UN mourns staff members killed in Kabul attack

30 Oct 2009

UN mourns staff members killed in Kabul attack

NEW YORK - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon led United Nations staff today in remembering the colleagues who were killed in an attack on a guest house in Kabul earlier this week and hailing all the men and women working for the world body in Afghanistan.

Jossie Esto of the Philippines, who worked for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) election team; Louis Maxwell, a close protection officer from the United States; Lawrence Mefful, a UN security officer from Ghana; and Yah Lydia Wonyene, a UNDP elections officer from Liberia, were killed in Wednesday’s attack, while nine other UN staffers were wounded.

The identity of a fifth person, who worked for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), still needs to be confirmed.

“These women and men went to Afghanistan with many talents. But they shared a common goal, that is, to help the Afghan people,” said Mr. Ban.

“They went despite the risks. They went to support another election and the opportunity for the Afghan people to shape their destiny,” he told the gathering at UN Headquarters.

“Together, we send our deepest condolences to their families – and also to the families of those Afghans who lost their lives to this terrorist attack.”

The Secretary-General highlighted in particular the bravery of the UN security officers who fought the Taliban militants who attacked the guest house, where 34 UN staffers were staying.

Armed with only pistols against assailants carrying automatic weapons and grenades and wearing suicide vests, the officers held them off long enough for UN colleagues to escape, thereby saving many lives. “I am so grateful for their courage and bravery and sacrifice.”

Also addressing the gathering was Emma Mefful, who described her “husband and best friend” – UN security officer Lawrence Mefful – as a selfless man who always went out of his way to help others.

“He lived a life based on two philosophies: loving his Lord and loving his neighbour. It was therefore not surprising about his heroic actions at a time of crisis, especially doing something to save the lives of others,” she said. “That’s just really Lawrence.”

Ann M. Veneman, the Executive Director of UNICEF, voiced her agency’s grave concern about a colleague who was in the guesthouse and is still unaccounted for.

She added that the incident in Kabul is another painful reminder of how UN staff continue to work in difficult and dangerous environments to assist those who are most in need.

Likewise, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark saluted the courage of those who chose to serve in difficult circumstances. “These horrific acts test our courage not only to do our jobs in the field, but also to hold fast to the ideals which took us there,” she stated.

The dedication shown daily by UN staff, she said, needs to be met by an equal commitment by all Member States to fund and support the Organization in providing the best possible security arrangements in dangerous environments.

Mr. Ban said that the UN is urgently reviewing the security environment throughout Afghanistan, and is exploring the feasibility of bringing in additional security units to guard UN facilities and guest houses.

The UN will also be consolidating its staff now scattered among many different locations in Kabul and may suggest that personnel not directly engaged in critical duties be re-located over the coming weeks. In addition, Mr. Ban is dispatching a senior UN official to the Afghan capital to express sympathy and solidarity with the staff, as well as to assess first-hand the situation on the ground.

So far this year, he noted, 27 civilian personnel have lost their lives to violence, more than half of them in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But he stressed his determination to carry out the UN’s work, saying, “Let us remember. Let us honour. And let us continue.”

Later in the day, the Secretary-General briefed the General Assembly, and appealed for rapid action on the UN security budget. “We need your full political, material and financial support,” he told Member States.

Specifically, he asked for a supplementary $50 million – in addition to the proposed $5 billion regular budget for the 2010-2011 biennium – to better screen and protect access to vulnerable UN locations.

He also requested expanded authority to undertake new financial commitments in times of crisis, noting that the current level of authority of $1 million is simply not enough. Further, he proposed that an emergency fund be established with an initial ceiling of $25 million to assist the Department of Safety and Security (DSS) “to meet the new demands upon it in an increasingly dangerous world.”

In addition, he said it is necessary to increase the hardship incentive for staff working in dangerous posts, as well as to set up a special fund to support victims and their families, both in immediate emergencies and in the longer term. While the size of the fund must be decided, initial estimates suggest that it should amount to approximately $10 million.

“I am very much encouraged by the unreserved support and cooperation of the Member States,” Mr. Ban told reporters after briefing the Assembly, noting that delegations said that they will positively consider his additional proposals.