1 APRIL 2014


As the United Nations marked the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members on 25 March, 56 United Nations civilian personnel remain under arrest and/or detention by national authorities according to the Department of Safety and Security. In addition, four United Nations and associated personnel abducted by non-State actors remain in captivity.

While the total number of cases for 2013 decreased from the previous year - 138 compared with 165 in 2012 - it remains unacceptably high. More must be done to address this problem and to help those whose freedom is constrained because of their work for the Organization.

"In our mission to increase peace and security around the world, the United Nations asks us to work in the world's most dangerous places," said Ian Richards, Vice-President of the United Nations Staff-Management Committee. "We do this out of a sense of duty and on the understanding that we will be looked after. However, it is now clear that the United Nations flag has increasingly become a target instead of a shield, especially for colleagues recruited at the national level. We call on the Secretary-General and all Governments to do more to protect staff and their independence, so they can focus on their work, not work in fear."

The situation is dire in Syria. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East (UNRWA), the number of UNRWA staff detained or presumed detained in Syria stood at 22 as of mid-March, and three staff members were listed as missing.

The situation is equally serious in South Sudan, where, according to Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous, the authorities continue to harass United Nations staff to the point of putting their lives in danger. United Nations staff members have been subjected to threats, harassment, physical assault, arrest, detention and unlawful interrogation.

In 2013, 138 United Nations civilian personnel were detained and/or arrested by Member States' authorities, including 17 internationally and 121 locally recruited personnel. For comparison, in 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009, there were 165, 195, 211 and 163 United Nations personnel detained and arrested, respectively. The Organization is taking a more proactive role in addressing such cases and supporting its personnel, including working more closely with Member States and introducing through the Department of Safety and Security a more effective and timely incident reporting system. While the number of cases has decreased over the years, it remains unacceptably high.

In 2013, 17 civilian personnel, including 10 international and seven locally recruited personnel, were abducted by non-State actors, including criminal groups, illegal militias and extremist elements. All hostages but one who remain in captivity have been released. The duration of captivity ranged from three days to eight months.

The trend of abductions of civilian personnel remains consistently high; there were 32, 21, 12 and 22 cases of abductions in 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 respectively. All personnel abducted from 2009 to 2012 have been released.

Personnel are often detained in the course of, or in connection with, their official duties, and in many cases the United Nations is denied access to the detainee and given no reasons for the arrest. Most of those cases involve national staff members, who are most vulnerable to arrest and detention by Governments that do not respect the rights and privileges of those working for the United Nations.

The increase in abductions that are politically motivated or seek to extort a ransom are a great concern. Equally worrisome is the fact that most cases regarding arrested, detained and missing staff members do not result in prosecution by the national authorities.

The International Day marks the anniversary of the abduction of Alec Collett, a former journalist and United Nations staff member who was working for 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 of all those who have suffered similar fates.

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.