Under-Secretary-General Calls for Greater Involvement of Women in United Nations Peacekeeping, Citing Rights Violations among Top Priorities
The Force Commanders of peacekeeping missions in Darfur and Cyprus briefed the Security Council today on their cooperation with host countries, focusing on civilian protection, improving personnel performance and navigating complex sociopolitical shifts — including those currently unfolding in Sudan.
Opening the discussion, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations underlined the importance of pushing for more women in United Nations operations, prioritizing mandated tasks, evaluating mission performance and systematically investigating alleged violations. The seventeenth annual Heads of Military Components Conference will likely take up issues related to the financing of peace operations — especially in Africa — which have been raised by many delegations.
The Force Commanders of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) then provided an update to Council members on relations with their respective host countries and took questions from delegates.
The Commander of UNAMID said host country Sudan has been experiencing difficult times since December 2018 when the “people’s revolution” led to the Government’s dissolution and former President Omar al-Bashir being deposed. Following his replacement by a Transition Military Council, negotiations for a handover to a civilian-led Government collapsed following events on 3 June. Noting that the situation has impacted the pillars of UNAMID’s work — namely the closure and handover of team sites for civilian use, the drawdown of the peacekeepers and exit by June 2020 — he said the Government nevertheless continues to pledge its support to the mission’s smooth exit. He also updated the Council on the protection of civilians and humanitarian personnel, mediation between the Government and the non-signatory armed movements and support for mediation of intercommunal conflict.
Several speakers pressed for details on how Sudan’s shifting sociopolitical situation will impact UNAMID’s operations and ultimate exit, with Germany’s delegate pointing out that the new authorities in Khartoum were recently responsible for 100 deaths — and that UNAMID’s drawdown had been decided in past “fair weather” conditions. Indeed, plans to pursue UNAMID’s drawdown appear to be on autopilot. Poland’s representative, meanwhile, asked about UNAMID’s suspended handover of displaced person camps to Sudan’s military, noting that those developments are taking shape against a backdrop of worsening violence.
The Commander of UNFICYP said that, since its 1964 inception, the mission has been mandated to prevent a recurrence of fighting between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Its efforts to liaise between the sides in the absence of any direct contact remain essential, she said, noting that UNFICYP maintains daily contact with the Opposing Forces to prevent escalation of tensions. While a 2017 strategic review led to more robust engagement, the mission’s authority in the buffer zone is regularly challenged and violations of the military status quo along the ceasefire line have been increasing.
She went on to answer questions about efforts to reduce tensions between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, and new challenges related to the arrival of refugees and undocumented migrants on the island. Responding to questions about performance from the representatives of the United States, the Russian Federation and other delegates, she said it remains her top priority and that all workforce plans are clearly articulated to the Force. There is a close feedback loop which is used to review performance and improve upon tactics, she added.
A broad discussion also emerged about the need to strengthen the relationship between peacekeeping operations and their host countries. France’s representative, for one, said cooperation — carried out in full respect for a host country’s sovereignty — is essential to ensuring that missions can accomplish their goals. Côte d’Ivoire’s representative shared his own country’s experience of hosting the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) from 2004 to 2017, emphasizing that mutual trust and close engagement on national reconciliation, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration and combating human rights violations paved the way for lasting stability and led to the mission’s ultimate success.
Also speaking were representatives of the United Kingdom, Peru, China, Dominican Republic, South Africa, Indonesia, Equatorial Guinea, Belgium and Kuwait.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 12:33 p.m.
JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said the annual Head of Military Component Conference represents a “very important moment for peacekeeping” and directly contributes to efforts to implement the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping initiative. Officials gathered will discuss, among other things, the protection of civilians, women in peacekeeping, conduct, discipline and performance. Paying tribute to the late Major General Francis Vib-Sanziri, Head of Mission and Force Commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) — who passed away suddenly in April — he also spotlighted the work accomplished every day by the men and women serving under the United Nations flag in challenging environments around the world.
LEONARD MURIUKI NGONDI, Force Commander of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), said the mission’s host country Sudan has been experiencing a difficult time since mid-December 2018. The “people’s revolution” caused the Government to dissolve, with the President deposed and replaced by a Transition Military Council in April. Negotiations for the transfer of power to a civilian-led Government collapsed following events on 3 June, and the Transition Military Council announced that elections would be held in nine months. The African Union suspended Sudan from participating in its affairs on 6 June. This situation has impacted the mission’s operations in Darfur, which had four main pillars of focus: the closure and handover of team sites for civilian use; drawdown of the peacekeepers; and exit by June 2020.
The Government of Sudan has assured UNAMID of its cooperation in facilitating its operations and smooth exit, he said. As part of the transition process UNAMID, together with United Nations agencies, is implementing the State liaison functions in four states across Darfur focusing on the rule of law and human rights. While the drawdown, closure of team sites and handover to the Government of Sudan has proceeded in a timely manner, not all team sites are being used for civilian purposes, he said, noting that the Transition Military Council recently issued a decree stipulating that team sites must be handed over to the Rapid Support Forces. This led to the closure and handover of Nyala supercamp until further clarity is provided.
He went on to update the Council on the other three pillars of UNAMID’s focus — protection of civilians and humanitarian personnel, mediation between the Government of Sudan and the non-signatory armed movements, and supporting mediation of intercommunal conflict including measures to address root causes — notably underscoring that the land ownership problem at the heart of the Darfur conflict has yet to be sufficiently addressed. Turning to the conduct of peacekeepers, he commended the Government of Sudan for granting UNAMID land where team sites have been established, but also expressed concern that local communities are demanding compensation for their land from UNAMID, rather than engaging with the Government. He underscored that the Government does deny UNAMID access to areas under the control of armed groups. While the Government is obliged to protect UNAMID facilities when requested, this recently proved challenging when El Geneina supercamp in West Darfur was looted and vandalized during the handover, he said, stressing nonetheless that these setbacks can be rectified.
CHERYL PEARCE, Commander of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), said that, since its inception, the mission has been mandated to “use its best efforts to prevent a recurrence of fighting” between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Its efforts to liaise between the sides in the absence of any direct contact also remain essential. As head of the Force’s military component, her cooperation with the host State lies primarily with the Opposing Forces, which is overall constructive. Since arriving in January, she has met her counterparts many times in a spirit of professionalism, collegiality and mutual respect. “My engagement plan puts a premium on a nuanced and regular interaction that is underpinned by the principles of impartiality, openness and transparency,” she said, stressing that keeping the channels of communication open even in times of tension is her utmost priority. Beyond her personal engagement, UNFICYP maintains daily contact with the Opposing Forces on all levels to prevent escalation of tensions. Since the 2017 strategic review, the mission has conducted a more robust engagement and liaison effort in close coordination with its police and civilian components, she added.
She noted nonetheless that the mission’s authority in the buffer zone is regularly challenged, recalling that the Council, through resolution 2453 (2019), expressed serious concern at the increased number of violations of the military status quo along the ceasefire lines and called on all involved parties to respect UNFICYP’s mandated authority in that area. There has been no improvement on the ground, she said, adding similarly that, despite years of urging by the Council, neither side has yet accepted the 2018 aide‑memoire nor its 1989 predecessor, which is a key guiding document for the mission’s “rules of the road” in the buffer zone. She called for the Council’s support in urging the sides to work with UNFICYP on implementation of the aide‑memoire and respect the mission’s mandated authority in the buffer zone. Noting that UNFICYP has a status-of-forces agreement with the host Government, she said cooperation, including on military and other operational matters, is essential with the Turkish Cypriot community, as well. “Impartial execution of UNFICYP’s mandate is what allows me and the military component to effectively maintain the military status quo, prevent military-to-military tensions and ensure calm and stability in and around the buffer zone,” she said, emphasizing that impartiality is a fundamental principle of the United Nations peacekeeping and one that has been reaffirmed through the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping agenda.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland), noting that peacekeeping has been broadly discussed in recent months, recalled that the United Nations Peacekeeping Ministerial Conference held in March shed light on some of the most urgent and profound challenges in that arena. Among those, he spotlighted training and capacity‑building, stressing that the insufficient peacekeeper training directly impacts mandate implementation. Peacekeeper security is of paramount importance and among the most decisive factors in a mission’s effectiveness, he said, adding that any re-evaluation of a mission’s composition and mandate must be based on the context and the capacity to implement the mandate on the ground. Posing several questions to the Force Commanders present in the room, he asked whether their current mandates allow them to operate actively and proactively, and about the obstacles hampering smooth mandate implementation. He asked Major General Pearce whether her mission faces challenges related to refugees and undocumented migrants. He asked Lieutenant General Ngondi how the current situation in Khartoum influences UNAMID and for his views on the mission’s suspension of the handover of camps for displaced civilians to Sudan’s military, against a backdrop of worsening violence and insecurity.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), echoing some of the questions posed by his counterpart from Poland, asked what impact is being seen by peacekeeping operations as a result of the Secretary-General’s reforms of the United Nations peace and security architecture. He asked the Generals whether they have access to the data needed to drive forward evidence-based performance improvement. Asking Lieutenant General Ngondi specifically about lessons learned following the recent looting of a UNAMID camp, he also asked Major General Pearce how direct contact between the two Cypriot sides is progressing.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), underlining the importance of United Nations peacekeeping as a source of hope for people around the globe, emphasized that positive interactions between missions and civilian populations are a critical component of their work. Asking Major General Pearce to share lessons learned about personnel training in that arena, he underscored the need to address outstanding gaps. Turning to reports of sexual violence — including at the hands of Government forces — he asked Lieutenant General Ngondi to share his experience with those challenges.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said the success of any peacekeeping mission depends on its cooperation with the host country, which always bears the primary responsibility to protect its civilians. Peacekeeping operations must never replace the authorities of host countries, but rather provide complementary mechanisms and support systems. He expressed hope for a smooth transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding in Darfur, stressing that intelligence in peacekeeping should only be used to ensure the safety of peacekeepers and civilians. Any abuse in this regard will only undermine the success of the missions, he said, asking the briefers about guidelines and rules for peacekeeping performance.
RODNEY M. HUNTER (United States) said peacekeeping operations must receive full cooperation from host countries, while mission personnel must be free to move throughout their mandated areas. The United States has championed peacekeeping performance as evident in the adoption of various Council resolutions, he noted, underscoring that more mission accountability will allow for more effective mandate delivery. The Council needs better information on peacekeeping performance to improve working methods. “We can’t fix what we don’t know,” he added, urging host countries to cooperate with the United Nations and the teams deployed. He also asked who will control the team sites when UNAMID completes its drawdown and exit.
ANNE GUEGEN (France) emphasized that cooperation with the host country, in full respect for its sovereignty, is a sine qua non to ensuring that peacekeepers can accomplish their goals. Indeed, the consent of the host country for a mission’s deployment is not only a matter of principle, but also essential to its success. She asked the Generals to share their experiences on host country interactions at both strategic and operational levels. Emphasizing that no violations of the status-of-forces agreement can be accepted by either side, she underlined the Council’s obligation to monitor and address any such violations. Pointing out that operations often have the protection of civilians as part of their mandates, she nevertheless stressed that host countries bear the primary responsibility in that regard. While missions can help protect civilians against a particular threat, they cannot play the lead role. She asked the briefers what support they expect from the Council relating to interaction with host countries — particularly in the area of civilian protection — and how defence capabilities can be improved to better relations with host countries.
GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) agreed that cooperation between a mission and host country is critical. In the case of his country, strong cooperation between the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and the Government led to the mission’s success. Recalling that UNOCI and the Government worked together to combat human rights violations and gender-based violence, spearhead disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts, and advance the national reconciliation process, he said the experience shows that dynamic cooperation based on reciprocal trust is crucial and paves the way for lasting peace and security. He asked Lieutenant General Ngondi for his assessment of UNAMID’s cooperation with Sudan’s Government in the protection of civilians, and whether the country’s current sociopolitical tensions will affect relations with the Government. He also asked Major General Pearce what actions are being taken to promote reconciliation between local communities, and requested both Generals to share what is being done to ensure the exemplary conduct of their troops.
WU HAITAO (China) said it is imperative that peacekeeping missions abide by the principles laid out in the Charter of the United Nations and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. Host countries must be supported and assisted in building and improving their national mechanisms and capacities. He asked the Force Commanders which mandate areas require adjustment and how cooperation with host country has improved the safety of peacekeepers.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) welcomed the briefing on Cyprus, noting that, from the Council’s perspective, it can appear that “all is quiet” there. He asked Major General Pearce what can be done to re-establish and strengthen the mission’s authority, and how the Security Council can support these goals. Turning to Sudan, he noted the various points made by Lieutenant General Ngondi, underscoring the imperative for missions to have a strong relationship with the host Government. Noting that, two days ago, the new authorities in Khartoum were responsible for the deaths of 100 people, he pointed out that UNAMID’s drawdown was decided upon in “fair weather”, and asked Lieutenant General Ngondi for details on what is being done to fight sexual violence in Sudan.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) underlined the importance of ensuring that all missions comply with the peacekeeping principles, including the consent of host countries and refraining from the use of force except in cases of self-defence. Voicing concern about rising tensions in Sudan, he said there is a need for an inclusive, transparent and civilian-led political process that requires the State to cooperate closely with UNAMID. Spotlighting the importance of collaborating closely with communities affected by conflict, he asked how the inclusion of women and young people can be strengthened and what additional measures are being considered to improve the predeployment training of peacekeepers. Mission personnel must be trained to deal appropriately with gender issues, he said, while gender advisers must be deployed. In that regard, he asked the generals what preventive measures can be taken to reduce the number of violations committed by mission personnel.
MARTHINUS VAN SHALKWYK (South Africa) said peacekeeping missions should be focused, realistic, tailored and flexible. They must also be backed up by adequate resources. He emphasized the importance of trilateral consultations among the Secretariat, troop- and police-contributing countries and the host country to ensure not only the success of a missions, but also to lay the groundwork for peacebuilding. The proposed drawdown of UNAMID should consider the security conditions throughout Sudan, and ensure that no vacuum is created. He underscored the ability of regional organizations such as the African Union to deploy early to stabilize crisis situations, calling for concerted efforts to reduced peacekeeper fatalities and to include more women in peacekeeping operations.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) underscored the need to collectively implement commitments on triangular cooperation among troop- and police-contributing countries, the Council and the Secretariat. Options for more direct engagement between host countries and the Council should also be considered. UNAMID’s experience has shown that quick-impact projects, community engagement, mediation and facilitation — in close cooperation with host Governments — can improve protection‑of‑civilians mandates. Stressing the need to better train mission leaders, he said that managing relations with host Governments is among the hardest aspects of a mission chief’s job. He suggested that guidelines be drawn up to help navigate relations with host Governments, and that mandates be clear and reflect operational challenges on the ground.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) focused on specific Africa-related missions, underscoring that those on the continent face many serious challenges. While the consent of host countries is important, what is equally crucial is the financing of these missions. “We as Africans know our environment better than anyone else,” he said, asking the briefers whether it is viable to have United Nations partners finance peacekeeping missions in Africa. He asked about the most pressing challenges facing the Cyprus mission. To UNAMID, he asked how the Security Council can help ensure compliance with the mandate, and more broadly, about any programmes that ensure outreach between peacekeeping missions and local communities.
KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium) said peacekeeping missions are vital to achieving sustainable development, adding that the drawdown of UNAMID must consider new developments on the ground. On the performance of peacekeeping missions, she underscored the importance of interacting with the local populations, stressing that “the host country is a key player in [mission] performance” and benefits most from its operations. She posed a question to Major General Pearce on how she experiences the gender aspect in her mission’s work.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), Council President for June, speaking in his national capacity, said that, while his country does not contribute peacekeeping troops, it did serve as host to the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission for 12 years. He underscored the importance of host country consent, as well as cooperation between missions and Governments. Peacekeepers must receive the necessary training on disciplinary matters, he said, asking how the Council can better design mandates, and for advice from the Generals on actions that could be taken when disagreement arises among parties concerned.
Responding to questions, including on the financing of peacekeeping operations in Africa, Mr. LACROIX underlined his commitment to making best use of the resources available. Noting that peace operations may encounter unexpected circumstances with financial implications, he cited the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (MONUSCO) ongoing Ebola outbreak response as an example. Reiterating the Secretary-General’s support for predictable and sustainable resources for peace operations, he advocated support for strong cooperation between peacekeeping missions and host Governments. In some cases, difficult aspects of those relationships do require the Council’s support. In addition, he underlined the importance of evaluating performance, systematically investigating alleged violations, pushing forward more leadership by women and prioritizing a mission’s mandated tasks.
Lieutenant General NGONDI replied that efforts to accomplish the four core elements of UNAMID’s mandate are advancing well. While the shifting political situation in Khartoum has operational impacts on the mission’s work, its effects are not as severe as some may have feared. The suspension in handing over team sites to local authorities is only temporary, he said, voicing confidence that it “will be sorted out”. Describing the recent looting of a UNAMID camp as an unfortunate incident, he said the mission works hard to ensure that it has the capacity to secure the area and protect its personnel.
On questions related to human rights and the rule of law, he outlined efforts to educate both the population and the Government in those crucial areas. Drawing attention to Sudan’s large land area, he said work is often challenging. Poverty also increases human rights and rule-of-law violations, as clashes and attacks tend to result from competition over resources. Responding to questions about the mission’s plans for a peaceful transition of power, he said those preparations are “quite elaborate” and continue apace. Agreeing with the representative of France that both UNAMID and the Government must respect the status-of-forces agreement, he described the behaviour of peacekeepers in some parts of the country as perfect, while noting that there are challenges in other areas. In particular, in parts of Sudan controlled by armed groups, civilians are not able to benefit as much from the mission’s work due to a lack of access.
To questions about UNAMID’s mandate, he responded that its political pillar is not as clear as it should be. Underlining the challenges of intercommunal clashes and banditry, he echoed Council members’ calls to strengthen the rule of law across Sudan. He also agreed with those calling for better cooperation with local communities, including women and youth groups, and welcomed the impact of the report titled, “Improving Security of United Nations Peacekeepers” by Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz on such system-wide efforts. Regarding UNAMID’s planned drawdown, he said the process is progressing, but more discussions are needed to address outstanding political issues.
Major General PEARCE said UNFICYP is fully committed to de-escalating tensions in the buffer zone, stressing that the lack of respect for mandate there makes “it is a very difficult place to communicate”. Last month saw an increase in new arrivals to Cyprus from Syria and parts of Africa. The mission recorded few new arrivals in the buffer zone, however, smuggling routes across the island have increased. The architecture on the ground meanwhile has allowed for ensuring that resources are used in the most effective way possible. In addition to a top‑down performance structure, the Force aligns with troop-contributing countries on training, and at a community level, works with both the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots.
Responding to the Russian Federation’s delegate, she said performance remains her top priority and that workforce plans are clearly articulated to the Force. A close feedback loop is used to review and improve upon tactics. To the question on host country consent, she described the strains caused by each side’s perspective and understanding of the buffer zone. “There is tension between us and the Turkish Forces, and the farmers and the Turkish Forces, and also us and the farmers,” she said. On the behaviour of peacekeepers, she stressed: “I have a zero tolerance of the misbehaviour of any peacekeeper.” Turning to the question posed by Côte d'Ivoire’s delegate, she said UNFICYP works with civil society and local non-governmental organizations, engaging with local communities, not just along the buffer zone, but throughout the whole island.
As Force Commander, she said it is crucial to engage with both sides to find ways to de-escalate tensions, noting that areas of dispute between the Force and Turkey have created some strain. As for what the Council can do to support UNFICYP, she said continuing to work with both sides and giving the Force a baseline from which to communicate and de-escalate tensions is essential. Turning to gender issues, she underscored the importance of fostering an inclusive environment where women feel they are on equal footing with their male counterparts. “It won’t happen quickly, but it will happen,” she assured, adding that women do not want to be “singled-out”, but rather “able to get in there and do the work”. She also described efforts to de-escalate farmer-to-farmer tensions, stressing that “for us, it is about being in the buffer zone all the time and engaging with everyone to implement the mandate”.
Mr. HEUSGEN (Germany), taking the floor a second time, warned that plans to pursue UNAMID’s drawdown appear to be on autopilot. Citing several serious challenges, he said there is a new environment in Sudan. The Council must fully support the civilian use of team sites, he stressed, cautioning that they must not serve as outposts for the Rapid Support Forces who contributed to the outbreak of violence in Darfur in the first place.