15 APRIL 2013


On 25 March 1985, Alec Collett was abducted by armed men while on assignment in Lebanon for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Lebanon. For more than 24 years, his wife and family hung onto hope and prayer until his body was finally found and identified in 2009.

Alec Collett’s fate symbolizes the fate of too many staff members who have "disappeared" or have been detained for long periods while serving the Organization. While Mr. Collett’s case was particularly egregious, recent incidents have once again stressed the urgency of the plight of those who have been arrested, detained, missing or "disappeared" while in the service of the Organization.

"Never have United Nations personnel been in such a danger just for performing their job," said Staff Union President Barbara Tavora-Jainchill. "Never have those who implement the ideals of the U.N. Charter been the focus of so much anger. United Nations staff, members of the press and humanitarian workers are being kidnapped, harmed and even killed as never before, sometimes for political reasons, in other cases for financial gain. This has to stop."

Currently, 43 U.N. personnel are under arrest or detention by national authorities. Others are held by militias and criminal gangs. Increasingly, kidnappings are occurring for ransom or to make a political point. In March, in an unprecedented incident, 21 peacekeepers of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) were stopped and detained by armed elements of the Syrian opposition, and held for 3 days until their release on 9 March.

In 2012, according to preliminary reports, about 200 U.N. personnel were detained and arrested by national authorities and some 30 personnel were abducted by non-State actors; 15 cases of abductions were politically motivated and resulted in hostage situations. All personnel were safely released.

"We urge Member States, when discussing budget cuts that may affect the security and safety of United Nations personnel, to think that their nationals are the ones who will suffer the consequences of those so called 'savings,'" the Staff Union President said. "In order for us to perform our jobs, we have to be properly protected, and Member States are the ones who are capable of ensuring this protection. In this regard, we also ask Member States who have not done so to sign and ratify the Convention of the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel, as well as its Optional Protocol. We are ready and willing to go anywhere we are needed, but as soon as our mission is over, we want to go back to our families safe and sound. This is not too much to ask."

Fourteen years after its entry into force, only 47 percent of Member States have ratified the Convention, and only 15 percent have ratified its 2005 Protocol. In addition, the vast majority of cases regarding arrested, detained and missing staff members do not result in investigation and prosecution.

The International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members marks the anniversary of the abduction of Alec Collett. The United Nations Staff Union and its Committee on the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service, which promote the observance of the Day, pay homage to Mr. Collett and all others who have suffered similar fates, and remember the family members who bear the burden.