Report of the Secretary-General: B. Maintenance of international peace and security

A Ghanaian peacekeeper with the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) ©UN Photo/Staton Winter

The past year’s efforts to prevent, contain and resolve violent conflict reminded us afresh of the necessity of the United Nations. The safety and prosperity of future generations was jeopardized by the failure of political leaders to govern peacefully and equitably and with respect for the rule of law; the continued diversion of resources from development to the waging of war; alarming disregard by warring parties for international human rights and humanitarian law; and a failure to speak out consistently against violations or to hold perpetrators accountable for crimes committed. Atrocity crimes continued to be a regular occurrence. Children bore arms instead of school books. People fled their homes in larger numbers than ever before. The social fabric of entire regions was put at risk. These trends have had terrible consequences for civilians, including in the Middle East and parts of Africa.

Consequently, the reporting period saw a surge in demand for United Nations efforts to prevent and manage conflict and to sustain peace. More peacekeepers were deployed than ever before in the Organization’s history. The demand for mediation support and good offices, including through special political missions, and the price tag for humanitarian assistance reached all-time highs. The unsustainability of this situation is clear.

This heavy burden of conflict could be measured qualitatively as well as quantitatively, in the form of increasingly complex conflict dynamics and deteriorating operating environments. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Somalia, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen, armed conflict continued to be intertwined with terrorism, with violent extremists exploiting national, regional and local vulnerabilities, including ethnic, religious, socioeconomic and political tensions. The rapid emergence of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or Daesh, reshaped the violent extremist landscape and amplified the already substantial threat posed by older extremist groups such as Al-Qaida, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. In the past six months alone, ISIL carried out, inspired, or claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks in Bangladesh, Belgium, Egypt, France, Germany, Indonesia, Lebanon, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Turkey and the United States of America. There was also evidence that human-trafficking and migrant-smuggling groups were profiting from the movements of large numbers of refugees and migrants fleeing violence, persecution and disenfranchisement, exacerbating the suffering of those in search of safety and security.

These trends complicated the task of United Nations mediators attempting to broker inclusive political solutions. Peace operations struggled to operate effectively in non-permissive environments with high levels of ongoing violence. That 43 peacekeepers were killed and 75 injured in malicious acts between 1 August 2015 and 31 May 2016 demonstrates that peacekeeping is a dangerous, and sometimes fatal, endeavour. United Nations personnel and programmes in both mission and non-mission settings, including those previously assessed as low risk, faced complex, diverse and multifaceted security threats, arising from armed conflicts, volatile post-conflict environments, terrorism, civil unrest, violent crime, political crisis, grave human rights violations, humanitarian emergencies and frequent natural disasters. The number of direct attacks against United Nations premises and vehicles increased. Forecasts indicate that the combination of armed conflict with violent extremism will continue to shape the global security landscape.

The reporting period also saw important developments towards a more peaceful future, however. The adoption of Agenda 2030 and the three important peace and security reviews conducted in 2015 — on peace operations, on peacebuilding and on Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) — gave us a road map for collective action to prevent and resolve conflict. Because an increasing proportion of the extreme poor live in conflict-affected countries and 125 million people require humanitarian assistance, the world will not be able to reach the Sustainable Development Goals in 2030 without greater efforts at working on conflict — that is, finding political solutions through inclusive political dialogue that addresses the drivers of conflict. Greater efforts at working in conflict will also be crucial — that is, strengthening the delivery of services in protracted crises in remote locations and reaching the marginalized. 

1. Conflict prevention and mediation 

The first and clearest priority, an unambiguous lesson of the reporting period, is that conflict prevention and mediation need to be brought back to the centre of all United Nations engagements. The conflicts in the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen as well as the crisis in Burundi demonstrate the need for more, not fewer, of these activities. The large movements of refugees and migrants around the world also underscored the need to address the root causes of these movements and the conflicts that prompt them. It was also the central appeal of the three important peace and security reviews conducted in 2015 — on peace operations, on peacebuilding and on Security Council resolution 1325 (2000). Prevention is a responsibility under the Charter, one that must be shared by the United Nations, Member States, regional and subregional organizations, and civil society.

I continued to offer my good offices and to undertake conflict prevention, preventive diplomacy and mediation efforts during the reporting period in a wide array of contexts. The United Nations led mediation efforts in some of the most difficult conflict settings, such as Libya, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen. In other cases, it co-mediated with regional and subregional organizations, or supported initiatives led by those organizations. Throughout all this work, the United Nations insisted on the indispensable participation of women in peace processes and mediation.

My Special Envoy for Syria convened several rounds of intra-Syrian negotiations to seek an end to the conflict through a political transition based on Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva communiqué. Hopes for the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic tentatively improved with the cessation of hostilities on 27 February and an increase in humanitarian assistance, but progress remains slow and fragile. In Yemen, my Special Envoy continued efforts to promote a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The inter-Yemeni peace talks that commenced in April continue. While both sides have committed to reaching an agreement on an end to hostilities and a path towards the resumption of the political transition process, deep differences between the two sides remain. Ensuring the effective implementation of the agreement will require constructive engagement by all Yemeni parties, as well as strong regional support. Meanwhile, since the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement on 17 December 2015, some of the institutions envisaged, including the Presidency Council, have been formed. Efforts are now focused on broadening the basis of support for the agreement and for the bodies it created, as well as addressing the security situation, which remains a concern. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya is providing support to the Presidency Council and working to re-establish the Mission’s presence in Tripoli to enhance these efforts.

In Burundi, the security situation remained precarious, owing to a pattern of politically motivated and targeted violence connected to the ongoing political crisis. The Security Council requested me to provide my good offices and technical and substantive support to the mediation process, led and facilitated by the East African Community, as endorsed by the African Union. In the Great Lakes region, my Special Envoy, in close collaboration with my Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, continued to support and monitor the implementation of national and regional commitments under the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework in coordination with regional and subregional partners.

There was more encouraging news elsewhere. In Myanmar, the landmark elections of November 2015 transformed the country’s political landscape by bringing Aung San Suu Kyi and her party into power. As the new Government embarks on a national political dialogue process to unify the country, it faces major challenges in confronting entrenched attitudes, especially in Rakhine, and meeting the heightened expectations of its people. I shall continue to make my good offices available to Myanmar as it moves strenuously ahead to improve the lives of its peoples and make the peace process and future elections truly inclusive. In Colombia, the United Nations is preparing for the deployment of a special political mission, pursuant to Security Council resolution 2261 (2016), which will be responsible for the monitoring and verification of the laying down of arms, and be a part of the tripartite mechanism that will monitor and verify the definitive bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities once the peace agreement is signed. In Cyprus, encouraging progress towards a comprehensive solution was made in the leaders-led negotiations facilitated by my Special Adviser.

Beyond these specific good offices efforts, I continued to strengthen United Nations regional capacities and to better position the Organization to deal with rapidly deteriorating crises and tense political environments in non-mission settings. United Nations regional offices for West Africa and the Sahel, for Central Africa and for Central Asia continued to serve as highly effective “forward platforms” for conflict prevention. The strengthening of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa is contributing to that Office’s ability to engage preventively in the region. Greater support was also provided to resident coordinators in non-mission settings, especially those facing tense political environments and rapidly deteriorating crisis contexts.

I also continued strengthening our relationship with the World Bank. The joint financing initiative with the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank announced in October 2015 in Lima is supporting countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including Lebanon and Jordan, which are bearing a disproportionate responsibility in hosting refugees from conflict, especially from the Syrian Arab Republic. Given the full range of challenges faced by these host countries, there is a clear conflict prevention dimension to this innovative approach. Finally, I launched a policy discussion in the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination on integrating conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts into the Organization’s broader work to support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Many of these efforts, however, were undertaken without meaningful regular budget resources. I regret that, during the reporting period, my case for bringing to an end the unsustainable reliance on extrabudgetary resources for vital prevention and mediation work did not meet more favour with Member States. I will continue to make the case at every opportunity. 

2. Peace operations 

The deployment of United Nations peace operations remained at its highest level in history during this reporting period. With nearly 125,000 uniformed and civilian personnel from more than 100 Member States deployed in 16 peacekeeping missions, and over 3,600 civilian staff working in 37 special political missions, the United Nations continued to make a tangible contribution to peace and security in many parts of the world.

A number of countries hosting peacekeeping missions saw progress over the past year: the successful elections in Côte d’Ivoire confirmed that the country was moving firmly towards lasting peace and ready to conclude the peacekeeping phase of the United Nations engagement; a peace agreement signed in Mali sets out a new vision for governance and security in the north; and, in the Central African Republic, the Bangui Forum and the subsequent elections paved the way for a new phase in the country’s transition from conflict. Nevertheless, other missions, such as the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, continued to face a number of difficulties, including with regard to host government consent and cooperation. In South Sudan, the agreement of August 2015 faced numerous implementation difficulties stemming from the leaders’ inability to overcome their differences. With respect to Western Sahara, in March 2016 the Mission saw the bulk of its civilian staff expelled from Laayoune at the request of Morocco, resulting in unprecedented challenges to fully carrying out mandated activities.

A growing number of peace operations faced extremely challenging operating environments classified as substantially, highly or extremely dangerous. Approximately 90 per cent of personnel in special political missions are working in countries experiencing high-intensity conflict. For example Afghanistan continued to endure higher casualties from a continuing conflict, a contracting economy with low growth and high unemployment, thereby fuelling migration flows, and a deepening of political divisions. My Special Representative provided support for peace and reconciliation initiatives at national and local levels. In Somalia, my Special Representative continued to work in close coordination with the Federal Government, regional leaders and international partners to harmonize views on key political processes such as the review of the Provisional Constitution and consultations on the 2016 electoral process. In Iraq, my Special Representative continued his good offices work with Iraqi leaders, civil society and others to promote a genuine and inclusive reconciliation process that reaches all levels of Iraqi society. Political dialogue, implementation of the Iraqi Prime Minister’s reform agenda, and addressing the economic and security situations all remain key requirements to ensure long-term stability in Iraq.

Compounding these security challenges, several peacekeeping operations are also operating in remote locations. In Mali, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission faces a deadly and persistent threat from terrorist armed groups, and while it is widely agreed that peacekeeping operations should not engage in counter-terrorism activities, this case demonstrates the need to provide peacekeeping operations with the requisite capabilities to protect themselves and implement their mandates in complex asymmetric settings.

On the support side, continued strides were made in the reporting period to take full advantage of technology to assist peace operations in implementing their mandates more effectively and safely and in making mission support more efficient and cost effective, and less labour intensive. There were further reductions in the spending and support costs per mission personnel and more than 70 per cent of mission personnel now benefit from one or more shared services arrangements. We also took significant steps to advance environmental issues in peacekeeping, developing a partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme for technical assistance and creating capacity to coordinate the overall environmental footprint of operations, in the energy, waste, water and waste water sectors, among others. Good environmental management is increasingly a central consideration in mission planning processes, and there are plans to introduce a system for monitoring and managing operational performance in this area across missions.

In order to better respond to the spread, intensity and evolving nature of conflict, I established a High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, whose report, released in June 2015, forged a new vision for peace operations. My response, issued in September 2015, set an ambitious but critically important reform agenda which the Secretariat has begun implementing. A Leaders’ Summit on Peacekeeping, on 28 September 2015, which I co-chaired with nine Heads of State and Government, reinforced the peacekeeping partnership by laying the foundations for a new, progressive and cross-regional vision for peacekeeping operations. At the Summit, some 60 Member States pledged over 40,000 police and military personnel, broadening the base of contributors to peacekeeping and reaffirming its universal character.

These initiatives sent an important political signal about the commitment to effective peace operations in a changing global landscape. Significant efforts were made to implement as many of the concrete ideas and commitments as possible during the reporting period. A central pillar of the reform agenda is strengthening the planning and conduct of peace operations. As part of this effort, over the past year the Secretariat has intensified efforts to improve the capabilities and performance of peacekeeping operations. This includes ensuring that uniformed personnel are trained and equipped to optimally respond to the operational challenges they face; strengthening a military performance evaluation framework which is accepted by all; and establishing command and control systems that are responsive and effective. 

3. Protecting civilians 

Tragically, this reporting period witnessed continuing brutality and grave violations of international humanitarian law as well as human rights abuses against civilians in many conflict settings. United Nations initiatives to protect civilians from such violations and abuses and ensure the enjoyment of their most basic rights took many forms. We provided support to Member States in developing and strengthening their capacity to prevent and respond to atrocity crimes, and ensure the rule of law, in full respect for international human rights law. The Security Council reiterated calls for compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, as applicable, and for accountability for perpetrators of violations and abuses, including grave violations against children in armed conflict. There was significant progress in ending the recruitment and use of children by government armed forces, with advances in the criminalization of recruitment and in the establishment of age verification processes. The United Nations also engaged with several non-State armed groups listed in the annex to my annual report on children and armed conflict based in Colombia, Myanmar, the Philippines, the Sudan and South Sudan. Negotiations on action plans to end and prevent violations against children were especially effective where peace processes were ongoing or agreements were being implemented. On 15 May, the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — People’s Army (FARC-EP) announced the decision to separate minors under 15 years of age from FARC-EP camps as well their commitment to develop a road map to complete the separation of all minors.

We made important strides in the past year with armed groups and parties to peace processes in addressing and ensuring accountability for conflict-related sexual violence. The joint announcement of 15 December 2015 by the Government of Colombia and FARC-EP on victims provides for the removal of amnesties for the most serious crimes, including conflict-related sexual violence. In Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea and South Sudan, we advocated for and achieved concrete advances in the form of convictions, indictments, a framework for implementation and a code of conduct, respectively.

At the same time, we confronted emerging challenges and previously unforeseen threats. We observed a clear link between the rise of violent extremism and the most egregious forms of sexual violence being perpetrated by extremist groups. This is occurring in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic, but also in Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. It includes rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, forced pregnancy and forced abortion, often as forms of religious and ethnic persecution. The Security Council expressed its deep concern regarding this disturbing trend, expanding the sanctions framework for the suppression of terrorist financing to formally include ISIL, and condemning the abduction of women and children for sexual exploitation, trafficking and trading and to force the payment of ransoms. Within this context, it is also important to bear in mind that other parties to conflict, including non-State armed groups and State forces, continue to be responsible for acts of conflict-related sexual violence and other violations of their obligations under international humanitarian law, and to disregard the most basic human rights of civilians, the sick and wounded, and hors de combat soldiers.

In 2015, the Global Study and the high-level review of the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women and peace and security provided strong evidence that women’s empowerment and participation contribute decisively to the success of peace talks, to conflict prevention and economic recovery, as well as to the effectiveness of humanitarian assistance and the likelihood of sustainable peace. All three reviews recognized the centrality of the women and peace and security agenda for the United Nations work. Several recommendations are being implemented, including new initiatives aimed at building gender analysis capacity in peace operations, boosting women’s representation in peacekeeping, and tracking and scaling-up funding for initiatives related to women and peace and security. Many were reflected in Security Council resolution 2242 (2015), including the establishment of an informal expert group on women and peace and security, to allow the Council to take a more robust approach to the agenda in its own work, and ensuring women’s participation and leadership in developing strategies to counter terrorism and violent extremism.

Finally, with respect to the protection of civilians, I am horrified that some cases of abuse against civilians came from the very people sent to protect them: United Nations personnel and non-United Nations forces operating under a United Nations mandate. Sexual exploitation and abuse devastated the lives of victims and critically damaged global perceptions of the Organization. I took vigorous steps to combat this scourge, commissioning an independent review of our response in the case of the Central African Republic and, pursuant to its findings, appointing a Special Coordinator to strengthen our ability to prevent abuse and to respond to cases in a timely, transparent, measurable and visible way. In February 2016, I issued a report announcing additional measures to ensure greater oversight of operations and strengthen accountability in the areas of prevention, enforcement and remedial action to assist victims (A/70/729). Ensuring greater accountability is a collective endeavour and will require the full engagement of Member States. 

4. Mission transitions

During the reporting period, three peacekeeping missions — the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire, the United Nations Mission in Liberia and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti — were undergoing a comprehensive reconfiguration process that will result in their drawdown and eventual withdrawal, and one special political mission, the United Nations Electoral Observer Mission in Burundi, concluded its mandate and drew down its operations in December 2015. Strategic assessments were planned (in Liberia and Haiti) or carried out (Côte d’Ivoire) during the reporting period, in order to effectively manage the transition, to help avoid any uncertainty, power vacuums, or relapse into conflict, and to prepare host governments and remaining United Nations actors for the post-mission phase. These reviews will contribute to a shared understanding of the critical residual peacebuilding needs that will guide engagement throughout and beyond the transition process.

 Building legitimate institutions, promoting good governance and establishing representative and inclusive State authority are key considerations for the durable consolidation of peace and stability, and pave the way for the progressive drawdown and exit of peace operations. For these efforts to be effective, however, securing the strategic consent and ownership of the host Government and national counterparts is critical. In the Central African Republic, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission began working with national counterparts and international partners to develop a compact aimed at defining joint priorities and fostering a spirit of mutual accountability in efforts to sustain peace.

5. Sustaining peace

Ground-breaking resolutions were adopted by the General Assembly (resolution 70/262) and the Security Council (resolution 2282 (2016)) on the review of the peacebuilding architecture. “Sustaining peace” as defined in the resolutions must now be at the core of United Nations actions, meaning that the prevention of violent conflict must be prioritized at every stage of a crisis and in all pillars of the United Nations work. In the resolutions the two organs also emphasize partnerships with regional and subregional organizations and international financial institutions and the importance of inclusivity, including of women and youth, and people-centred approaches for successful peacebuilding. I am invited to report to the General Assembly at its seventy-second session on the implementation of the resolutions, including with options for the adequate and sustainable financing, through assessed and voluntary contributions, of the peacebuilding activities of the United Nations system. I very much welcome this request and urge the Member States to take the necessary decisions to ensure solid resources behind our efforts to sustain peace.

The Peacebuilding Commission is a key platform to sustain peace in conflict-affected countries, and continues its engagement in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone. During the reporting period, the Commission has embraced more flexible working methods, strengthened partnerships with regional and subregional organizations and continued to highlight peacebuilding needs in the post-Ebola recovery period from the national and regional perspectives. The Commission highlighted thematic policy and regional priorities, including cross-border and transnational challenges, financing for peacebuilding, youth and gender issues and transitions, and discussed peacebuilding needs and lessons learned in several countries, including Burkina Faso, Papua New Guinea and Somalia.

The Peacebuilding Fund allocated $77.9 million to 14 countries in 2015, including significant allocations to priority peacebuilding activities in countries such as the Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, the Niger and Somalia. Also in 2015, for the first time, the Fund successfully met my target by allocating 15.7 per cent to initiatives that focused principally on gender equality and women’s empowerment. I directed the Fund to support the United Nations renewed engagement in Sri Lanka to help the new Government to build trust and confidence among the people on its reconciliation and accountability/transitional justice agenda. Unfortunately, the Fund had its third weakest year since initial pledges in 2006, receiving $53.5 million in contributions from donors. As a result, it will not be able to reach its annual allocation target of $100 million in 2016 without additional donor contributions. This reality means that we are missing critical opportunities to ensure strategic coherence and enable politically risky but necessary endeavours. It also exposes the gap between norms and reality in preventing conflict and sustaining peace. Closing that gap is not just desirable, it is a matter of life and death for millions.

 6. Democratic transitions and elections

Providing electoral support to Member States continued to be a priority during the reporting period. The United Nations provided electoral assistance to 67 countries. Many of these were cases where United Nations good offices were also being carried out. Emphasis was placed on the use of measures to strengthen confidence in electoral processes and help to bring about peaceful outcomes. United Nations support continued to include technical advice to Member States in designing inclusive electoral systems, reforming electoral frameworks that enjoy the broad support of national stakeholders, and putting in place electoral management bodies that are, and are perceived to be, impartial, honest and capable. Gender considerations were systematically included in all electoral assistance activities and policies.

In Guinea, the United Nations helped to facilitate the resumption of the deadlocked political dialogue between the Government and the opposition on the electoral process, paving the way for the timely organization of the 2015 presidential election. Support to Nigeria’s fifth general elections, in 2015, involved high-level diplomatic engagement. My Special Representative for Central Africa also sought to defuse high tensions surrounding some of the elections in that region through the deployment of multi-agency teams to monitor the situation on the ground, report on developments, and support good offices interventions, for example in the Republic of the Congo. In Burkina Faso, the United Nations accompanied a delicate and often tense transition process that ended with the inauguration of President Kaboré in December 2015. My Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel also exercised good offices to promote peaceful elections in the Niger in March-April 2016. At the request of the Government of France, experts were deployed to support the preparation of a new register of voters that may be used for a referendum on the future status of New Caledonia within the framework of the Nouméa agreement.

The United Nations continued its technical support to the electoral process in a number of countries under a mandate from the Security Council. In Côte d’Ivoire, my Special Representative built confidence between the parties, thus allowing them to overcome the thorny issues that risked delaying the electoral process. The United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire provided much-needed logistics support. The United Nations Electoral Observer Mission in Burundi observed all major electoral events in Burundi in 2015 and found that “the overall environment was not conducive for an inclusive, free and credible electoral process”. These conclusions were consistent with those of the African Union and subregional organizations.

Some of the contexts in which assistance was provided were very complex and fragile. In the Central African Republic, we assisted national stakeholders in ensuring that the 2015/16 presidential and legislative elections were credible and peaceful. Technical support was provided to electoral reform and preparations for the upcoming parliamentary and district council elections in Afghanistan. The Organization also continued its technical electoral support to Haiti in the complex and fraught political environment leading up to the 2015/16 presidential and legislative elections.

 Beyond elections, the United Nations assists democratic transitions by providing political facilitation and supporting national efforts to strengthen accountability and the rule of law and to advocate for space for civil society organizations, which regrettably face increasingly harsh restrictions in a growing number of countries. Parliaments remained key partners during the reporting period. Two landmark United Nations agreements — the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction — explicitly referenced their role in implementing and monitoring Governments’ international commitments. A large number of United Nations entities continued to provide support to many national parliaments around the world.