10 August 2011 After more than three years as the head of the United Nations’ peacekeeping operations, Under-Secretary-General Alain Le Roy is leaving the United Nations to spend more time with his family.
Appointed to the post in June 2008, Mr. Le Roy’s tenure as the head of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations coincided with various major crises involving UN peacekeeping around the globe.
Before taking up the post in 2008, the former petroleum engineer had served in the French public service and the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs, where he served as Ambassador to Madagascar. He also served with the UN in the Balkans, including stints as the deputy to the UN Special Coordinator for Sarajevo and as a UN regional administrator in Kosovo.
On the eve of his departure today, Mr. Le Roy spoke with the UN News Centre about his time at the helm of UN peacekeeping operations.
UN News Centre: Prior to your appointment as the head of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), you had a wide-ranging career which included stints in the private sector, the French Foreign Ministry, and in the Balkans with the United Nations. What went through your mind when you were appointed to the post of the UN’s top peacekeeper?
Alain Le Roy: I had two experiences as a peacekeeper in the field. I started in ’95 in Sarajevo with UNPROFOR [United Nations Protection Force] and then in ’99 in Kosovo for more than a year, at the beginning of UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo]. Both experiences wereMy main fear was a repeat of the tragedy of the '90s, when we had genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Somalia. very difficult, but I enjoyed them very much because I enjoyed the spirit of the UN and I saw the progress of the UN between ’95 and ’99. It was really obvious. So when I was appointed to head peacekeeping – the “blue helmets” – I thought I could use my experience in the field to see how we can continue to progress to be more efficient, to be more able to answer all the demands from the various populations that UN peacekeeping is called to protect.
I was very pleased that in the first days after my appointment, I received so many emails from my former colleagues in Kosovo or Bosnia saying they were pleased to have a former peacekeeper to be appointed the head of UN peacekeeping. That was very nice – but I knew, of course, that there would be huge challenges being at the helm of 15 peacekeeping operations in operation at that time, with 120,000 peacekeepers in the field, having to make a difference and protect hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of civilians every day.
UN News Centre: What was it like adjusting to life at UN Headquarters after having been in the field?
UN News Centre: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was the scene of one of the earliest major crises you dealt with over the past three years. What comes to mind when you look back on it?
The situation in the Congo is much better today than it was three years ago, thanks to the Congolese authorities and thanks to the great work done by MONUC (the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and now MONUSCO (the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo). But this was a big crisis.
UN News Centre: Sudan was another of the major challenges you dealt with. What comes to mind when you look back on the work of UN peacekeeping there?
Alain Le Roy: Sudan, as you know, has been on the top of the UN’s agenda, and that of the Secretary-General himself from the very beginning. And it’s still on top of his agenda. I think there are lots of achievements and also lots of challenges. The main achievement was, of course, the referendum on the self-determination of South Sudan, which was a key part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) for Sudan. This referendum, thanks to our mission there [the UN Mission in Sudan, also known by the acronym UNMIS], happened on time and peacefully. Its outcome was respected by both Juba and Khartoum. We played an important role to ensure the international community was united behind this referendum. That part, which was critical, has been achieved very well and I think our special representative, Mr. Haile Menkerios [the head of UNMIS] played an important part in ensuring the peaceful holding of this referendum.
UN News Centre: What comes to mind when you look back on UN peacekeeping in Haiti?
Alain Le Roy: The first thing that comes to my mind was the devastating earthquake, in January 2010. We were all trying to call them [colleagues] and there was no answer to the phone calls. The head of the mission [MINUSTAH], Hedi Annabi, was under the rubble. More than 100 of our colleagues died in that earthquake, together with probably 200,000 Haitians – a tragedy for everyone; for Haiti first, but for the UN also. This was perhaps the heaviest loss of lives in a single incident in the UN’s history.
But at the same time, I saw after the earthquake the UN at its best. You mentioned people from Headquarters… you can’t imagine how many of them were eager to volunteer to immediately go to Haiti, under the most difficult conditions, to assist, to help the population, to help the UN to get back on its feet. That was amazing. There was a level of dedication, a willingness to help… that was really the UN at its best. The best people came to assist at the most difficult time in Haiti. That’s also a very good memory for me.
Alain Le Roy: You mentioned crises – and we have had so many! And this one, had two different periods. One period between December and the beginning of April, when our mission [the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire] was under extreme pressure by one camp – the camp of former president [Laurent] Gbagbo, who wanted us to leave and created so many problems for our mission. Our mission was harassed every day. Despite that, we stood firm and the mission, of course, protected the Golf Hotel, protected as many civilians as possible and tried to enforce its freedom of movement as much as possible. And then, afterwards in the next period, there were the engagements by our helicopters and the French force Licorne, on the heavy weapons which were being used to target the civilian population.
This was done according to the resolution adopted by the Security Council unanimously – it was very important to have the full backing of the Council before undertaking this kind of operation – and since then, I must say I was very pleased to hear Ms. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Mr. [Luis] Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, both say that with this action, the UN, and of course with the support of Licorne, helped to avoid a tragedy like that in Rwanda. That was quite an achievement and under extremely difficult conditions.
Alain Le Roy: I think we’re seeing a trend for more robust peacekeeping, but there is a limit to that – UN peacekeeping will never go to peace enforcement. That would not be peacekeeping, that is very clear. No country contributing to peacekeeping will accept a peacekeeping operation of “Blue Helmets” involved in peace enforcement. But robust peacekeeping: yes. We have done that in eastern DRC for many years, we did that in Haiti’s Cité Soleil a few years ago, we did that in Sudan sometimes and we did it in Côte d’Ivoire. But for that, it’s very important for us to have the full backing of the Security Council – and more and more, the Security Council gives us that backing. The next issue, of course, is getting the right capabilities…
UN News Centre: In November 2008, in one of your first interviews, you spoke about the difficulty in obtaining the troops and resources for peacekeeping from the UN’s Member States. Since then, have you noticed any change in the willingness and ability of Member States to provide those troops and resources?
UN News Centre: How have you managed to balance the idealism and expectations of peacekeeping versus the reality of often under-resourced UN peacekeeping?
Alain Le Roy: That’s one of the difficulties for anyone dealing with peacekeeping and especially for the head of peacekeeping. Managing expectations… it’s very easy sometimes to write in a resolution that “the mission shall protect civilians under imminent threat” but it means we have to protect millions of people in places where there’s no infrastructure, sometimes with no military helicopters to move around with.
UN News Centre: Looking back at the past three years, what has been the most challenging part of your job as the head of UN peacekeeping?
To keep the peacekeeping tool up and running means, first, avoiding this kind of tragedy; and then, reforming the peacekeeping tool. This falls within our New Horizon reform agenda which we prepared just when I arrived, and, I must say, I received support from almost all Member States on various policy issues to ensure we are adapted to the new challenges we are facing. So, it’s trying to avoid being overwhelmed by the daily crises – every day we have a crisis when we are in 15 countries in difficulty – and at the same time, managing the machinery of 120,000 people on the ground and ensuring they’re adapted to the challenges and expectations from the populations they are there to protect, and the expectations from the Security Council.
UN News Centre: Looking back at the past three years, what has been the most enjoyable part of your job as the head of UN peacekeeping?
UN News Centre: How do you see peacekeeping developing over the next five years?
UN News Centre: What do you think your legacy to UN peacekeeping will be?
Alain Le Roy: In simple words: I think that peacekeeping operations over these last three years have contributed significantly to peace and security in the world. They have protected hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, in many countries – in Liberia, in Timor Leste, in Sudan, in Côte d’Ivoire, in Lebanon… we have avoided so many incidents in so many places.
UN News Centre: The Secretary-General recently said the following about you: “He has shown vision, bravery and exceptional dedication. He embodies the very best of UN peacekeeping and UN values – he is a true UN man... He was a hands-on crisis manager, wherever and whenever the United Nations needed him.” What are your thoughts on that?
Alain Le Roy: The compliments are exaggerated! But I thank Mr. Ban Ki-moon, first for having appointed me to this exceptional job. Being the head of peacekeeping is a true honour, a true privilege, in which you can contribute to making a difference in so many places in the world. So I thank him very much for that. But the compliments are valid for the whole peacekeeping family. This family is criticized from time to time – it’s very easy to criticize a peacekeeper in the field – but doing their job on a daily basis is not that easy.
Alain Le Roy: What I will miss the most is interacting with people who are interested not in money, but [motivated] by idealism, by contributing to peace and helping others in need. Interacting with these people was a great source of inspiration to me. But of course I will continue to follow very much what’s going on in the news. I said that to the Secretary-General, and he told me he wants to remain available for the UN at any time and of course I will remain available for the UN at any time.
Some people say “once a peacekeeper, always a peacekeeper”… when you have worked for the UN, when you have been so deeply involved here at Headquarters and in the field, you remain always part of the UN and I will remain part of the UN for sure. I also think that, thanks to this job, I have seen a big part of the reality of the world and seen so many difficult situations for the local populations we are there to protect. What I have seen will always be on my mind.
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