International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members

Abuja, 25 March 2022-Today we will observe the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members. This date marks the anniversary of the 1985 kidnapping of Alec Collett, a journalist who was abducted by the Abu Nidal Organization while working in Beirut for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Collet was murdered a year later, but his body was not recovered until 2009.

Despite the adoption of the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel (https://www.un.org/law/cod/safety.htm) which entered into force in 1999, as well as the 2005 Optional Protocol to the Convention, which extends protection to personnel delivering humanitarian, political or development assistance, over the years, sadly, many UN personnel and humanitarian workers have been kidnapped, and many more continue to face ongoing threats to their freedom and security. 

According to the Aid Worker Security Database (https://aidworkersecurity.org/), since 2013 more than 100 humanitarian workers have been killed each year. Since 2021, 142 UN personnel have been detained, including 15 in 2022 alone. In total, 22 United Nations personnel are currently still being held in captivity around the world. National staff are often at particular risk and face unacceptable threats to their safety and security.

The UN’s International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members was created to bring awareness to these kidnappings, to call for governments and communities to protect UN workers, and to remember UN personnel, like Alec Collet, who have been abducted whilst doing their job. This continues to be a very real problem for those working in the humanitarian space. Most recently five UN staff members working to alleviate the crisis southern Yemen were abducted while returning to Aden from a field mission in February 2022. Kidnapping has been a growing threat in West Africa for the past couple of years and aid workers have not been exempt from this disturbing phenomenon.

To mark this significant date in the United Nations’ calendar, Secretary-General António Guterres has urged Member States to make every effort to protect UN and humanitarian workers as they perform their roles, often in extremely challenging conditions, in conflict afflicted areas around the globe:

“UN personnel should never be arrested or detained because of the work they do in carrying out our mandate… I also call on all countries, which have not yet done so, to accede to and fully implement the 1994 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel as well as the 2005 Optional Protocol to the Convention, which extends protection to personnel delivering humanitarian, political or development assistance… On this International Day, let us stand in solidarity with all detained colleagues and pledge to protect all United Nations personnel as they work to advance peace and human rights, protect the planet and build a better future for all.”

Kidnappings and enforced disappearances cast a long shadow, leaving deep physical, mental, and emotional scars that can persist for decades. The victims of these attacks often need long-term help, support, and understanding to come to terms with their experiences. The International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members is an opportunity to also focus attention on these enduring needs.