Press Releases

    SG/SM/9572
    GA/AB/3643
    2 November 2004

    Secretary-General Presents Plan for Strengthened, Unified UN Security, Saying Staff “Has to Be My First Priority”

    NEW YORK, 1 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks delivered today by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) on staff security:

    There is no more important responsibility for me as Secretary-General than to ensure the protection of my staff.  Those talented and dedicated men and women carry out vital missions of development and peace throughout the world, in always challenging and sometimes hostile circumstances.  They need and indeed deserve the best possible safety and security.  So I welcome this opportunity to present to you my proposals for ensuring that in future, we, the Member States and the Secretariat, can work together more effectively and professionally to uphold this fundamental and even sacred responsibility.

    The United Nations today faces a security environment of unprecedented risk.

    Where once most peacekeepers monitored relatively quiet ceasefire lines, today the typical operation is in a conflict zone or other volatile area, and often must contend with a collapsed society and, in some cases, non-State actors who have little or no respect for the rules of war.

    Humanitarian needs have expanded as well, meaning that more of our relief and development personnel must venture further into more remote and potentially more hazardous territories.

    After last year’s disaster in Baghdad, as well as many other tragic incidents, we are forced to acknowledge that the United Nations has become a target of political violence, challenging the long-held perception that we were protected by our flag and by our status as an impartial, benevolent actor.  I should stress that this very same phenomenon is having similarly major implications for the Red Cross, humanitarian NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and other traditional UN partners.

    This deteriorating environment dates back to the early 1990s.  Since then, the history of our international engagements has included a brutal procession of murder, rape, harassment and abductions inflicted on national and international staff alike, from Dili to Mogadishu, from Tblisi to San Salvador. Since 1992, 218 civilian staff and several hundred peacekeepers have lost their lives to malicious acts in the line of duty; many others have been grievously wounded, detained or are missing.  And as we speak, we are actively seeking the immediate and unconditional release of three UN international staff who were taken hostage last Thursday in Kabul.

    This new security reality provides a compelling rationale for security reform.

    With the help and support of the General Assembly over the years, we have been able to increase somewhat the number of staff devoted to security management and to take other steps to professionalize our security system.  In 2000 and again in 2003, teams of independent experts assessed our system, the latter finalizing its evaluation just days before the Baghdad bombing. The Ahtisaari report on the bombing itself graphically exposed the weaknesses of our security system.

    All these studies identified the same shortcomings in our security management system -- primarily its fragmentation and its severe shortage of resources. And all agreed that these and other problems and flaws were not specific to any one country but, rather, were systemic, with implications for the global conduct of our work. The message of these exhaustive reviews was clear: with or without Baghdad, our security system was inadequate to meet all the new threats we now have to face.

    Consider the extraordinary number of people we have to protect:

    100,000 international and national staff, plus 300,000 of their family members and dependents, serving the world at more than 140 field locations and headquarters duty stations.

    Consider, too, their keenly felt duty to reach people in troubled areas; and their commitment to carrying out the mandates entrusted to them by you, the Member States.  Security is not a privilege or a luxury, not an afterthought or a burden, but rather an essential condition for doing that job.

    The plan I have put before you addresses all the shortcomings of our current arrangements.  Every organization in the UN system strongly supports it, as does the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations. Above all, it builds the security system we need for the future: unified, professional, robust, and capable of meeting the demands placed upon it.

    Our current system is terribly fragmented, with disparate security entities and offices both at Headquarters and in the field.  My proposal aims to create a single, integrated security management system.

    The proposed Directorate of Security is designed to ensure that our system has clear procedures and lines of accountability, so that our managers are adequately supported and can acquit themselves of their responsibilities.

    It is designed to ensure that we are organized and staffed to provide expert, reliable threat and risk analysis, which is fundamental to security, especially in volatile, constantly changing circumstances. I was encouraged when, last June, you yourselves, in the General Assembly’s resolution on security needs, recognized the need to strengthen professional capacity in this area.

    It is designed to ensure that our field operations are adequately supported. We can no longer accept a situation where 33 countries lack a resident field security officer, and where, in a further 18 countries, the current complement of security officers cannot provide the necessary coverage.

    It is designed to ensure that we have the means and capacity to ensure compliance, through rigorous inspection regimes, human resources management, and other measures.

    And finally, it is designed to develop a strong cadre of professional security experts.  Right now we have a lot of very good people.  Our aim is to build on this expertise, with training and career development that will serve the Organization over the long term.  Staff at large, I should add, should also be part of this training.

    You will not be surprised to hear me say that a sizeable package such as this comes with a price.  Given the mandates entrusted to us by you, the Member States; given the need to improve our physical and technical infrastructure; given the intensive training and career development that is necessary, we remain grossly under-funded, even with the extra support the Assembly has already provided.  If we could make do with existing resources or only modest increases, no one would be happier than me.  But the inescapable fact is that we need more resources.  We need them right now, and we need them to be sustained over time.  Compared with the money spent by the UN system on programmes, the $97 million requested is relatively modest. It shouldn’t be thought of as separate from programmes but as an essential condition for them -- since without adequate security we cannot be effective in our development and humanitarian work in much of the world.

    An essential feature of my proposal is that we do away with the cost-sharing arrangements that have funded field security operations to date.  Cost-sharing is administratively cumbersome and leaves critical security needs dangerously dependent on the voluntarily funded budgets of agencies, programmes and funds, meaning that funding is not predictable.  In short, cost-sharing is inappropriate for what is a core responsibility, and even a prerequisite, for our operations.  Security of all staff is an essential component of any work done by the United Nations.  As such, it must be part of the core budget of the Organization.

    It is time for you to take resolute and unstinting action. Our staff are saying so. Exhaustive, authoritative reviews of our security system, including the Ahtisaari report, have reached the same conclusion.  We need to fix and update our security system.

    Let us remember what is at stake here.  People throughout the world, including many of your own citizens, are crying out for the United Nations to come to their aid during moments of crisis -- in Darfur, or in other places far from the media spotlight -- or simply to accompany them in their day-to-day struggle for dignity. You, too, the Member States, with mandates handed down by the General Assembly, Security Council and other organs, also expect us to go where people are suffering or in need.

    The men and women who serve the United Nations hear those cries for help, and we are eager to answer them. That is the vocation they have chosen.  But to be effective, to be accessible, to avoid a fortress mentality, to get out there and serve, they need security. We can no longer rely on fragmented security structures, or on a small group of overextended security advisers, who try valiantly to cope and keep up.  In a new security environment, we need a new way of doing business.

    I would like to thank you for understanding this challenge, and for backing the initial steps we have taken in response. I urge you to continue supporting this path of change, and help us reach the next level of service. Please understand that security for our staff has to be my first priority, and that therefore I consider this one of the most important proposals -- if not the most important -- that I have put before you during my time as Secretary-General.

    And I have no doubt that working together, the people of the world will reap a high return on this essential investment.

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