Amidst a diminishing budget and rising casualties among ‘blue helmets’, peacekeeping remains “a very important tool” in the promotion of peace and stability, according to the United Nations peacekeeping chief.
Acknowledging the dual challenges of budget cuts and an increasingly dangerous field environment, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told UN News the recently launched Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative seeks to spell out new peacekeeping challenges for Member States, and galvanize their support.
Launched by Secretary-General António Guterres in March, the A4P initiative calls on Member States, host countries, troop- and police-contributing countries, and other contributors, to renew collective engagement to achieve peacekeeping excellence.
The initiative was based on Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, as well as reports, including a recent high-level review led by retired peacekeeper Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz of Brazil, on reducing peacekeeping casualties.
The Cruz report, requested by the Secretary-General and released in January, revealed that fatalities among peacekeepers due to violent acts had spiked, with 2013-2017 being the deadliest five-year period in UN peacekeeping history.
Peacekeeping has a price [...] we cannot go too far in reducing our resources
“We have to make sure that we are prepared for these more dangerous environments,” Mr. Lacroix said, citing the need for improved training and adequate equipment. However, he added that the focus should remain on key priorities. “We have to focus on protection of civilians,” he said, as well as on finding durable, political solutions.
On the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as corruption, Mr. Lacroix said, “We need to make sure that every allegation will be brought to our knowledge so that we can act upon them,” highlighting also the importance of greater, faster response from troop-contributing countries. “We also need to do more in addressing the needs of victims” of sexual exploitation and abuse, he added.
Mr. Lacroix also emphasized the need for engagement by regional and subregional organizations, saying, “We have to be realistic. Peacekeeping is one tool; it’s among many others.” However, he pointed out that such engagement must be supported, saying that he advocates the bolstering of African Union peace operations.
At the end of June, Mr. Lacroix set out on a visit to major troop-contributing countries in South Asia. He began with Bangladesh, the second-largest troop- and police-contributing country, then headed to Nepal, who currently deploys 5,000 troops. He also visited India, which has contributed the largest total troops in peacekeeping history, as well as Pakistan, the fifth largest contributor of uniformed personnel.
While in South Asia, Mr. Lacroix met with ministers and heads of government to express gratitude for their countries’ continuing support.
UN News: It seems that peacekeeping is more dangerous now than ever before with the spike in deaths in recent months of peacekeepers. What’s the UN doing to address the safety and security of ‘blue helmets’ around the world?
Jean-Pierre Lacroix: Yes, you’re right, peacekeeping has become much more dangerous. Last year, we had the highest number of fatalities in peacekeeping over two decades. So, what are we trying to do to address that?
First of all, we have to make sure that we are prepared for these more dangerous environments. What it means is that we have to improve the training of our uniformed colleagues — police and military. We have to make sure that they have the right equipment. We have to make sure that they are well commanded, and that there is accountability for leadership at every level. So, that’s one thing. And all these are included in the action plan that we started implementing in our missions.
But I think it’s equally important to make sure that our mandate should be focused on the key priorities because, with these more dangerous environments, we cannot do everything. We have to focus on protection of civilians, we have to focus on promoting and helping (find a) durable, political solution. So, these are equally important.
This is why the Secretary-General has launched the Action for Peacekeeping initiative (A4P), which is about explaining to our Member States what these new challenges are, and how we’re trying to address them, but also trying to mobilize them to help us.
UN News: The UN peacekeeping budget is being cut by millions of dollars this year. Can you continue to do an effective job, on behalf of the vulnerable civilians around the world that we serve, with substantially less money?
Jean-Pierre Lacroix: Well, first of all, I think it’s important to underline that some of the missions have been terminated, and others are being downsized. And this is not because funds are being reduced, that’s because these missions have implemented their mandates, or the conditions on the ground have changed. And, therefore, we can address these missions — their mandate and their format.
But I think it’s also important to continuously try to be more cost-effective. This is something that our Member States expect from us, and I think it’s legitimate. And also, it enables us to be more effective.
But peacekeeping has a price. So, we cannot go too far in reducing our resources; we have to have adequate resources for the implementation of our mandate, particularly as we are doing all these efforts to adjust to these difficult security conditions that we’re facing today.
UN News: Some critics do still argue that peacekeeping doesn’t represent good value for money, despite the $600 million or so cuts. Is there fat still left that you see that can be trimmed from the budget?
Jean-Pierre Lacroix: Well, first of all, I think the fact that we’ve been able to close successfully some of our missions recently, I think, is proof that peacekeeping can achieve good results. And that was the case for the Ivory Coast, that was the case for Liberia, after a number of other countries that were, I think, successfully helped by peacekeeping.
The other thing is that we are protecting hundreds of thousands of civilians in our missions, particularly in our missions in Africa. I don’t know if that can be quantified or equated to whatever amount of financial resources are dedicated to that, but the reality is plain that we are saving lives, and many, many lives. So, if you look at peacekeeping from the point of view of achievement, I think we can be proud of that.
But at the same time, ultimately, the success comes where we can leave and after having achieved a durable political solution. That doesn’t depend only on peacekeeping, it also depends on the collective ability to achieve those political solutions.
UN News: There’s been a huge effort made to address the sexual abuse and exploitation by troops and others serving in UN missions of people who we are supposed to be protecting. Why are fresh reports still surfacing? And can the UN really stamp it out if, ultimately, it’s down to the troop-contributing countries to discipline their personnel back home?
We also need to do more in addressing the needs of victims [of sexual exploitation and abuse]
Jean-Pierre Lacroix: I think we’re in a better place when it comes to fighting sexual exploitation and abuse [SEA], but there’s still much more to do.
We’re in a better place because the awareness that we have to relentlessly fight SEA: it’s much greater; also, because the reactivity of Member States, particularly troop- and police-contributing countries: it is much greater than it used to be.
Whenever we have allegations, they come to us quickly. They send investigative teams much more quickly than they used to. And we’ve seen already quite severe sanction decided against those found guilty of sexual exploitation and abuse.
But at the same time, we need to do more.
First of all, we need to make sure that every allegation will be brought to our knowledge so that we can act upon them.
And I think that we also need to do more in addressing the needs of victims. We have a victims-centred approach. We have victim advocates in our biggest missions, who are basically tasked with supporting victims and helping them.
And we also need to make sure that this greater reactivity of troop- and police-contributing countries will be sustained, and even enhanced. So, there is progress, it’s unquestionable; but at the same time, we need to do much more.
UN News: Authorities in some of the countries where missions are based have been accused of corruption and mismanagement in their dealings with missions. Is this just an endemic problem, or is there more that can be done to stop it and how can the UN stop money getting into the wrong hands, in effect?
Jean-Pierre Lacroix: Well, I think it’s important to make sure that, first of all, any kind of misconduct will be again brought to our knowledge so that we can act on these.
And I was mentioning SEA: in the case of SEA, anyone can report anonymously on a delegation and bring it to our knowledge. I think we have to make sure that it will be the case for any type of misconduct.
Now, another thing is about procurement and making sure that, in our procurement activities, we don’t inadvertently channel resources to the wrong hands. It’s difficult, but at the same time, it’s an important responsibility.
UN News: So, overall, are you confident that this will be a year in which peacekeeping thrives?
Jean-Pierre Lacroix: Well, I think peacekeeping is — and, I think, is understood — as a very important tool to help promote peace and stability.
At the same time, I think we have to be realistic. Peacekeeping is one tool; it’s among many others. It is not suitable for any type of situation. When we talk about peace enforcement, when we talk about counter-terrorism, then it is not for peacekeeping. There has to be other ways of addressing these types of situations.
This is why we strongly support regional and subregional organizations engaging in peace operations. But they have to be supported. This is why we have advocated stronger support for AU, African Union, peace operations.
UN News: So, greater collective effort still needed?
Jean-Pierre Lacroix: Absolutely.