Fifteen years ago, on 25 March 1985, our colleague Alec Collett, serving in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), was abducted near Beirut airport by armed men, never to be seen again. To highlight his fate, as well as that of many other colleagues, the staff of the United Nations has been observing that date as the Day of Solidarity with Detained Staff Members. Alec Collett's fate has come to symbolize the fate of too many staff members who “disappeared” or have been detained for long periods while serving the Organization. A good number of cases of “disappearance” date back to the 1980s, and their fate has never been determined.
The United Nations staff is fully conscious of the responsibilities assigned to them by the Member States. The staff has become increasingly involved in various complex operations, ranging from handling emergency situations under very pressing and difficult conditions to resolving conflict in hostile environments. One of the consequences of these developments is the fact that more and more staff members participate in missions away from Headquarters. Increasingly, the policy issues related to the safety and security of staff are being questioned. The worsening security situation in recent years speaks for itself. Since 1994, some 288 United Nations staff have been victims of hostage- taking and kidnapping. Arbitrary arrests, detentions and “disappearances” have continued, and governments have done too little to address this tragedy.
It would be almost impossible to ensure the safety and security of staff, if their privileges and immunities are not duly respected. Respect for the privileges and immunities of United Nations staff are not a rhetorical plea, but a practical requirement necessary for the independent exercise of the functions entrusted to the United Nations.
On 9 December 1994, the General Assembly adopted a very important new international instrument -- the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel. The purpose of this Convention is to protect United Nations and associated personnel against attacks when deployed in the service of peacekeeping operations. These operations have the binding support of the Security Council and the General Assembly, which have recognized the “exceptional risk” to the safety of personnel participating in them. We are encouraged by the entry into force, last year, of this Convention, requiring States parties to release United Nations personnel detained while performing their duties. I want to convey my gratitude to the 30 Member States that have thus far ratified the Convention. At the same time, I urge the 158 Member States not yet party to this instrument to join in as soon as possible.
Let me take this opportunity and, once more, urge all Member States still detaining our colleagues to release them promptly. As Secretary-General Kofi Annan mentioned last year, “the safety and security of staff is a non-negotiable issue”.