Swift Action, Flexible Mandates Needed in Fulfilling ‘Moral Duty’ to Protect Civilians amid Attacks, Instability, Commanders Tell Security Council

SC/11594
9 October 2014
7275th Meeting (AM)

Swift Action, Flexible Mandates Needed in Fulfilling ‘Moral Duty’ to Protect Civilians amid Attacks, Instability, Commanders Tell Security Council

Swift adaptation to ever-more perilous environments was critical to protect both peacekeepers and civilians under their mandate, the Security Council was told this morning as it met with force commanders of a number of United Nations missions.

“Action has to be taken immediately to deal with the situation,” Major General Jean Bosco Kazura, Force Commander of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) said at a meeting that also heard from the military leaders of missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Syrian Golan, who were introduced by Lieutenant General Maqsood Ahmed, Military Adviser for Peacekeeping Operations.

General Kazura said that internal tensions, radicalization, illicit trafficking and terrorism contributed to a deteriorating security environment in the areas of operations of many missions, particularly MINUSMA, which he stated was in a terror-fighting situation without the mandate or capabilities to face the threat.  In such situations, wider operations against terrorists were critical, along with the provision of the means to the Mission itself to take a more robust stance.  Quick reorganization, planning and guidance were required.

Stressing the importance of strengthening protection of civilians in the current climate, Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) said, “Civilian protection is far more than text in a mandate, it is a moral duty.”  The best way to pursue that task was becoming proactive through a robust posture clearly understood by everyone involved.  Troops must have the mindset, capabilities and leadership to take such a posture, and be prepared to take the risks.

Lieutenant General Iqbal Singh Singha of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights, said that abductions, weapons snatching, restrictions of movement and the vandalizing of United Nations property had forced his mission to adapt.  With the conflict in Syria and growing power of extremists, four troop-contributing countries had already left the mission.

In response, he said, liaison capability had been doubled, operational capabilities and logistical supply chains had been reconfigured and the vehicle movement code had been improved, among other measures.  Most importantly, Israel and Syria had reaffirmed their commitment to support UNDOF’s mandate, and the opposition understood that the United Nations presence in the area of separation would continue.

Following those briefings, Council members commended peacekeepers on their sacrifices under dangerous conditions and affirmed the importance of frequent interaction with the force commanders so that the Council could better understand emerging challenges and support peacekeeping operations in adapting to ensure the safety of their personnel and, where mandated, to more effectively protect civilians.

Appropriate training, adequate resourcing, use of new technologies, clear mandates that were quickly reconfigured to adjust to conditions on the ground, a unified chain of command, accountability of all parties, viable political processes and other factors were proposed as essential in that effort.

At the same time, some speakers stressed that peacekeeping contingents mandated and equipped to take “robust” postures towards threats to themselves or to civilians must use the force available to them.  The representative of the United Kingdom said that it was unacceptable that operations did not act to protect civilians when mandated to do so.  If it was a question of interpretation of a mandate, such ambiguities must be resolved.

Speaking again after those interventions, the force commanders answered questions posed and provided further details on the kinds of changes needed to respond to the current security climate, stressing the need to constantly monitor the situation on the ground and act quickly to adapt.  “Terrorists are not going to wait for us to get the equipment we need before they attack,” General Kazura said.

Also speaking were representatives of Rwanda, Chile, Republic of Korea, United States, Lithuania, Russian Federation, France, China, Chad, Australia, Nigeria, Jordan, Luxembourg and Argentina.

The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 1:15 p.m.

Briefings

Lieutenant General Carlos ALBERTO DOS SANTOS CRUZ, Force Commander of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), speaking on protection of civilians, said that that task had been more clearly described in current mandates, but there was still room for interpretation and much depended on various factors.  It was without question a critical task in the current peacekeeping environment, however.  “Civilian protection is far more than text in a mandate, it is a moral duty,” he stated.

The best way to protect civilians was becoming proactive rather than reactive, especially when dealing with armed groups that threatened thousands of lives, he said.  The United Nations, in that light, should not wait until communities were ravaged and hundreds of thousands of displaced persons sought refuge at mission bases.  Deterrence by mere presence was not always effective, he said, adding that only a robust posture was able to defuse the threats.  Troops must have the mindset, capabilities and leadership to take a robust posture.  Such an approach did not undermine mandates and was consistent with international law, despite risks of collateral damage.  Action to stop violence was expected by all actors and, while inaction had played into resulting tragedies, there were very few cases of problems due to effective action.  Yet action must be accompanied by a civilian component that dealt with non-military aspects of creating a better security environment.

Major General JEAN BOSCO KAZURA, Force Commander of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), said that internal tensions, radicalization, illicit trafficking and terrorism were worsening the security environment in many areas of operations and had certainly posed a threat to the mission.  Last year’s military actions had “broken the back” of many of the armed groups in the north.  The failure to make progress on national control in the north, however, had led to a resumption of terrorist threats that were becoming stronger and stronger.  MINUSMA was in a terror-fighting situation with neither the mandate nor capabilities to face that threat.

Action had to be taken immediately to deal with the situation, he said.  Operations against terrorists in northern Mali were critical, along with the provision of the means the Mission needed to protect its staff and to take a more robust stance.  Armed groups must understand that they would be held accountable for their attacks, he said.  Reorganization, planning and guidance were required by all missions that had found themselves in deteriorating security situations.  With that in mind, MINUSMA must adapt and stay the course, he said, lest the entire region become negatively affected.

Lieutenant General IQBAL SINGH SINGHA, Force Commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), said it had been mandated to, among other things, keep the military forces of Israel and Syria apart through the establishment of a separation zone and to observe and report on violations in that area.  Describing events since March 2012, he cited fighting between opposition groups and the Syrian army in the separation area, which had violated the mission’s mandate.  Abductions, weapons snatching, restrictions of movement and the vandalizing of United Nations property had affected peacekeepers’ work.  As of this year, radical groups now controlled more moderate opposition elements.  Opposition groups had launched a southern offensive, having captured areas up to Route 7 and pushed Syrian forces east.  When 45 Fijian peacekeepers were detained by opposition groups, radicals surrounded another 72 peacekeepers from the Philippines, saying the United Nations was not required in the area.

He said it was not an easy task to operate in such an environment, but UNDOF had adjusted to meet the challenges, having honed its capabilities, carried out its mandate differently and addressed concerns.  Operational capabilities had been reconfigured, as had logistical supply chains.  In 2013, it had improved a vehicle movement code and four troop-contributing countries had left the mission.  Yet, UNDOF had doubled its liaison capability, while support for the mission had realigned itself.  The mission also carried out constant information collection, including through surveillance equipment and thermal imaging devices.  Israel and Syria were committed to continue operating under the mandate.  The opposition groups now understood the United Nations presence in the area of separation, while the parties to the 1974 Disengagement Agreement appreciated UNDOF’s presence.

Statements

EUGÈNE-RICHARD GASANA (Rwanda) said the Council was obliged to set clear tasks for peacekeeping missions, including timing and design.  The host country was responsible for protecting its civilians and when that did not happen, United Nations missions must intervene.  As new threats emerged, peacekeepers should be trained and equipped to use force to protect civilians, he said, adding that contingents that did not fulfil those requirements should not be deployed.  When civilians were attacked near a United Nations camp, missions lost credibility.  In Mali, peacekeepers were dealing with asymmetric threats that transcended traditional tasks.  Posing questions to some Force Commanders, notably on improving responses and handling terrorist threats, he said national interests of Council members could not be pursued at the expense of affected populations.

CRISTIAN BARROS (Chile), affirming his country’s continued support for United Nations peacekeeping efforts, said that all operations should continuously be monitored by the Security Council and other actors throughout the life of the missions.  To encounter the new challenges of peacekeeping, new technologies should be tried with the consent of all parties.  It was particularly important to strengthen early-warning mechanisms for civilian protection, as had happened in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  In Mali, the threats clearly indicated the need for reconfiguration of the Mission.  UNDOF’s security had also been threatened, and, in that case, strong communication with all parties in its area of operation must be established.  All mandates should be clear and well-supported by sufficient resources.

OH JOON (Republic of Korea) said that in peacekeeping situations, “safety based on impartiality can no longer be taken for granted”.  Training, advanced technologies and regional support were critical factors to allow missions to fulfil their mandates in situations of threat.  MONUSCO’s robust approach was a good direction for civilian protection.  Condemning attacks on MINUSMA and noting its expanded tasks, he asked what kind of support the Mission needed most to fulfil its mandate.  He also asked how UNDOF should be strengthened and how further attacks could be prevented.  He stressed the importance of progress in inclusive political processes in post-conflict countries as a factor in helping peacekeepers do their jobs.

MARK LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom) while commending peacekeepers for their sacrifices in dangerous conditions, said it was unacceptable that operations did not act to protect civilians when mandated to do so.  If it was a question of interpretation of the mandate, such ambiguities must be resolved.  He asked how often civilian-protection strategies were discussed among military officials and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  He expected that all peacekeepers understood their obligations.  Threats to missions in Mali and the Golan, he stated, underlined the complexities of dealing with non-State actors.  Tough decisions had to be taken on the future of MINUSMA and the entire matter of operations in dangerous environments.  He asked whether a fundamental shift in peacekeeping was required in that context and what kind of support was needed.  He understood the Council’s obligation to facilitate clear mandates and the resources to fulfil them, but wanted to know what other factors needed to be addressed.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said that long processes were under way to better train and equip peacekeepers to face the threats of the current environment and that those who attacked peacekeepers must be brought to justice.  She said there had been both successes and failures in missions’ attempts to face new challenges.  Continuous communication on facing those challenges was critical.  She praised General Cruz’s support for “protection through action”, and affirmed that proactive measures against armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo must continue.  She was concerned that peacekeepers often did not use the force that they were authorized to utilize and said dual chains of command must be considered a problem in that light.  She called MINUSMA “the most dangerous mission in the world” and, surveying the threats to UNDOF, said that the abrupt change in that Chapter VI mission had required a flexible response by all.  She asked what could be done by all international actors to increase cohesion, capabilities and will across missions, and what more could the international community do to strengthen accountability for attacks on peacekeepers.

RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania) supported all initiatives aimed at enhancing civilian protection by United Nations peacekeepers.  Noting MONUSCO’s efforts to improve its early warning and response mechanisms, she said the creation of hotlines and support for the implementation of local protection plans had helped to reduce threats to civilians.  Such efforts should be considered in other operations, she said, voicing strong support for the “one mandate, one mission, one force” approach.  More broadly, she cited as problems a lack of training and proper equipment and insufficient backing by air assets and modern technologies to counter conventional and asymmetric threats, notably in Mali.  The Council must prioritize peacekeepers’ safety when designing or adjusting mandates, she said, asking about proactive reconnaissance, mandate design and modern technology use.

PETR ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said the experience of the intervention brigade and use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo must be assessed.  Voicing serious concern over the desire to “loosely interpret” international humanitarian law on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, he said it was unacceptable to pursue political aims, including the removal of legitimate authorities in sovereign States.  A priority should be to work out interactions between peacekeepers and local authorities, who bore responsibility for protecting their populations.  A threat assessment must be considered when planning operations, he said.  In Mali, moving the core United Nations force to the north could not be done without unwarranted risks to peacekeepers.  In the Middle East, attacks against UNDOF showed a need to ensure their security.  He thus called for support by those with influence.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the Council was obliged to ensure peacekeepers had the resources they needed to succeed to be used with the greatest degree of professionalism.  Contingents must be immediately available and well trained, while States should help to fill the gaps, as Mexico and Angola were prepared to do.  Further, the Council must strengthen logistical and operational support to missions, as well as adapt peacekeeping operations to their mandates.  The balance between force protection and the carrying out of goals was also important.  The Council should allow peacekeepers to incorporate modern technology, especially for increasing observation operations, and to foster inter-mission cooperation.  Missions must be adapted to local contexts and build close links with those they were meant to protect.  In sum, he said France would be following up on the 2009 New Horizon report, which was part of a process of assessing policy and strategy dilemmas facing United Nations peacekeeping and reinvigorating the ongoing dialogue with stakeholders on possible solutions.

WANG MIN (China) urged a focus on the relevance of United Nations peacekeeping operations.  The Council should ensure that mandates were “realistic and feasible”, and that they defined priority tasks.  Results should be assessed in a timely manner.  Adjustments made by the African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) to its functions could serve as a reference for others.  Further, peacekeepers should observe Council resolutions vis-à-vis respect for sovereignty.  Missions should improve their efficiency, as rapid deployment capacity affected their ability to fulfil their required roles.  He called on peacekeepers to enhance capacity-building, notably in technology, equipment and personnel training, and to coordinate closely with regional organizations.  In closing, he said China had sent its first security troops to MINUSMA and was considering dispatching helicopters to other peacekeeping operations.

MANGARAL BANTE (Chad), noting the increasing complexity of peacekeeping operations, said that early warning, mobility and active intervention was critical to meet growing threats to peacekeepers and civilians.  MINUSMA must be given all means it needed to protect its personnel, perpetrators of attacks had to be brought to justice and political progress in Mali was necessary.  Security for UNDOF also must be ensured.  He asked what the best protection strategies for MINUSMA were and how UNDOF was adapting to the new paradigms.

GARY QUINLAN (Australia) said each mission was grappling with institutional and environmental challenges that reflected the changing nature of peacekeeping:  from generating forces in vast environments, to implementing a robust security posture, to confronting non-State actors.  He supported the Secretary-General’s forthcoming strategic review of peace operations.  The use of new technologies, including unmanned, unarmed aerial systems, and the capacity to assess new threats should be an essential part of peacekeeping.  Posing questions to the Force Commanders, he said Australia looked forward to replicating the meeting’s format next month during the first ever briefing with Heads of Police Components.

ANTHONY BOSAH (Nigeria), noting his country’s extensive contributions to United Nations peacekeeping over many years and the growing complexity of those operations, said that protection of civilians mandates must be clearly defined from the onset and must address all local factors, with cooperation from all actors.  Careful consideration of options available must be made.  A robust posture must be maintained where threats were high; missions must be quickly adapted to growing threats, with the support of the Security Council.  When peacekeepers were in the line of fire, a change in posture could be needed, he stressed, pointing to the experience of UNDOF.  He asked what form of planning and guidance was needed in conflict environments and what more could be done to protect civilians in such environments.

DINA KAWAR (Jordan), also noting her country’s contributions to peacekeeping operations, reaffirmed the importance of transparency and neutrality of missions.  Resources needed for fully carrying out mandates must be constantly reassessed.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she expressed concern over continued crimes against civilians in the east, as well as attacks on the mission.  Activation of a justice mechanism and reintegration of armed groups were particularly important in that context.  She asked whether clarification of the rules of engagement was needed there.  On Mali, she said efforts to bring about lasting stability must be accelerated, and the Mission’s mandate should be strengthened in that area.  She asked how the rule of law could be implemented in the north of Mali.  She also called for measures to ensure the security of UNDOF personnel as well so that they could return to their positions.

OLIVIER MAES (Luxembourg) said that peacekeepers needed to be well trained to protect civilians and to deal with more complex situations.  He welcomed actions taken to improve effectiveness of protection in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He asked if the experience of that Mission, in such areas as robust mandates and the use of a rapid-reaction force, was useful for situations faced by other missions, such as MINUSMA.  He expressed willingness to support the strengthening of MINUSMA to face current threats.  UNDOF as well must be adapted to be able to continue to perform its important tasks, with the cooperation of all in the region.  Timely, well-defined strategies, the use of force, effective command and control, adequate resources and other support and appropriate training were factors that needed to be considered to adapt all missions to the current environment.

MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL (Argentina), Council President for the month, spoke in her national capacity.  The mandate of the MONUSCO intervention brigade should not be expanded or confused with that of the rest of the Mission, which was concerned with civilian protection, a task that should not be confused with neutralization of armed groups through aggressive activities.  In the Middle East, UNDOF was the target of terrorist groups, requiring the Council to consider the most secure way for it to fulfil its mandate.  Risk mitigation measures should be implemented by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, while parties should show maximum restraint and use the communications channels UNDOF had made available.  She condemned attacks against MINUSMA.  Finally, in considering the future of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), it was important to act with caution and make decisions based on ground conditions.  The Mission should not remain in Haiti longer than necessary.

Responding to questions, Mr. AHMED said there were two tasks of military peacekeepers:  the physical protection of themselves, other United Nations personnel and assets, and the protection of civilians.  Both were linked to the understanding of the troop contributors.  Some considered peacekeeping in conventional terms, believing that peacekeepers were respected and came under no harm.  “We find it hard to convince our capitals that we are being deployed into difficult conditions,” he said.

The second gap in understanding was between expectations and responsibilities, he said.  Host nations had high expectations.  The same contingent could be deployed in various contexts but would respond differently each time.  With support from capitals, mission leadership would have the direction to perform on the ground.  As for training, it was “an absolute must”.  The Department was working on 11 manuals, which would likely be completed by early 2015.  As for capability gaps, he said he had requested help for troop contributors, as uniformed personnel were on the ground but lacked equipment, stressing that those resources should be provided as soon as possible.

On technology, he said it gave missions “lead time”, either to pre-empt atrocities or to react quickly to them.  Technology was a great enabler; however, it was not being used to its full capacity.  Its absorption for better results required Headquarters to be trained.  In sum, he said the principles of peacekeeping held true, even under the changed global environment.  The use of force was ascribed under two conditions:  self-protection and protection of civilians.  The Secretary-General’s strategic review would provide an opportunity to examine United Nations systems and procedures, notably vis-à-vis rules of engagement.

Mr. CRUZ said mandates and rules of engagement had never forbidden the use of force for self-defence or defence of a third party.  It was a universal law.  He agreed that some mandates must be refined, but there was also a need for a singular interpretation of them from a “practical point of view”, especially when guidance did not allow troops the freedom to execute.

When guidance was clear, the mindset expected by the Council on the ground was important, he said, while also calling for more use of technology, supported by a commitment to take action.  A strong posture created more risks for troops, but “we have the means to compensate for the risks”, he said, citing improved military combat procedures and night combat tactics.  The experience of the intervention brigade was useful in that regard.

On the question of Kotakoli camp for ex-combatants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and reports that more than 100 people there had died, he noted that the camp was administered by the Congolese Government and formed part of its disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme.  MONUSCO was there to support the Government.

Mr. KAZURA said he was pleased to hear that “we all speak the same language” about the problem of terrorism.  Thirty troops had already died in Mali, he said, stressing that political talks in Algiers must produce “something concrete” to ensure stability.  He urged that attention be given to training, saying that turning a peacekeeping operation into an anti-terror operation required a change of attitude and mind-set.  The only solution was to train people and make appropriate resources available.  “Terrorists are not going to wait for us to get the equipment we need before they attack,” he stressed.

Mr. SINGH SINGHA said the cooperation between the Department and the mission had been “exemplary”, taking place in real-time.  The approach to it must be multipronged.  A high-level mission by the Department had visited the area and would present options on 20 October.  It was important to analyse and manage the ground situation.  He requested the Council to use its leverage by cautioning parties against targeting the United Nations.

As for mandate achievement, he said that the main thrust was along the Alpha line, along which the mission would like to install new positions.  All violations had been observed and reported.  The use of new technology would help fulfil the mandate, as would “right sizing” of the force.  “We are studying all possible options”, he said, adding that the communication among UNDOF, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and Headquarters had been good.  Finally, capacity-building would be enhanced so the mission could interact more proactively with parties, and information collection would be enhanced.

For information media. Not an official record.