Challenges in protecting civilians, asymmetric threats faced by mission personnel and caveats imposed by troop-contributing countries figured prominently in the Security Council today, as that body heard from the top United Nations peacekeeping official and force commanders on the operational hurdles related to the implementation of peacekeeping mandates.
Every force commander had a story to tell — a story of courage and determination and also of challenges, Herve Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told the 15-member body. The three issues chosen for this year’s briefing were relevant to modern-day peacekeeping, which had witnessed unprecedented challenges as well as difficulties.
Speaking on protection of civilians, Yohannes Gebremeskel Tesfamariam, Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said that in a conflict where the Sudan People's Liberation Army, opposition and allied forces paid little heed to the laws of war — and directly targeted civilians — peacekeepers struggled to implement their mandate.
The protection of civilians mandate “presupposes that those charged with protecting civilians have the willingness to take proactive measures to do so”, he said, calling that willingness an operations’ “greatest protection asset”. As the most resource-consuming task in peacekeeping, civilian protection required logistical, financial and human resources, he said, stressing that the limits faced in that respect negatively impacted operations. Success depended on well-trained and well-equipped troops with the mind-set to deter potential aggressors, as well as innovative leaders.
Michael Lollesgaard, Force Commander of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), said that his Mission was not really geared to operate in an asymmetric environment, since although it possessed some good assets it also had major shortfalls that made it extremely vulnerable. MINUSMA, he said, had a robust mandate for self-defence and protection of civilians, but could not conduct offensive operations against threats.
Such a defensive posture required, as priority, enhanced intelligence to understand the environment, for which purpose an All Sources Information Fusion Unit had been put in place along with special operations forces and helicopters, he said. More staffing was needed, however, to gather information on lower levels and make better use of intelligence.
Michael Finn, Head of Mission and Chief of Staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), said national caveats were controversial and their impact on United Nations missions had been much discussed. The deteriorating situation in Syria prompted several contributors to UNTSO to impose restrictions on activities of their personnel assigned to Observer Group Golan on the Syrian-controlled side of the ceasefire line.
Caveats had also limited flexibility to assign officers to other locations where UNTSO operated, including Jerusalem, Beirut, Damascus, and Cairo. “I fully understand what drove the imposition of those restrictions and I share the desire of [troop-contributing countries] to see the risks to your deployed personnel mitigated to the greatest extent possible,” he said. He reassured those countries by stressing the tight coordination between UNDOF’s Field Commander and himself and the provision of contingency planning.
In the ensuing debate, speakers agreed that civilian protection was at the heart of most peacekeeping mandates and they explored ways to improve performance. New and evolving threats from non-State actors, who used improvised explosive devices, suicide attacks and road mines as war tactics, meant that peacekeepers must be trained and equipped with the assets, technologies and mind-set to ensure their success. Use of modern technologies, stressed France’s delegate, would allow missions to better anticipate “upstream” peaks of violence.
Speakers expressed differing views on the issue of national caveats — restrictions placed by countries on how the United Nations can use their forces. Some, including the representatives of Angola and the United States, argued that they hampered the chain of command, while others said they could indeed be used as long as they respected the requisite terms. New Zealand’s representative asked whether troop contributors forwarded caveats because of the threats United Nations personnel constantly faced. Jordan’s delegate said command and control lines must be clarified in full consultation with troop contributors.
A few speakers reiterated that sexual misconduct by peacekeepers was intolerable under any circumstance. They advocated zero tolerance for such abuse. Speedy, impartial investigations for those accused would help establish accountability within operations and ensure that the United Nations credibility was maintained.
Also making statements today were the representatives of Chad, Chile, China, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Spain, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Lithuania and Malaysia.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 1:10 p.m.
HERVÉ LADSOUS, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, introducing the briefers, said every single force commander had a story to tell — a story of courage and determination and also of challenges — and deserved everyone’s attention and gratitude. For today’s briefing, it was decided to include three issues of relevance to modern-day peacekeeping: protection of civilians; caveats imposed by troop-contributing countries; and asymmetric threats. Peacekeepers today were working in diverse environments across the globe, which were unprecedented in terms of the scale of challenges as well as difficulties, he said.
YOHANNES GEBREMESKEL TESFAMARIAM, Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said that in a conflict where the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), opposition and allied forces paid little heed to the laws of war — and directly targeted civilians — peacekeepers struggled to implement their mandate to protect civilians. Restrictions on access and freedom of movement hampered even their most basic efforts, negating the principle that authorities were primarily responsible for such work. Given that, the Mission’s “protection of civilian sites” had become targets, notably from 19 to 21 May, when the base in Melut was hit by more than 20 artillery shells and stray bullets.
The protection of civilians mandate “presupposes that those charged with protecting civilians have the willingness to take proactive measures to do so”, he said, calling that willingness an operations’ “greatest protection asset”. From a military standpoint, command and control was critical to the mandate, which must be delivered in contexts where weeks could pass without contact between commanders and subordinates. The unit commander was a key force enabler, making trust within the chain of command essential. Protecting civilians was about not only providing a “static” location for vulnerable people but also ensuring security and the freedom of movement.
For its part, UNMISS projected its presence outside its bases, he said. Yet, the United Nations could not ignore that some internally displaced persons were encouraged to stay in protection sites because of the services provided. Since 2013, the sites had grown to serve 136,000 people in seven locations. “We must assess the sustainability of this arrangement,” he said. Various actors perceived as the main threats to safety often violated human rights, restricted peacekeepers’ movement and ignored arrangements. The Council played an important role in holding accountable those who harmed civilians or obstructed peacekeepers’ efforts to protect them. As the most resource-consuming operation, civilian protection required logistical, financial and human resources, he said, stressing that the limits faced in that respect negatively impacted operations. Success depended on well-trained and equipped troops who had the mind set to deter potential aggressors, as well as innovative leaders.
MICHAEL LOLLESGAARD, Force Commander of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), said that his Mission was not really geared to operate in an asymmetric environment, since although it possessed some good assets it also had major shortfalls that made it extremely vulnerable. Jihadists, who represented the primary but not exclusive threat to the Mission, employed improvised explosive devices, suicide attacks, road mines, ambushes and shelling. The result was the highest casualties among United Nations operations, with 36 killed and more than 200 wounded since 2013.
MINUSMA, he said, had a robust mandate for self-defence and protection of civilians, but could not conduct offensive operations against threats. Such a defensive posture required, as priority, enhanced intelligence to understand the environment, for which purpose an All Sources Information Fusion Unit had been put in place along with special operations forces and helicopters. More staffing was needed, however, to gather information on lower levels and make better use of intelligence. Outreach to the population to diminish support for armed groups, now taking the form of public information, had to be coordinated with all action on the ground.
For those purposes and to protect themselves, he said, troops must be trained for the specific threats they faced before deployment and properly equipped, particularly for movement. Contractors must have the right equipment to be able to transport necessities effectively along difficult supply routes and bases must be secured. All posts must be manned with skilled officers. Acknowledging that much was expected from all stakeholders in such situations, he assured the Council that MINUSMA was working very hard to improve capabilities by stepping up on-site training efforts, new equipment was coming in and courageous soldiers “every day face the threats without shying away”. They needed, however, to be better prepared and supported.
MICHAEL FINN (Ireland), Head of Mission and Chief of Staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), said that UNTSO’s military component comprised some 153 unarmed observers. Since the outset of the conflict in Syria, and especially as it spread to the Golan, there had been legitimate concerns over the safety and security of those personnel. Unfortunately, while UNTSO, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) sought to improve security and reduce risks, several troop-contributing countries had imposed national caveats restricting where their observers could deploy. Caveats were controversial and their impact on United Nations missions had been much discussed. In March, the heads of the military components of Missions were invited to submit military advice to the Independent High-Level Panel on United Nations Peace Operations. Discussions led to considerable coherence on the advice provided. Among the core issues considered to jeopardize peace operations were caveats.
It was suggested that troop numbers were less important to effectiveness than unity of command and the removal of caveats, he said. Field commanders strongly believed there must be zero tolerance for hidden caveats, and recommended strengthening consultations between United Nations Headquarters and troop-contributing countries in order to prevent caveats and ensure unity of command, on the basis of “one mandate, one mission and one concept”. The deteriorating situation in Syria prompted several contributors to UNTSO to impose restrictions on activities of their personnel assigned to Observer Group Golan on the Syrian-controlled side of the ceasefire line. Caveats had also limited flexibility to assign officers to other locations where UNTSO operated, including Jerusalem, Beirut, Damascus, and Cairo. “I fully understand what drove the imposition of those restrictions and I share the desire of [troop-contributing countries] to see the risks to your deployed personnel mitigated to the greatest extent possible,” he said. He reassured those countries by stressing the tight coordination between UNDOF’s Field Commander and himself and the provision of contingency planning.
Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous, Head of DPKO, had continuously stressed the importance that DPKO and all peacekeeping operations placed on the safety and security of personnel in the field, he said. Since September 2014, all UNTSO observers as well as most UNDOF personnel had been relocated to the Israeli-occupied side of the ceasefire line. Nevertheless, seven countries continued to impose caveats; the removal of those remaining caveats remained a priority issue. A recent internal review of UNTSO led by DPKO recommended that UNTSO contributors with caveats be strongly urged to lift them and that DPKO consider options in relation to remaining caveats. Those included reducing the number of military personnel contributed by countries that continued to impose restrictions on their deployment; increasing the contribution of those that did not have caveats; and reviewing the allocation of senior staff officer positions in UNTSO, providing those posts only to countries that had no national caveats on the activities of their military personnel on the Bravo (Syrian) side.
BANTE MANGARAL (Chad) said peacekeepers were sparing no efforts to fulfil their mandates amid adverse conditions. Rejecting the use of force in disregard of national sovereignty, he stressed the need to protect civilians. The United Nations must do better by investing in more robust action, including through early-warning mechanisms, which had been successful in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While upholding peacekeeping’s basic tenets, when a situation warranted offensive operations must be pursued. He stressed the importance of increasing the number of women in peacekeeping operations, including in leadership roles. The asymmetric threat landscape required an inquiry whether MINUSMA was undertaking a peacekeeping mandate or fighting terrorism, for which it was not equipped. The focus should be on national ownership by Mali’s security and political institutions in keeping with the need to bolster regional peace and stability. The Malian authorities should make all efforts to bring to justice those responsible for attacks on MINUSMA. Peacekeeping was not a risk-free activity and contributors must be ready to adapt to evolving situations. He asked the Force Commander whether a rapid intervention force would be useful to MINUSMA.
JOÃO IAMBENO GIMOLIECA (Angola) noted the dramatic change in the nature and scope of peacekeeping operations around the world. The personnel mandated to protect civilians were themselves under constant threats. The protection of civilians had become the primary focus of peacekeeping missions but was undermined through repetitive cycles of violence and poor governance. Lack of resources and information, poor governance, and inadequate training were among the factors that must be addressed in order to ensure mission success. On asymmetric threats, he called for an appropriate strategic response that would strengthen the missions’ ability to fulfil their mandates. Caveats hampered mission capabilities, he said, and stressed the need for troop- and police-contributing countries to abide by the established United Nations chain of command.
CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile) said the three issues under discussion reflected the changing realities of peacekeeping. The Council and the international community in particular needed to step up efforts on protection of civilians. Personnel should be adequately trained to fulfil their mandates and missions should maintain and exchange information to ensure that those responsible for human rights violations were brought to justice. He asked the UNMISS Force Commander to elaborate further on the key challenges he faced and how the Council could help. The experience in Mali underlined the importance of information in enhancing mission efficiency. Troop- and police-contributing countries had the responsibility to inform in advance what responsibilities their personnel could or could not undertake based on their capacities.
WANG MIN (China) said the changing peacekeeping landscape around the world required adaptation and innovation, a process the Secretary-General’s review would contribute to. Peacekeeping activities should comply with the United Nations Charter, consent of host countries and other established tenets. At the same time, it was important to devise detailed and practical rules, policies, and mandates in order to enhance relevance and effectiveness. The Council, for its part, should provide political guidance to ensure that mandates responded to needs, making adjustments as needed. Operations should respect the sovereignty of countries and conform to Council mandates and international law. They should also be tailored to specific contexts such as asymmetric threats in full consultation with troop-contributing countries. Noting that China had deployed its first peacekeeping infantry contingent to UNMISS and was sending helicopters to UNAMID, he pledged his country’s continuing commitment to efforts to bolster international peace and security.
SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said peacekeepers must be trained for the conditions in which they served, noting that the Asymmetric Warfare Group had found that tailored, pre-deployment training for those heading to Mali was the single largest gap. The pool of troop contributors and the kinds of contributions they provided must be expanded. The United States President would host a summit aimed at working with the Secretary-General, troop contributors and supporters so the United Nations could draw on the resources of contributing nations. Planning and support also must improve. Force commanders needed confidence that troops would follow their leadership, trust that was restricted by national caveats. Even open caveats were deeply concerning when they restricted contingents’ ability to carry out mission-critical tasks. Personnel committing sexual abuse must be brought to justice by national authorities. She asked the UNMISS Commander about the training gaps; the UNTSO Commander about the procedure for contingents to inform him of caveats; and the Under-Secretary-General about how to improve support for medical evacuations.
ANTHONY BOSAH (Nigeria) underlined the importance of enhanced cooperation among the United Nations, troop- and police-contributors and States, asking how to sustain camps for internally displaced persons. Clear civilian protection mandates were essential. Also, peacekeepers must be transparent in their actions. Sexual exploitation of women and children was inexcusable, requiring speedy and impartial investigations, as well as sanctions, which would help establish accountability within operations. Casualties caused by asymmetric attacks had assumed unacceptable proportions, he said, noting that international assistance to peacekeepers and other arrangements that involved anti-terrorist operations could staunch those casualties. The proliferation of small arms and light weapons challenged the implementation of peacekeeping mandates. Denying non-State actors sanctuary was of utmost importance.
PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) said the growing “untraditional” risks to peacekeepers from non-governmental actors placed more responsibility on the Council to devise clear mandates. A population expected support from the United Nations. Inaction by missions — or excessive use of force transcending mandates — negatively impacted the United Nations standing. Cooperation between peacekeepers and national authorities must be forged daily. The Council initially had entrusted UNMISS with a strong civilian protection mandate; however, a shortcoming in analysis and operational planning meant that the Mission was not ready to carry out its tasks. An analysis of the experience, including informing the Council on the ground situation, would positively impact its effectiveness. Effective implementation of mandates would be feasible only when peacekeepers were trained and supplied with modern equipment. He urged an exchange of operational data, with respect for sovereignty.
JUAN MANUEL GONZÁLEZ DE LINARES PALOU (Spain) urged working together to cover the gap between mandate creation and compliance with them, as well as caution in such work. Adequate training, equipment and resources must be provided to peacekeepers. MINUSMA was operating in difficult conditions that represented “the new paradigm”. Yet, it did not have the training, logistics and intelligence to respond to asymmetric attacks. Casualties were high and the Mission faced enormous difficulties in carrying out its mandate. The major challenge was the gap between diagnosis of a political crisis and the reality of an asymmetrical environment. He urged balancing contingent security and compliance with mandates with an ability to carry out actions in an evolving environment. The transition of UNMISS from a peacebuilding to civilian protection mission had presented enormous challenges. He urged protecting peacekeepers working outside camps and ensuring coordination among all the elements comprising that mission. Troop contributors could place caveats on troop deployment as long as they respected the requisite terms and chain of command.
GERARD JACOBUS VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) said United Nations peacekeepers should not even be targets, much less casualties, in theatres of deployment. Yet the sordid reality on the ground explained why some countries found it difficult to contribute troops and other personnel to United Nations operations. With the total breakdown of political institutions in South Sudan, UNMISS personnel were left to take care of the situation. In that context, the Council must respond to force commanders’ plea that troops and personnel were properly trained to discharge their mandate. He asked whether heavily armoured troops operating in hostile environments were still able to make the local connections necessary to build peace. On caveats, he asked whether troop contributors forwarded them because of the threats United Nations personnel constantly faced.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said force commanders and personnel were at the sharpest edge of the international community’s efforts to maintain international peace and security. The imperative of greater transparency and accountability required honest and open meetings on peacekeeping. During the darkest moments of conflicts, civilians looked to the United Nations for protection. While the principle of protection of civilians was widely accepted, there was not enough clarity on what could be done to ensure that. He asked the force commanders to be honest about their expectations so that the Council could be candid about what it could do. As new challenges emerged, new technology must be deployed, he said, stressing the importance of pre-deployment training. National caveats were a reality that needed to be acknowledged and accounted for, he said, and asked the commanders what steps could be taken to reduce their adverse impact.
RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) said the principle of protection of civilians should focus on those civilians under immediate threat and should be applied in keeping with international law. Political solutions should be the ultimate objective of peacekeeping operations and personnel involved should have rapid-deployment capabilities and appropriate resources. Peacekeeping operations should not be used to impose peace, he said, and stressed the importance of building State capacity. Efforts to protect civilians must proceed on the reality that primary responsibility lay with national Governments. On asymmetric threats, he said it was becoming increasingly common to deploy missions where there was no peace to keep or a process to support. This exposed personnel to threats. Therefore, it was important to set achievable mandates and expectations. Every troop-contributing country had the right to set the parameters in which they could operate in a particular theatre based on their training and abilities. Therefore, the Council needed to consult and engage with such countries more actively.
MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH MAHMOUD HMOUD (Jordan) said changing political and security environments in host countries had transformed the peacekeeping landscape. Threats to peacekeepers represented a basic challenge, he said, and stressed the need to identify and address the threats posed by non-State actors. Peacekeeping operations therefore must adapt to new realities on the ground. Force was often required to protect peacekeeping mission mandates amid asymmetric threats and the Council must step up consultations with troop contributors on ways of boosting effective responses based on international law. There was also a need to strengthen partnerships between the United Nations and regional organizations. The guiding principles of missions did not cover protection of civilians in a clear way, a gap which the Council must address. As national Governments were primarily responsible for protecting civilians, efforts must focus on building capacities and ownership. National caveats often impacted the chain of command and the United Nations must clarify lines of command and control in full consultation with troop contributors.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) underlined the difficulty of carrying out civilian protection mandates, noting the challenge of tailoring peacekeeping operations to be more effective for civilians. The human aspect of such work was of utmost importance and he urged forging close links between peacekeepers and the populations they were charged to protect. More French speakers were needed in peacekeeping. “This is a precondition for operational effectiveness,” he said, expressing zero tolerance for actions that harmed the United Nations standing. Asymmetric environments required trained troops equipped with requisite air, logistical, engineering and other assets, which they currently often lacked. He asked the MINUSMA Force Commander about the status of forces and lessons to be learned. He urged opening peacekeeping to modern technology use, which would allow missions to anticipate “upstream” peaks of violence. He asked commanders about the constraints linked to caveats, as missions could not allow contingents, to avoid following orders for national reasons.
RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania) said that it was of “considerable concern” that an increasing number of host Governments were turning against peacekeeping missions, including by making incendiary comments and demands of premature withdrawal despite dramatic realities facing the civilian protection mandate. In South Sudan, UNMISS had accommodated 120,000 internally displaced persons at its sites. Protecting them posed enormous constraints on the Mission. Better cooperation with the Government was required to secure a safe environment for their voluntary return. Continuous violations of the status-of-forces agreement were a serious concern for future cooperation. She asked if an arms embargo in South Sudan made the Mission’s civilian protection task easier, also seeking elaboration on the impact of status-of-forces agreement violations on the protection mandate. She also wondered how the Council could better enable force commanders to lead the operations in an asymmetric environment, and if the current command structures were flexible enough to operate in such an environment. Troop-contributing countries should adjust posture and mission tasks in line with evolving needs, and should avoid, as much as possible, national operational caveats.
RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia) agreed that civilian protection had emerged as a core mandate of contemporary peacekeeping operations. In difficult environments that often lacked infrastructure, peacekeepers were responsible for protecting people over vast areas, but often lacked the equipment to efficiently operate. Peacekeepers must be held to the highest standards. Any allegations of impropriety must be addressed in a timely, impartial and transparent manner, with a view to maintaining the United Nations credibility. A zero tolerance policy in that context must be fully respected. MINUSMA was operating in a context marked by local conflict dynamics, organized crime and jihadism. Some improvements, including mine-protected vehicles, had enhanced peacekeepers’ ability to operate in such environments. Caveats could hamper peacekeeping operations, as they created parallel chains of command. Effective command and control was paramount, he said, stressing the need to include troop contributors in decisions well before the creation of mandates.
Responding to questions raised by Council members, Mr. TESFAMARIAM said the major challenges UNMISS was facing were the presence of internally displaced people, paucity of resources and mind-set issues among manpower. The most critical challenge was the ongoing fighting in the country, resulting in continuing displacement of civilians. During the Council’s visit to the country, internally displaced persons sought help through the “silencing of guns”. While UNMISS sought to be proactive in its approach to protecting civilians, the presence of such persons posed a dilemma. Some 4.6 million people needed humanitarian aid as well as protection.
The Mission was spending time on technical, procedural and legal issues that it could have more effectively deployed towards the people in need, he said. There were gaps in terms of force composition and training relating to protection of civilians. The result was that UNMISS had a dual mission of protecting civilians as well as itself. On caveats, he said divisions within troops impacted the effectiveness of the force. However, there was a need to address the concerns of diverse forces comprising the Mission. UNMISS had undergone a revised mandate based on realities on the ground and it was trying to do its best to fit the situation.
Mr. LOLLESGAARD said the existing mandate allowed the deterrence — not the prevention — of the asymmetric threats in northern Mali. An intervention brigade would require a mandate that would complicate the Mission. MINUSMA was doing all it could to minimize risks. Intelligence sharing was extremely important in United Nations missions and had resulted in better security. The Mission required more helicopters capable of night operations, he said, adding that efforts were under way to step up training programmes. On caveats, the Council could encourage ways of limiting them. However, if they were fully known beforehand, there were ways to work around them.
Mr. FINN said UNDOF existed for many years in a benign situation, which all changed in 2012-2013. In that context, countries began putting forth caveats. As the Mission began implementing mitigating measures, some countries began lifting those caveats. Amid the changed reality, UNDOF continued to carry out its mandate as best it could.
Mr. LADSOUS said the protection of civilians was the core of contemporary mandates. However, a peacekeeper could not be put behind every civilian. In that context, his Department was working on ways of improving missions’ ability to fulfil that mandate. While national Governments were primarily responsible for the protection of civilians, not all Governments were capable of doing so. In such situations, Governments should not be allowed to impede the United Nations. On caveats, troop-contributing countries had legitimate concerns on the use of their personnel. What was important was that the United Nations be aware of those concerns well in advance. It was also important to discourage short-circuiting the force commander by taking orders from the national capitals.
Continued efforts were required to ensure the safety and security of mission personnel and many proposals were being considered, he said. The challenge of medical evacuation had changed in keeping with the overall shift in the peacekeeping landscape, he said, adding that the Department was working on ways of enhancing efficiency. Any act of sexual misconduct was one too many and the United Nations and Member States alike needed to maintain strict adherence to a zero-tolerance policy.