23 March 2007
Press Release
Note No. 6072

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Note to Correspondents




The plight of United Nations staff under arrest, abducted or “disappeared” while in the service of the Organization is the focus of the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members, to be observed at the United Nations on 26 March.

The International Day, 25 March, is the anniversary of the abduction by armed men of Alec Collett, a British citizen and United Nations staff member, 22 years ago in Beirut, Lebanon.  Mr. Collett was never to be seen again and there has been no final resolution to his case.

There are currently 14 United Nations system staff members under arrest, detained or missing, with respect to whom the United Nations has been unable to exercise fully its right to protection.  The Day intends to draw attention to their plight and mobilize solidarity with detained, abducted or missing staff. 

Stephen Kisambira, President of the United Nations Staff Union, appealed today to all Governments and parties to help secure the release of all United Nations staff members held unjustly and against their will.  “The international community has an obligation to provide information on staff who have been detained, abducted or kidnapped, or who are missing, and to see that they are returned to their families,” he said.

Mr. Kisambira called on “all Member States which have not done so to ratify without delay the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel, adopted by the General Assembly in 1994, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention, adopted by the Assembly in 2005.“

According to the latest report of the Secretary-General on the safety and security of humanitarian personnel (A/61/463), the Governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia and the Israeli authorities continued to detain staff of the United Nations system and to refuse the United Nations right of protection, in violation of agreed conventions.  A staff member of the World Health Organization in Iraq has been missing since 8 May 2006.

Since the last Day of Solidarity in 2006, Eritrea has detained several local staff members serving with the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), often for several weeks and without explanation, as well as a United Nations Volunteer, who was finally released after more than five weeks of detention.

On 19 January of this year, local police and security officials in Nyala, southern Darfur, arrested 20 people -- five United Nations staff members, three staff members of the African Union Mission in Sudan and humanitarian workers -- who were attending a social gathering in an international non-governmental organization compound.  All were subsequently released, but they were subjected to physical assault and verbal abuse by the police, and several sustained serious injuries.

The Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel has been ratified by only 81 countries; its Optional Protocol, not yet in force, which would extend protection to United Nations and associated personnel in peacebuilding missions, only by three. 

At United Nations Headquarters, the Day will be marked by a brief ceremony on Monday, 26 March, with the Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar, accepting a staff security pin from Elaine Collett on behalf of the Secretary-General.

The event is organized by the Staff Council’s Committee on the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service.

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For information media • not an official record