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On March 25, 1985, armed men abducted Alec Collett while he was on assignment in Lebanon for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). For more than 24 years, his wife and family hung onto hope of Collett returning home until his body was finally found and identified in 2009.
Currently, 43 United Nations personnel are under arrest or detention by national authorities, militias or criminal gangs. In an unprecedented incident earlier this month, 21 peacekeepers with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) were stopped and detained by armed elements of the Syrian opposition and held for three days.
“The United Nations flag, which brings hope, safety and betterment of life for the most vulnerable, has become a target for ill-willed individuals and groups,” said Staff Union President Barbara Tavora-Jainchill.
Kidnappings of UN and global aid worker personnel are increasingly occurring for ransom or to make a political point. In order to bring to light these atrocities, the United Nations promotes the observance of the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members on March 25, the anniversary of Alec Collett’s abduction.
On this day, people are encouraged to remember the sacrifices and fates of detained and missing international workers, as well as honor those who serve in dangerous regions around the world. The United Nations also asks Member States to consider the amount of support they give for the protection of UN personnel in their respective countries.
“We urge Member States, when discussing budget cuts that may affect the security and safety of United Nations personnel, to think that their nationals are the ones who will suffer the consequences of those so called savings,” the Staff Union President said. “In order for us to perform our jobs, we have to be properly protected, and Member States are the ones who are capable of ensuring this protection.”
Additionally, the United Nations asks all Members States to ratify the Convention of the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel and its Optional Protocol. When all members agree to the rules, the vast majority of cases regarding arrested, detained and missing staff members may have the opportunity to end in prosecution of the offending parties.