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Remember the Fallen

Protecting UN Staff

The United Nations security management system is based on the fundamental principle that the primary responsibility for the security and protection of United Nations personnel and their dependants and property and the Organization’s property rests with the host Government.

The United Nations continues the long-established practice of including provisions of the Convention on Privileges and Immunities and other clauses on the obligation of the host Government to provide safety and security to the United Nations and its personnel in host country agreements.

Since the terrible tragedy of Baghdad in 2003, the UN system, starting with Member States and the Secretary-General, but also including all Agencies, Funds and Programmes, has been working together to address the shortcomings and gaps that were revealed by that attack. 

Lakhdar Brahimi, Chairman of the Independent Panel on the Safety and Security of the United Nations Personnel and Premises around the world, addresses a Security Council meeting in 2008.

Lakhdar Brahimi, Chairman of the Independent Panel on the
Safety and Security of the United Nations Personnel and
Premises around the world, addresses a Security Council
meeting in 2008. UN Photo/Jenny Rockett

A series of independent panels conducted investigations and made recommendations for the improvement of staff safety and security.

In October 2003, the Report of the Independent Panel on the Safety and Security of UN Personnel in Iraq, also known as the Ahtisaari report, identified key lessons on security arrangements and made recommendations on measures that would assist in preventing or mitigating future incidents in Iraq or other high-risk missions.

In March 2004, the follow-up Report of the Security in Iraq Accountability Panel reviewed the responsibilities of key individuals and entities in the lack of preventive and mitigating actions prior to the Baghdad attack.

The establishment of the Department of Safety and Security (DSS) in January 2005 was a significant step forward.  The primary role of DSS is to enable UN operations to continue, while giving the highest priority to the safety and security of UN staff members and their families.

In February 2008, the Secretary-General established the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of United Nations Personnel and Premises Worldwide. Although prompted by the attack on UN offices in Algiers in 2007, the Panel had a broad mandate, with a focus on “strategic issues vital to delivery and enhancement of the security of United Nations personnel and premises and the changing threats and risks faced by it.” 

In June 2008, the Panel submitted its conclusions, in what came to be known as the Brahimi report.  It called on DSS to address as a matter of priority key areas that were in need of improvement: accountability, leadership, and internal management and oversight.

In 2009 the vision statement by the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination confirmed the important and vital role that the United Nations security management system plays in enabling the United Nations system to effectively deliver its mandates, programmes and activities.  One of the tenets of the vision statement of the Chief Executives Board (CEB) is that, in order for the United Nations to continue to carry out its mandated programmes and activities, there should be “no programme without security”.

The CEB has endorsed a shift from 'when to leave' to a 'how to stay' approach for further actions on staff security. A cornerstone in this approach is the new Security Risk Management model under the UN Security Management System. Also, under a new security level system, a security level is established by conducting a structured threat assessment, using the same analytical process in all such assessments.

In February 2011, a revision of the Framework of Accountability for the United Nations Security Management System took effect.  It describes responsibilities and accountabilities in circumstances where mitigation measures must go beyond those that the host Government can reasonably be expected to provide. The Framework of Accountability is necessary to keep the United Nations relevant and to avoid it becoming a risk-averse organization.

The International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members (25 March) has been observed since 1986. This annual day of observance is intended to mobilize action, demand justice and strengthen resolve to protect UN staff and peacekeepers, as well as those in the non-governmental community and the press. As of 2013, the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel has been ratified by less than half of the UN Member States. More than four out of five UN Member States have yet to ratify its 2005 Optional Protocol, which extends protection to UN personnel delivering humanitarian, political or development assistance.