Formal discipline standards for peacekeepers needed, says UN official

Formal discipline standards for peacekeepers needed, says UN official

Jean-Marie Guéhenno
Troop-contributing countries must accept the introduction of formal discipline standards for United Nations peacekeepers or risk jeopardizing the world body’s entire recent campaign to improve the actions of its personnel in the field, the UN’s top peacekeeping official said today.

Discussions are about to resume with UN Member States on a proposed memorandum of understanding setting out standards for the estimated 100,000 peacekeepers operating in 18 separate missions around the world, Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno told a press conference in response to questions from journalists.

The standards, which would be contained in a memorandum of understanding, are being proposed as part of the Secretariat’s response to a series of scandals in recent years over the behaviour – most notoriously involving sexual exploitation and abuse – by some UN peacekeepers.

But Mr. Guéhenno added that some States have indicated they are opposed to the introduction of such standards and he called on those unnamed countries to rethink their positions.

“Sometimes countries want to have their cake and eat it,” he said. “That is, you can’t at the same time want the UN to have perfect discipline and everything, and then resist any UN encroachment or interference with their own national disciplinary procedures. It makes things very difficult.”

Although the UN can send misbehaving peacekeepers home, troop-contributing countries are currently responsible for the conduct of their troops and other uniformed personnel, and UN rules can be made binding only with their agreement.

Mr. Guéhenno stressed that it was vital that both the UN and Member States “have the same understanding of what is acceptable, what is not acceptable, what is criminal, what is not. We need to have total clarity on that.”

The Under-Secretary-General said another potential problem arose in that some countries may not have the same standards or procedures for conducting investigations as the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).

“These are the kind of very practical issues that can weaken our hand in terms of discipline, zero tolerance and sending a clear message to everybody that troop contributors, UN Secretariat, [that] we are all in the same boat wanting to enforce the right policies… You have to have some kind of compromise there or otherwise it can’t work.”

Mr. Guéhenno said he was hopeful that the standards would be approved and enforced.

“I think that everybody understands the importance of having effective disciplinary processes in the United Nations, everyone understands how much damage cases of misconduct have done to the good name of the UN, how it hurts us… so I think for the sake of really truly putting an end to that, it’s worth making some compromise in a memorandum of understanding.”