UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a memorial service on Monday's 10th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that the United Nations is changing the way it operates to deal with sophisticated and brazen attackers targeting the world body. But U.N. staff complained that the organization isn't doing enough to ensure their safety.
Since the attack on the Canal Hotel which killed 22 staff members including top U.N. envoy to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello, U.N. offices and residences have been attacked in numerous places from Algeria and Afghanistan to Pakistan, Somalia and Nigeria.
Stressing the dangers in the U.N.'s "mission for peace," the secretary-general said the organization has learned from its losses and is striving to improve its "readiness and response" by strengthening safety and security measures, putting new emphasis on training, and doing more to address the needs of the injured and families of the victims.
"Our challenge remains: to be where we must be for our essential work, while reducing risk and holding governments to account in supporting our efforts," Ban said.
Ian Richards, vice president of the U.N. Staff Management Committee, countered that the U.N. has moved boldly into conflict zones, and "right now our colleagues and their families are paying too high a price."
He said the U.N. is no longer seen as neutral, and "the U.N. flag is now a target instead of a shield."
Over the last 10 years, Richards said, the Aid Worker Security Database tracked 555 U.N.-related staff and contractors who were attacked and more than 200 who were killed. Another 102 staff members were killed in the Haiti earthquake in 2010, bringing the total to over 300 – "a huge number for a civil service," he said.
Richards urged the United Nation to do more to take care of its staff and "bring staff deaths to zero."
He and other staff members delivered a letter to the secretary-general saying they are now "vulnerable" and asking Ban to restore negotiations with the U.N. Staff Union "so that we can work with you to protect staff."
The anniversary of the Aug. 19, 2003 Baghdad bombing is now commemorated as World Humanitarian Day to spotlight the importance of humanitarian work and honor those who lost their lives.
Events were being held in more than 50 cities around the world.
At U.N. headquarters, the secretary-general paid tribute to the 22 staff members who died in Baghdad, 30 U.N. staffers who died in the last 10 months and thousands of other staff members who "have given their lives serving peace" in past years as well as "others who go to the front lines with us such as journalists and NGOs."
Laura Dolci-Kanaan, a U.N. staffer who lost her Egyptian husband Jean-Selim Kanaan weeks after their son was born, spoke on behalf of the families of the Baghdad victims and criticized the United Nations, saying it "cannot claim to be able to care for others when it cannot take care of its own staff."
"Our experience tells us the organization has still a long way to go to fully acknowledge and deal with the physical and psychological damage suffered in the line of duty by U.N. staff and their families, in the immediate but also in the long-term," she said.
Dolchi-Kanaan criticized the U.N. bureaucracy for failing to find jobs for survivors "taking into account their disability and trauma" and for failing to provide a good education for orphaned children.
Marilyn Manuel, who lost her left eye and was seriously injured, said in an interview that she felt "bittersweet" about returning to the U.N. from her home in Manila. "But now seeing these people that matters to me, it's been differerent. It's been good."
Denmark's Henrik Kolstrup, who was in a coma for five weeks, was still in a wheelchair but said "I'm much better."
The bombing changed his life, he said, "but it also opened up some unexpected silver linings. Now I have been home. I'm suddenly a grandfather to two grandchildren, and things would have been very different. I'm just very grateful for what's around me."
Mujahed Hasan, an Iraqi who lost his left eye, said he is still undergoing surgeries for injuries to his left arm, both legs and his left side.
"I feel blessed because I'm still here," he said, standing with his family.