Scale of United Nations Peacekeeping across Massive Distances in Midst of Conflict Matched by Operational Complexity, Department Head Tells Fourth Committee

GA/SPD/567
28 October 2014
Sixty-ninth session, 15th Meeting (AM)

Scale of United Nations Peacekeeping across Massive Distances in Midst of Conflict Matched by Operational Complexity, Department Head Tells Fourth Committee

The “remarkable” scale of United Nations peacekeeping operations, where personnel often operated in remote areas, across massive distances and in increasingly hostile environments, came alive today in the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) during briefings by senior Secretariat officials, as that body began its annual comprehensive review of the subject.

Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told Member States that the “scale of peacekeeping is matched by its complexity; missions support sensitive political processes and work to shore up weak State institutions.  They reach out to local communities caught in violence and conflict, and do so with commitment and courage.”

Some two thirds of peacekeeping personnel today were deployed in the midst of ongoing conflict, he said, where peace agreements or elements were shaky or absent.  Conflicts today were also increasingly intensive, involving determined armed groups with access to sophisticated armaments and techniques, as well as transnational criminal networks and terrorist organizations, he added.

There were three interlinked challenges that must be addressed through the world’s collective efforts:  safety and security of personnel; willingness and ability to effectively protect civilians across missions; and the imperative to help advance political dialogue and create the condition for reconciliation.  Ultimately, peacekeeping was a political instrument, Mr. Ladsous said, which depended upon the political support of the international community.

Each year, for the past six years, more than 100 peacekeepers had died while serving war-torn countries, he said, expressing his condolences to the families and deepest gratitude for those who had given their lives to bring a better future to the 175 million men, women and children living where peacekeepers served.

Also briefing, Ameerah Haq, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, recalled that, 15 years ago, mission support was a simple derivative of the substantive components of a mission; few questions were asked about how to make it timelier or improve its quality.  Since then, she said, the Department of Field Support had initiated a new process through the Global Field Support Strategy aimed at improving efficiency and effectiveness.

All must ask themselves how fit peacekeeping operations were, given the changes in mandate, deployment and environment, she said, adding that through regular reviews of staffing, her Department was able to contain civilian personnel costs and had eliminated more than 3,000 support jobs.  As a result, spending per deployed peacekeeper dropped 16 per cent in five years.  Her Department remained fully committed to addressing misconduct by those deployed in field operations, bearing in mind the zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.

In sum, she said the Department must focus on immediate priorities, including improving safety and security, enabling faster deployment, encouraging the use of appropriate technology and strengthening internal processes.

The Committee then began its general debate, during which speakers, representing the major groups, underscored various aspects of peacekeeping, such as adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter, respect for national sovereignty, establishment of achievable mandates, greater consultations with countries contributing personnel, a proper reimbursement mechanism, and gender mainstreaming.

Also speaking today were representatives of Morocco (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Thailand (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Costa Rica (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) and Australia (also on behalf of Canada and New Zealand).  A representative of the European Union Delegation also spoke.

The Committee will meet at 10 a.m., Wednesday, 29 October, to continue its comprehensive review of peacekeeping operations.

Briefings

HERVÉ LADSOUS, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said his Department, together with that of Field Service, had introduced new technologies, established periodic reviews of missions, worked to broaden the contributors’ base, and created a new Office for Peacekeeping Strategic Partnership.

The scale of United Nations peacekeeping operations was remarkable, and those often operated in remote areas, across massive distances and in increasingly hostile environments.  The scale of peacekeeping was matched by its complexity; missions supported sensitive political processes and worked to shore up weak State institutions.  They reached out to local communities caught in violence and conflict, and did so with commitment and courage.

Today’s conflicts, while fewer in number, were deeply rooted, Mr. Ladsous said.  Some, such as those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur and South Sudan, were in a second or third wave of conflict.  Many were complicated by regional dimensions that hindered their resolution.  In fact, some two thirds of peacekeeping personnel today were deployed in the midst of ongoing conflict, where peace agreements or elements were shaky or absent.  Conflicts today were also increasingly intensive, involving determined armed groups with access to sophisticated armaments and techniques, as well as transnational criminal networks and terrorist organizations.

In the past year, the world saw the outbreak of the devastating Ebola virus, which might have enduring security, economic and social impacts, he said.  It was critical that all stakeholders worked together to fight Ebola and preserve the hard-won peace in West Africa.

The Security Council, he said, had continued to turn to United Nations peacekeeping, approving comprehensive and, at times, robust mandates.  The Council had also mandated re-hatting of African Union forces in Mali and the Central African Republic, which indicated a shift in how peacekeeping generated forces and capabilities.  Work had been done to provide enhanced capabilities to meet those challenges.  The 117,000 military, police and civilian personnel serving in 16 missions faced constantly evolving challenges.  It was essential that the diverse Member States who contributed personnel, authorized and financed the operations came together to find creative solutions.

In that respect, the Secretary General’s review of peace operations was timely, he said, noting that the Secretary-General would soon appoint his high-level panel.  By necessity, that body must work closely with troop- and police-contributing countries and other key stakeholders to shape “impactful” recommendations.  The United Nations would also work to ensure synergies with the review of the peacebuilding architecture and the high-level review on Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.  Once the panel issued its report, the Secretary-General would then prepare one for consideration by the General Assembly and the Security Council before the 2015 Assembly session. The review would examine all United Nations peace operations, including special political missions.

He said there were three interlinked challenges that must be addressed by the panel, but also through the world’s collective efforts, in the year ahead.  The first was safety and security.  In Mali, terrorist groups targeted peacekeepers; they had driven vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti checkpoints and laid mines on the way to water points and airstrips.  In the past year, there were carjackings in Darfur, kidnappings in the Golan Heights, and a recent fatal ambush in the capital city of the Central African Republic.  In the first two weeks of October alone, 15 peacekeeping personnel had been lost to hostile attacks.  He strongly condemned all such attacks, and called on host authorities to fully investigate and bring to justice those responsible.  He meanwhile acknowledged missions’ efforts to respond swiftly to increasingly dangerous situations, and noted that solutions had been found in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force to secure the release of all detained peacekeepers.  Additionally, the Force’s posture had been adjusted in response to the new threats.

Safety and security were a shared responsibility of host Governments, the United Nations and Member States, he said, urging the United Nations to update its policies, tactics, techniques and procedures to address new types of threats, including improvised explosive devices and challenges in asymmetric environments.  Vehicles must be hardened and compounds must be reinforced, which had resource implications.  The United Nations would work with troop- and police-contributing countries to adapt predeployment training to those new environments.

The second challenge was having the willingness and ability to effectively protect civilians across missions, which must be understood as the most important obligation.  The international community must come with the determination, capability and resources required.  However, protection by presence alone could not be the default approach to addressing threats against civilians.  In South Sudan, for example, flexibility and timely decision-making saved countless lives.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he went on, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo had demonstrated its resolve to not back down when confronted by those who would threaten the most vulnerable.  The Mission’s posture had also opened new opportunities to extend State authority into areas previously controlled by lawless armed groups.  In the Central African Republic, the Bangui Task Force was an innovative cooperation arrangement aimed at stabilizing the capital.  There should be a change in expectations of the civilian protection mandate and a proactive posture focused on anticipating, to the degree possible, threats to civilians.  Despite best efforts, it was not possible for peacekeepers to protect everyone.  To implement mandates, including civilian protection, missions must receive all necessary funds and means, including mobility, monitoring and surveillance tools.

His third point was the imperative to help advance political dialogue and create the condition for reconciliation.  Historically, peacekeeping operations had been able to assist and even accelerate peace processes and stability, and early peacebuilding efforts.  Yet, when there was no viable road map, the challenge was tremendous. In Darfur, the Security Council deployed a peacekeeping operation to address tremendous human suffering; however, the political conditions to permit genuine reconciliation had not been found.  As the crisis in South Sudan showed, the delay of a host Government or the lack of political will to advance the peace process remained an important obstacle for effective mandate implementation.  Reconciliation was the enduring path towards both the protection of civilians and safety and security for peacekeepers, he added.

Given the current challenges, Mr. Ladsous set out several critical priorities.  Among them were strengthened capabilities of peacekeepers.  The two Departments had recently developed a strategic agenda for uniformed capability development over the medium-term, with a focus on, among others, rapid deployment; standing capabilities; increased mobility of all units in-theatre, including aviation support; enhanced medical support; improvised explosive devices-survivability measures; improved information and analysis; expertise to address transnational threats such as organized crime; and planning and implementation.

The uniformed capability development agenda complemented the ongoing work on United Nations standards for military units, he said, noting that, in an innovative and transparent way, more than 45 Member States had supported the effort.  Once approved, an implementation plan should begin early in 2015.  The Office for the Peacekeeping Strategic Partnership was now fully operational, helping to identify gaps in achieving mandates, recommending ways to enhance the safety, security and welfare of uniformed personnel, and incorporating lessons learned.

He said that the ongoing implementation of revisions to the troop reimbursement frameworks would also help ensure that peacekeepers were properly equipped.  Among other measures, there was a new premium for quick deployment of enabling capabilities, involving the provision of critical force multipliers such as helicopters, medical units, and engineering support.  A new provision for the rotation of ageing contingent-owned equipment was also in play, as was a new premium for exceptional performance in situations of risk.  Technology was another critical tool.  By introducing unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations had shown its ability to modernize and use the latest technologies to monitor movements of armed groups and thus better protect vulnerable populations.  The two Departments had set up a high-level Panel on Technology and Innovation, which should be ready to share its findings soon.

To ensure appropriate capabilities, the base of major contributors to peacekeeping must be expanded, while deepening the engagement of existing contributors.  A related priority was rapid deployment of specialized expertise through Standing Police Capacity, Justice and Corrections Standing Capacity and Mine Action Rapid Response.  However, with regard to peacekeepers, enabling capacities such as engineering, air and ground transport and medical support remained “choke points”.  Work was under way to improve internal processes.  It would be helpful for Member States to prepare troops for peacekeeping missions in advance of a Security Council resolution.  A related priority was cooperation with regional organizations and parallel missions in crisis response.

The focus was also on improved intelligence and situational awareness, he said, adding that collection and analysis of a range of intelligence sources needed to be enhanced and informed decisions taken at the tactical operation and strategic levels.  In that regard, technology was a powerful enabler.  In Mali, when the All Sources Intelligence Fusion Unit was fully online, there would be unprecedented ability to gather and analyse information relating to threats to peacekeeping personnel and the local population.  Performance was also critical, he said, noting that the Organization was held to an increasingly high standard by the international community and citizens where it was deployed.  The Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy on misconduct and sexual abuse by civilian, military and police peacekeepers continued to be implemented.  In addition, policies had been introduced that set clear and non-negotiable thresholds for personal conduct.  The Human Rights Due Diligence Policy and the Policy on Human Rights Screening of United Nations Personnel were distinct yet complementary, and full implementation of both required continued engagement and cooperation with Member States.

Finally, he said, it was vital to help to extend State authority in the form of police, courts, prisons and local authorities so that countries could build and sustain peace themselves, for which common funding pools could be useful.  Ultimately, he added, lasting peace in any country required functioning and legitimate local State institutions, which could protect their own citizens and provide basic services.  In that connection, notable progress had been made through the Global Focal Point for Police, Justice and Corrections.  In the Central African Republic, for example, joint teams were being established within the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic structure to support a single rule of law framework.  In Liberia, to support the rule of law aspects of Ebola, the Global Focal Point was funding a joint project covering police justice and corrections.

In pursuing innovation, strong and effective stewardship must be demonstrated regarding the resources entrusted to peacekeeping.  The Organization was working to improve effectiveness and a process had been put in place for periodic reviews of all missions, to align their civilian components to their evolving mandates.

Ultimately, he said, peacekeeping was a political instrument, which depended upon the political support of the international community.  With such a diverse set of stakeholders, however, systemic change was a challenge.  Meanwhile, the demands on the ground do not heed the pace of multilateral institutions.  Each year, for the past six years, more than 100 peacekeepers had died while serving war-torn countries.  The scale of human suffering in the countries where the United Nations operated was immense and demanded a collective response from all.

In closing, he said when the Organization spoke in one voice, peacekeeping was renewed and strengthened for the advancement of world peace and security in an increasingly complex and challenging world.  He recognized all the brave men and women who served peacekeeping every day, and recalled with sorrow all those — too many — who had paid the ultimate price.  The United Nations honoured their memory and would continue to work towards the cause for which they sacrificed.

AMEERAH HAQ, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, said that peacekeeping relied on the professionalism of all men and women who served, and its success depended on the support of all Member States.  She paid tribute to the peacekeepers in the field, serving far from home, in extreme circumstances, to guard fragile peace processes.  Already 104 lives had been lost this year.  She recognized the commitments made at the Summit on Strengthening International Peace Operations and the trilateral cooperation efforts involving troop contributors, the United Nations and the providers of equipment and training.

Offering a brief review of the Secretary General’s review of peace operations, she recalled that, 15 years ago, mission support was a simple derivative of the substantive components of a mission; few questions were asked about how to make it timelier or improve its quality.  Since then, the Department of Field Support had initiated a new process through the Global Field Support Strategy aimed at improving efficiency and effectiveness.  During the review, all must ask themselves how fit peacekeeping operations were, given the changes in mandate, deployment and environment.  Her Department supported both the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Political Affairs.  It also led a number of missions or otherwise supported them, including the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-United Nations joint mission and the United Nations Mission for Emergency Ebola Response (UNMEER).

As outlined by Under-Secretary-General Ladsous, the conditions for peacekeeping had grown more complex and difficult with increasingly demanding tasks.  Peacekeepers were now at the forefront of action taken to prevent human rights violations, but all too often, the United Nations itself was seen as a target.  Such dangerous operating environments posed new challenges.  Presently, peacekeeping operations deployed 2.5 times more uniformed personnel than at the time of the Brahimi report; her Department supported some 127,000 deployed personnel in more than 30 countries.  In 2014, the Department of Safety and Security assessed that more than 40 per cent of operations were “highly dangerous”.  The threats had grown more diverse and included terrorism, transnational crime, natural disaster, and epidemics.

This past month, she went on, had been one of the most difficult in terms of peacekeepers lost.  That high-risk environment increased the need for fast and flexible support.  Reconciling the need for speed with that of procedural compliance would take determination and creative thinking, she added.  The Department’s focus on innovation and improvement had enabled significant progress in field support.  Through regular reviews of mission staffing, the Department was able to contain civilian personnel costs and had eliminated more than 3,000 support jobs.  As a result, spending per deployed peacekeeper dropped 16 per cent in five years.

Regarding personnel and institutional accountability, her Department remained fully committed to addressing misconduct by those deployed in field operations, bearing in mind the zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.  She and Mr. Ladsous had issued joint statements to uniformed and non-uniformed personnel to reiterate the zero-tolerance policy.

Looking ahead, the Department must focus on immediate priorities, including improving safety and security, enabling faster deployment, encouraging the use of appropriate technology and strengthening internal processes, she added.  Both Departments were working together to ensure the safety of peacekeepers, whose capabilities must match the challenges they faced.  Additionally, the two Departments had embarked on a capability development agenda, for peacekeepers to be trained and equipped for improvised explosive devices and terrorist threats, as well as for natural disasters and epidemics.  Too often, the imperative to deploy took priority without due regard for equipment and other capabilities needed to catalyse troops’ effective functioning.  The Department had learned from experiences in Mali and the Central African Republic, among others, which had been useful in planning for UNMEER.  Regional organizations also played an important role in ensuring rapid deployment.  While re-hatting regional forces as Blue Helmets could become a more regular feature of missions, much had to be done to ensure a smooth process, she said.

She welcomed Member States’ support to troop- and police-contributing countries and encouraged triangular partnerships between the United Nations and Member States able to provide troops or training.  Noting the need to better use technology, she said that applied appropriately, that could help peacekeepers do their jobs more effectively, in what she called “smarter” peacekeeping.  She was also committed to explore with Mr. Ladsous technologies that could improve safety for peacekeepers and civilians.

Key decisions by the General Assembly had come into effect, reflecting an ongoing evolution of the framework for troop and police reimbursement.  All members should be aware of the importance of the agreement on the new rate of reimbursement for personnel, she said, noting that the membership had agreed on several measures to allow a better response by the Department to peacekeeping challenges.  She was confident that the new regime agreed upon by the General Assembly to meet costs of the transport of United Nations contingent-owned equipment system to replace aging items, which would help with the challenge in the field of maintaining capabilities in the face of harsh conditions.

Also concerning reforms, she drew attention to the Enterprise Resource Planning System, or Umoja, which helped to improve mission planning and management.  She also stressed the importance of delegated authority, which empowered mission leadership.  The degree to which authorities, accountabilities and responsibilities were aligned impacted the Organization’s ability to deliver its political and operational commitments, and she hoped that the Peace Operations Review Panel would look at that challenge.

She thanked the delegates for their strong support throughout her decade-long affiliation with United Nations peacekeeping, and extended her gratitude to Mr. Ladsous.  In closing, she repeated her strong belief that, “when our peacekeeping partnership has the necessary resources to deliver in the field, when it is empowered by its Member States to be flexible and responsive and when it is energized by political will, United Nations peacekeeping has proven to be and will continue to be a powerful tool for conflict management and peace consolidations”.

Statements

OMAR HILALE (Morocco), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, thanked the United Nations officials for their presentations, and said peacekeeping was passing a crucial juncture as a result of the increased demand, and the expansion and complexity of its tasks and mandates.  It was dealing with responsibilities beyond the nature of its political and military roles, and implementation, therefore, was challenging.  Peacekeeping operations should neither be used as an alternative to addressing the root causes of conflict nor managing them.  Rather, they should be based on a comprehensive and coherent vision to be implemented through political, social and developmental tools, aimed at achieving and securing smooth transition to lasting peace.

He emphasized that the establishment of a peacekeeping operation or extension of a mandate should strictly observe the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.  They should be based on consensus among Member States, and policy development should ensure that only those ideas and approaches that had been adopted by Member States collectively would be implemented.  Missions should receive all necessary support including financial, human resource and military and civilian capabilities.  The Security Council should provide a strong commitment to drafting clear and achievable mandates, based on an objective assessment.  Troop-contributing countries should have full participation in policy formulation and decision-making, he said, stressing the need for further consultations with Member States on ways to protect missions from breaches of personnel safety.

ORGROB AMARACHGUL (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, said peacekeeping operations demonstrated the collective effort of the Member States in securing peace in the most difficult parts of the world.  ASEAN was satisfied with the report in addressing the new challenges.  From the spread of Ebola to the targeted attacks by extremist groups, peacekeepers’ safety was a pressing issue.  All must ensure that field missions remained effective and adequately supported with access to modern technology.  ASEAN also welcomed the overdue agreement on increased reimbursements.  Consultations between the Security Council, the Secretariat and troop-contributing countries were crucial for the success of peacekeeping operations, he said, noting that almost 4,000 ASEAN peacekeepers were taking part in various peacekeeping missions.

Speaking in his national capacity, he said that Thailand had sent peacekeepers to serve in more than 20 missions.  The country’s approach to peacekeeping was based on its view that peace, security, human rights, and development were interlinked.  In light of past experience, Thailand firmly believed that women were instrumental to the success of peacekeeping in post-conflict resolution.  ASEAN reiterated its commitment to support the operations.

JUAN CARLOS MENDOZA-GARCÍA (Costa Rica), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said a thorough and systematic analysis was required to improve the effectiveness of peacekeeping operations and to maintain the credibility of the Organization.  When establishing any peacekeeping operation or extending the mandate of existing ones, the purposes and principles of the Charter should be strictly observed, especially respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence and non-interference in internal affairs of States, as well as the guiding principles of those operations.

Stressing the importance of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations as the unique and irreplaceable intergovernmental body, he called for increased participation by troop- and police-contributing countries in the process of policy drafting and decision-making.  CELAC believed it was essential to assure the highest level of ethical conduct of peacekeeping personnel, he said, stressing the need to promote women’s full participation in the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.  There could be no sustainable peace without efforts to fight poverty, hunger and inequality.  For that reason, coordination was essential between peacekeeping operations and the Organization’s peacebuilding architecture.

ALAN GRIFFIN (Australia), also speaking on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, called for consistent standards and adequate guidance in order to generate properly prepared forces.  The group strongly supported the development of United Nations Military Units Manuals, and urged that effective oversight mechanisms be in place.  The evolution of modern peacekeeping had led to an increased demand for United Nations police, and he proposed the adoption by the Security Council of a resolution focused on practical steps to increase the effectiveness of police components.  Training peacekeepers in line with the Organization’s standards, particularly at the predeployment phase, was also critical. 

Touching on other points of importance to the Group, he said recent crises in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq and South Sudan had demonstrated that sexual violence in conflict remained a “dreadful” reality, but he noted some progress had been made in connection with the Security Council’s resolve to combat it.  He welcomed the reimbursement rate for troop contributors and the Assembly’s consensus decision on the 2014-2015 peacekeeping budget.  Protecting civilians remained central to the credibility and effectiveness of multidimensional peacekeeping missions.  The expectations of a Chapter VII mission was clear:  intervene without hesitation when civilians were under attack, using force when necessary.  Civilian protection mandates must have proactive and preventative strategies and a common understanding of obligations, both for prevention and for intervention.

Finally, he encouraged further analysis on flexible mission-wide early-warning capabilities and on support to host Governments in exercising their responsibilities.  Additionally, he called for more innovative approaches to contemporary operational challenges.  As the safety of United Nations field personnel was, more than ever, threatened by insurrection, insurgency, and terrorists, weapons proliferation affected the peacekeepers’ ability to provide security for themselves and for civilians.  He thus encouraged further support to assist peacekeepers in tracking and managing illicit weapons flows and in implementing arms embargoes.

IOANNIS VRAILAS, representative of the European Union Delegation, recognized the demanding conditions in which peacekeepers carried out their work, and paid tribute to those who had lost their lives.  From the traditional military models to ceasefire observation, operations were more proactive and multidimensional involving civilian and political aspects.  Reiterating his appreciation for the Secretary General’s Rights up Front initiative — a key element to prevent atrocities against civilians — he said that in cases where atrocities were committed, accountability was crucial.  He encouraged the integration of a gender perspective in military training, and welcomed United Nations resolve in preventing sexual exploitation and abuse.  Regarding the assessment of peacekeeping operations, resources must be used effectively, in an accountable and transparent manner.  The use of modern technology must be encouraged and additional efforts should be undertaken to ensure peacekeepers’ security.  The European Union remained a loyal partner of the Organization’s peacekeeping operations in its framework Common Security and Defence Policy.

For information media. Not an official record.