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UN Memorializes Killed Staff, Does Not Answer on Impartiality, Union Qs

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 19, updated -- As the UN marked the tenth anniversary of the bombing of its Iraq headquarters at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, there were many uncomfortable questions either not raised or not answered.

  There was talk of impartiality, but the UN is taking sides even more now than ten years ago, for example with its "Force Intervention Brigade" which UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous says will "neutralize" groups disliked by Joseph Kabila - with the support of drones.

  The Vice-President of the Staff-Management Committee, Ian Richards, spoke and delivered a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's office. Inner City Press has obtained the letter. It says

Families of our deceased colleagues should not be left behind. Surviving family members need a better defined package of care. Children should receive medical and educational support as an official entitlement, not as an act of charity.

The UN needs an independent judicial coroner to get a fair and honest answer for bereaved relatives about why a spouse, parent, son or daughter dies in the field.

More must be done to protect colleagues whose mental health has suffered as a result of witnessing or being the victim of malicious attacks. Sick leave, disability and selection policies need to be reviewed so that we aren't unfairly terminated or find that our contracts aren't renewed on health grounds.

Training is also required to ensure we can understand these challenges and do our best to reintegrate affected colleagues.

There should an annual, internationally-recognized memorial day for fallen staff. A permanent memorial should be established and a list kept of all colleagues who have died or been affected by malicious acts against them whilst working for the United Nations.

Strict criteria must be developed for situations where we may be deployed to the 103 member states that have not ratified the 1994 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel or the 165 countries that have not signed the 2005 Optional Protocol to the Convention.

There are still many ways we are vulnerable and face ongoing risks in our working lives a decade on from the Baghdad bombing. In 2012 alone, for instance, 200 United Nations colleagues were detained and arrested by national authorities and some 30 were abducted, in many cases leading to hostage situations.

We believe that union rights save UN lives. In order to help ensure the safety of colleagues who serve in the field, a credible negotiating framework between representatives of staff and management is essential. Without the ability to challenge decisions that may prove to be harmful to them or even to speak up for themselves, our colleagues are helpless. Far-reaching institutional change has become a necessity.

We call on you to reopen the channels of communications with your staff unions which you closed down in June, so that we might work together to ensure a safer future for UN staff. Whilst it is commendable that you will honour the lives of our fallen colleagues today, by refusing to meet with your staff to negotiate their rights and working conditions, the lives of those who work selflessly on the front line every day are needlessly jeopardized further.

  Inner City Press exclusively wrote about this "break down" in June 2013, here. Answers are few and far between - and now Ban Ki-moon's "press encounter" at 12:30 is downgraded to a "press stakeout." But the questions, including by the Free UN Coalition for Access, @FUNCA_info, will continue. Watch this site.

Footnote: the above-quoted letter was also signed by:

Dorani Salah Omar, Chairperson of the Staff Council, UNHCR Djibouti
Ahmed Abdullahi Farah, UNHCR staff representative in Somalia
Assadullah Amin, SC-Field Office in Gardez, Afghanistan
Abdul Basir Sediqyar, SC-Filed Unit Maimana, Afghanistan
Hamed Mardan, Protection Associate and staff representative, Sub Office
Herat, Afghanistan
Mohammad Azim Naqibullah, SC-UNHCR FO Bamyan, Afghanistan
All staff representatives of the Staff Council of UNHCR Malaysia
Ahmad Suhail Akbari, UNHCR SO, Mazar-i-Sharif
Jackline Lollis, Staff Association Chairperson, UNHCR South Sudan
Samuel Francis Paul, former field staff member, UNHCR South Sudan
Abid Wadid Mufti, staff representative at UNHCR Peshawar
Tanveer ul Haq, staff representative at UNHCR Peshawar
Wajiha Afzal, staff representative at UNHCR Peshawar

Update: the letter, an observant Twitter follower has told us, is online here on Huffington Post, which also has this piece on UN by Ladan Rafii.


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