Safety and security

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Under the Staff Regulations, the Secretary-General shall seek to ensure "that all necessary safety and security arrangements are made for staff carrying out the responsibilities entrusted to them"[1]. The current framework for safety and security in the United Nations system was established by the General Assembly in section XI of resolution 59/276, which established both the Department of Safety and Security (DSS) and the United Nations security management system (UNSMS).

Security management system

The UN security management system consists of the policies and structures in place to ensure the safety and security of UN personnel and property.

Framework of accountability

The framework of accountability establishes the roles and responsibilities within the security management system[2]. These include:

  • The Secretary-General
Chief administrative officer of the Organization; accountable for the overall safety and security of United Nations personnel, premises and assets.
  • Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security
Appointed by the Secretary-General under the terms of resolution 59/276. Oversees DSS and exercises delegated authority from the Secretary-General to make decisions relevant to the direction and control of the UNSMS.
  • Designated official
The most senior United Nations official present in a country, the DO is accountable to the Secretary-General, through the Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, for the security of United Nations personnel, premises and assets within the country or designated area.
  • Chief Security Adviser
Security professional appointed by the Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security to advise the DO on matters of safety and security.
  • Security Management Team
Country-level security coordination mechanism chaired by the DO and which includes the heads of each United Nations system organization present at the duty station as well as the chief security adviser.
  • Inter-Agency Security Management Network
Main governance mechanism for the UNSMS. Subsidiary body of the High-Level Committee on Management consisting of the senior managers overseeing security functions within each member organization of the UNSMS.


Personnel covered by United Nations security arrangements include staff members and eligible family members, interns, United Nations Volunteers, consultants and individually-deployed military and police personnel. Military and police contingents (troops and members of formed police units) are covered under separate mechanisms.[3]

Security risk management policy

The security risk management policy is a structured approach to identifying harmful events (threats) that may affect the achievement of objectives, assessing the likelihood and impact of those threats and identifying an appropriate response. The combination of likelihood and impact translates into five levels of security risk: low, medium, high, very high and unacceptable. The policy outlines the four approaches to addressing security risks, namely controlling risk, avoiding risk, transferring risk and accepting risk. [4]

Programme criticality

The purpose of the programme criticality framework is to assess programmatic priorities in changing or volatile security situations. The responsibility for programme criticality lies with the senior United Nations representative in country responsible for programmes (i.e. the resident coordinator or Special Representative of the Secretary-General).

Annual report

An annual report is issued by the Secretary-General on safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel, which is considered under the plenary agenda item "Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations". Prior to the 53rd session, this information was contained in a report to the Fifth Committee on respect for the privileges and immunities of officials of the United Nations and the specialized agencies and related organizations.

Report Year Resolution Notes
A/76/334 2020-21 76/127
A/75/246 2019-20 75/125
A/74/464 2018-19 74/116
A/73/392, Corr.1 and Corr.2 2017-18 73/137
A/72/490 2016-17 72/131
A/71/395 2015-16 71/129
A/70/383 2014-15 70/104
A/69/406 2013-14 69/133
A/68/489 2012-13 68/101
A/67/492 2011-12 67/85

Armed private security

In recent decades, the increasing deployment of missions to non-permissive security environments has led the United Nations to consider the deployment of additional capacities to protect United Nations personnel and premises. In addition to the longstanding practice of engaging unarmed local contractors to secure premises, the United Nations has also, at times, considered the deployment of guard units or the engagement of armed private security companies.

The following four criteria govern the use of armed private security companies:

  1. The decision to contract an armed private security company should be taken in accordance with existing approval processes and accountability mechanisms for all security-related decisions;
  2. The United Nations should use services provided by armed private security companies only to cover guarding of personnel at United Nations facilities and mobile armed escorts;
  3. An armed private security company contracted by the United Nations should come under the clear authority and direction of the appropriate organization of the United Nations system with specific policies and guidelines for the United Nations security management system;
  4. In procuring the services of an armed private security company, the United Nations should ensure adherence to the Financial Regulations and Rules and procurement policies and procedures and should choose only companies that meet agreed criteria according to the established vetting standards and mechanisms.[5]

The General Assembly, in section V of its resolution 67/254 stressed that armed private security services should only be use as a last resort to enable United Nations activities in high-risk environments only when a United Nations security risk assessment concludes that other alternatives, including protection by the host country, support from the Member States concerned or internal United Nations system resources are inadequate.[6]


In 2010, the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination drew attention to the lack of accountability mechanisms for mercenaries, private military and security companies and their personnel. It noted that the United Nations lacked a system-wide policy on where and in what conditions it will hire private military and security companies, and on the associated oversight system.[7]

In response, a policy on armed private security companies was established in 2012 and included in chapter IV of the UNSMS security policy manual; this was accompanied by guidelines on the use of armed security sevices from private security companies. The guidelines enumerate the services which may be contracted from an armed private security company, criteria for consideration of the use of armed private security, the decision making framework, selection process, considerations regarding use of force and standard operating procedures, training standards and management and oversight.[8]

Key documents

Reports of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination:

This is a dedicated report on the use of private military and security companies by the United Nations
  • A/HRC/48/51 Impact of the use of private military and security services in humanitarian action

See also


  1. Staff Regulation 1.2(c)
  2. UN Security Policy Manual, Chapter II
  3. UN Security Policy Manual, Chapter III
  4. UN Security Policy Manual, Chapter IV
  5. A/67/539, paragraph 9
  6. General Assembly resolution 67/254, section V paragraph 11
  7. A/65/325, section II
  8. UNSMS Security Management Operations Manual