In 1994, after deadly civil wars began to pose extreme dangers to both peacekeepers and humanitarian staff members working around the world, the United Nations adopted the 1994 Convention on the Safety of UN and Associated Personnel, which made nations where UN troops and other missions are based responsible for their safety. An additional protocol in 2005 extended protection to staff members delivering humanitarian, political or development assistance.
From the start, a number of nations were wary of the convention or completely opposed to its demands. Suggestions that nongovernmental humanitarian workers should also be protected were roundly dismissed. Aid workers, many of them employed locally by either the UN or a nongovernmental organization, have often been the targets of violence in unsettled areas or war zones.
As a result of the controversy over the convention, international support has been lukewarm at best. Only 90 of the UN’s 193 member nations have ratified the agreement, and just 27 adopted the 2005 protocol. Most European nations as well as Turkey and China are among those who signed and ratified the convention, which came into force in 1999. The United States signed but did not ratify.
Meanwhile, scores of UN staff members have been victims of abductions, assault, harassment and sometimes murder over the last year alone, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on March 25, a day set aside by the UN as a time to express solidarity with detained and missing staff members.
UN News reported that the organization’s department of safety and security had documented the detentions or arrests by member governments of 189 UN staff members in 2011. Four staff are still being held. In addition, 18 UN civilians working for the UN were abducted and held hostage by criminals or extremist groups in 2011. During the first two months of 2012, 10 UN personnel were kidnapped. All but one have been released.
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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.