Press Conference on International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers

29 May 2009

Press Conference on International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers

29 May 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Following the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of peacekeeping last year, this year’s International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers placed special emphasis on the theme of “Women in Peacekeeping:  the Power to Empower”, Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.  (See Press Release OBV/789 issued 26 May.)

While totalling about 30 per cent of civilian staff, women currently made up only 8 per cent of the United Nations police and 2 per cent of its military personnel, he continued.  Since the adoption of Security Council’s landmark resolution 1325 on the role of women in conflict prevention and resolution, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had urged Member States to send more women to peacekeeping missions.

United Nations Peacekeepers Day has been celebrated since 2002, when the General Assembly designated 29 May the day to pay tribute to all men and women in peacekeeping operations and to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives for the cause of peace, he said.  May 29 was the date of the establishment of the first-ever United Nations peacekeeping mission in 1948, when the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) began operations in Palestine.

As part of the commemoration, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had participated in a wreath-laying ceremony that had taken place this morning in honour of 132 peacekeepers from 48 countries who had lost their lives -- whether as a result of attacks, illness or accidents -- in the service of peace last year.  Dag Hammarskjöld medals had been awarded posthumously to the military, police and civilian personnel who had died in 2008.

Emphasizing the importance of the Day’s focus on women, Susana Malcorra, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, said that with reconstruction and reconciliation goals embedded in the concept of many peacekeeping operations today, the role of women became ever more critical, especially in post-conflict situations.  For the United Nations, it was very important to mirror those challenges in the composition of its own staff, as well as police and military components.  While making progress, however, the Organization was still far from the desired objective, particularly as far as military and police components were concerned.

Responding to several questions about the future of peacekeeping, Mr. Le Roy said that, in 2000, few people could have anticipated that the number of peacekeepers would reach a record high of 115,000 in 2009.  While the Brahimi report had envisioned launching one complex mission per year, the demand had grown significantly since then.  Among other things, the capacity of troop contributors, many of them developing countries, was overstretched.  Eight years later, the time had come to review the increasingly complex peacekeeping process.

Several countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Canada and Japan, were already working towards that end, and the Secretariat intended to issue a “non-paper” by the end of June to consolidate the views of Member States, he said.  It was important to reach broad consensus on where peacekeeping should go.  The principles of the Brahimi report remained valid, but many new challenges had emerged.  Among other things, it was important to address the issues of finding the resources to match the mandates, providing better benchmarking and exit strategies, and ensuring an adequate support strategy for peacekeeping.

Ms. Malcorra added that the size, complexity and timelines faced by missions were different and required different solutions today.  For instance, the first year of deployment was always a huge challenge.  The experience in Darfur and other places showed that a more proactive review of the framework was needed.  Peacekeeping was a useful tool that needed to be in place, and it was important to improve it.

In response to a question about accountability and justice in missions, Mr. Le Roy drew correspondents’ attention to forthcoming reports on sexual abuse and protection of civilians.  To ensure that there was no impunity for misconduct within operations, 15 conduct units had been introduced in various missions.  Most peacekeeping operations had a mandate to strengthen the rule of law.  That was being done, for example, in Haiti.  “Pre-emptive work” included training and awareness-raising measures.

Ms. Malcorra said that much progress had been achieved, due to the Organization’s zero-tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and abuse.  The situation was not yet ideal, but, while the statistics had shown 357 allegations of sexual abuse in 2006, there had been only 83 such cases in 2008.  Civilian misconduct cases were dealt with within the United Nations internal justice system, and military and police personnel were handled by the troop-contributing countries.  That process -- which came across as cumbersome and difficult – in the end allowed ownership by Member States of the final decision on that important issue.

The threshold that the Secretary-General was enforcing was very challenging, because of the different cultures and views involved, she continued.  The Organization was now starting to receive feedback from Member States, showing what action had been taken.  Statistics, in that regard, would be made available on the United Nations website.  The United Nations did not intervene with Member States’ judiciary procedures, but hoped that follow-up would promote dialogue.

In response to a question about female peacekeepers, she said that their day-to-day impact on the ground had demonstrated the need to increase the number of women in contingents.  Their presence also added value in the process of complying with the zero-tolerance policy and promoting respect for local communities.

Mr. Le Roy said that, in response to the Organization’s call for more women in peacekeeping, India had deployed a 125-member all-female police contingent to Liberia.  The United Nations was also working to increase the number of women in senior positions at Headquarters and in field missions.  In particular, there was now one female Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Liberia and five deputy special representatives.

Talking about national female staff, Ms. Malcorra described her recent visit to Afghanistan.  A general sense she got from that trip was that more talented women in that country’s interior provinces were now willing to start work for the United Nations.  However, it was important to show understanding of the local culture, in order to encourage more women to work in missions.  For example, women needed to be allowed to work part-time during breastfeeding.  Also, in Afghanistan, women required chaperones when travelling with male drivers, and managers in the field needed more flexibility in dealing with such issues.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.