United Nations Peace Operations: Year in Review 2004

III. Missions coming down to a close

UNAMSIL: A success story in UN peacekeeping

The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) is drawing down in preparation for its closing in mid-2005. In a country that only four years ago was convulsed by a violent civil war, UNAMSIL has largely succeeded in fulfilling its mandate to oversee the peace process. Its tasks included monitoring the ceasefire; overseeing national elections; disarming ex-combatants; training police and human rights monitors; facilitating the voluntary return and resettling of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons; and assisting in the post-conflict recovery. When the Mission winds up its activities in 2005, a residual UN peacekeeping presence will remain to address some remaining core issues.

Uniformed schoolgirls go to school, passing  a Bangladeshi peacekeeper standing guard at his battalion camp
Uniformed schoolgirls go to school, passing a Bangladeshi peacekeeper standing guard at his battalion camp, Kailahun, Sector East, May 2004, UNAMSIL Photo by Kemal Saiki

In the course of 2004, the Mission reduced its strength from an authorized maximum of 17,500 troops to about 5,000. This was accomplished under a well-crafted strategy the objective of which has been the gradual hand-over of responsibilities for security to the Government.

During 2004, the Mission turned over security primacy to Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces in a series of locations, while the Mission's public information section conducted a nation-wide campaign, using performing artists and the Mission radio station to sensitize people to the implications of the drawdown and to allay fears of a security vacuum. Recruitment and training of the Sierra Leone police accelerated so that the current force neared 8,000 at the end of the year.

Also in 2004, the UN-founded Special Court of Sierra Leone commenced its first war crimes trials, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report in October, including a child-friendly version prepared by UNAMSIL and UNICEF.

Yet stability in Sierra Leone remains fragile. To consolidate the achievements made so far, the United Nations and the international community is committed to remain engaged in Sierra Leone and in the subregion.


MINUGUA: Leaving Guatemala with mission accomplished

As it closed down at the end of the year, the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) could claim to have made great strides forward since the 1996 peace accords between the Government and insurgent groups, which ended 36 years of internal conflict. The political situation has advanced to the point where Guatemala should now be able to deal peacefully with all of its unresolved issues. Violating human rights is no longer State policy; the military has been reduced and brought under closer control, and democratic and peaceful elections have been held. Nevertheless, Guatemala is still beset by corruption, crime and a deep-seated legacy of racism and social inequality.

Several years ago, recognizing that significant substantive areas of the peace accords remained to be implemented, MINUGUA began analyzing the possible effects of withdrawing from Guatemala. The exercise was intended to provide answers on what could be done to consolidate peace in the long-term. A special Transition Unit set up to advise the Mission concluded that the prospects for sustained peace would depend on Guatemalan institutions and citizens. It recommended that the Mission share its accumulated experience by training local experts to carry on after the Mission closed in December 2004.

The transition programme required important changes within the Mission. First, MINUGUA had to lower its political profile and encourage Guatemalans to take a stronger lead; second, the UN had to strengthen the capacity of national counterparts; and finally, the Mission gave more powers to field offices to define local priorities.

The Mission's staff and their national counterparts identified technical resources needed to develop appropriate training and reference materials. They distributed digital documents on human rights, judicial reforms, land issues and the history of the peace process. MINUGUA also assisted the National University to create a specialized Peace Library, based on the Mission's archives.

To strengthen the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office, the Mission held training workshops on human rights for staff, discussed cases of human rights abuses and jointly investigated alleged violations with the Ombudsman's Office. The Mission also extended the training to a wide range of civil society organizations. MINUGUA worked with more than 40 local organizations to develop and install a user-friendly database system for documenting human rights violations.

The Mission also created an on-the-job training programme to incorporate 60 young Guatemalan professionals as United Nations Volunteers. A concerted effort was made to identify indigenous and women candidates who would go back to their communities and institutions to share their experiences after MINUGUA closed down.

The donor community has been generous. Several countries that contributed to the MINUGUA Trust Fund endorsed using the remaining funds for transition projects.

An important element in the transition strategy has been to assure Guatemalans of continued UN and international support on issues such as human rights, in particular through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights which is expected to expand its presence in Guatemala. The Mission helped draw up a Common Country Assessment and the United Nations Development Assistance Framework to ensure continued focus on the objectives of the peace accords.

MINUGUA made the transition the heart of its work for its final two years. With its early focus on defining a transition strategy, and the involvement of all parts of the Mission in implementing it, MINUGUA hoped to ensure that the efforts will bear fruit for Guatemala long after the Mission has closed.

As the UN Secretary-General pointed out, "MINUGUA stands as a successful example of UN peace-building, with valuable lessons for operations in other parts of the world."


UNMISET: Winding up six years of peacekeeping in Timor-Leste

Having contributed to the creation and consolidation of an independent, democratic Timor-Leste, alongside the people of Timor-Leste and in partnership with other multilateral and bilateral actors, UN peacekeepers are preparing to leave in mid-2005.

UNMISET has brought together the Government, the UN system, NGOs and other local and international partners to identify the activities that will be required for a smooth transition from the peacekeeping and peace-building operations to a sustainable development assistance framework. A public information campaign has been launched to reassure the local population of the continued international assistance after UNMISET withdraws.

During 2004, Timor-Leste remained peaceful and stable despite demonstrations over veterans issues that were forcefully dispersed by police in July. The unrest revealed an urgent need to tackle the grievances of veterans, former resistance members and other disgruntled groups, for which considerable international assistance would be required.

With the assistance of UNMISET civilian advisers, public administration in Timor-Leste has become capable of addressing the formidable challenges of social and economic development. However, Timor-Leste still lacked a legal framework for a functioning system of law and order. The promulgation of the Police Organic Law and Disciplinary Code in May and June, along with the continued training by UNMISET civilian police advisers, has improved the operational effectiveness of the national police.

First Prize winner of UNMISET's 2004 UN Day drawing contest with the topic of Children's Perception of the UN
First Prize winner of UNMISET's 2004 UN Day drawing contest with the topic of Children's Perception of the UN, UNMISET Photo

The UN Secretary-General in October dispatched a technical assessment mission to Timor-Leste to identify remaining challenges: the Timorese public administration—particularly finance, banking and the judiciary, for example, will continue to require substantial international assistance.

UNMISET civilian advisers have been formulating exit strategies with State institutions to ensure sustainability through continued assistance by other development partners beyond May 2005.

The UN-established Serious Crimes Unit filed its final indictments in December for crimes committed during the violence of 1999 which engulfed East Timor in the wake of the independence referendum. The Security Council had requested that all trials be completed by May 2005.Many of those indicted remain outside of Timor-Leste. The Secretary-General has decided to constitute a Commission of Experts to review the prosecutions and judicial processes undertaken in both Timor- Leste and Indonesia and to suggest future actions. The two countries have also decided to establish a Commission of Truth and Friendship with regard to the events of 1999.

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