A Dangerous Time to Be a UN Staff Member

In Somalia, four UN staffers were abducted by armed gunmen. In Sri Lanka, Tamil Tiger rebels have pressed UN workers and their family members (including a 16-year-old girl) into forced military service. The former is unfortunately still run-of-the-mill for lawless Somalia, despite the hopeful prospects of the country’s new government. The latter is another sign of disrespect for UN blue in Sri Lanka, as well as of the Tigers’ increasing desperation, as they are forced into an ever dwindling territory by the Sri Lankan military (itself also a culprit of unconscionable human rights violations).

These incidents are particularly salient reminders, but the danger of working as a UN staff member in unstable parts of the world — that is to say, most of the places where the UN works — is a constant fact of life for these brave individuals. From doing nothing other than helping their host country’s nationals, UN staffers (the vast majority of whom, it bears reminding, are themselves citizens of the country in which they work) can be targeted by disruptive elements simply for what they represent (the “international community”) and for the attention that attacking them will almost certainly raise. What such spoilers don’t seem to realize is that this attention will inevitably backfire on their cause, exposing them as truly uninterested in the fate of their country, which they purport to be fighting for, but which UN workers are only working to improve.

UPDATE: Hostages in Somalia released.

(image of UN World Food Program workers in Somalia)