Ogata renews appeal for release of Vincent Cochetel

Press Releases, 23 July 1998

Friday, 24 July, will mark 6 months since UNHCR staff member Vincent Cochetel was abducted by armed men from his residence in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia. Cochetel, the head of UNHCR's office in the northern Caucasus, has been held at an unknown location since then.

"It is an outrage that Vincent Cochetel is still held hostage," said High Commissioner Sadako Ogata. "I appeal to the kidnappers to release him immediately. My heart goes out to his wife and his young daughters, and to his other family members and friends around the world who anxiously await his release."

UNHCR has maintained daily contact with Russian and Ossetian authorities in an effort to secure Cochetel's release.

Cochetel's abduction is one in a series of incidents which illustrate the growing dangers of humanitarian work. This month alone, seven UN workers were killed in Afghanistan, in Georgia and in Tajikistan. The proliferation of undisciplined armed groups fighting civil wars in many parts of the world has meant that aid workers trying to help the civilian victims of these conflicts increasingly find themselves in jeopardy.

The case of Vincent Cochetel has struck a chord with aid workers around the world. Staff of many humanitarian organizations and their family members joined a silent march organized by UNHCR staff in Geneva on 29 April as a sign of solidarity with Vincent Cochetel. UNHCR field offices around the world organized a variety of events to show their concern.

Before being assigned to Vladikavkaz, Cochetel served in UNHCR offices in Turkey, France and Geneva Headquarters and headed UNHCR's liaison office in the Slovak Republic.

"This is not a political or diplomatic issue. All of us are possible future victims," said Alejandro Henning, the UNHCR staff member who organized the April protest. "We are worried about our colleague, who has been a champion of human rights and who is now deprived of the most basic right: his freedom. Vincent and his family will suffer consequences of this long term abduction even after his release. We are counting the days with them."

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Displacement in Georgia

Tens of thousands of civilians are living in precarious conditions, having been driven from their homes by the crisis in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

On the morning of August 12, the first UNHCR-chartered plane carrying emergency aid arrived in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, the first UN assistance to arrive in the country since fighting broke out the previous week. The airlift brought in 34 tonnes of tents, jerry cans, blankets and kitchen sets from UNHCR's central emergency stockpile in Dubai. Items were then loaded onto trucks at the Tbilisi airport for transport and distribution.

A second UNHCR flight landed in Tbilisi on August 14, with a third one expected to arrive the following day. In addition, two UNHCR aid flights are scheduled to leave for Vladikavkaz in the Russian Federation the following week with mattresses, water tanks and other supplies for displaced South Ossetians.

Working with local partners, UNHCR is now providing assistance to the most vulnerable and needy. These include many young children and family members separated from one another. The situation is evolving rapidly and the refugee agency is monitoring the needs of the newly displaced population, which numbered some 115,000 on August 14.

Posted on 15 August 2008

Displacement in Georgia

Vincent Cochetel interviewPlay video

Vincent Cochetel interview

On the occasion of World Humanitarian Day 2010, a senior UNHCR staff member reflects on his experience being kidnapped near Chechnya in 1998.
Vincent Cochetel interviewPlay video

Vincent Cochetel interview

On the occasion of World Humanitarian Day 2010, a senior UNHCR staff member reflects on his experience being kidnapped near Chechnya in 1998.
UN High Commissioner Visits Georgia and RussiaPlay video

UN High Commissioner Visits Georgia and Russia

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres spent four days in Georgia and the Russian Federation to assess UNHCR's humanitarian operations and to speak with those affected by the recent fighting in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.