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Experts: U.N. staff need more security Print

EDITH M. LEDERER - AP - 17.1.2007

UNITED NATIONS - U.N. employees are increasingly casualties of the conflicts they are working to end, partly because the world body has a double standard when it comes to protecting its workers, security experts told an annual staff summit.

Locally recruited employees serving in dangerous missions enjoy less protection than international staff members, who are usually pulled out at the first sign of crisis, the experts said at Tuesday's meeting.

David Veness, the U.N. undersecretary-general for security, said U.N. local staff often suffered the most casualties. Strengthening their security and equating their status with U.N. international staff was therefore the top priority for 2007, he said.

At least 22 U.N. personnel were killed last year, according to the U.N. Staff Union, and two staff members already have been killed this month in Baghdad and southern Sudan.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the current Security Council president, said U.N. peacekeepers and humanitarian workers "are increasingly becoming subject to pressure and threats from irresponsible political forces, and moreover, are targeted for attack by opposing groups in zones of conflict."

"Even less scrupulous in choosing their means are extremist and terrorist organizations of all kinds that resort to taking peacemakers and personnel of the organization hostage, and most tragically, make them casualties of their criminal policies," he said.

Mohammed Toure, president of the U.N. refugee agency's Staff Union, said national staff did not have the same legal status and guarantees as international staff although they were carrying out increased responsibilities.

Abby Stoddard of New York University's Center on International Cooperation said violence against humanitarian workers for the United Nations and voluntary organizations has increased over the past 10 years.

"Just this past year 83 aid workers across the world lost their lives to deliberate violence, which was over three times the number of fatalities suffered by U.N. peacekeeping troops," she said. "In the past 10 years, over 1,100 humanitarians were killed in over 500 separate attacks on civilian aid operations."

Stoddard said the rate of attacks on national staff is increasing - they now account for 80 percent of victims - while the rate of attacks on international personnel is falling.

"When security conditions deteriorate, the typical response of international organizations is to withdraw or restrict the movement of their international staff, and pass on responsibility ... to national staff members or local partner organizations," she said.

Stoddard said the risks to national staff and partners "are often inadequately assessed, and nationals are provided with a much lower level of security resources than are international staff."

Dimitri Samaras, speaking on behalf of the U.N. staff, appealed to governments and managers to join forces in reducing the risk to staff and bring to justice the perpetrators of attacks.

The new secretary-general said in a speech read by his chief of staff that he attaches "the highest importance" to staff security. Ban Ki-moon said the U.N. will have to maintain "utmost vigilance" against attacks, kidnappings and intimidation in the year ahead. 

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