Protecting the United Nations for over 70 years

For the first half-century of its existence, the United Nations felt protected by its flag and the reality that it was a neutral, benevolent actor in world events. If United Nations personnel were directly targeted, it was generally viewed as an isolated event.

In the early 1990s, the security environment for the United Nations changed and became more threatening. There was a rise in the number of deaths and injuries to personnel as a result of malicious acts. The mandate of the United Nations also evolved, resulting in a larger number of United Nations personnel, notably from humanitarian agencies, being deployed on potentially hazardous missions.

At the same time, peacekeeping missions were being established in areas at war or in situations of high risk. Increasingly, humanitarian personnel were being deployed alongside peacekeeping military units in integrated multidisciplinary missions.

Ahtisaari Panel UNDSS Integration
UN Security Officer stands at the entry-way to UNOG with his bomb-sniffing dog sitting beside him.

José Gallardo, Security Officer for the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG), is pictured on the grounds of UNOG’s Palais des Nations with bomb-sniffing dog, Neo. ©UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

An evolving security management system


The UN’s security management system was designed for the operational requirements which existed in the UN’s early days. By the 1990s, the system was no longer able to fulfill its responsibilities adequately, despite the best efforts and dedication of all those involved. To allow the United Nations to meet new demands in a changing environment, the General Assembly authorized an increase in the staff of the Office of the UN Security Coordinator (UNSECOORD), primarily in the field.


In 2001, the General Assembly authorized the creation of a full-time UN Security Coordinator at the level of Assistant Secretary-General.


By 2002, the number of professional security officer posts in the field numbered 100 Professional and 200 locally recruited posts.

The UN Security Coordinator oversaw the activities of the United Nations field security management system and was a senior official appointed by the Secretary-General. UNSECOORD was responsible for all policy and procedural matters related to security; ensuring a coherent response by the United Nations to any emergency situation; coordinating, planning and implementing inter-agency security programmes; acting as the focal point for inter-agency cooperation concerning all security matters and, on behalf of the Secretary-General, taking on all decisions related to the relocation/evacuation of personnel and their eligible dependents from very insecure areas.

In addition to UNSECOORD, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) had in place its own separate security structure for civilian personnel in UN peacekeeping operations. Political missions of the Department of Political Affairs that were administratively backstopped by DPKO remained under the UN field security management system.

Each of the major United Nations locations around the world had their own Security and Safety Services which operated independently from the UN security management system and from any central direction.

Security and Safety Service — first established 1948 at UNHQ

The Security and Safety Service (SSS) was first established at UN Headquarters in 1948. For decades, SSS in New York and at seven other Secretariat Headquarters locations around the world, Geneva, Vienna, Nairobi, Bangkok, Beirut, Addis Ababa and Santiago, operated independently of each other and had no common governance structure. Their role was to provide security and safety for headquarters personnel, premises and operations at those locations, as well as to protect delegates and visitors to the premises and provide personal security detail for senior United Nations officials and visiting dignitaries.


Between 2002 and 2003, efforts were made by the UN Security Coordinator to professionalize the Organization’s security for its personnel through improved recruitment and training and to institutionalize security coordination among UN Agencies, Funds, and Programmes through the establishment of an Inter-Agency Security Management Network (IASMN). However, security structures in Peacekeping Operations (PKOs) and Special Political Missions (SPMs), as well as in Safety and Security (SSS) locations, continued to function as separate entities to the structure in place for the field.


In early August 2003, independent security experts carried out an analysis of the UN security management system and concluded that the development and implementation of an overall security governance and accountability framework, including Headquarters, humanitarian and development personnel and civilian personnel in peacekeeping missions, would lead to a strengthened and unified security management system.

The Ahtisaari Panel

19 August 2003 — Canal Hotel, Baghdad

Despite efforts to address growing security concerns, the Canal Hotel, which was UN Headquarters in Baghdad, was attacked on 19 August 2003—coming as a devastating shock. The attack, carried out by a suicide bomber driving a truck filled with explosives, killed 22 United Nations personnel and visitors, including Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Iraq (SRSGT) De Mello, and injured more than 150 people.

The attack was the first significant and targeted attack against the United Nations, calling to attention the limited coordination and cohesion of security provisions for UN staff and premises globally. The attacks led to an urgent second review of the security system by the Independent Panel on the Safety and Security of UN Personnel, known as the Ahtisaari Panel.

Ahtisaari Panel report

"The United Nations could, in theory, be the target of attacks anywhere at any time, from Baghdad to Kabul, Nairobi, Jakarta, Geneva or New York. There are no indications that the perpetrators of the attacks in Baghdad would refrain from attacking other United Nations targets worldwide."

The Ahtisaari Panel called for a new, drastically revised security strategy for the UN. The panel recommended that the core elements of the new strategy include clear articulation of the responsibilities of the United Nations to ensure the security of its personnel; the establishment of professional assessment tools for the analysis of threat and risk for United Nations operations worldwide; a robust security management system with adequate disciplinary measures to counter non-compliance; accountability at all managerial levels for the implementation of security regulations and significant increases in resources to develop and maintain the necessary security infrastructure.

UNDSS is born

11 October 2004

A concerted effort was subsequently made across United Nations systems to overhaul and improve staff security arrangements. In 2004, a radical proposal for strengthening and unifying the UN security management system was presented to the 59th session of the General Assembly in Report A/59/365 of 11 October 2004.

This resulted in the adoption of General Assembly Resolution (A/RES/59/276 December 2004) that created the Department of Safety and Security which merged the security management component of the Office of the UN Security Coordinator (UNSECOORD) and the Security and Safety Services (SSS) at Headquarters and at Offices away from Headquarters (including the regional commissions).

Furthermore, the Resolution mandated that the new Department be headed by a senior United Nations official at the rank of Under-Secretary-General for a non-renewable term of five years. The General Assembly also adopted measures to reinforce security operations in all locations and decided to establish a unified capacity for policy, standards, coordination, communications, compliance and threat and risk assessment.

1 January 2005

The United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) was formally established on 1 January 2005.

The journey to integration



Prior to 2005, security services to UN Secretariat personnel and operations were provided by several entities: the United Nations Security Coordinator’s Office (UNSECOORD), the Security and Safety Service (SSS) and the security elements within peacekeeping and special political missions. These are known as the security sections of a mission.

The establishment of UNDSS in 2005 also united UNSECOORD and SSS. However, the security elements of peacekeeping and special political missions remained separate, despite continuing to face similar challenges while operating in identical environments with limited security resources. While these entities coordinated and cooperated on security issues to a great extent, there continued to be areas of overlap, duplication, inefficiency and confusion.

The United Nations Secretariat has since turned its focus to the more effective use of security personnel, namely through the integration of UNDSS and field mission security personnel. UNDSS has taken action to integrate these various security service elements, through the United Nations Secretariat Safety and Security Integration Project (UNSSSIP). The project addresses the management, human resources and financial challenges of integration, and aims to achieve maximum security service delivery effectiveness through better coordination of the Secretariat’s existing security workforce and resources.

End state of the project

The desired end state of the project is to enable UNDSS, as one Secretariat department, to effectively provide:

  • Professional safety and security services required to enable the delivery of UN programmes and activities globally in the current and evolving environments;
  • Leadership, management and coordination for safety and security resources;
  • A professional, mobile flexible and global workforce with the requisite knowledge, skills and experience.

In pursuit of this goal, the Secretary-General conferred on UNDSS in December 2016, a range of authorities required to implement the integration, including management, human resources and financial arrangements. Meanwhile, UNDSS continues to work closely with the relevant departments to achieve the project’s desired end state.