United Nations peacekeeping operations are central to multilateralism, speakers told the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations at its first meeting of the 2021 session, expressing their commitment to further spur collective action through the Action for Peacekeeping initiative launched in 2018.
The Special Committee was created by the General Assembly in 1965 to conduct a comprehensive review of all issues relating to United Nations peacekeeping. The three-week session will focus on some of the pressing issues facing roughly 90,000 military, police and civilian personnel currently serving in 12 operations around the world.
During the opening segment, Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, emphasized that peacekeeping operations are central to the United Nations and multilateralism. “We cannot fulfil the peace and security mandate of the Organization without well‑trained, well‑equipped and well‑supported peacekeeping forces,” he said, noting that uniformed personnel save lives, support human rights and help create conditions for sustainable development. Paying tribute to those who lost their lives in the line of duty, he thanked troop- and police-contributing countries, as well as other Governments for their personnel and in-kind contributions.
Welcoming the mitigation and adaptation measures taken by United Nations peacekeeping during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said that, amid those daunting challenges, it is essential to give peacekeeping missions clear and realizable mandates and adequate funding. He also underscored the critical importance of addressing gender inequality, also stressing that United Nations peace operations must keep pace with evolving and new threats. They require constant refinement, drawing on analytical and operational capabilities, while leveraging new technology to increase their impact. In that regard, the work of the Special Committee is vital, he stressed, urging it to deliver concrete guidance for United Nations peacekeeping.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, said the current session sends a powerful message in support of peacekeeping personnel facing complex challenges in the field amid the pandemic. He expressed hope that the Special Committee’s 2021 report will build on its 2020 report.
Noting that 154 Member States endorsed the Action for Peacekeeping declaration, adopted two and a half years ago, he said that, on 17 February, he will brief the Special Committee on new initiatives, expressing hope that it will give substantive guidance for United Nations peacekeeping during the current session in the spirit of cooperation.
In the ensuing discussion, delegates explored how United Nations peace operations can support host Governments fighting COVID-19, including by providing logistical assistance to transport vaccines. They also stressed the need for clear, achievable mandates for peace operations.
Further, they exchanged views on ways to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of peace operations, and on issues related to funding, safety of personnel, civilian protection, performance failures, the importance of partnerships and the participation of women. They also discussed the Special Committee’s role and heard the views of troop- and police-contributing countries, as well as financial and in-kind donors.
At the outset, the Special Committee elected Tijjani Muhammad‑Bande (Nigeria) as Chair, with Fabián Oddone (Argentina), Richard Arbeiter (Canada), Hiroyuki Namazu (Japan) and Mariusz Lewicki (Poland) as Vice-Chairs. It elected Abdullah Attelb (Egypt) as Rapporteur.
In other business, the Special Committee adopted the agenda (document A/AC.121/2021/L.1) and approved the proposed organization of work (document A/AC.121/2021/L.2). It also re-established the Working Group of the Whole, with Canada continuing in the Chair.
The Special Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 18 February, to continue its general debate.
The representative of Morocco, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the Secretary-General’s swift action has saved many lives, including peacekeepers, in the face of the pandemic. The new challenge of vaccinating uniformed personnel is now at hand and no effort should be spared, he said, emphasizing that time is of the essence and lengthy bureaucratic debates must be avoided. The Special Committee’s current report represents a major shift, including the much-needed United Nations-African Union partnership, he noted, saying he looks forward to the next session on working methods. The Non-Aligned Movement has made several proposals, he added. Many important challenges must be addressed, among them the safety and security of personnel, condemning recent attacks against peacekeepers. He called upon all States hosting peace operations to effectively prosecute those responsible for such attacks. The fight against impunity is a common concern, he continued, urging the Security Council to do its part and the Secretariat to ensure that the Action for Peacekeeping process is implemented. Noting that the peacekeeping accountability framework has been finalized, he said all personnel should be on an equal footing. He went on to underline the importance of women’s participation in peacekeeping, pointing out that the Non-Aligned Movement has been active in related initiatives. Moving forward, there is need to discuss reimbursement for troop-contributing countries, and flagrant imbalances must also be addressed, he said. Representing 120 countries and 86 per cent of troops deployed, the Non-Aligned Movement’s participation in discussions should be recognized through that lens, he added.
The representative of Brazil, speaking also on behalf of Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico, said that perfecting peacekeeping amounts to investing in peace. The Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping report provides clear recommendations and outlines situations on the ground, he noted. Emphasizing that women can bring invaluable contributions to peacekeeping, he said their full and effective participation must be ensured. In terms of the pandemic, he applauded the Special Committee’s commemoration of those serving peace who have lost their lives to COVID‑19. Commending all stakeholders preventing the spread of the coronavirus, he said it has taught hard lessons and the importance of multilateralism. Speaking in his national capacity, he said that his country has participated in more than 50 peace operations involving over 50,000 peacekeepers. Brazil has also been active in the areas of performance and women’s participation, initiating jungle training sessions and increasing female participation using a gender-parity strategy, he added.
The representative of Indonesia, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), associated himself with the Non-Alignment Movement. Pointing out that ASEAN members currently contribute 5,000 peacekeepers to operations around the world, he reiterated the Special Committee’s important role. Its latest report reflects, among other things, the ongoing collaboration between ASEAN and the United Nations, he said, expressing support for closer partnerships between the Organization and regional and subregional groups. In that regard, ASEAN has, among other things, worked with the United Nations and Japan to host the Triangular Partnership Project on engaging training, he noted. Emphasizing the importance of clear, focused Security Council mandates, he said the pursuit of sustainable political solutions should guide the design and deployment of peace operations. They must also be supported with adequate financing, he emphasized, urging all Member States to fulfil their obligations and underlining that reimbursement is key for police- and troop-contributing countries to carry out their mandated tasks. ASEAN strongly condemns attacks against peacekeepers, he stressed. As for the pandemic, he commended the efforts of missions, and stressed that the Secretariat must continue to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety, health and security of peacekeepers. ASEAN supports the full, effective participation of women in peacekeeping, but greater efforts are needed to ensure that goal, in accordance with Security Council resolution 2538 (2020), including through training and capacity-building.
The representative of New Zealand, also speaking for Australia and Canada, noted that the landscape for peacekeeping has changed markedly since the 2020 session due to COVID-19. He went on to say that, to keep the Special Committee’s work dynamic and focused, it must advocate for the meaningful participation of women under the cross-cutting women, peace and security agenda. Women must occupy more senior positions in the field and at Headquarters, he emphasized, noting that women still face barriers. There is a need to motivate change, including by providing sexual and reproductive health services for women peacekeepers, he said, while welcoming the appointments of gender advisers. United Nations peacekeeping must have the right capabilities, including the ability of protect civilians and children, early warning and gender-responsive measures. The focus of peacekeeping missions on peacebuilding remains essential to preparing for transitions and delivering sustainable peace and stable societies, he said, welcoming the recent community engagement guidelines. Stressing the importance of accountability, he welcomed the recent launch of the Integrated Performance Policy Framework, as well as the zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse and exploitation. Pointing out that safety is closely linked to performance, he called for measures to ensure the safety of peacekeepers, including by harnessing new technology. He went on to note that COVID-19 illuminated existing gaps, such as freedom of movement for peacekeepers, urging the Secretariat to documents such incidents.
The Deputy Head of the European Union delegation expressed support for the Secretary-General’s appeal for a global ceasefire to help fight COVID-19 in the most vulnerable countries and full implementation of Security Council resolution 2532 (2020). “Even though we are only a few weeks into 2021, we have already witnessed attacks on UN peacekeeping missions that are horrifying in both number and brutality,” he said. Welcoming the new format of the Special Committee’s report, he said it has proved to be a successful tool for delivering actionable and measurable recommendations and supports the implementation of the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping initiative. He stressed the need for predictable and sustainable financing of African peace operations, noting that trilateral cooperation among the African Union, European Union and the United Nations is under way in the Sahel, Central African Republic and Somalia.
Through the newly established European Peace Facility, the European Union contributes to the financing of peace support operations led by international partners, notably the African Union and its subregional organizations, he said, adding that its Common Security and Defence Policy missions complement and support United Nations missions in Mali, Central African Republic, Somalia, Libya, Balkans and Iraq. The unique and long-standing partnership between the European Union and the United Nations on crisis management and peacekeeping works across the peace continuum. He went on to emphasize that the human rights component of peacekeeping mandates and the obligation to promote accountability are essential to preventing and mitigating conflict. The protection of children in armed conflict is a priority for the European Union, he added, also stressing that the women, peace and security agenda remains an essential pillar of sustainable peace.
The representative of Peru urged steps to improve peacekeeping, including by reaching out to local communities and including more women personnel. Staff security is another area where progress is needed, he said, calling for the use of advanced technologies, early warning systems and intelligence procedures. Triangular dialogue among the Secretariat, Security Council and troop-contributing countries must also improve, he stressed.
The representative of the United Kingdom, noting that COVID-19 has only added to the challenges peacekeepers face, said that, despite the progress made towards implementing the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping initiative, more can be done to improve planning and mitigate the impact of the coronavirus. Clear standards and measures to incentivize outstanding performance must continue, she added. Given the recent rise in attacks, more must be done to improve situational awareness, medical training and related efforts to ensure the safety of peacekeepers, she said, emphasizing that more women must participate in peace operations and pointing out her country’s contributions in that regard. She went on to highlight the United Kingdom’s other contributions, including those to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), stressing that all nations have a common stake in peacekeeping.
The representative of the United States said that, whereas the Security Council retains primacy in all matters related to international peace and security, there is need for a broader venue in which to discuss peacekeeping. As such, the United States hopes the Special Committee can produce guidance and recommendations to the Secretariat, he added. Peacekeeping remains an effective tool, but it requires more reform, including efforts focused on making operations as successful as possible, from training to maximizing transparency and accountability, as outlined in Security Council resolution 2436 (2018). He added that women’s participation is at the heart of more effective peacekeeping.
The representative of Pakistan, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, commended the United Nations for protecting peacekeepers during the pandemic, expressing hope that personnel will receive the vaccine soon. Peacekeeping is a success story, he said, recalling that Pakistan has deployed more than 200,000 troops to 46 missions. New capabilities can help the United Nations enhance its response, he continued, noting that peace operations are currently not in a position to resolve certain conflicts and impose peace. The international community and the Security Council have also been unable to resolve outstanding disputes, including the one over Jammu and Kashmir, and conflicts threatening global peace and security, he said, emphasizing that the Special Committee, Security Council and the General Assembly must formulate realistic mandates together. The Special Committee could form working groups to discuss mandates before they are adopted by the Security Council, he suggested. In terms of resource allocation, evaluations of the cost of inaction should also be tallied, he said. Deploring an incident in which United Nations observers came under fire from their mission’s host country, he expressed support for efforts to ensure the protection of peacekeepers. Hybrid missions can be improved and enlarged, he said, also emphasizing that the role of women is essential.
The representative of China noted that his country is the second-largest contributor to the United Nations peacekeeping budget and the largest troop- and police-contributing country among the five permanent members of the Security Council. Noting that the role of United Nations peacekeeping has become more prominent, he said the current session should focus on injecting new momentum into the Action for Peacekeeping initiative. Underlining the urgent need to combat COVID-19, he proposed prioritizing logistical support for the efforts of host countries to transport and deliver vaccines, saying that peacekeepers must be prioritized in vaccination campaigns. He went on to stress that peacekeeping can only be effective when political processes are progressing.
The representative of Bangladesh, noting that her country is a major troop contributor to United Nations peacekeeping, called for better preparedness to protect personnel. She joined calls to prioritize peacekeepers in vaccination efforts. Among other things, she stressed the need to strengthen triangular cooperation among the Secretariat, Security Council and troop contributors, and the importance of clear and achievable mandates. Expressing concern over the high rates of fatalities and disability among uniformed personnel, she called for enhancing the safety of personnel and accountability for crimes committed against peacekeepers. She went on to urge greater efforts to ensure greener peacekeeping footprints.
The representative of Turkey noted the evolution of United Nations peace operations from traditional to more multifaced modern missions, also welcoming the creation of a toolbox for greater engagement with local communities. Peacekeepers must be supported politically and financially with clear, achievable mandates, he said. Recalling that Turkey co-sponsored resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, she welcomed efforts to address gender equality. Turkey also supports the Secretary-General’s focus on addressing sexual abuse and exploitation and the related zero-tolerance policy, she added.
The representative of India, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said peacekeepers have long been the best chance for peace, adding that his country has contributed peacekeepers over the decades, including the first all-women unit in its army. However, priorities must be set, including the use of up-to-date technologies, he said, also emphasizing that matching mandates with adequate resources is key. Performance is also essential, especially to ensure accountability. Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping initiative, he stressed the need to do more to “protect the protectors”. Transparency in troop selection must improve, as should the participation of women. Expressing disappointment as the lack of progress in discussions on reimbursement, he said the issue requires resolution. In the context of COVID-19, he said that his country has contributed two medical teams and is working with partners on vaccines. India is also working to make peacekeeping more effective, efficient and transformative, he added.
The representative of Ireland, associating himself with the European Union delegation, said Irish troops play a role in half the current peace operations across the world. Condemning recent attacks, he underlined the importance of redoubling efforts to ensure a peacekeeping system that protects citizens, especially amid the pandemic. Welcoming the latest report’s focus on action, he said that he looks forward to a new report that will provide further guidance on improving elements of peacekeeping. Such actions include civilian protection, innovation and predeployment training, he said, pointing out Ireland’s efforts to provide online training and tools on a variety of issues. In addition, cooperation with regional and subregional organization remains vital, he said, also stressing the need to avoid duplication and enhance. A key priority is to ensure that transitions occur in a responsive manner, he said, adding that other critical areas include combating sexual abuse and violence, and enhancing women’s participation.
The representative of the Philippines, noting his country’s contribution to United Nations peacekeeping since 1963, said it is committed to making its resources available within the agreed time frame. Citing the recommendations across the eight thematic areas of the Action for Peacekeeping initiative, he said that sexual abuse and exploitation by uniformed personnel undermines the trust of people they seek to protect. He also stressed the importance of learning from peers and strengthening partnership. Welcoming the adoption of twin resolutions on the Organization’s peacebuilding architecture, he also highlighted the need to enhance women’s participation in all aspects of peace operations. He went on to state that all peacekeeping matters must be discussed in a broader forum.
The representative of Ukraine, associating himself with the European Union delegation, said the international armed conflict affecting Ukrainians stems from aggression and the occupation of parts of his country. Describing the United Nations as the only organization that can truly foster peace, he said Ukraine strongly supports its peacekeeping efforts. As for areas needing attention, he said the United Nations should continue to build and enhance partnerships with regional organizations. He also expressed support for the triangular dialogue among troop-contributing countries, police contributors and the Secretariat in establishing or renewing mandates.
The representative of South Africa said the Special Committee’s report must include a focus on partnerships with the African Union and other regional groups. A holistic approach is critical, she said, adding that a comprehensive performance‑assessment system would be helpful, with results shared among Member States. Reiterating her delegation’s support for full participation by women in peace processes, she called for an increase in their representation among uniformed personnel. She went on to underline the importance of regional cooperation and for the Action for Peacekeeping recommendations.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said the Special Committee should focus on several areas, including successful implementation of the Action for Peacekeeping initiative, adding that the upcoming ministerial meeting in Seoul presents an opportunity for tangible outcomes. He also called for efforts to boost the safety and security of peacekeepers by providing adequate equipment and technology. Those guiding themes should be spotlighted when generating pledges for operations. He went on to emphasize the essential need for cooperation among international financial institutions, regional organizations and other key stakeholders. Turning to the Organization’s partnership with the African Union, he pledged his country’s support for that organization’s critical efforts.
The representative of Israel said the pandemic has posed major challenges that must be addressed through partnership and solidarity. Israel, for its part, has vaccinated thousands of people, but COVID-19 has hampered peacekeeping efforts, she said. Given the recent rise in targeted attacks against peacekeepers, they must have the latest training and equipment, she emphasized. Among other things, Israel has provided trainers in the medical field and supports the Triangular Partnership Project, she said. Women’s participation in peacekeeping is essential, she continued, stressing that more work must be done to increase their numbers, with Member States playing a role in reducing the barriers women face in joining armed forces and peace operations.
The representative of Cuba, associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the main responsibility for peacekeeping falls on the United Nations, and operations must follow Charter principles. Establishing new and increasingly complex missions must still consider and address the root causes of conflict, she emphasized. Recognizing the African Union’s efforts, she said its funding issues must be resolved, adding that quality medical care for peacekeeping staff must also be addressed.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the division of labour within United Nations peacekeeping must be clear, recalling that the structure of the Special Committee’s report was brought into the Action for Peacekeeping process in 2020. Despite the unprecedented circumstances posed by COVID-19, peacekeeping must continue to develop in the right direction, with the need for a political settlement as the baseline. The Security Council can decide to provide use-of-force or offensive mandates reflecting the situation on the ground, she added. Despite challenges, successes must be recognized, she emphasized, noting that the call for a global ceasefire resulted in some gains on the road to peace in some countries. Regarding health, she said efforts to vaccinate peacekeepers against COVID-19 should be implemented on a voluntary basis. She went on to state that the tasks assigned to peacekeepers should be reduced, including gender- and human rights-related elements. In such difficult conditions as the pandemic, cooperation among States and stakeholders remains vital, she stressed.
Also speaking were representatives of Guatemala, Egypt, Argentina, Thailand, Jamaica, Republic of Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Switzerland, Norway, Nigeria and Tunisia.