|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6592nd Meeting (AM)
United Nations Peacekeeping Force Commanders Discuss Strategies for Overcoming
Operational Challenges, in Meeting with Security Council Membership
Generals Highlight Perils of Post-conflict Situations in Africa, Middle East
The Security Council held a discussion today with the military commanders of key United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa and the Middle East, who highlighted their strategies for overcoming the challenges they faced in unpredictable settings impacted by everything from sporadic armed conflict and unfriendly local populations, to lingering political tensions, long–term humanitarian needs and inclement weather.
Attended by Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, the meeting featured presentations from the following Force Commanders: Lieutenant General Patrick Nyamvumba, African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID); Lieutenant General Chander Prakash, United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO); Major General Alberto Asarta Cuevas, United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL); and Major General Muhammad Khalid, United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
Opening the discussion with a presentation on UNAMID’s efforts to protect civilians in a “non-permissive environment”, General Nyamvumba highlighted the unique political, logistic and even environmental challenges affecting the mission’s day-to-day operations. He said that Darfur, Sudan’s vast western region, was characterized by harsh climatic conditions, poor roads, dilapidated or next-to-non-existent infrastructure and limited local resources, all of which made it extremely difficult to reach needy or at-risk populations.
Even more dangerous for UNAMID were ongoing localized armed clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and belligerent groups, as well as long-running tribal conflicts, he said. Additionally, the mission was forced to navigate terrain that was rife with banditry, awash in illegal small arms and beset by sexual violence, child recruitment and arbitrary detentions and arrests. Fighting between Sudanese Government forces and opposition groups often restricted UNAMID’s movement — over land and in the air — impeding its efforts to reach civilians. Moreover, with no peace agreement among all the warring factions, the mission’s humanitarian components often faced an insecure environment, he said, noting that peacekeepers were increasingly targeted in attacks, with about seven having been killed in 2010/11.
“Ultimately, the protection of the people of Darfur is dependent on the readiness and capacity of the Government of Sudan to carry out its sovereign responsibilities,” General Nyamvumba said, adding that UNAMID’s protection strategy therefore identified, among other things, specific objectives and tasks to engage with in helping the Government carry out protection responsibilities in accordance with international humanitarian law. Mandated to protect civilians from physical acts of violence and ensure freedom of access to populations at risk, the mission had also developed a situational awareness and early-warning system.
“Despite the many barriers in our operational environment, UNAMID is relentless [and] has undertaken several initiatives to improve its civilian protection,” he said, highlighting initiatives aimed at boosting the mission’s presence throughout Darfur, especially in areas where fighting had affected civilian communities. It had increased the number, strength and coverage area of its patrols, which had totalled some 23,554 in the first six months of 2011. He hailed the mission’s cooperation with the United Nations country team, including the May launch of “Operation Spring Basket”, aimed at providing limited amounts of medicines, vaccinations and education and shelter materials in hard-to-reach areas of Darfur.
Highlighting a different aspect of civilian protection, General Prakash focused on the Organization’s conditionality policy, specifically its impact on MONUSCO’s operations. Noting that the Council had mandated that Mission to support the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) on the strict condition that Congolese troops complied with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, he said the policy had been in effect for just over 18 months, and emphasized that very clear requirements must be met before MONUSCO could provide such support.
He went on to say that the Mission’s current support primarily comprised fuel, rations, transportation, fire support, expert advice and casualty evacuations. It was conditional on sufficient joint operations planning, particularly with respect to the protection of civilians, he said, stressing that MONUSCO limited its support to units and commanders with acceptable human rights records. Implicit in that was a requirement for adequate screening of key personnel and the visibility of FARDC actions in the field. Additionally, support could be denied to commanders believed to have committed “grave human rights violations, including mass rapes and recruitment of child soldiers”, he said.
“In certain areas, there has been a positive impact of this policy on the conduct of operations by FARDC,” General Prakash continued, stressing that it had brought MONUSCO and the Congolese forces closer together, resulting in operations that were much more sophisticated in their design and implementation. “Importantly, protection of civilians [is now] factored in at the start of the planning process, as inputs are sought from a large number of stakeholders, including the joint human rights office within the Mission.” The conditionality policy’s very existence, along with President Joseph Kabila’s “zero-tolerance” policy, reminded commanders of their personal responsibility in exercising effective command and control over their own troops and operations.
Yet, despite the obvious operational benefits, the policy presented certain challenges, he said, citing the limited resources available for implementing the policy, which — in addition to the Mission’s other commitments — restricted the number of FARDC units it could support. “At a certain point, we run out of military observers plus contingents to carry out the monitoring functions,” he noted. “We similarly run out of civilian staff to conduct the necessary screening checks,” he said, pointing out that the number of FARDC troops capable of meeting the screening requirements was not limitless.
Furthermore, even were MONUSCO to have sufficient resources, “we now find ourselves in the situations where there is no longer the appetite within FARDC for conducting joint operations, particularly in the Kivus”, he said, referring to North Kivu and South Kivu Provinces in the country’s eastern conflict zone. The Government argued, with some vindication, that the elements of surprise and security were lost due to protracted preparations and wide consultations, he said, noting that MONUSCO’s own troops faced the dilemma of trying to figure out their priorities; should they monitor supported FARDC troops or counter the activities of anti-Government forces? “This is not easy,” he said, recommending that the conditionality policy not stand on its own unless it was supported by broader military reforms, including proper integration and security-sector reform.
General Asarta began by expressing serious concern about the safety and security of UNIFIL’s operating environment, recalling that just yesterday, an explosion had targeted a convoy along a coastal road near Saida. According to preliminary information, the attack had injured six UNIFIL peacekeepers, three of whom had been transported to a local hospital for treatment and who were now listed in stable condition. The mission’s forensic experts were coordinating with the Lebanese Armed Forces to determine the circumstances surrounding the incident, he said, recalling also a 27 May attack on another UNIFIL convoy near Beirut, in which a remote-controlled roadside bomb had exploded, injuring six peacekeepers and two Lebanese civilians.
General Asarta also recalled the incidents of 15 May, which had followed a large demonstration on the occasion of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) Day, as well as several incidents in June, in which UNIFIL patrols had experienced “unfriendly behaviour” that had restricted their movements. Acknowledging that he had been “stymied” as to how the mission was expected to respond, he said it had nevertheless increased its force-protection and risk-mitigation measures. It had also conducted more joint operations with the Lebanese Armed Forces. “You can rest assures that neither terrorist attacks nor unfriendly encounters with the general population will deter UNIFIL from carrying out its mandate,” he added.
As for the bulk of UNIFIL’s work, including implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), he said the situation remained “relatively stable” and that south Lebanon had enjoyed “perhaps the five quietest and calmest years in many decades”. That had largely been due to the cooperation between UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces, he said, adding that the calm environment created by UNIFIL, the Lebanese army and the Israel Defence Forces should be seen as an opportunity to open a political process among the concerned parties to address issues beyond the mission’s remit, namely focusing all efforts on achieving a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution to the conflict.
Focusing on the role of military components in the early phases of peacebuilding, General Khalid said that post-conflict societies were most often characterized by some combination of weak security mechanisms, unwieldy armies, disorganized paramilitary forces, readily available weapons and shaky or non-existent administrative institutions. Against such a challenging backdrop, peacekeeping troops attempted to support the transition from a wartime environment to a peaceful and secure one that could support stability and long-term development.
The delicate and multidimensional peacebuilding process — not traditionally the domain of military personnel — required expertise and a focus on national capacity-building, political dialogue and institution-building, he said. Yet, since military components were generally the first to arrive in post-conflict situations, their early peacebuilding efforts could focus on, among others, combating organized crime, supporting police forces, medical outreach and epidemic control, the management of refugees and assisting humanitarian relief efforts.
At the same time, General Khalid stressed, military components must not be used as a substitute for political engagement in peacebuilding issues. Additionally, he cautioned that military forces in post-conflict situations often created a culture of dependence among local populations, a relationship that could hinder national reconstruction and human-resource development. It was crucial to guard against such dependence while making a priority of building host-country capacity. Overall, the role of the military in the early stages of peacebuilding was “inescapable and crucial”, he said. Indeed, they began peacebuilding “right from day one”, providing a “launch pad” from which all other peacebuilding activities could be initiated.
Following those presentations, Council members applauded the work of the Force Commanders and their “Blue Helmets”, especially those who had made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the United Nations. Most stressed that the Organization’s peacekeeping operations were deployed to complement, not replace or supplant, political strategies, with South Africa’s representative emphasizing that it was critical for the Council and the on-the-ground leadership to remain continuously engaged with and mobilize political support for all stakeholders in the concerned countries. Moreover, the Council had a particularly important role to support efforts to improve cooperation and coordination with regional and subregional organizations and other partners.
India’s representative said he was concerned that Council-mandated missions were now increasingly being asked to “do more with less”. While certainly understanding the need to “squeeze more”, operating on shoestring budgets and with ever more complicated mandates was just not possible, he said. “We owe it to ourselves, as well as the forces we deploy on the ground to provide clear, well-resourced mandates.”
The representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina also expressed concern about increasingly complex mandates and the scarcity of resources, civilian support capacities, in particular. Welcoming, in that regard, activities related to the ongoing review of international civilian capacities, he also highlighted the need for effective exit strategies, backed by well-trained and well-equipped personnel, and linked to clear operational objectives and mandates.
Also speaking today were representatives of Nigeria, Brazil, Colombia, Gabon, United States, China, Lebanon, France, United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Portugal and Germany.
The meeting began at 11:16 a.m. and ended at 2:05 p.m.
* *** *For information media • not an official record