UN chief calls for quick release of detained, missing staff

Other News Materials 26 March 2009 00:36 (UTC +04:00)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Wednesday joined his colleagues in calling for the quick release of the 19 staff members of the world body detained or missing around the globe.

"I call on member states and non-state actors to release them immediately," Ban said at a ceremony at the UN Headquarters in New York to mark the 24th International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members.

"Locally recruited humanitarian and UN personnel are the most vulnerable targets, and account for a majority of security incidents," he said. "But anyone serving the United Nations, as well as members of the media, is a potential victim, as recent hostage incidents in Niger and Pakistan attest."
Ban stressed ongoing efforts to free Robert Fowler and Louis Guay, the UN envoys to Niger, and John Solecki, a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official in Pakistan, as well as staff of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.Between July 2007 and June 2008, there were 160 arrests by state authorities and 39 cases of detention by non-state actors, as noted by Ban in a separate message for the international day.

Ambassador Pablo Soln-Romero of Bolivia, delivering a message on behalf of General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto stressed the need to act quickly when staff members are subject to kidnapping, arrest and arbitrary detention, Xinhua reported.

"We can and must do more to protect and assist them in their assignments," he said. "We must be relentless in our efforts to secure their release in the case of detention."

The secretary-general called on member states "to defend the security and safety of UN staff," as well as "to put an end to the impunity of these attacks and bring criminals to justice." For its part, the United Nations should reach out more to staff who suffer from post-traumatic stress and enhance its capacity to meet their psychological needs.
Today's ceremony, organized by the UN Staff Union, highlighted the dangers faced by journalists as well as UN and humanitarian personnel in carrying out their work.

UN Staff Union Vice-President Thomas Ginivan stressed that " while there is a treaty in place protecting staff, states still do not fully comply. The UN establishes missions and offices, yet staff assigned find themselves increasingly in the line of fire with little support or properly security in place. Political factions reportedly have targeted staff while on humanitarian missions."

The International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members marks the anniversary of the abduction by gunmen on March 25, 1985 of British journalist Alec Collet from his car near Beirut Airport. Collett, a former director of the UN Information Center, was on assignment for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). He was never to be seen again and there has been no final resolution to his case.

Following his abduction, the UN Correspondents Association ( UNCA) made Collett honorary president, a title he has retained ever since.
The wife of Collett, Elaine Collett, also addressed the ceremony, together with UNCA President Giampaolo Pioli, Director of UNHCR's New York office Pierre Bertrand, and UNRWA's Saahir Lone.
At least 125 journalists are behind bars around the world and at least 30 have "disappeared," according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.