Dozens of United Nations personnel made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty last year with at least seven peacekeeping troops killed and 28 civilian staff members in deadly attacks, the world body’s staff union said, urging nations to sign a global treaty protecting UN staff.
Some 17 UN civilian staff members were killed in separate violent incidents in Pakistan and Afghanistan alone, as well as five who died working for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) during the Israeli military operation against militants in the Gaza Strip and two who lost their lives in Somalia.
Among the dead was a 23-year-old Palestinian English teacher working at a UN-run school in Gaza, a Somali monitor for the World Food Programme (WFP) who was shot and dumped onto the road from the WFP truck which the gunmen used to escape, and a Pakistani driver with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) who was gunned down during the abduction of John Solecki, the head of the UNHCR office in Quetta in Balochistan province.
More than two-thirds of the victims were national staff members employed by UN agencies to contribute to humanitarian efforts in their own countries.
One of the most deadly incidents occurred when a UN guest house in Kabul was attacked by gunmen, killing five staff members, including two security officers who fought a running battle with the shooters to allow many of their colleagues to escape.
In addition, six blue helmets deployed with the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) died in three separate incidents, and the Deputy Force Commander of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) was killed while on leave in Pakistan.
“Once again, United Nations personnel had to pay with their lives for their effort to assist populations in distress,” said UN Staff Union President Stephen Kisambira.
“A particularly disturbing trend continued last year: deliberate attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Darfur to intimidate and undermine the United Nations,” added Kisambira.
“It is frustrating that hardly has anyone responsible been brought to account.”
The Union noted that 2007 witnessed one of the highest death tolls of UN staff, reaching 42 dead, including 17 personnel killed in a terrorist bombing on UN premises in Algiers, and slightly fewer died in 2008 with at least 34 staff members losing their lives.
Kisambira stressed that 15 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Safety of UN and Associated Personnel, fewer than half of the UN’s 192 Member States have ratified it.
“The ratification of both the Convention and the Optional Protocol by all Member States would make a statement that Member States take seriously their primary responsibility to protect United Nations personnel and that they appreciate the United Nations’ role in maintaining peace and fostering development in far-flung areas of the world,” he said.