25 March 2009

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



Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at a ceremony marking the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members, in New York today:

Mr. [Giampaolo] Pioli, President of [the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA)], distinguished members of UNCA and family members.  It is a great pleasure to see you.  I am standing here with a very solemn mind.

The Staff Union’s Committee on the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service continues to do outstanding work.  I thank them for their commitment.

As you know, every day, throughout the world, United Nations staff and our colleagues in the press and non-governmental community face tremendous risks.  They go into danger zones to help suffering people.  I send my deepest admiration and respect to all of them.

They should be able to do this vital work without harassment or intimidation, and without being attacked, kidnapped or even killed.  But the immense value of their work does not shield them.  Between July 2007 and June 2008, there were 160 arrests by State authorities and 39 cases of detention by non-State actors.  This is an outrage and an unacceptable situation.

Locally recruited humanitarian and United Nations personnel are the most vulnerable targets.  They account for the majority of incidents.

But anyone serving the United Nations, supporting us as a partner or reporting on our work is a potential victim, as recent high-profile hostage cases in Niger and Pakistan attest.

In Niger, ‘though Mr. [Soumana] Mounkaila was released a few days ago, Mr. [Robert] Fowler and Mr. [Louis] Guay are still missing.  In Pakistan, Mr. [John] Solecki is still in captivity.  You have my full assurances and commitment to see them released as soon as possible.  I have been speaking with a number of leaders in the region, and whenever I meet leaders I have been discussing this matter.  Even last Saturday, I spoke to one of the important leaders in Europe to discuss Mr. Fowler’s case, as well as European citizens’ detention.

The case of Alec Collett is also unresolved.  He was abducted 24 years ago today from his car near Beirut Airport while on assignment for [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)].

And at this very moment, at least 19 staff members are under arrest, detained or missing.  Their loved ones wait, hour by hour, for news of their return.  I call on Member States and non-State actors to release them immediately.

I also urge the many Member States that have not done so to ratify the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel.  Member States must do their part to buttress the architecture of protection, which includes other instruments as well.

I also wish to stress how painful it is to see the impunity enjoyed by those who target the United Nations and our partners.  These perpetrators must be brought to justice.

Staff security is close to my heart.  Wherever I travel, especially to zones of conflict and disaster, I am moved by the dedication of our people and by the lengths to which they will go to carry out their work.  We must do everything we can to enable them to do so with the best possible protection and support. I am committed to that effort and thank all of you for your commitment, too.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record