21 March 2006

"Culture of Accountability Is the Best Antidote to Impunity", Says Secretary-General in Message on Day for Solidarity with Detained, Missing Staff

NEW YORK, 20 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the message by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members, 25 March:

The International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members offers an opportunity to raise global awareness about the significant threats and risks faced in the line of duty by United Nations staff and peacekeepers, our colleagues in the non-governmental community and our friends in the press.

This Day also marks the twenty-first anniversary of the abduction of our colleague Alec Collett in Beirut, while on assignment for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.  His fate has never been determined.

Violence, hostility and crime continue to plague the ability of the United Nations and others to do their jobs.  According to my most recent report to the General Assembly, the number of United Nations personnel arrested, under detention or missing had increased over the previous reporting period from 26 to 43.

In many places, the threat of being taken hostage is prevalent.  Some host Governments remain unwilling to provide timely information when locally recruited United Nations personnel are arrested or detained.  And very few countries have fully investigated attacks or other threats.  Such problems, troubling at any time, have become an even greater concern today, with the dramatic increase in the number of United Nations field personnel, and with the expansion of mandates into delicate areas, such as criminal justice.

Legal protection is afforded by several instruments, including the United Nations Convention on the Safety of UN and Associated Personnel.  I congratulate the 80 countries that are party to it, and urge the rest of the Organization's membership to follow this example.  However, very few of the parties are countries in whose territories peacekeeping forces are currently deployed, where the greatest threats typically exist.  I call on these countries, in particular, and all parties to armed conflicts, to uphold their responsibilities under international humanitarian law, to ensure the safety of all civilians caught in combat.  A culture of accountability is the best antidote to impunity, and remains the surest means of enabling United Nations staff members to safely apply their courage and commitment in meeting the needs of the world.

For too long, the security systems of the United Nations itself in this area were fragmented and underresourced.  Today, the Department Safety and Security (DSS) continues to closely monitor and track all incidents of arrest and detention of United Nations personnel.  And, in order to assist and better prepare staff members to operate in difficult circumstances, DSS also continues to provide security training, critical incident stress management and other related support.

I commend the Staff Union's Committee on the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service for its efforts to focus attention on this issue.  And I pledge to continue doing everything in my power to provide staff with the protection and measures they need to carry out their vital work.

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