24 June 2008 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced today that he is setting up a group to examine whether any United Nations staff should be held individually accountable over last December’s deadly terrorist attack on the world body’s premises in Algiers.
Mr. Ban told UN staff in a letter that he was establishing the follow-up group in response to a recommendation issued by the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of UN Personnel and Premises Worldwide, itself created in the wake of the Algiers bombings, which killed 17 staff members and targeted UN offices in the Algerian capital.
Ralph Zacklin, a former Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, will head the group, and he will be assisted by Jean Jacques Graisse, Sinha Basanayake, Zelda Holtzman and Marisela Padron. The team will work out of UN Headquarters in New York and is slated to report back to Mr. Ban within six weeks.
In his letter to staff the Secretary-General stressed that he has not forgotten the sacrifice of those who lost their lives in the Algerian capital, or the suffering of the many other victims or their families.
“I would like to reiterate my firm commitment to ensuring full accountability on the part of my senior managers, as well as all those at other levels of responsible decision-making,” he said.
“But, combating security threats from terrorists and other detractors of the United Nations and ensuring the safety and well-being of staff and dependents, national or international, makes it incumbent that host governments and Member States also realize their responsibilities more strongly so that fuller and more concrete cooperation of security matters can be elicited from them. This factor cannot remain under-emphasized.”
The Independent Panel, led by Lakhdar Brahimi and comprised of international experts in the field, presented its report to Mr. Ban earlier this month, and the report was released today with some redactions to avoid revealing details that may pose further threats to the personnel and premises of the Organization.
Although the report did not identify individual accountabilities, it found “ample evidence that several staff members up and down the hierarchy may have failed to respond adequately to the Algiers attack, both before and after the tragedy.”
In a press statement released by the UN spokesperson’s office, the panel said that new security arrangements established after the deadly UN bombing in Baghdad in August 2003 were put to a severe test by the Algiers attacks. Both the system as a whole and individuals in Algiers and in New York were “found wanting.”
The seven-member panel recommended an independent accountability procedure to consider the responsibilities of key UN staff and offices, saying such a move would help restore staff confidence and morale.
The report also calls for a review of the size of the UN staff presence and the manner in which the UN system does business given overall security considerations and the opportunities presented by modern information and communication technology.
In addition, it recognizes that different risk mitigation strategies are needed if the UN is to achieve the dual goals of staff safety and effective programme delivery, given that the UN faces distinctly different types of threats and operating environments around the world.
Mr. Ban noted the panel also underlined the importance of reflection on the larger issue of the UN’s public image and what implications this has on staff security, especially in the field.
“If the Organization is targeted on the basis of a perception that is undeserved or unfair, and such a perception is not consciously changed, it is the ordinary individuals working in the field and their families that lay exposed and vulnerable and likely to bear the brunt of the aggressive attention of terrorists and enemies of the United Nations.”
Also today, Mr. Ban announced that Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security Sir David Veness has resigned, saying he will shoulder full responsibility for any security lapse that may have occurred concerning the Algiers attacks.
Sir David informed the Secretary-General in a meeting yesterday that as the head of the Department of Safety and Security, he was offering to resign in light of his responsibility.
Mr. Ban paid tribute to Sir David’s “high sense of devotion to duty and strong professional motivation” and said he had asked him to stay on until a stable succession can be assured.
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