9 December 2005

New Protocol Expands Protection of Humanitarian Workers in Areas Other Than Peacekeeping

NEW YORK, 8 December (UN Headquarters) -- A new instrument that expands legal protection for humanitarian workers under the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel was adopted today by the General Assembly, with Secretary-General Kofi Annan and General Assembly President Jan Eliasson speaking at its adoption.

The eight-article Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel, expands the scope of the 1994 Convention, which covers peacekeeping operations, to include United Nations and associated personnel delivering emergency humanitarian assistance or providing humanitarian, political or development assistance in peacebuilding. It does not cover personnel working in permanent United Nations offices.

The 1994 Convention only covered operations seeking to maintain or restore international peace or security. Coverage for other operations was contingent on a declaration of exceptional risk by the Security Council or the General Assembly. "But this requirement was impractical", Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today at the General Assembly. "There are no generally agreed criteria for determining whether such a risk exists. Making such a declaration could be time-consuming. And political considerations could influence what is meant to be a technical assessment."

The new Protocol corrects this flaw, Mr. Annan said. "It expands the legal protection to all other United Nations operations, from emergency humanitarian assistance to peacebuilding and the delivery of humanitarian, political and development assistance."

"I know from my experience of humanitarian field operations how important it is to have this Optional Protocol in place", Assembly President Eliasson said. "The Protocol will effectively help to protect and boost the morale of those United Nations and associated personnel who risk their lives to serve the vulnerable and the needy of the world. The Protocol will also be of great value as the Peacebuilding Commission begins its work."

Humanitarian experts welcomed the adoption of the Protocol. "Without security there cannot be humanitarian action", said Manuel Bessler, Deputy Chief of the Policy Development and Studies Branch in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "All those involved in humanitarian work have an interest in expanding their legal protection, and the Protocol is a welcome development. We cannot work without minimal security standards."

The Protocol will apply to humanitarian organizations working with the United Nations as implementing partners, such as the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam and some national chapters of Doctors without Borders, Mr. Bessler said. "But it will also apply to a lot of our local partners, like small non-governmental organizations working with the United Nations, for instance in Afghanistan."

However, implementation of the provisions is not automatic: the Protocol allows a host State to make a declaration that it will not apply the Protocol's provisions with respect to an operation for the delivery of humanitarian assistance when it is for the sole purpose of responding to a natural disaster. The declaration should be made before the deployment of the operation.

"The adoption of the Protocol is a good development because it extends the legal protection of staff", said United Nations Staff Union First Vice-President, Guy Candusso. "But this is still an optional treaty, it allows Member States to opt out in case of natural disaster, and less than half of the United Nations membership has become party to the original Convention."

During the three-year negotiations, some countries argued that the Protocol should not apply to pre-conflict situations and others said it should apply only to natural disasters creating exceptional risks.

Also debated during the negotiations was the term "peacebuilding", said Christian Wenaweser of Liechtenstein, Chairman of both the Ad Hoc Committee and the Working Group on the topic, which prepared the instrument. "It was critical to achieving a compromise on the text", Mr. Wenaweser said, "and attempts to define the term were finally abandoned, it being understood that there is no generally agreed definition." It is generally understood that arrangements, such as Security Council authorization, together with domestic legislation, would provide guidance on the scope of the term.

Since 1992, 229 United Nations civilian staff members have been killed as result of malicious acts, according to the latest report of the Secretary-General on the safety and security of humanitarian personnel. Eleven civilian staff members died because of malicious acts between 1 July 2004 to 30 June 2005.

The Protocol will be open for signature at United Nations Headquarters for 12 months, starting on 16 January 2006. It will enter into force 30 days after 22 countries have ratified it.

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