The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), in a virtual meeting today, heard introductory statements and held an interactive discussion with senior officials on questions related to United Nations peacekeeping operations.
Members also heard statements from officials on the effects of atomic radiation and international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.
Catherine Pollard, Under‑Secretary‑General for Management, Strategy, Policy and Compliance, outlined efforts to address peacekeeper misconduct. Citing allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel in the Central African Republic, she said the Secretariat and every troop- and police-contributing country must reflect on how to make tangible improvements in managing risks and in better resourcing Security Council‑mandated missions to address them. To that end, the Department is launching a dedicated good practices page on its “Conduct and Discipline in Field Missions” website to enhance transparency and highlight good practices. It is also focusing on how to advance paternity and child support claims linked to sexual exploitation and abuse allegations, she said.
Atul Khare, Under‑Secretary‑General for Operational Support, reported on actions taken to ensure the safety of peacekeepers in the field, highlighted the extensive COVID‑19 mitigation measures his department has undertaken in that regard. Those included convening a Group of Friends of the Department of Operational Support to agree on a common vaccination plan for uniformed personnel, aimed at offering access to all personnel as soon as feasible and based on informed consent. On safety and security measures, he said the Department continues to play an enabling role for major initiatives — such as the MEDEVAC Taskforce — meant to bolster timely access to life-saving medical support. In 2020, the Department launched an initiative to promote a sustainable approach to compensating existing post-traumatic stress claims and preventing and mitigating such cases in the future.
Underscoring the increasing challenges faced by United Nations peace operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under‑Secretary‑General for Peace Operations, warned that peacekeepers are being directly targeted by physical acts of violence and by misinformation and disinformation, which threaten to distort the public’s perception of their work and impedes mandate implementation. Rapid changes in the communications landscape — including significant growth and penetration of social media and smartphones — pose both risks and opportunities for missions, with one particular challenge being the spread of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech.
In the ensuing dialogue, India’s representative echoed that point, noting a “paradigm shift” in peace operations over recent years due in part to the rise of technology which armed groups have taken advantage of. Stressing that missions must stay ahead of the curve on that front, he said their activities should be networked on a common platform so responses can be rapid, coordinated and adaptable.
The representatives of Morocco and Indonesia reiterated the increasingly complex and dangerous nature of conflicts and asked what measures could or should be taken to keep peacekeepers safe in those evolving environments.
Responding, Mr. Lacroix said the Secretary‑General’s Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative addresses ways to improve the safety and security of peacekeepers by ensuring adequate training and mission capacity, and expressed hope that Member States will pledge their support to those efforts. Beyond training and capacity, mindset and proper understanding of mandates are other essential components of peacekeeper safety, he added.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 19 October, to begin its general debate on a number of agenda items.
Effects of Atomic Radiation
GILLIAN HIRTH (Australia), Chair of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, said the Scientific Committee — established in 1955 to independently evaluate the sources, levels and effects of exposure to ionizing radiation and to produce scientific reports for the General Assembly — held two virtual sessions in 2020 and 2021, which were attended by over 210 scientists from all its member States and observer countries. During those sessions, the Scientific Committee approved four scientific annexes including on the evaluation of medical and occupational exposure to ionizing radiation, biological mechanisms relevant for the inference of cancer risks from low‑dose and low‑dose‑rate radiation, as well as levels and effects of radiation exposure due to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan.
Further detailing the outcomes of the two sessions, she noted that the Scientific Committee approved its programme of work for the period 2020‑2024 and considered progress reports for its three new scientific evaluations on the second primary cancer after radiotherapy, epidemiological studies of radiation and cancer and public exposure due to ionizing radiation from natural and other sources. Moreover, the Scientific Committee agreed to start a new project on the evaluation of diseases of the circulatory system from radiation exposure in 2021 and to initiate the evaluation of diseases of the nervous system from radiation exposure in 2022. Pointing to some progress with data collection, she underlined that more work should be done to encourage Member States to nominate national contact persons for data collection on medical, occupational and public exposures to support Scientific Committee studies.
Welcoming the appointment of the Scientific Committee’s Deputy Secretary in August 2021, she expressed concern that the Scientific Committee secretariat’s budget for scientific evaluations remains at its lowest level in the past 10 years. Emphasizing the need for enhanced operational costs in the case of an increased membership, she said observer States compared favourably against the framework of objective criteria for membership, noting that Scientific Committee membership was ultimately a decision for the General Assembly. She acknowledged various contributions to the General Trust Fund, as well as in‑kind experts, which helped accelerate the Scientific Committee’s work. Reflecting on the sixty‑fifth anniversary of the Scientific Committee, she stressed the importance of independent radiation science for the utilization of ionizing radiation for peaceful purposes.
International Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
MARIUS-IOAN PISO (Romania), Chair of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, noted that 2021 marked the sixtieth anniversary of the first human space flight carried out by Yuri Gagarin. Today, space is becoming a permanent and common presence in everyday life and on the political agendas of Governments and international organizations. Emphasizing civilization’s increasingly critical dependency on space systems, he encouraged efforts to promote international cooperation and enhanced use of space technologies for human socioeconomic development and for addressing global challenges. He further underscored that actors involved in space matters, as well as industrial players, have contributed by means of satellite infrastructures and specific technology capabilities to COVID‑19 pandemic crisis management and relief.
Pointing to several recent achievements, he said the Committee — through its dedicated Working Group on the Space 2030 Agenda — completed a three‑year work plan which was then submitted to the General Assembly. That resolution is open for co‑sponsorship and will be considered by the Assembly in plenary on 25 October. He went on to note that the Agenda contains valuable tools, as well as international and regional mechanisms and platforms from which Member States can benefit to leverage space technologies, applications and space‑derived data in order to further economic growth and prosperity. Highlighting other achievements of the Committee and its subsidiary bodies, he drew attention to the work of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee Working Group on the Long‑term Sustainability of Outer Space as well as the Legal Subcommittee Working Group.
Comprehensive Review of the Whole Question of Peacekeeping Operations in All Their Aspects
JEAN‑PIERRE LACROIX, Under‑Secretary‑General for Peace Operations, underscored the increasing challenges faced by United Nations peace operations, with peacekeepers being directly targeted by physical acts of violence and by misinformation and disinformation, which threatens to distort the public perception of their work and impedes mandate implementation. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID‑19 pandemic, missions have continued to effectively support political processes. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) helped defuse tensions from late 2020 until the formation of the new Government in April 2021.
Noting that the Action Plan to Improve the Security of United Nations Peacekeepers continues to structure efforts to improve the security of personnel, he said the implementation of the Integrated Peacekeeping Performance and Accountability Framework is also on track. Some of its highlights include progress in improving evaluation methodology for military units. Rapid changes in the communications landscape — including significant growth and penetration of social media and smartphones — pose both risks and opportunities for missions, with one particular challenge being the spread of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech. Turning to the United Nations partnership with the African Union, he said it remains a key part of his Department’s engagement, including in several peacekeeping settings such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Mali.
Turning to the Secretary‑General’s Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) Initiative, he said an additional strategy known as “Action for Peacekeeping Plus” was introduced in March 2021 for implementation through 2023. To translate that strategy into a concrete set of actions, the Secretariat has developed a plan to take it forward within Headquarters and in field missions. Meanwhile, the Women, Peace, and Security agenda, as well as the transition to innovative, technology-enabled and data-driven peacekeeping, will guide his Department’s actions under all seven of the Action for Peacekeeping priority areas. The newly launched Strategy for the Digital Transformation of United Nations Peacekeeping will also central in that regard, he said.
ATUL KHARE, Under‑Secretary‑General for Operational Support, highlighted the extensive COVID‑19 mitigation measures his department has undertaken, reporting that it convened a Group of Friends of the Department of Operational Support to agree on a common vaccination plan for uniformed personnel, aimed at offering access to all personnel as soon as feasible and based on informed consent. Where possible, predeployment vaccinations are ideal and strongly encouraged, however, when that is not possible, uniformed personnel are included in the United Nations System‑wide COVID‑19 Vaccination Program, which is coordinated by his Department. Thanks to a combination of generous contributions and direct purchasing, the Department recently concluded phase one of the programme, distributing over 300,000 vaccine doses to 66 United Nations country teams. Despite significant logistical challenges and increased costs, it managed to fully resume troop rotations and is meeting rotation schedules.
Reporting on the Department’s performance, he said it draws on information provided by field missions every quarter and collates various performance metrics against the reimbursement standards established by the General Assembly, as part of the Integrated Peacekeeping Performance and Accountability Framework. On safety and security measures, he said the Department continues to play an enabling role for major initiatives — such as the MEDEVAC Taskforce — meant to bolster timely access to life-saving medical support. In 2020, the Department launched an initiative to promote a sustainable approach to compensating existing post-traumatic stress claims and preventing and mitigating such cases in the future.
Partnerships are the bedrock of peacekeeping, he continued, noting that the Triangular Partnership Programme has become the Secretariat’s largest uniformed peacekeeping capacity‑building initiative. Over 7,000 peacekeepers have been trained and many trainees have been deployed to peacekeeping missions. As for Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) commitments, the Department is focusing efforts on systemic priorities including capabilities and mindset, accountability to and of peacekeepers, and technology, he said. Turing to the Department’s gender strategy, he said the first phase of the Elsie Initiative Project was successfully completed in March 2021, adding that in the second phase, the Department is monitoring the implementation of projects to improve working and living conditions for female peacekeeping personnel in the field.
CATHERINE POLLARD, Under‑Secretary‑General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, highlighting some of the measures taken to fulfil commitments under the A4P initiative, detailed efforts to improve performance and accountability of missions’ civilian personnel and leadership. That included rolling out an agile new performance management approach for the 2021‑2022 cycle. Noting progress in adopting a structured risk management approach focused on mandate delivery, she said eight Risk Treatment Working Groups were established to address the 16 critical risks identified in the corporate risk register, under the guidance of Corporate Risk Owners. To ensure that peacekeeping operations are properly resourced, the Department continues to work with peacekeeping leadership to develop strategic and realistic financing proposals, she said, noting that the budget performance reports for the 2020‑21 period will also include information on how peacekeeping operations responded to the COVID‑19 pandemic.
On allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, she recalled recent reports in the Central African Republic, noting that the Secretariat and every troop- and police-contributing country must reflect on how to make tangible improvements in managing risks and in to resourcing Security Council‑mandated missions to address them. To that end, the Department is launching a dedicated good practices page on its “Conduct and Discipline in Field Missions” website to enhance transparency and highlight good practices. The Department is also focusing on how to advance paternity and child support claims linked to sexual exploitation and abuse allegations, she said, pointing to a study of such claims against both civilian and uniformed personnel over the period from 2010 until 2019. It found that the large majority of claims remain open and pending resolution. To address that issue, the Secretariat is working on a Framework of Action to Facilitate Claims of Paternity and Child Support Involving United Nations Peacekeeping Personnel, on which it will consult with Member States.
On the matter of gender parity, she said the Department — in close collaboration with field entities — is focused on accelerating progress and increasing the representation of civilian women in peacekeeping operations. Highlighting efforts to improve gender parity, revamp job rosters and support entity‑specific action plans, she said those seek to identify upcoming vacancies and scenarios for enhancing women’s representation at the entity level. Significant progress has been made in addressing bias and mainstreaming gender into all processes in field missions. Concluding, she drew attention to the new Strategy for the Digital Transformation of United Nations Peacekeepers, unveiled earlier in 2021, which aims to enhance the safety and security of peacekeepers and strengthen mandate implementation.
The Committee then held an interactive question‑and‑answer dialogue on that topic.
The representative of Morocco asked what measures are being taken to enforce partnerships with troop-contributing and host countries, given the increasing complexity of peace operations’ mandates.
The representative of Indonesia, noting that his country is a major troop contributor, highlighted the need to ensure the safety of peacekeepers, especially in the face of changing and more dangerous conflicts. In that context, he also wondered what measures could or should be taken to help peacekeepers adapt to new environments.
Responding, Mr. LACROIX agreed that partnership is essential at every level of peace operations and acknowledged that there is a need to take it even further. Political efforts, in particular, cannot be achieved alone, he said, emphasizing the importance of both regional and subregional partnerships. Such strong relationships also improve performance, he noted, calling for more cooperation between troop-contributing countries and States that can support them. As one example, he cited gaps in access to equipment, noting the need to enhance the kind of partnerships that would help bridge them. Peacekeeping as a tool can only succeed when it is coordinated with national efforts on the ground. He went on to say that the A4P initiative addresses ways to improve the safety and security of peacekeepers by ensuring adequate training and mission capacity and expressed hope that Member States will pledge their support to those efforts. Beyond training and capacity, mindset and proper understanding of mandates are other essential components of peacekeeper safety, he added.
Mr. KHARE thanked both the representatives of Morocco and Indonesia for highlighting the importance of partnerships, as well as training and capacity building, and for hosting the Triangular Partnership Programme. He further highlighted the need for a joint operational response to such challenges when one country may have the equipment but may not have the personnel, while another may have the personnel but lack the local knowledge. He underscored that such challenges call for an effective partnership and integrated responses, and gave examples of joint contingents, including those in Lebanon and Mali. Turning to the role played by small States, he noted that they can become part of a group and provide joint contingents, thus enabling all States to participate in peacekeeping.
Responding to a question about adaptation from the representative of Indonesia, he listed several efforts including predeployment guidance on the pandemic response and on environmental management — some of the areas which should be spotlighted in peacekeeping training centres. Highlighting a recently developed course on the first aid — available in both iOS and Android formats — he recommended downloading as a useful tool for peacekeepers as well as for ordinary people.
Ms. POLLARD reaffirmed her Department’s focus on partnerships and its collaboration with Member States as essential in ensuring the good conduct of peacekeeping personnel. Turning to the question from the Moroccan delegation, she said her Department looks at how to invest in risk management, particularly how to strengthen capacity and identify gaps.
The representative of India said there has been a paradigm shift in peace operations over the last few years, due in part to the rise of technology which armed groups have taken advantage of. Stressing that peace operations must stay ahead of the curve on that front, he said their activities must be networked on a common platform so responses can be rapid, coordinated and adaptable. The new strategy for digital transformation will be helpful in that regard, but it needs to be further advanced. For its part, India is providing technological training to peacekeepers. Noting that the United Nations recognizable blue helmet is no longer an assurance of safety, as evidenced by ongoing deliberate attacks against peacekeepers, he said troops must be provided with the right equipment and there must be assurance from host countries that perpetrators will be held accountable.
Mr. LACROIX, Mr. KHARE and Ms. POLLARD thanked the representative of India for his observations and delivered brief closing remarks.