For the first half-century of its existence, the United Nations felt protected by its flag and the reality that it was a neutral, benevolent actor in world events. When United Nations personnel were directly targeted, it was generally viewed as an isolated event.
In the early 1990s, there was a rise in the number of deaths and injuries of staff members as a result of malicious acts. Regrettably, the security environment for the United Nations changed and became more threatening. In addition, the mandates of the United Nations evolved, resulting in a larger number of United Nations staff members, notably from the humanitarian agencies, being deployed on potentially hazardous missions. At the same time, peacekeeping missions were being established in areas at war or in situations of high risk. Increasingly, humanitarian staff were deployed alongside peacekeeping military units in integrated multidisciplinary missions.
The security management system of the 1990s was designed for the operational requirements which existed in the UN’s early decades. The system was not able to fulfill its responsibilities adequately despite the best efforts and dedication of all those involved in the system. To allow the United Nations to meet new demands, the General Assembly authorized an increase in the staff of the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator (UNSECOORD), primarily in the field.
The United Nations Security Coordinator coordinated the activities of the United Nations field security management system and was a senior official appointed by the Secretary-General. His Office was responsible for all policy and procedural matters related to security; ensuring a coherent response by the United Nations to any emergency situation; coordinating, planning and implementing inter-agency security programmes and acting as the focal point for inter-agency cooperation concerning all security matters and, on behalf of the Secretary-General, taking all decisions relating to the relocation/evacuation of staff members and their eligible dependents from very insecure areas. In 2001, the General Assembly authorized the creation of a full-time United Nations Security Coordinator at the level of Assistant Secretary-General. By 2002, the number of professional security officer posts in the field numbered 100 Professional and 200 locally recruited posts.
In addition to UNSECOORD, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) had in place its own separate security structure for civilian staff in UN peacekeeping operations. Political missions of the Department of Political Affairs that were administratively backstopped by DPKO remained under the UN field security management system.
Each of the major UN locations, in New York and at seven [United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), United Nations Office in Vienna (UNOV), United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNON), Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Addis Ababa, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Bangkok, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) Beirut, United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Santiago] other Secretariat Headquarters’ locations around the world, as well as at the International Tribunals in the Hague and Arusha, had their own Security and Safety Services which operated independently from the UN field security management system and from any central direction.
In the period 2002 to 2003, diligent efforts were made by the United Nations Security Coordinator to professionalize the Organization’s security for its staff through improved recruitment and training, and to institutionalize security coordination among United Nations agencies, funds, and programmes through the establishment of an Inter-Agency Security Management Network. However, both the DPKO and SSS security structures continued to function as separate entities to the structure in place for the field.
In early August 2003, just prior to the attack in Bagdad independent security experts carried out an analysis of the UN security management system and concluded that the development and implementation of an overall security governance and accountability framework, including Headquarters, humanitarian and development staff and civilian staff in peacekeeping missions would lead to a strengthened and unified security management system.
Despite the growing security concerns and the efforts to address them a suicide truck-bomb attack on the UN Headquarters at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad on 19 August 2003 came as a devastating shock. The attack killed 22 United Nations staff and visitors and injured more than 150 persons.
A few weeks after the explosion of 19 August, the United Nations was subject to another attack against the Canal Hotel, resulting in 2 deaths and 19 injuries, including 2 United Nations national staff.
It was clear that the threats against the United Nations had fundamentally escalated. The report of the Independent Panel on the Safety and Security of United Nations Personnel, led by Martti Ahtisaari, former Finnish President and herein referred to as the Ahtisaari panel, made the following stark assessment in its investigation of the attack:
The United Nations could, in theory, be the target of attacks anywhere at any time, from Baghdad to Kabul, Nairobi, Jakarta, Geneva or New York. There are no indications that the perpetrators of the attacks in Baghdad would refrain from attacking other UN targets worldwide.
The Ahtisaari panel accordingly called for a new, drastically revised security strategy for the United Nations. The Panel recommended that the core elements of the new strategy include an in-depth review and reform of the United Nations security system; clear guidance by and clear responsibilities of the United Nations to ensure the security of its staff; the availability of professional assessment tools for the collection of information on potential threats and for the analysis of risk for United Nations operations worldwide; a robust security management system with adequate disciplinary measures to counter non-compliance; accountability at all managerial levels for the implementation of security regulations; and significant increases in resources to develop and maintain the necessary security infrastructure.
A concerted effort was subsequently made across the United Nations system to overhaul and improve staff security arrangements. In 2004, a radical proposal for strengthening and unifying the United Nations security management system was presented to the 59th session of the General Assembly in Report A/59/365 of 11October 2004. This resulted in the adoption of General Assembly Resolution (A/RES/59/276, XI, 7 - 23 December 2004) that created the Department of Safety and Security which merged the security management component of the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator (UNSECOORD), the Security and Safety Services (SSS) at Headquarters and at Offices away from Headquarters, (including the regional commissions), and the civilian security component of the Department of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) into a single security management framework.
Furthermore, the Resolution mandated that the new Department be headed by a senior UN official at the rank of Under-Secretary-General for a non-renewable term of five years. The General Assembly also adopted measures to reinforce security operations in all locations and decided to establish a unified capacity for policy, standards, coordination, communications, compliance and threat and risk assessment.
The United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) was formally established on 1 January 2005.Since that time, the Department has been dedicated to performing the following functions:
- To support and enable the effective conduct of United Nations activities by ensuring a coherent, effective and timely response to all security-related threats and other emergencies;
- To ensure effective risk mitigation through the establishment of a coordinated security threat and risk assessment mechanism within the framework of a common, system-wide methodology;
- To develop high-quality, best-practise security policies, standards and operational procedures across the United Nations system, including the appropriate degree of standardization;
- To support implementation and monitor compliance with those security policies, standards and operational procedures;
- To ensure the most cost-effective provision and employment of security personnel by taking advantage of economies of scale and through centrally directed recruitment, selection, training, deployment and career development.