Panel on Algiers terrorist bombing cites dysfunctional UN security system

UNHCR Algiers headquarters destroyed by suicide bomb attack

8 October 2008 – A dysfunctional United Nations security management system, a lack of adequate supervision and training, and significant lapses in judgement and performance all played a major role in the 2007 terrorist bombings of UN offices in Algiers, which killed 17 staff members, an independent panel reported today.

It also found that the UN ‘phase system’ for grading security risks in Algeria had been “seriously compromised” through politicization due to the country’s aversion to any indication that it was not secure. And it cited a pre-occupation by UN security officials with countries like Afghanistan and Iraq The UN needs to urgently review the one-UN house doctrine and the security phase system. The one-UN house doctrine if followed ‘liturgically’ seriously undermines UN security in countries where there are terrorist threatsfor leaving Algeria off the security radar screen.

“The dysfunction of the present system is not attributable to a lack of resources alone,” the panel said, recommending administrative measures against six individuals and disciplinary proceedings against four others. “It is also attributable to a failure on the part of those who designed it and those who implemented it.”

The Independent Panel on Accountability, headed by former UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Ralph Zacklin, was set up by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in June to examine whether any staff should be held individually accountable over the 2007 attack.

Mr. Zacklin told a news conference that an administrative measure could be something as simple as a letter of reprimand while a disciplinary action could be something as serious as dismissal. The panel also recommended an administrative measure against “an organ of collective responsibility,” in this case the UN Security Management Team in Algiers.

A four-page summary of the 88-page report – and the thousands of pages of annexes – already presented to Mr. Ban cited a “marked reluctance” of some of those interviewed to accept the panel’s procedures and methods of work.

While this may be attributable to a misunderstanding of the panel’s function, the five-member body “took the view that this reflected an attitude of institutional and individual denial of the principle of accountability which is regrettably prevalent in the case in question,” the summary said.

The lack of executive authority of the Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Safety and Security (DSS) and the role of the so-called Designated Official responsible for on-site security were at the root of the design fault of the system, the panel found.

The former official was given responsibility without authority and the latter was expected to function as head of security in the field office and as programme manager, responsibilities which are often inherently contradictory, it added. Under-Secretary-General David Veness resigned in June, saying he would shoulder full responsibility for any security lapse that may have occurred.

The panel cited a variety of problems in integrating the previously existing UN Security Coordinator into the new DSS. “Four years on, the cultures of the two organizations did not appear to have been successfully integrated resulting in internal mistrust and even dissension,” it declared.

“There has been a lack of adequate supervision and training and the recruitment process has resulted in an imbalance at the senior and middle management level which is heavily weighted towards certain types of experience which is not necessarily best suited to an organization such as the UN and the threats that it faces.”

Stressing the primary responsibility of the host country for security of UN staff, the report noted that where relations with that country are strained or non-existent, “a critical fault-line may develop with tragic consequences.”

Governments must assume their responsibilities fully if they are to meet expectations inherent in the notion of primary responsibility, with proper and effective channels of communication maintained between the country’s security services and the UN Security Advisers in the field, it noted.

“The UN needs to urgently review the one-UN house doctrine and the security phase system. The one-UN house doctrine if followed ‘liturgically’ seriously undermines UN security in countries where there are terrorist threats,” the summary said.

“The security phase system was found by the panel to have been seriously compromised in Algeria through a process of politicization. The system as such was rejected or questioned by many of those interviewed since it tends to provide a false sense of security or the appearance of careful elaboration when in fact it is frequently inconsistent in its application from country to country.”

Mr. Zacklin told reporters the UN graded phase system used worldwide is intended to govern UN operations in a country, not to be a reflection of the security situation there as a whole. “In Algeria, but it may be true in many other countries… many host countries do not look with pleasure on a security phase in a country being placed at a high level because for them this indicates that the country is not secure,” he said.

“At the heart of the Algiers tragedy, more fundamental than all the frameworks and structures and models and assessments, lies the human factor,” the report declared. “There was a lack of adequate supervision and guidance on the part of senior managers which… can only be partially excused by the lack of resources.

“Senior managers were pre-occupied with Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia and Sudan. Algeria was not on the radar screen. During the early and middle part of 2007 when the situation in Algeria clearly required sustained attention, key parts of DSS were undergoing personnel changes.”

The panel cited a failure to fulfil core responsibilities both upward in the hierarchy and downward to the field due to a lack of understanding of the tools available and, in some cases, a pre-disposition to dismiss the value of the product of such tools.

“In the field, the panel found that a dysfunctional relationship among key actors combined with passive and ineffective teamwork resulted in a false sense of security and a lack of urgency which was belied by the evidence,” it said.


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