UN Staff Demand Security, Participation in Reform Process


Two issues uppermost in the minds of UN staff relate to their safety and security, and their conditions of service, most especially the system of permanent contracts which is being threatened by proposals currently before the General Assembly. Staff anxiety and concerns were highlighted at several events in September and October.


The question of staff safety was brought starkly to mind in September with the gruesome murders, in West Timor, of three UNHCR staff who were hacked to death and their bodies burned, followed closely by the cold-blooded killing, in Guinea, of one more UNHCR staffer and the abduction of another, a female. As part of a worldwide demonstration of solidarity for their slain, kidnapped or disappeared colleagues, and support for improved safety, UN staff around the world staged peaceful protests.

Silent Protests At UN Headquarters, on September 21, some 3,000 staff marched, in silence, around the fountain. Similar marches, assemblies or other commemorative gatherings were held in some 130 locations, involving thousands of UN personnel, and highlighted staff's strong preoccupation with their safety and security.

Addressing the Headquarters crowd, Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke of the tendency for people to attack staff members who have gone in the name of peace only to work. UN operations in far-flung areas had become really dangerous for staff, he observed, but added: "The activities we undertake, the work we do for the poor and the needy is a noble cause and is something that we can all be proud of…. We shall continue our work. We are going to take greater care. But there are millions out there who need our help, and we cannot let them down".

Staff Day 2000 Staff Day 2000, observed on September 25, was a sombre occasion this year, marred by the deaths of four UNHCR colleagues. The Day's activities began with the traditional flag-raising ceremony, and included remarks by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette and Ambassadors from several countries that have ratified the Convention on the Safety and Security of UN Personnel. There was no more basic requirement of the United Nations and its Member States than to provide security for the men and women sent into the field to do the Organization's work, and to bring to justice the perpetrators of violence against UN staff, Madame Frechette said. She added: "No matter how our colleagues died, this they shared: they were the living embodiments of an ideal - an ideal of service, solidarity and peace. Hard at work in the villages, conflict zones and needy areas of the world,… they were united by their bravery in bringing the Charter to life. Now, in death, they are united by having made the ultimate sacrifice for a noble cause. They upheld the ideals symbolized by the United Nations flag; now they are fallen architects of peace. May they rest in peace. And may we not rest until we finish the job they so devotedly began".

Among those taking part was Shirley Brownell, a staff member who survived an ambush in Somalia in 1993 in which one staff member was killed. Describing herself as a "survivor", she told the audience of senior UN officials and staff that strengthened security, and training in safety and evacuation procedures, would go a long way towards protecting staff, and must be paramount in all mission planning activities. She added that unless drastic measures were taken, and swiftly, to protect UN personnel in dangerous missions, the day would come when staff simply would not accept to undertake peacekeeping assignments. Ms. Brownell concluded with these words: "But for luck, my name would be among those that you will hear read out today. This haemorrhaging must stop. 'Enough Is Enough!'" The names of the 65 UN civilian, military and CIVPOL personnel who had lost their lives in the line of duty since September 15, 1999 were read out.

The rest of the Day's programme included statements by the President of the Staff Union, the President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General in the General Assembly Hall, an afternoon movie and an evening concert in salute to all UN staff who gave their lives, to the retirees and to those on active duty.

Staff Union and CCISUA President Mehri Madarshahi told the sparse audience in the GA Hall that the sad events of the past weeks had cast a deep shadow over what should have been an unequivocally joyous Staff Day. In order to buck this disquieting trend that put UN personnel increasingly in jeopardy around the globe, she said the basic and fundamental expectation was that adequate protection measures should be put in place, before any attempts were made to deploy international civil servants to war zones. The time had come for the UN administration to take a hard look at the level and quality of care provided to staff before, during and after their assignment to dangerous and unpredictable missions, she stated.

Secretary-General Annan told the gathering that, in the past year, tragedy had struck again, brutally and with grim regularity against dedicated men and women whose humanitarian imperative had led them into danger zones to fulfil the time-honoured UN mission of bringing help to the needy, and solace to the suffering. He said he would be submitting a report to the General Assembly that sought significant changes in the way staff security was provided: in the number of personnel, in the training they received, the services they provided and the equipment they used. All this would cost money, he said, but stressed that security was "not a luxury or an option", and Member States must live up to their primary responsibility not only to provide security, but also to bring to justice those who violated it.

Security Coordinator's Assessment

UN Security Coordinator Benon Sevan held a press briefing on October 23, and offered a candid assessment of the Organization's security management system. He said that his office, with a staff of nine, was responsible for managing the security of 150 UN missions. This was now "a full-time job requiring full-time attention with a full-time component of staff resources", yet the existing arrangements in trying to deal with demanding situations around the world were still rather "makeshift".

As regards staff safety, Mr. Sevan stated, bluntly: "We are good targets, in fact, also soft targets because there is no protection". Referring specifically to the murders of UNHCR staff in West Timor and Guinea, he admitted that the UN had not gone beyond expressions of sorrow. "We just cannot allow civilian personnel to go to extremely dangerous places where Governments will not send their own troops". Oftentimes, he observed, civilian staff were on the ground before peacekeeping operations even started, and that they remained behind even after troops had left the scene. Not only was there the danger of being killed; a new phenomenon involved taking UN staff hostage or kidnapping them.

Mr. Sevan said that the Secretary-General, in his latest report on the safety and security of UN personnel (A/55/494), was recommending that the UN Security Coordinator's Office be strengthened, the purpose being to professionalize UN security management and provide the relevant training to staff going on dangerous missions. The Secretary-General was requesting $30 million annually, in the next biennium, compared to the current budget of $600,000. The increase would provide for a staff component of 18 staff in New York and 60 in the field, and increase the number of security officers in the field to 100. If the funding being requested was not provided, Mr. Sevan advised that staff should not go on missions where security measures were not in place.

Staff Sign Petition to Security Council

To further demonstrate their concerns, 12,332 UN system staff signed a petition to the President of the Security Council, calling for the adoption of practical measures for staff safety and security while serving the international community. They strongly urged the Council to hold a special session on staff safety and security and to address the problems staff faced while in the line of duty. The petition noted that over 200 civilian staff had been killed and 228 taken hostage or kidnapped in the past eight years, as well as nearly 300 reported violent incidents against UN staff, including robbery, physical assault and rape.

The petition continues: "With the latest incident in West Timor, where three UNHCR staff members were killed and scores were injured, this unacceptable trend has continued at an alarming pace. It is our conviction that this tragedy could have been avoided if a more effective early warning system had been in place and preventive measures, including support from the host Government, had been provided in a timely manner. Lack of sustainable financial resources to deal effectively with this multi-dimensional issue is an important element of this predicament. The commitment of our Member States to the safety and security of the international civil service is essential. To that effect, a whole series of practical measures are required to translate these commitments into reality, if we are to continue to fulfil our mandate. The staff of the United Nations are deeply distressed that preventive and preparatory measures for staff safety and security have not become an integral part of the peacekeeping and peace-building efforts. This important issue may form part of the Security Council's special session to which staff representatives could be invited to participate".

ACC Hears Staff Representatives

On October 27, the President of CCISUA, Ms. Madarshahi, and the President of FICSA, Mr. Bernard Grandjean, representing over 55,000 UN staff around the globe on issues related to conditions of work and well-being of staff, addressed, jointly, the second regular session of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC), consisting of the Secretary-General and the executive heads of UN agencies, programmes and funds. Concerning staff safety and security, they said that in many areas where the United Nations operated, killings, illegal arrests, detentions, rapes, harassment and theft of personal belongings were daily occurrences. Brutality had become a recurrent feature of the tasks of many humanitarian workers, making staff painfully aware that oftentimes their impartial work was neither recognized, respected nor even appreciated. It had been a painful awakening to realize and accept that the flag of the United Nations and the blue helmets no longer provided an automatic shield against threats and assaults. UN staff thus become moving targets.

While welcoming the Secretary-General's report on the safety and security of UN personnel, the two Presidents said they were dismayed to learn from it that, owing to the inability of the Organization or its Member States to legally pursue perpetrators, only three out of 177 cases involving the violent death of UN system personnel had been brought to justice. CCISUA and FICSA considered the report as a first step in the right direction, convinced that additional resources for the Security Coordinator's Office were essential to enable the Organization to carry out its important functions in the area of peace and security with confidence and credibility.

Raising global awareness, rallying support and expressing outrage at the crimes committed in East Timor and elsewhere, had been the three main objectives of the global march on September 21, the two Presidents continued. They noted that the Secretary-General's report had crisply diagnosed a situation of manifold deficiencies and shortcomings, involving the lack of financial, physical, logistical and psychological support. Beyond the situation where staff members had died in the line of duty, there were cases of trauma/injury/death of staff having suffered from abuse and other crimes. Currently, support was lacking for proper grief and stress management for families and colleagues of slain staff members. Clearly, Member States had a solemn responsibility to safeguard the lives and safety of those who were assigned - by their decision - to other countries to serve the humanitarian purposes. But equally, the UN organizations must assume their responsibility by undertaking appropriate measures to ensure the safety and security of their personnel by providing satisfactory counselling and advice.

The Presidents of CCISUA and FICSA listed a number of issues and problems which they considered of high priority for staff at large: ·

The necessity for proper mission preparedness and planning, which would include not only an accurate assessment of the requirements of a mission, but also assembling of timely and relevant information and data as well as an exchange of views with all parties concerned; ·

The need for further and concerted security measures on the ground and especially in remote locations; ·

Advocacy for ratification of the Convention on Safety and Security of UN Personnel and the Rome Statute, as well as a "campaign" among Member States for accepting the proposals contained in the Secretary-General's report; ·

Provision of alternatives to humanitarian assistance where the situation on the ground eludes any control; ·

Review of the current criteria for security phases, especially for cases where the staff is operating in war zones; ·

Decisions on how to deal with the non-state actors who are not recognized as legal governments - this being crucial for humanitarian workers, especially UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF, and may require the elaboration of a new framework beyond the scope of Governments alone; ·

Locally recruited staff should become an integral part of all safety measures undertaken by the UN system, given that more than 70 per cent of the workforce consists of locally recruited staff, without whom it would be virtually impossible to implement any mandate in the field; ·

Concerns for the frontline agencies, such as UNHCR, UNICEF and WFP, should be addressed in the selection of security management teams. Most actions are implemented and carried out away from capitals and these officers should not be seen or mistaken as "political representatives" of the Secretary-General; ·

Systematic and comprehensive training packages on security procedures should be developed prior to deployment of staff to field missions, and should address the possibility of sudden evacuations and coping with unknown dangers in delicate situations; ·

A whole set of mission and emergency guidelines should be made available to staff; ·

The Organization should arrange to provide necessary medical, financial and humanitarian assistance to the families of staff killed or seriously injured in the performance of their duties; ·

Funds should be made available in order to provide travel and other emergency assistance to both staff and their families; ·

Adequate training on local languages as well as training on how to use various equipment, namely, radios, satellite telephones, flak jackets, should be provided; ·

Hierarchical and centralized decision-making on issues of life and death should be discouraged and staff should be empowered and authorized to take the best possible decisions as situations allow or dictate; ·

A number of focal points should be appointed by the various agencies to maintain contacts with the families of deceased and injured staff, by providing not only consoling but also preliminary financial assistance. CCISUA's initiative in establishing a scholarship fund for children of deceased colleagues deserves much wider advocacy and financial support; ·

Institutionalization of the inter-agency meeting on security is essential for closer coordination and exchange of information among various actors.


Career Contracts at Stake, Warns Staff Union President

In her Staff Day statement on September 25, Staff Union President Madarshahi drew attention to a number of critical issues on which staff and management had failed to agree. The list included the abolition of the appointment and promotion bodies, strengthening the central role of OHRM, the delegation of authority to programme managers without a verifiable system of accountability, postponement of the review of the system of administration of justice and, above all, the proposed replacement of permanent contracts by a temporary contract labelled "continuing". While staff believed the discussion on those issues to still be at a preliminary stage and to be subject to further reflection and consultation, she said, the Administration had issued the Secretary-General's report on human resources reform (A/55/237) and a new booklet called "Managing People not Posts", both of which negated the commitment made. Why had the UN Administration bothered to invest time and money in an endeavour called SMCC (Staff-Management Consultative Committee) if nothing emanating from those discussions and negotiations was reflected or accepted later on? she asked the Secretary-General. "We negotiated in good faith but our input was simply ignored. We consider this a lack of transparency and accountability!" The staff were fully committed to a modern and more dynamic management and work environment. However, if the SMCC process was to have any meaning and serve a useful purpose, all participants should be open to each other's viewpoints and suggestions. Executive fiat would serve no useful purpose.

The Staff Union President summed up the situation of staff this way: "Some 11 years have lapsed since the last regular promotion exercise for all staff, some 9 years have passed since the last permanent appointment was granted; the zero-growth budget is in place since a decade; the last base salary revision dates back to some three decades - and now we are bracing for another trying reform". Staff, she said, were ready to go through this reform "if we will succeed in creating a more effective, energized and dynamic organization for which staff is the major asset". But, she added, "we are deeply skeptical of the positive impact of reform proposals. Any reform deserving this name should respect the preservation of the acquired rights of staff as enshrined in the Charter and the Staff Rules and Regulations which govern employment conditions and the independence of the international civil service".

The Secretary-General Responds

In his Staff Day statement, the Secretary-General said his report to the General Assembly set out a comprehensive implementation programme for the management of the Organization's human resources. The measures, initiatives and proposals contained therein rested on the proposition that the system must evolve if it was to serve a 21st century organization.

Commenting on the Staff Union President's remarks that the consultations were neither adequate, sufficient nor to staff's satisfaction, the Secretary-General said that while he believed in staff-management consultation, that did not mean "co-management". As Chief Administrative Officer, he had a responsibility for administering this Organization and for making recommendations to the Member States. He added: "If, after lengthy consultations, we do not wait for the least common denominator, the least and the slowest common denominator, but decide that time is of the essence and we must move on". While the proposals he was submitting to the Assembly would not solve long-entrenched problems in a single stroke, they would bring much-needed positive change to the Organization and point the way towards further changes down the road.

No one would deny, said the Secretary-General, that the UN must be able to move more quickly than at present, especially in terms of recruitment and placement. The methods to be introduced were designed to speed things up, and attract and promote qualified staff, especially young people for whose talents the UN had to compete with "nimble dot com enterprises and other alluring opportunities presented by the New Economy". The UN must also respond to a dramatic transformation in the very nature of its work: from a Headquarters-based Organization to one with a strong field presence. He appealed to staff to be open to change and to remain so. "Things that don't work must and can be adjusted; things that do work must be strengthened and expanded; and things that are incomplete can be added to". This, he said, was a process and even more change was on the near horizon.

CCISUA and FICSA Chiefs Address ACC on Personnel Reform

Addressing the ACC on October 27, the Presidents of CCISUA and FICSA also touched on the issues of human resources management reform, new trends in staff-management relations and reform of the pay system. While in agreement with the Secretary-General that reform "is a process and not an event" they also saw reform as an ongoing concern having profound consequences for the professional and personal lives of all staff. When it came to involving staff in all stages of reform, the record of the UN system was varied, they said, and were of the view that staff involvement should be based on three pillars: communication, participation and agreement. Formal agreement as pioneered by the International Labour Organization (ILO) was the preferred choice, and they felt that method would be broadly supported by staff of the common system.

The statement continued: "Today, one of the most important issues in the minds of many staff is the future of permanent contracts. We consider that contracts concluded between the Organization and the staff under the Staff Regulations are an integral component of a career system. Staff Regulation 4.5 specifies that staff, other than USGs and ASGs, should be granted either permanent or temporary appointments. Article 101.2 of the Charter requires that 'appropriate staffs shall be permanently assigned to the ECOSOC, the Trusteeship Council and, as required, to other organs of the UN'. The institution of the permanent appointment has always been recognized as a key component to ensure the independence of the international civil service, as recognized by the Charter and the Staff Regulations.

"We are gravely concerned at the recent trend in many organizations to do away with permanent appointments and to replace them with a plethora of shorter-term employment arrangements. Why is there such a rush to such a drastic change? Surely, it can't be the quest for new blood and competence, as we should be able to retrain staff to meet new challenges, if there were a functioning staff development system…. It is not only purported competence that counts; it must be a mixture of competence, track record, expertise to operate in the unique multilateral setting, institutional memory, adaptability - and, above all, loyalty and commitment to the precepts of the international civil service.

"We firmly support the General Assembly's call for a balance, in the United Nations, of 70 per cent permanent contracts and 30 per cent temporary contracts (including indefinite appointments), as contained in General Assembly resolution 51/226 and 53/221. Given the new trend to decentralize authority and decision-making to the line and programme managers, it is of utmost importance to the staff to ensure that a proper system of accountability and recourse procedures are in place….

"We all should concentrate on harmonizing and making compatible the various reform initiatives. For example, the Secretary-General's report on human resources management reform (A/55/253) should be compatible with other basic documents such as the Standards of Conduct, and it should tally with the provisions in the ICSC's Human Resources Framework. At the present, this is not the trend and a great number of discrepancies could be observed between the provisions of the Standards with the reform proposals of the Secretary-General for human resources and those of the ICSC document….

"In all reform initiatives, the staff must have a role, which cannot be a la carte as the occasion might suggest. The agreement which was recently signed by the ILO Administration and the ILO Staff Union is a model we embrace and strongly commend for your review and adoption. Full participation of staff in all matters regarding their conditions of service, far from being a hindrance, should be seen as a guarantee and precondition for sound and sustainable reform. Such is the foundation upon which staff-management relations must be based. Good governance, as advocated by you, Mr. Secretary-General, in the Global Compact and by other Executive Heads within the ambit of their mandates, must begin at home, and we believe it should be based on equitable roles in negotiations and respect for staff. Fundamental labour rights must be recognized and upheld for international civil servants as well and should ideally be reflected in updated Staff Regulations and Rules."

Pay System Reform

The two Presidents also spoke on the touchy issue of the pay system and its reform, as follows: "Rumours of the introduction of broadbanding abound. Let us state here that CCISUA and FICSA cannot support broadbanding for a number of reasons. It has been shown to discriminate against women and minorities; it opens the door to favouritism and patronage; it increases staff costs; it has not been shown to improve either efficiency or performance; it does not respect the principle of equal pay for work of equal value and it is a threat to institutional memory which is of critical importance for the efficient delivery of programmes.

"In the private sector, broadbanding has been used only in companies that had an inordinate number of pay levels, say 32, which were reduced to six. The common system already has only five Professional-level pay bands. Apart from this technical observation, let us point out that broadbanding is basically incompatible with the time-tested Noblemaire principle. Why should the common system shift to broadbanding when the comparator civil service has not done so, despite the adoption, in 1997, of the Model Performance-Based Organization (PBO) Bill? What's more, the PBO specified explicitly that broadbanding not be implemented for the Foreign Service. Why would the United Nations system consider such a dysfunctional model? We firmly believe that our Organization should maintain its global lead as a caring multicultural and multinational employer. Any reform - particularly in pay system - should, therefore, provide an environment conducive to attract the best and most qualified candidates and enable the Organization to maintain its global edge".