UN boss Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday added his voice to calls for the release of the 19 United Nations staffers currently under arrest, missing or detained around the world.
"I call on member states and non-state actors to release them immediately," Ban said at a UN headquarters ceremony to mark the 24th International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members.
The ceremony, sponsored by the UN Staff Union, highlighted the dangers faced by journalists as well as UN and humanitarian personnel in carrying out their work.
"While there is a treaty in place protecting staff, states still do not fully comply," UN staff union vice president Thomas Ginivan said.
"The UN establishes missions and offices, yet staff assigned find themselves increasingly in the line of fire with little support or proper security in place," he added. "Political factions reportedly have targeted staff while on humanitarian missions."
Ban said locally recruited personnel are the most vulnerable, and account for a majority of security incidents. "But anyone serving the United Nations, supporting us as a partner or reporting on our work, is a potential victim, as recent hostage incidents in Niger and Pakistan attest."
The UN secretary general drew attention to current efforts to secure the release of two Canadian UN officials snatched in Niger in December, Robert Fowler and Louis Guay, as well as that of American John Solecki, a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official abducted in Pakistan, as well as detained staff of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Fowler and his assistant Guay were kidnapped in the West African country while returning from a visit to a gold mine operated by Canadian company Semafo west of Niamey. They are believed to be held by Moctar Ben Moctar, one of the leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Solecki, the local head of the UNHCR, was seized at gunpoint in Quetta, the capital of southwestern province of Baluchistan, on February 2. His driver was killed.
The International Day of Solidarity marks the anniversary of the March 25, 1985 kidnapping of British journalist Alec Collet by gunmen near Beirut airport. Collett, a former UN information centre director, was serving with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). He has never been seen again and his case remains unsolved.