1 October 2008
Press Release
ORG/1504

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

Secretary-General’s report calls for international collective responsibility


to protect United Nations staff, humanitarian workers

 


Attacks on United Nations and humanitarian field workers have increased to alarming levels, according to a report by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki‑moon released today.


Deaths of United Nations staff by malicious attack increased by 38 per cent in the period covered by the report (1 July 2007 to 30 June 2008), or to 26 deaths from 16 in the previous year.  Locally recruited humanitarian and United Nations personnel accounted for the majority of casualties (22 of the 26 deaths).  The year under study was also the worst in recorded history for non-governmental organizations, which lost 63 workers to malicious acts.


“I’m gravely concerned by the wide scale of threats, the rise in deliberate targeting of humanitarian and UN personnel and their vulnerability worldwide,” the Secretary-General says in his report.


He calls for international collective responsibility and closer collaboration between the United Nations and Member States, especially host Governments, to protect humanitarian and United Nations staff.


Key factors in the alarming growth of malicious incidents include:  expanded and sustained United Nations operations, particularly in conflict or post-conflict areas; rising criminality; the spread of terrorist acts; sharp increases in food and fuel prices; rising public expectations and local misconceptions about United Nations operations or presence; and the climate of impunity for violent acts against United Nations and humanitarian personnel.


Most of the security incidents directed against United Nations staff occurred in Africa.  However, the Secretary-General notes, “While threats by extremists existed in the past in a few locations, the threats have expanded indiscriminately to all locations.”  The attack against United Nations offices in Algiers on 11 December 2007, in which 17 United Nations staff members were killed, provides stark evidence of this disturbing trend.


The Secretary-General makes particular note of attacks on United Nations and humanitarian workers in Afghanistan, Darfur, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia, where 18 non-governmental organization staff were killed during the reporting period:  “I condemn such behaviour in the strongest terms and call upon all parties to respect humanitarian principles and to allow the safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance.”


The security of its staff directly affects the United Nations’ ability to carry out its programmes and to implement its mandates, especially in conflict or post-conflict areas where the United Nations must sometimes suspend or curtail life-saving humanitarian or development activities or evacuate staff.


The Secretary-General reminds Member States that the primary responsibility for the security and protection of staff members rests with the host Governments, who are the “first line of defence in the protection of humanitarian and UN personnel”.


“I call on all Member States to address three topical issues:  unlawful arrest, detention and harassments of UN staff; obstruction of freedom of movement of UN and humanitarian workers; and impunity for crimes committed against humanitarian and UN personnel.”


Over the reporting period, there were 490 attacks on United Nations offices, convoys and premises, 84 forced entries of United Nations offices and 583 residential break-ins.  There were also 546 harassment and intimidation cases, 578 robberies, 263 physical assaults, 119 hijackings, 160 arrests by State authorities and 39 cases of detention by non-State actors of United Nations staff.


Security incidents against humanitarian non-governmental organizations reported to the United Nations Department of Safety and Security during the same period included 236 attacks of convoys and premises, 70 cases of detention by State authorities and 103 incidents of unlawful detention by non-State actors, 41 incidents of assault, 132 incidents of harassment, 138 incidents of forced entry or occupation of premises, 113 armed robberies, 50 incidents of vehicle hijacking, 70 residential break-ins and 124 thefts.  The Department of Safety and Security receives first- and second-hand accounts of incidents involving non-governmental organizations; thus, these numbers do not represent an exhaustive account.


The Department was created in 2005 to coordinate security management throughout the United Nations system.  It works with Member States to enable effective programme delivery through effective and timely responses to all security-related threats, risk mitigation and security policies, standards and operational guidelines.  It works with all United Nations system entities to put in place effective risk management strategies which enable them to carry out their missions as successfully as possible, without putting their staff at unnecessary risk.


The Secretary-General notes that he will continue to strengthen the United Nations Security Management System by improving accountability, leadership and internal management.  He calls in particular for an urgent review of the “policies and arrangements necessary to provide locally recruited personnel with adequate safety and security”.


The report (document A/63/305), “Safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel”, was requested by the General Assembly in 2007, to be presented to its sixty-third session.  It covers the security situation for civilian personnel and does not address threats to United Nations military forces.


For further information, contact Suchada Kulawat, Security Coordination Officer, Department of Safety and Security, tel.:  1 917 367 9349.


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For information media • not an official record