15 APRIL 2012


As the United Nations marked the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members on 25 March, personnel of the Organization are still detained by Governments or in the hands of armed groups, according to the United Nations Staff Union.

"As we observe the International Day, let us not forget our colleagues who are not free because they work for the United Nations," said Staff Union President Barbara Tavora-Jainchill. "At least one staff member is in the hands of his kidnappers and a number of them are imprisoned in cases that are related with their working for the Organization."

Abductions of United Nations personnel continued in 2012, with armed groups in Yemen having seized a staff member of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on 12 January, and four other United Nations staffers in two separate incidents on 21 January. A 55-member patrol of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) was detained by rebels from 19 to 21 February, but fortunately, they were all subsequently released.

According to the Department of Safety and Security, Member States detained or arrested at least 189 United Nations civilian personnel in 2011, in cases that were considered job-related. Another 18 were kidnapped.

Among other cases in 2011, two staff members of the World Food Programme (WFP) were kidnapped and held captive in Ethiopia for more than one month, and three members of a helicopter crew of the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service were kidnapped and held in captivity in Darfur, Sudan, for nearly five months. Also in 2011, two staff members of UNAMID were detained for months by the Sudanese authorities, in violation of the Status-of-Forces Agreement.

In 2010, 12 United Nations personnel were abducted, according to the Department of Safety and Security, and 50 others -- most of them locally recruited -- were detained or arrested in cases considered job-related, in that they were detained in the course of, or in connection with, their official duties.

"International instruments to protect our staff are in place, but too many Member States still are not making use of them," said Ms. Tavora-Jainchill, pointing out that only 90 Member States -- less than half the United Nations membership -- have ratified the 1994 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel. Only 27 have ratified the 2005 Optional Protocol to the Convention. "It is their nationals that these instruments seek to protect," Ms. Tavora-Jainchill said.

"I call on Member States to do their utmost to prevent kidnappings by armed groups or criminal gangs operating in their territory," she added. "Member States must refrain from arresting staff members in cases that are job-related and release those who are currently detained."

The International Day marks the anniversary of the abduction of Alec Collett, a former journalist and United Nations staff member who was working for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) when he was abducted by armed gunmen in 1985. With his remains having been found and returned to his family in 2009, the Day is also intended to honour his memory, and that of all those who have suffered a similar fate.

The observance of the International Day was organized by the United Nations Staff Union and its Standing Committee on the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service.