30 May 2001


Press Briefing


The $2 a month per person that the United Nations currently spends on staff security in the field was clearly not enough to fulfil the humanitarian mandate in the areas where national authorities did not have control, André Heitz, General Secretary of the Federation of International Civil Servants' Associations (FICSA), told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this morning.   He added that it was not enough to have plans on paper  -- such plans needed to be operational.  Much also needed to be done by countries, in particular by providing the funds to ensure the security of staff. 

There was an urgent need to affirm the political will to change the conditions under which the staff worked and to reaffirm the role of the Security Council in that respect, he said, describing yesterday's "Aria formula" meeting of staff representatives with the Security Council to discuss the issue of staff safety and security -- the first such meeting in over 50 years.  [Under the "Aria formula", parties that do not normally participate in the work of the Council are allowed to bring particular subjects to members' attention.]

Mr. Heitz further explained that FICSA was the voice of staff from 27 organizations and regional offices of the United Nations system, the aim of which is to defend and promote the rights and interests of the employees.

Yesterday's Security Council meeting was a historic event, he said.  It was called in response to a petition signed by more than 14,000 staff, calling for a special Council meeting following brutal murders of three staff members on 6 September 2000 in Atambua, West Timor, Indonesia.  Both the Government of Indonesia and the bureaucracy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had failed in their duty to protect them.  Many were moved by the last message from one of the murdered three, Carlos Caceres:  "We are waiting for the enemy, we sit here like bait, unarmed, waiting for the wave… While waiting for the militia to do what they have to do, I will draft the agenda for the meeting tomorrow on Kapang.  The aim of the meeting: to examine how we are going to continue this operation.  I have to go now.  I hear screaming outside."

Continuing, he quoted some of the "gruesome statistics" regarding the safety of staff:  since January 1992, 200 civilian staff members had been killed; 179 fell victim to malicious acts and 21 to aircraft incidents.  Approximately two thirds were locally recruited.  Some 15 per cent of the casualties were civilian staff in peacekeeping missions; personnel working for organizations providing humanitarian assistance accounted for 45 per cent; and among the other organizations accounting for some 40 per cent, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had suffered the highest losses.  Also, since January 1994, there had been 66 cases of hostage-taking/kidnapping involving 248 persons.  Over the last year, 4 major deliberate attacks on United Nations staff resulted in the brutal murder of 6 staff members.  During 1999, there were 292 reported violent incidents involving United Nations personnel throughout the world, including robberies with violence, physical assaults, rape and vehicle hijacking.  In 2001, 2 staff members were murdered -- one in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the other in Madagascar.  Four died in a helicopter accident on 14 January in Mongolia.

Quoting Dimitri Samaras, President of the UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS Staff Association, he said that statistics were only a mechanical representation of the sad reality of the death toll.  However, they were also a representation of the intolerable frequency with which the ultimate sacrifice was made by staff.

"Today, we may be concentrating on the failures of the United Nations organizations to ensure the safety and security of their staff, to protect their lives.  We do this not in order to bash the organizations, but to foster badly needed improvements in the security system", he said.  The FICSA had welcomed the section on the security of staff of the Brahimi report and the proposals by the Secretary-General in that regard.  However, as the staff representatives had told the Council yesterday, there was a need to do more.  The Secretary-General's proposals had only been accepted in part by the General Assembly, which requested the United Nations bodies "to do their homework" and improve inter-agency coordination.

It had not been easy for FICSA to get the meeting with the Council, he said, but the meeting had exceeded all expectations.  The meeting was organized jointly by the United States and Bangladesh.  All members were present, which meant that the Council attached great importance to the safety of personnel.  Representatives of the United States, France, Colombia, Jamaica, Mauritius, Mali, Russian Federation, Norway, Ukraine, Bangladesh and Ireland took the floor. 

Summarizing the debate, he said that all speakers had welcomed the initiative of Bangladesh to convene the meeting and thanked FICSA for its advocacy.  Several speakers believed that it was only the beginning, and the representative of France said that a more formal meeting should be held at a later stage.  The representative of Mali said that the presidency should organize a public debate on the subject.  There was agreement that the Security Council had a role to play.  The United States representative expressed hope that the Council could bring energy and presence to the issue.  The United Kingdom said that not all security issues were the business of the Council, but the Council needed to concentrate on mainstreaming security issues so that they became a routine part of its work, when it determined missions' mandates.  There was also agreement that the security system must be strengthened.  There was criticism of the fact that United Nations Security Coordinator Benon Sevan "had two hats" to wear, being also the Executive Director of the Office of the Iraq Programme.  The questions of impunity and non-State actors were also raised. 

He went on to say that several delegations had stated that they were outraged by the Indonesian verdict following the Atambua killings.  The United Kingdom also underlined that the position of the United Nations vis-à-vis the Indonesian Government "was not the best possible, because the security assessment mission to Timor had not yet taken place".  That demonstrated weaknesses regarding security within the system.  The representative of France said that the Security Council needed to be more innovative and creative as far as non-State players were concerned.  There were several references to the need to ratify the Convention on the Safety and Security of United Nations and Associated Personnel and the Statute of the International Criminal Court.  The representative of Mauritius underlined that it was not just sufficient to ratify those instruments -- States must also introduce national implementing regulations.  Such arrangements were also needed on a regional basis. 

In conclusion, Mr. Heitz quoted the representative of the United States who had said that more people were needed in the field -- not fewer.  Fewer martyrs were needed -- not more.  Also, the representative of France had said that

security could not be absolute -- it would not be possible to assign a security guard to every staff member.  However, security remained an absolute objective.

Asked if staff would be encouraged not to go to field missions unless their safety was ensured, Mr. Heitz said that FICSA would certainly not give "any marching orders" or even advice to that effect.  He knew some people who were afraid to go, but many of his dedicated colleagues were ready to take part in peacekeeping missions.  However, his colleagues at the UNHCR said very clearly that they were humanitarian workers and not martyrs. 

A correspondent commented that there was still no collective voice to say that no employee should have to undergo the kind of treatment that the United Nations staff were asked to submit to.  He asked if the Security Council had got the understanding that staff were not going to continue to put their lives on the line if Member States did not take measures to protect them.  Mr. Heitz replied that the FICSA had not taken "that kind of approach with the Security Council".  However, if the Organization were to plan an operation in a dangerous area without making plans for the best possible security under the circumstances, FICSA would be ready to go out to the United Nations and the whole world community and say "Stop. You cannot do that."

To another question, he said that CCISUA had not joined FICSA in its presentation to the Council yesterday.

Responding to a question about safety versus personnel mobility under the Secretary-General's human resources management reform, he said that jointly with CCISUA, FICSA had told the decision makers that one could not just say one day: "And now the staff has to be mobile".  It was necessary to find a reasonable way of operating the system, and he believed that through FICSA's advocacy, that message had come across to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary). 

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For information media. Not an official record.