Interview with the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy

USG Alain Le Roy holds video conference at MONUC Goma office (3 Nov. '08)

28 November 2008 – The new head of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), Alain Le Roy, who assumed his post in August, has been immediately occupied by the crises in Darfur (Sudan) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He went to Darfur in October and the eastern DRC in November to evaluate the security and humanitarian situation on the ground. In an interview with the UN News Centre, he assesses these crises and his actions as head of DPKO.

UN News Centre: With regard to the DRC, are you optimistic about the ability of the international community to resolve the crisis?

Alain Le Roy: I've just returned from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where it is clear that in the east of the country the situation is very grave and can deteriorate further. There are already between 1 million and 1.5 million displaced persons. There is fighting almost daily and the numbers of those uprooted grows.

The international community intervenes in various ways, first through the United Nations Mission in the DRC (MONUC). It is on the ground with 17,000 personnel for the entire DRC. SoSometimes the criticism is unfair. UN peacekeepers go where others don't want to say that this is a lot. Allow me to point out that that is 17,000 personnel for the whole country. Let me recall that in Kosovo NATO deployed 40,000 personnel in a territory that is 200 times smaller than the DRC. Contrary to what I've heard people say, these 17,000 personnel do not constitute the largest UN operation because the hybrid African Union-UN operation in Darfur (UNAMID) will total 26,000 personnel once it is fully deployed. The Security Council has just decided unanimously to reinforce MONUC with 3,000 additional men: that is clearly very important to help us fulfil our mandate

Elsewhere, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and UN agencies are also very involved in all humanitarian, essential issues. And, in the framework of political dialogue, the UN Secretary-General is very engaged and has just taken part in the Nairobi international summit. We were pleased to see that all the countries in the region showed their particular responsibilities on this occasion. We of course support the dialogue underway between Rwanda and the DRC.

UN News Centre: There seems to be some difficulty in obtaining Security Council approval for reinforcements in DRC, and in the case of Darfur , the UN is having trouble in obtaining necessary equipment. How do you explain these difficulties?

Alain Le Roy: At this moment we have 18 operations across the world – that is to say 110,000 personnel on the ground. That is huge. There has been an enormous increase in our engagements in recent years. Some think that we have perhaps reached the limits. Of course, it is the Security Council that decides on the missions and troop levels it gives us. In the case of Darfur, administrative problems experienced in Sudan are now in the process of being resolved. On the other hand, the logistical aspect remains extremely complicated: the region is 2,500 kilometres from its nearest port and there are very few access roads. I remind you that we have asked for 18 transport helicopters and six attack helicopters. And we still do not have them despite the authorization of the Security Council.

UN News Centre: And what reasons are given for this?

Alain Le Roy: The States we have asked say they don't have any available. It's very damaging because that diminishes the effectiveness of the force. We sincerely hope that certain countries will supply us with these helicopters.

UN News Centre: Three months after assuming office, what are the first conclusions that that you have drawn about the DPKO?

USG Alain Le Roy in North Darfur, meets with SLA/MM leader Minni Minawai (7 Oct. '08)

Alain Le Roy: First of all I note the enormity of the task – 110,000 personnel, a budget of over $7 billion. Then, I have found at UN Headquarters many remarkably competent and motivated people, people of great quality. It's very important. And in my missions on the ground I have also met many very dedicated and competent. Sometimes the critics are unfair. We are going where others do not want to go. Sometimes we are easy scapegoats. On the contrary, on my field visits I see missions that in the vast majority of cases are being executed well. I hear people say also that the UN opens missions but never closes any. It's not true. This year we closed two: the Mission in Eritrea/Ethiopia and the Mission in Sierra Leone.

UN News Centre: Putting aside Darfur , what do you see as the most urgent situations?

Alain Le Roy: Some examples. These days in Kosovo we must find a solution for the progressive transfer of operation from the UN to the European Union. In Haiti the humanitarian situation is very serious after the hurricanes. In Côte d'Ivoire , there is a fragile calm and we hope for elections soon while maintaining progress in security matters. As far as Georgia is concerned, the UN is the only international organization permanently present in Abkhazia; there is an important and delicate role to play between the different parties. In Cyprus we are following the negotiations very closely. The Mission is ready to reconfigure as soon as there is a political agreement. Sudan is very important and a crucial referendum on independence for South Sudan is set for 2011. In Lebanon UNIFIL has played a major role in stabilizing the country; the question today is knowing whether the contributing countries will agree to keep sufficient forces for UNFIL.

UN News Centre: How has your past experience helped you in your present function?

Alain Le Roy: I've had various field experiences with the UN or other organizations: overseeing elections in Mozambique , working with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Mauritania , deputy to the UN Coordinator for Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina, regional administrator for the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), European Union Special Representative in Macedonia . This experience on the ground has clearly facilitated my integration into the Department. This experience is equally useful for my contacts with the European Union since I know this organization from the inside. My last post was ambassador in charge of the project for the Union of the Mediterranean . I was in touch with numerous ministers. Obviously that's useful for my present function. I was, moreover, French ambassador to Madagascar .

UN News Centre: In the years to come what changes would you like to bring to your department?

Alain Le Roy: First of all I'd like to put the reform that has taken place on a firm basis, the separation between DPKO and the Department of Field Support (DFS). I believe it has been initated under good conditions and it must now be stabilized, particularly to ensure that the integrated teams function in the best possible way. Second, we have to reflect on peacekeeping operations. Haven't we reached the limits with 110,000 personnel on the ground? In what cases is the UN peacekeeping operation the best adapted? Aren't there other solutions? Isn't it time to revisit the Brahimi report of 2000 on peacekeeping operations? Isn't it now the time to bring our doctrine up to date? Are the mandates we are given always feasible? Where are we when it comes to the protection of civilians? And in evaluating the responsibility to protect? There's an enormous need to brainstorm, including on cases where we can develop partnerships, with the European Union, the African Union.

UN News Centre: Have you got some idea on the changes to introduce?

Alain Le Roy: Of course I have ideas. It would be presumptuous to impose them. It's a matter of a collective effort to reach a redefinition of the best conditions for success in peacekeeping operations. I intend to bring this reflection to term within a few months.

UN News Centre: Have you a concrete example of the limits of peacekeeping operations?

Alain Le Roy: You can, for example, ask about the viability of a peacekeeping operation in Somalia . Chances for success in such an operation are very weak. Recent history has shown that it was very difficult. The best solution would undoubtedly be a multinational force under UN mandate; that force would have the necessary robustness to face up to the situation.