30 June 2008 The head of the panel set up to review United Nations staff security worldwide in the wake of last year’s deadly Algiers bombing has underscored the need for vigilance amid growing threats to the Organization.
The report of the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of UN Personnel and Premises Worldwide, led by Lakhdar Brahimi and comprised of international experts in the field, did not identify individual accountabilities for the December 2007 bombing in the Algerian capital, which killed 17 UN staff members.
“The Algiers bombing has definitely shown that a few things were not right in Algeria,” Mr. Brahimi told a news conference in New York today. “But more importantly it has shown that the UN system was not working as it should.”
The report – released to the public last week – did find “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.”
Mr. Brahimi added that in saying that, the Panel “definitely didn’t say that anybody was responsible for what happened in Algiers.” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced last week that he is setting up a separate group to examine whether any UN staff should be held individually accountable over that attack.
The most important message from the report to Member States, the Secretary-General and mangers is “you need to be awake all the time,” because the UN is now a target for a lot of people for all sorts of reasons, he stated.
In carrying out its probe, the investigators found that the UN is not perceived by a lot of people as impartial, independent and neutral, he noted. “What’s happening in the Middle East has a lot to do with it. But it’s not only that. I think the perception is that the big powers are using their muscles to influence the United Nations and that the United Nations, not always, but from time to time does not speak on behalf of its 192 members but on behalf of a one, two, three, four or five members.”
The report underlined the fact that security needs to be improved all the time, he said, stressing that “vigilance is really the order of the day.”
Mr. Brahimi said the UN is definitely protected much better than it was before the 2003 attacks on the world body’s offices in Baghdad, which resulted in the deaths of over 20 UN staff members. At the same time, the Panel discovered that the improvements that have taken place since Baghdad “still have some faults and some shortcomings.”
Last week Sir David Veness stepped down as UN security chief, saying he will shoulder full responsibility for any security lapse that may have occurred concerning the Algiers attacks. Mr. Brahimi expressed regret at the decision, but said he hoped Sir David would use the rest of his time in office to implement some of the report’s recommendations.
The report calls, among other things, 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.
“The United Nations has to have the right appreciation of what the security situation is and take corresponding measures,” Mr. Brahimi stated.
He added that it was important to recognize that not all countries are equipped to provide the security. “In fact, quite often it is in those countries that are less equipped to provide security that the UN has the largest presence because that is where the services of the United Nations [are] needed.”
While the Panel has not requested a specific amount of money for UN security, some of the recommendations do have financial implications, he noted. “Our recommendations are modest enough and affordable enough for Member States that care for this Organization, for them to implement all of them or at least most of them.”
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