24 March 2004
Threats Faced by UN Staff, NGOs, Media Remain Profound, Secretary-General Says in Message for Day of Solidarity with Missing Staff
NEW YORK, 23 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members, 25 March 2004:
On 25 March 1985, Alec Collett, on assignment for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), was abducted by armed men near Beirut Airport. His fate has never been determined.
The International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members, now being observed for the nineteenth time, is meant to draw attention not only to Alecs case, but also to the plight of any and all civilian personnel who have been arrested, detained, abducted or "disappeared" while serving the United Nations.
Last year, at least 10 staff members were taken hostage in separate incidents in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Georgia and Liberia. Earlier this year, a staff member was kidnapped and held for more than a week in Somalia. The threats faced by UN staff, international and local alike, as well as by our non-governmental colleagues and the press, remain profound.
I would like to commend the Staff Unions Committee on the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service for its determination to focus global attention on this issue of crucial importance for our mission. I call again on the 120 Member States that have still not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Safety of UN and Associated Personnel, to do so without delay. But that, of course, is merely a first step, and one on paper, too; there is far more that States can and must do to provide secure and safe working conditions, to prevent hostage-taking, arbitrary detentions and disappearances, and to seek justice when such things occur.
For United Nations staff, the wounds and memories of last years horrific attack in Baghdad are as painful as ever, and have created a new context and awareness in which all our work now takes place. I wish to assure all staff that their safety remains my foremost concern, and I am committed to ensuring that the policies, protections and accountability measures are in place that will enable them to carry out their vital work.
* *** *