them in dangerous circumstances.

    A degree of risk has always been part of the job. But the conflicts of the 1990s have been characterized by a dangerous loosening of restraints imposed by international law on the conduct of hostilities. The protagonists of these conflicts have also demonstrated a profound lack of respect for the role of outside entities who are providing assistance to the victims.

    Since January 1992, hundreds of peacekeepers and some 200 civilian personnel working for the United Nations -- local and international staff alike -- have lost their lives.

    The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have been hit particularly hard. Almost every United Nations entity has lost a colleague. Sixty-eight countries have lost their nationals in the service of the United Nations. United in our global mission of peace and development, we are also united in our grief for our fallen colleagues.

    But we must always remember our lost colleagues' lives: their talents, the way they brightened up our days, supported us in our work and often became not just companions, but close friends and confidants.

    We must also ensure that the staff who follow in their footsteps are able to carry out their vital assignments, safe in the knowledge that everything possible is being done to ensure their security.

    Security starts with legal protection. Less than one third of the 189 Member States of the United Nations are parties to the 1994 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel. I urge Member States to ratify this treaty without further delay. They should also join the effort to approve a Protocol that would extend the scope of its application to all United Nations operations and categories of personnel beyond those currently covered.

    Another layer of protection would be provided by the International Criminal Court, which defines attacks on peacekeeping and humanitarian personnel as war crimes. States should ratify the Rome Statute as soon as possible, and so strike a blow against the impunity that has for too long prevailed in this area. Indeed, staff should have little doubt that those who attack, maim or kill United Nations or associated personnel will be arrested and prosecuted. To date, however, this has been an all-too-rare occurrence.

    Even where prosecutions do occur, the results can sometimes be a setback. Just last month in Indonesia, shockingly light sentences were handed down in connection with the killings last September of three UNHCR staff members in West Timor.

    Security also depends on host Governments fulfilling their obligations. Parties to conflict must allow aid workers safe and unfettered access to people in need, whoever and wherever they may be. And all parties should respect the principles of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, in particular the distinction between combatants and non-combatants, and the civilian and humanitarian character of refugee camps and settlements.

    Security is also a fundamental responsibility for the Secretariat, and a priority for my administration. Last November, following a review of security arrangements in the United Nations system, I submitted a report to the General Assembly containing significant proposals for increasing the number of personnel dedicated to staff security, improving their training and equipment and expanding the counselling and other services they provide.

    It is also clear that a full-time Security Coordinator is needed, and I plan to strengthen the office in this way as soon as possible.

    Steps have also been taken to improve the way the United Nations responds in assisting bereaved families in need of our help following the loss of a loved one.

    Finally, I have asked Member States to recognize that these activities require significant resources. We have relied extensively on voluntary contributions, and we are grateful to those countries that have contributed. But we must move away from this ad hoc approach to more secure financing arrangements.

    Member States should not under-fund what is, after all, a core responsibility for the Organization, and a condition for the success of our work.

    Dear friends,

    In camps for refugees from Afghanistan, in earthquake zones in Turkey, in war-damaged regions in Sierra Leone and East Timor, indeed throughout the world, I have seen United Nations staff and associated personnel carrying out truly heroic work.

    It would be a terrible shame if those who target us with violence were to succeed in deterring us from the noble calling to help those in need.

    There is a world of suffering out there, in places where natural or man-made disaster has struck. They may be hazardous and far from home, but it is there that our duty calls us. I will do everything in my power to ensure that you will be able to go there with confidence, be protected while you are there, and come home knowing that you have done your share in the service of humankind. Thank you again for your attention, and the attention you are bringing to this matter.

    * *** *