Opinions Divided over Protection of Civilians as Fourth Committee Concludes General Debate on Peacekeeping Matters

GA/SPD/597
5 November 2015
Seventieth Session, 14th Meeting (PM)

Opinions Divided over Protection of Civilians as Fourth Committee Concludes General Debate on Peacekeeping Matters

Divergent opinions on the protection of civilians — including whether and when force could be used in defence of that mandate — emerged today as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) concluded its annual debate on United Nations peacekeeping operations.

While many speakers expressed support for civilian protection — a mandate which, some said, defined the core role of United Nations peacekeepers since its first application in 1999 — others warned that the concept must be more clearly defined and should never be used as a pretext for interference in the domestic affairs of States.

“The protection of civilians remains the central task of today’s peacekeeping missions,” said the representative of the United States, emphasizing that that issue, and the prevention of atrocities, were among his country’s top priorities.  In that regard, the United States recognized the importance of the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians, drafted earlier this year, and the critical work being carried out by specialized protection advisers who focused on the needs and vulnerabilities of children as well as the prevention of and response to conflict-related sexual violence.

A number of speakers said their countries had signed on to the Kigali Principles, thereby pledging their readiness to use force to protect civilians “as necessary and consistent with the mandate”.  In that vein, Uruguay’s representative said his country had supported the framework due to its belief in the importance of protecting the most vulnerable.  Such work was already under way in the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), he added.

Indeed, the creation of a civilian protection pillar in MONUSCO’s work was a welcome development, said Gabon’s representative, calling for its replication in the mandate of each United Nations peacekeeping mission.  The protection of civilians must always be at the centre of peacekeeping because today’s conflicts were increasingly complex and inordinately affected women and children.  Human rights should also be integral to the mandates of United Nations peacekeeping missions, he added.

However, a number of speakers, including Iran’s representative, emphasized that protecting civilians was the primary responsibility not of United Nations peacekeepers, but of the host country.  Peacekeeping missions must not be turned into “peace enforcement missions”, he stressed, adding that the use of force, except in self-defence, could jeopardize the strategic relationship between the host country and the peacekeeping mission.

The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania agreed that the main responsibility for protecting civilians lay with host States.  Indeed, that task was “a responsibility whose primary and overall implementer remains the host nation’s Government”, however weak it may appear, as long as it had the legitimacy of the majority of its population and had come into being on the basis of that social contract.

Other speakers, including Argentina’s representative, emphasized that peacekeeping mechanisms were not designed to use force.  Argentina did not see the concept of civilian protection from a purely military standpoint, but from a broader perspective; the use of force was a “last resort” in situations where there were no further options.

Also speaking today were representatives of China, Maldives, Cyprus, Ukraine, Turkey, Jamaica, Algeria, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Serbia, Croatia and El Salvador.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply was the representative of Morocco, while Algeria’s representative spoke on a point of order.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Friday, 6 November, to take up its comprehensive review of special political missions.

Background

As the Fourth Committee continued its comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all its aspects, members had before them several relevant documents.  (See Press Release GA/SPD/594 of 30 October for more information.)

Statements

RAFAEL HÉCTOR DALO (Argentina), associating himself with the Community of Latin American States (CELAC), said that new challenges facing peacekeeping operations included terrorism, drug trafficking and the need to protect civilians.  Argentina welcomed the recommendations laid out in the report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, especially on the importance of mediation and prevention, and called upon the Secretariat to provide sufficient resources for those purposes.  Citing some of the main pillars of peacekeeping, he underscored the importance of consent on the part of the parties concerned, and the non-use of force except in legitimate cases of self-defence or protection of civilians.  Indeed, peacekeeping mechanisms were not designed to use force, and nor should they carry out anti-terrorism actions, he emphasized.  Argentina did not view the concept of civilian protection from a purely military standpoint, but from a broader perspective, he said, stressing that the use of force was a last resort to be used where there were no further options.

LIU JIEYI (China) expressed hope that peacekeeping operations would “advance with the times” and be better able to achieve their objectives.  Adherence to the United Nations Charter, the consent of the countries concerned, and the non-use of force except in self-defence were three principles that should guide the work of all missions, he said, stressing that the sovereignty of all States concerned must be respected.  China called for enhanced communication with troop-contributing countries so that they could take the initiative in executing the peacekeeping mandate.  Underlining the importance of dynamic management of peacekeeping operations, he said limited resources “should be used to the maximum”.

There must be a stronger focus on achievable results, he continued, adding that exit strategies should be formulated at the appropriate time.  Peacekeeping operations, preventive diplomacy and peacebuilding were among the tools available for the maintenance of international peace and security, and peacekeeping missions should therefore not be isolated endeavours.  As a permanent member of the Security Council and the world’s largest developing country, China was committed to peacekeeping, and would build a standby force of 8,000 troops, he said.  In addition, it would provide the African Union with funding over the next five years to boost its crisis-response capacity, he said.

GONZALO KONCKE (Uruguay) associating himself with CELAC, said his country’s participation in United Nations peacekeeping dated back to 1951, when it had sent military observers to the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP).  Today, it ranked among the top troop contributors and first globally on a per capita basis in relation to its population.  Uruguay had co-sponsored a peacekeeping summit and aligned itself with the Kigali Principles, from its belief in the importance of protecting civilians, especially the most vulnerable, and including their physical and moral integrity.  Uruguay had been doing that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it had participated in joint protection teams deployed across the country.  He voiced concern about targeted attacks against peacekeepers, especially in Mali and Somalia, and called for arrangements with host States to ensure accountability.

ZEENA MOHAMED DIDI (Maldives) said peacekeeping mandates had expanded to include the provision of humanitarian aid, disarmament, demobilization of combatants, organizing elections, monitoring sanctions and protecting civilians, which demonstrated the new role of the United Nations.  In such efforts, small island developing States were among the largest troop-contributing countries relative to their population size, she noted.  However, enabling capabilities was a challenge, because small island States had significant institutional and physical hurdles to overcome in providing capacity and expertise.  She said that her country was preparing its first contingent for deployment under the United Nations flag but, due to technical and capacity difficulties, it had not met the 2015 deadline.

MICHAEL MAVROS (Cyprus), associating himself with the European Union, said his country had continuously benefitted, since the 1960s, from two separate dimensions of United Nations involvement aimed at reunifying the island nation.  He underscored the importance of objectivity and impartiality in United Nations peacekeeping operations in order to ensure credibility and ability to help a country address the situation on the ground.  The United Nations did not operate in a vacuum, he stated, emphasizing that its decisions and actions must align with its Charter, relevant resolutions and international law.  Human rights, gender equality and the humanitarian aspect of peacekeeping — the protection of civilians in particular — must be placed at the heart of peace operations, he said, stressing also the need to include women and promote gender equality in all stages of peacebuilding processes.

Mr. HOLOPATIUK (Ukraine) said that since his country had won a seat on the Security Council for the period 2016-2017, peacekeeping reform would be among its main priorities.  He spotlighted four main areas of peacekeeping reform identified by the High-level Panel:  the prevalence of political solutions over military means, greater flexibility of nations, stronger global and regional partnerships, and more field-focused activities.  There was also a need to strengthen cooperation between the Security Council and troop-contributing countries in all phases of peacekeeping operations, he said, emphasizing also that the security of “Blue Helmets” must be the cornerstone of peacekeeping reform.

He went on to say that today, his country was desperately resisting external aggression by the Russian Federation, yet its contribution to United Nations peacekeeping had not flagged.  Indeed, Ukraine’s contribution to international peace and security provided it with the moral grounds to count on assistance of from the United Nations at such a critical time.  Early in 2015, Ukraine had called upon the Security Council and the Secretary-General to deploy an international peacekeeping operation on its territory, he said, adding that the special peacekeeping mission deployed in Donbas under United Nations auspices could become a “very useful” instrument for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, to which the Ukraine remained committed.

BARIŞ CEYHUN ERCIYES (Turkey), associating himself with the European Union, said diplomacy and early-warning mechanisms played an important role in preventing rising tensions from turning into all-out conflict.  Operational efficiency in peacekeeping must be improved at all levels, including the pre-deployment, deployment and drawdown phases.  Exit strategies must also be formulated beforehand and updated regularly.  Another key issue was to measure the effectiveness of peace operations through their overall impact on people, he said, calling for increased vigilance in relation to protection of civilians.  Turkey adhered fully to the Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy against the sexual exploitation and abuse cases in which peacekeepers had been involved, he said, adding that his country participated actively in United Nations peace operations across the globe to strengthen efforts to rid humanity of the scourge of war.

E. COURTENAY RATTRAY (Jamaica), associating himself with CELAC, condemned all attacks against United Nations peacekeepers, and expressed regret over the surge in casualties in Mali, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Jamaica would support any ambitious strategy that prioritized the safety of personnel, he said.  He welcomed improvements in the rules of engagement and training, as well as the Secretary-General’s commitment to inform the Security Council about situations of escalating civilian risk and shortfalls in mission capacities to fulfil protection mandates.  More broadly, Jamaica supported the continuous application of new technologies, which provided opportunities to enhance situational awareness and force protection.  Troop and police contributors must be able to provide more substantive input before and during the formulation of mandates, he said.

MEHDI REMAOUN (Algeria) expressed concern over the persistent instances of sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as the damage visited upon the victims and the image and credibility of the United Nations.  Algeria welcomed the Secretary-General’s commitment to a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse by United Nations staff members and related personnel.  Algeria considered that the Security Council’s ability to review the mandates of some missions and adapt them to new circumstances should be the case for all peacekeeping operations, without selectivity.  United Nations peace operations should exhaust all means of conflict resolution, including human rights monitoring.  The importance of including human rights components in the mandates of all peacekeeping missions had been stressed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, yet some missions did not include a single human rights component for monitoring and subsequent reporting on human rights conditions on the ground.  Algeria agreed with Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson that peace and security, development and human rights were interdependent, and no single component could be sustained without progress on the part of others.

LAWALI AMANI MOUSSA (Niger), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, recalled that there were more than 121,000 people serving in 16 operations on four continents.  The Security Council had established larger, more complex missions to facilitate agreements between inter-State protagonists.  The responsibilities of missions went beyond peacekeeping into the area of peacebuilding, he said, noting that, of the 69 missions ever deployed, 25 had been in Africa.  Additionally, some 37,907 Africans had been deployed — more than one-third of all “Blue Helmets”.  Niger had provided 2,048 personnel to such operations.  More broadly, staff recruitment must respect gender equality and geographic distribution.  Niger welcomed the work of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which integrated United Nations efforts with those of governmental and non-governmental organizations, he said, noting that United Nations police provided guidance to national police forces.  Niger favoured negotiation and mediation, while opposing the unilateral use of force, he said in conclusion.

Mr. DIALLO (Senegal), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said peacekeeping had grown into complex, multidimensional operations due to the changing nature of conflict, as well as terrorism, violent extremism, maritime piracy and transnational organized crime, among other threats.  A new approach was needed.  Senegal supported the four pillars contained in the Secretary-General’s report:  protection of civilians; giving priority to prevention; stronger partnerships with regional and international actors; and adequate resources for peacekeeping.  The Security Council and troop contributors should outline clear mandates that would allow peacekeepers to be robust, and therefore, able to combat human rights violations and protect civilians.  Noting that addressing root causes offered the best way to prevent crises, he said that the development dimension, which required significant resources for the structural transformation of countries emerging from conflict, should help eradicate crises.  On civilian protection, he said that his country had signed up to the Kigali Principles, which offered the most appropriate means for addressing such concerns.  Senegal had also deployed two helicopters in the Central African Republic, he added.

FRANKLIN JOACHIM MAKANGA (Gabon) said peacekeeping must be adapted to a constantly changing global context, and the priorities emphasized by the Secretary-General responded effectively to the needs of the contemporary world.  On prevention, he said that the United Nations Offices for Central Africa and West Africa had helped to ease tensions in those subregions before they became open conflicts.  Gabon welcomed discussions on the establishment of a common framework between the United Nations and the African Union, which should include a mechanism for the predicable and stable financing of African Union missions.  As for the protection of civilians, he said it must always be at the centre of peacekeeping missions because modern-day conflicts were increasingly complex and increasingly affected women and children.  It was therefore critical that all United Nations missions integrate a pillar relating to the protection of civilians, he said, welcoming the creation of such a pillar within the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

ANTHONY BOSAH (Nigeria), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, underscored the vital need to address the evolving challenges of peacekeeping in the context of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, and to strengthen triangular cooperation among the United Nations Secretariat, the Security Council and troop- and police-contributing countries.  Nigeria welcomed the High-level Panel’s recommendations aimed at enhancing the cooperative relationship between the United Nations and the African Union, he said, highlighting the latter’s funding challenges and the need for the former to assume primary responsibility for African Union-led operations initiated as bridging measures.  The protection mandate was a core aspect of United Nations peacekeeping, and for more than two decades, concerted efforts had been made to strengthen international protection frameworks.  Nigeria endorsed the adoption of innovative strategies that leveraged non-violent approaches to the protection of civilians in conflict environments, including the High-level Panel’s proposal regarding the use of unarmed civilian protectors.  Of no less importance was the need to develop strategies to ensure that material assistance was provided where it was most needed.

RAMADHAN MWINYI (United Republic of Tanzania), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, stressed that United Nations peacekeeping operations must invariably adhere to the already agreed basic principles of peacekeeping:  consent of the parties, impartiality and non-use of force except in self-defence or mandate protection.  Noting that today’s peacekeeping missions were deployed in situations where there was neither peace to keep nor clear forces to separate, he said that, while the importance of early intervention could not be over-emphasized, there was also a need to clearly delineate whether peace enforcement or peacekeeping was envisaged.  The protection of civilians mandate remained at the centre of most peacekeeping operations with a Chapter VII mandate.  Undoubtedly, “this is a responsibility whose primary and overall implementer remains the host nation’s Government”, however weak it may appear, as long as it had the legitimacy of the majority of its population and had come into being on the basis of that social contract.  In addition, the focus on holding democratic elections without addressing the root causes of conflict remained a “weak link” in successful peace undertakings, he said.

MARIAME FOFANA (Burkina Faso), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said her country had contributed observers, military personnel and prison staff in Haiti, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur, Central African Republic, Mali, South Sudan and Côte d’Ivoire, yet it lacked training and equipment, including for rapid deployment.  Asymmetric attacks threatened the implementation of mandates, she said, citing statistics from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations showing that 2015 had seen a significant increase in deaths connected with such attacks.  Welcoming the fact that African States had organized a multinational force to combat terrorism, she stressed that regional initiatives must benefit from material and other assistance in order to “act preventively” when peace was threatened.  The failure to prevent conflict carried vast repercussions and costs at the national level, she said.  The international community must be involved through development assistance, support for local initiatives to promote good governance, human rights and the rule of law, as well as through good offices, mediation and other actions that encouraged dialogue and reconciliation.

HOSSEIN MALEKI (Iran), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that when establishing new mechanisms to address the emerging challenges facing peacekeeping operations, utmost care must be taken to observe the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter, which had evolved to govern such operations — consent of the parties; non-use of force except in self-defence; impartiality; respect for the sovereign equality, political independence and territorial integrity of all States; and non-intervention in domestic matters.  Turning to the protection of civilians, he emphasized that that was the primary responsibility of the host country and should not be used as a pretext for military intervention by the United Nations or any foreign Power.  Peacekeeping missions should not be turned into peace enforcement missions, he stressed, warning that the use of force, except in self-defence, could jeopardize the strategic relations between the host country and the peacekeeping mission.

ABSAKINE YERIMA AHMAT (Chad), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said his country had lost dozens of soldiers serving with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), pointing out that Chad had provided the second largest contingent for that operation.  The African Union was a key strategic partner that deserved to be supported in its efforts, he said, emphasizing that experience showed peace enforcement was sometimes the best option.  Concerning the use of technology, he said concerns remained about its use.  Host countries and their immediate neighbours must be consulted on such matters, including on the use of drones, which could have legal implications, he said.

DAVID PRESSMAN (United States) said his country’s priorities included preventing atrocities and protecting civilians; empowering those in the field to respond rapidly and flexibly to changing situations; firmly establishing the rule of law; and preventing and ensuring accountability for serious misconduct, in particular sexual exploitation and abuse.  “The protection of civilians remains the central task of today’s peacekeeping missions,” he said, recognizing the importance of the Kigali Principles.  In addition, critical efforts were being made in United Nations peacekeeping operations by specialized protection advisers who focused on the special needs and vulnerabilities of children, as well as the prevention of and response to conflict-related sexual violence.

Turning to policing in peacekeeping missions, he said that a strategic guidance framework for United Nations peacekeeping and common standards for training and performance ensured that all police-contributing countries had a common operational background and the leadership skills necessary to systematically manage the variety of tasks needed for the protection of civilians.  On reports of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, he expressed shock at the casual manner in which some mission leaders appeared to take their responsibility for enforcing United Nations regulations.  The United Nations fully supported the Secretary-General’s “very clear” plans about how he intended to prevent and respond to such misconduct in the future, he said.

RADIŠA GRUJIĆ (Serbia), associating himself with the European Union, said it was essential to enhance partnerships among the Security Council, General Assembly, the Secretariat, host countries, troop- and police-contributing countries and regional organizations.  The institutional base of peacekeeping must be reformed, and in that context, Serbia supported increasing the efficiency and operability of missions, including through the use of modern technology, by linking security and development, and through better protection of peacekeepers.  For its part, Serbia ranked among the top eight contributing countries in Europe, with almost 350 Serbians taking part in peacekeeping missions around the world.  The country attached great importance to the role of regional organizations in peacekeeping, and as such, it had organized a side event on peace operations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) last October.

DANIJEL MEDAN (Croatia), associating himself with the European Union, advocated a thorough analysis to help United Nations peacekeeping adapt to contemporary challenges.  Mandates must be clear, realistic and designed according to specific circumstances, he said, adding that clarity would improve performance.  The focus of mandates must be the protection of civilians and the most vulnerable, he said, pointing out that civilian protection was among the crucial dimensions of peacekeeping, often decisive for the success and legitimacy of United Nations operations.  “What happened in Srebrenica 20 years ago must never be repeated,” he stressed.  Croatia also advocated the participation of women in conflict prevention and resolution, and in peace processes.  Sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers must be rapidly and thoroughly investigated, he added.

RUBÉN IGNACIO ZAMORA RIVAS (El Salvador), associating himself with CELAC and the Non-Aligned Movement, said his country had contributed its first peacekeeping contingent in Mali and would continue its participation in Haiti, Sudan, South Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and Western Sahara.  Peacekeepers required political support from the host State, and equally important, they needed adequate human, financial and logistical resources, clearly defined and viable mandates, and clear drawdown strategies.  The national capacity of the host country must also be considered, with a view to creating an appropriate transition, which itself would succeed only if built by local people, he emphasized.  Urging respect for the principles of territorial integrity, political independence and sovereignty, he said civilian protection mandates must be clear and linked to the mission’s political strategy.  There must also be a clear ratio between United Nations and other troops on the ground.  El Salvador supported all initiatives to ensure women’s participation in peacekeeping contingents, and called for urgent attention to sexual attacks against civilians, and the need to prosecute perpetrators in a transparent manner and with due regard to applicable law.  He said his delegation supported the use of drones, but they must be regulated and not be in violation of the Charter.

Right of Reply

The representative of Morocco, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, addressed his counterpart from Algeria, pointing out that the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) was not the only one with a human rights monitoring element.  There were currently six such missions.  He said he was shocked by the fact that the delegate thought he could teach the Committee about human rights, given what was happening in in his own country.

The representative of Algeria said today’s agenda did not include Algeria, and asked his counterpart from Morocco to speak only about the topic at hand.

The representative of Morocco said Algeria had never participated in United Nations peacekeeping, nor that of the African Union.

For information media. Not an official record.