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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder23. Staff Safety
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe UN Security System
View the documentEssential Plans
View the documentSecurity
View the documentSecurity Management
View the documentKey References

The UN Security System

1. UN system-wide arrangements are described in detail in the UN Field Security Handbook (see references) and outlined here.

UN organizations have agreed to system-wide arrangements for the safety of UN staff and property in the field.

The UN Security Co-ordinator (UNSECOORD), based in New York, acts on behalf of the Secretary-General to ensure a coherent response by the UN to any security situation. UNSECOORD produces monthly publications on security conditions on a country by country basis. In addition, the Field Safety Section at Headquarters can provide country specific information and advice.


The primary responsibility for the security and protection of staff members rests with the host government.

This responsibility arises from every government's inherent role of maintaining law and order within its jurisdiction.

3. UNHCR and other UN organizations may lend assistance, when possible and to the extent feasible, to protect other people such as staff of NGOs working in co-operation with them. UNHCR has no legal obligation towards others working with refugees.

4. In each country, a senior UN official called the Designated Official (DO) is the person in charge of the security management arrangements of the UN system. The DO is accountable to the Secretary-General through UNSECOORD for the safety of UN personnel.

5. The principle responsibilities of the DO include:

Liaising with host government officials on security matters;

Arranging a security plan for the area and including provision for relocation of National staff and evacuation of International staff;

Informing the Secretary-General (through UNSECOORD) of all developments which may have a bearing on the safety of staff members;

Carrying out relocation or evacuation where a breakdown in communication makes it impossible to receive the Secretary-General's prior approval;

Forming a Security Management Team (SMT);

Informing the senior official of each UN organization of all security measures.

6. The DO will form an SMT, the function of which will be to advise him or her on security matters. The SMT is normally composed of: the DO; field security officers; a medical officer; an internationally recruited staff member familiar with local conditions and languages; a staff member with a legal background and any agency staff who by training, background or experience will contribute to the team.

7. In large countries with regions separated from country headquarters in terms of distance and exposure to emergencies, a UN staff member may be designated as the Area Security Co-ordinator (ASC). The ASC acts on the DO's behalf and will normally have responsibilities for staff safety similar to those of the DO, but within that region of the country. UNHCR may be requested by the DO to undertake this role.

8. The ASC (or DO where there is no ASC for the region) will appoint security wardens who will have responsibility for security within particular predetermined zones. A separate warden system for nationally recruited and internationally recruited staff may be required. The warden system should include all humanitarian agencies.

9. The primary tool for security preparedness is the security plan, which is the key feature of the UN security system.