Press Releases

    Summit on Staff Security
    AM Meeting

     ORG/1352
    12 June 2002

    'The Forgotten Staff' Theme of Staff Security Summit at Headquarters, Highlighting Continuing Problem of UN Employees Abducted, Murdered

    Deputy Secretary-General Says General Assembly's Approval of Package of Proposals for Improved Staff Security 'Step Forward'

    NEW YORK, 11 June (UN Headquarters) -- The security problems faced by United Nations and associated personnel around the world were the focus of the fifth annual Summit on Staff Security held this morning.

    This year's theme, "The forgotten staff", drew attention to the continuing problem of detained, abducted, missing and murdered staff; the status of local staff, which may be afforded less protection than international recruited staff; and the plight of staff returning from mission assignments.

    Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette told the Summit that, as the Secretary-General had stressed, a certain amount of risk came with being with the United Nations, but staff security was a fundamental responsibility, and he would do all in his power to provide staff with protection. So far this year, four staff members had lost their lives and two had been taken hostage.

    In a step forward, she noted, the General Assembly had approved the Secretary-General's package of proposals, which would enable improved protection for staff. She asked Member States to fulfil their responsibility to protect staff, including by providing the requisite resources, bringing perpetrators to justice and ratifying the relevant treaties.

    Staff Union President Rosemarie Waters pointed out that so many colleagues had paid dearly to protect the principles and goals of the Organization. "Today, we hope to move one step closer towards our goal of heightening awareness of these issues, showing our strong support and encouragement for the efforts of Member States and our Secretary-General to continue pursuing plans of action that will enhance the protection of staff in the field."

    The Ad Hoc Committee on the Scope of Legal Protection under the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel had convened in April, said its Chairman, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein (Jordan), to consider the recommendations of the Secretary-General on measures to strengthen the legal regime for staff protection, as there had been serious deficiencies in the scope of the Convention's legal coverage. Everyone agreed that no effort should be wasted in efforts to enhance the protection of United Nations and associated personnel.

    Benon Sevan, Under-Secretary-General and outgoing United Nations Security Coordinator, said that he had started the job with four staff members in 1994, just before 40 staff members were killed in Rwanda. In July, the office would have 24 Professional staff and 14 General Service staff, along with staff members in the field. Considerable progress had been made. He was pleased that the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General had taken the lead in improving the situation. He added that he would continue his efforts on the case of Alec Collett, a former United Nations information officer kidnapped near Beirut.

    A number of speakers paid tribute to Mr. Sevan for his service as United Nations Security Coordinator. Rosemarie Waters, on behalf of the Staff Union, presented Mr. Sevan with a plaque for his efforts on behalf of United Nations staff worldwide.

    During the discussion that followed the opening statements, speakers expressed their support for the work done by those working on staff security, in particular Mr. Sevan. His work on the case of Alec Colette was singled out. Staff security, said one speaker, was increasingly being taken up by the Security Council. The need for proper resources to ensure staff security, the lead taken by the Secretary-General in protecting staff and the role to be played by Member States were also underlined. Combating the culture of impunity was essential, it was stressed.

    What role United Nations troops should play in protecting civilians was raised as an issue that required further consideration. A speaker noted that the improvements mentioned would not have happened without the shock of 11 September; he stressed that it was important not to wait for worst-case scenarios in order to take action.

    Also this morning, a panel discussion was held on substantive security issues. During that segment, the legal instruments relevant to protection of United Nations staff -- such as the Convention on Privileges and Immunities and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court -- were discussed. As the Deputy Secretary-General had noted, said a participant, it had always been true that there were certain risks associated with working for the United Nations mainly in the field, but also, sometimes, at Headquarters. Other speakers elaborated on efforts made within the legal context to resolve situations affecting staff.

    The impact of 11 September was also discussed. That event, said one participant, had had a very large impact in the security context, such as the Assembly's adoption of a text to improve staff security and the subsequent bolstering of the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator. The results of an Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) staff security and training questionnaire conducted last July were shared with those present: 47 per cent of respondents felt they had had adequate training; 38 per cent said they had had some training, but were not satisfied with what they had received; and 15 per cent said they had had no training. The OCHA had found that "pretty alarming". Funding, it was noted, had been received from the United Kingdom to work with the United Nations Security Coordinator for training OCHA personnel in the 25 most dangerous locations.

    In the area of mental health, it was noted that when staff felt secure, they were better able to provide services to those in need. The importance of pre- mission training, the need for security and support to be integrated at all stages of mission service and the provision of adequate resources were underlined. Adequate security and risk training, it was noted, should be a pre-condition for any staff going to high-risk areas. The higher the level of preparation and training, the lower the risk of a security-related disaster.

    Maintaining open communication at all levels was essential, and the availability of psycho-social support and counselling could not be overemphasized. Field Service staff, noted one speaker, as a category, had the highest rates of divorce and alcohol abuse. It was important to tell staff what to expect before they arrived in a location. The Organization should not place its staff in situations of unnecessary risk.

    During the question-and-answer session that followed, it was asked what kind of support and assistance was available to the family members of staff serving in the field. The United Nations was available to family members 24 hours a day, one speaker said. Another speaker stressed how important it was to communicate with staff family members and to provide other forms of support. Eligible dependents were part and parcel of security contingent planning, another speaker pointed out.

    Moving to another point, the speaker said national staff members were included in all the training requirements and that there was not a gap between the way international and national staff were treated. In order to save life, the United Nations must "save the life of our own", the speaker added.

    Responding to a question on efforts to address impunity, a speaker said the Security Coordinator's Office dealt with impunity through the Member States and the Office of Legal Affairs. The Assembly's text on security had approved the establishment of an investigation's unit within the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator, another speaker said. Discussions on that unit were ongoing. When justice was not done, said another speaker, victims experienced it as a further transgression.

    Accountability was seen by a representative as a missing link within the larger question of security. The General Assembly had requested the Secretary-General to address that issue, a speaker said, stressing that accountability was essential. The need to take a long-term perspective to trauma was also pointed out.

    The Department of Peacekeeping Operations was working very hard to develop a stronger relationship with the United Nations Security Coordinator, a speaker said, going on to set out some of the Departments efforts in the area of security. The counselling capacity of the Organization had been greatly increased system-wide, another speaker pointed out.

    Participating in the panel discussion were: Moderator Lyutha Al-Mughairy, from the Department of Public Information; Ralph Zacklin, Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs; Stephen Johnson, Deputy Chief, Humanitarian Emergency Branch, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; Terence Burke, Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator; Yael Danieli, International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies; and Richard Dellar, former President of the Field Services Staff Union.

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