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At General Assembly’s committee debate, UN senior official flags that ‘peacekeeping works’

Rwandan peacekeepers serving with UNAMID escort IDPs on their return from an IDP camp to their original village in Sehjanna, near Kutum, North Darfur. (July 2011)
Rwandan peacekeepers serving with UNAMID escort IDPs on their return from an IDP camp to their original village in Sehjanna, near Kutum, North Darfur. (July 2011)

At General Assembly’s committee debate, UN senior official flags that ‘peacekeeping works’

Addressing delegates from United Nations Member States, two of the world body’s senior officials today highlighted the key role that UN peacekeeping plays within the broader international peace and security arena, as well as its future priorities.

“It is a very versatile tool, but also cost effective. The resources spent by the international community on UN peacekeeping are but a small fraction of global defence spending – despite UN peacekeeping’s relatively low price tag, a credible body of research credits peacekeeping with contributing significantly to the decline in casualties due to civil wars,” the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, told the General Assembly’s Special Political and Decolonization Committee.

“The investment in peacekeeping has also prevented and alleviated suffering for an untold number of people,” he added. “The relative stability peacekeeping offers has also helped restore a measure of confidence of local and international investors in post-conflict zones, increasing economic activity and raising the GDP [gross domestic product] of these same countries. Put plainly: peacekeeping works.”

Also known as the ‘Fourth Committee,’ the body deals with a variety of subjects, including peacekeeping and mine action. Made up of representatives of UN Member States, it is one of six such committees which tackle specific issues and themes under discussion by the broader General Assembly, but which lend themselves to more effective discussion in smaller settings covering different topics.

Part of the Fourth Committee’s activities include an annual debate at which it receives a briefing from the head of UN peacekeeping operations, as well as the head of the Department of Field Support (DFS), which provides support in the areas of finance, logistics, communication and technology and human resources, amongst others.

In his remarks, Under-Secretary-General Ladsous noted that peacekeeping “seems always to be at a crossroads” because it is frequently at the centre of the international community’s response to conflict.

“This is because it has proven to be an essential and versatile vehicle for political, as well as operational action. Even as we conduct periodic reviews and right-sizing to optimize the use of personnel and resources entrusted to us, we will develop possible concepts and options to meet future challenges,” he said. “To succeed, we will need the right strategic approach to keep pace with evolving requirements of the countries concerned.”

The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations currently has more than 120,000 personnel – both in uniform and civilians – serving in 16 peace missions around the world. In his briefing to the Fourth Committee, Mr. Ladsous gave an overview of the peace operations, as well as the strategic context they operate in, and policy and reform issues.

Referring to the now-ended operation in Syria, the UN official noted how peacekeeping activities – with the support of UN Member States – can respond swiftly even in the most challenging circumstances.

Set up the Security Council in April with up to 300 unarmed observers, the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) was charged with monitoring a cessation of violence in the Middle Eastern country, in addition to other tasks, before the Council eventually decided not to renew its mandate due to the escalating violence on the ground.

“Despite the tight timelines and uncertain conditions, a wide range of TCCs [troop-contributing countries] promptly offered personnel, and observers from 60 countries were quickly deployed and commenced operations,” Mr. Ladsous said. “It proved that swift deployments are possible, and that highly qualified blue berets can make a difference in a complex and challenging environment.”

Syria has been wracked by violence, with at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, estimated to have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 20 months ago. Some 2.5 million people are also in dire need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN estimates.

Turning to operations in West Africa, the UN peacekeeping chief noted how gains made in peace efforts there are “extremely fragile and vulnerable to reversal,” particularly mentioning the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI).

“In Côte d’Ivoire, despite progress made towards restoring normalcy since the violent post-election crisis in 2010/11, the country continues to face significant threats and challenges. The root causes of instability are yet to be addressed,” Mr. Ladsous said, adding that the security situation has deteriorated over the past months, particularly in the country’s west and along the border area with Liberia, as well as recently in the city of Abidjan and the country’s east.

The border area with Liberia has been the scene of heightened tensions due, in particular, to the cross-border movement of armed groups. The two peacekeeping operations in the area – UNOCI and the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) – have increased their cooperation in the area, particularly in the wake of the killings of civilians there and an attack in June, in western Côte d’Ivoire, which left seven UN peacekeepers dead.

The UN peacekeeping chief devoted time in his speech to Sudan, South Sudan and Abyei, where close to a third of all UN peacekeepers are currently serving.

In the western Sudanese region of Darfur, he noted, while the previous large-scale conflict has largely abated since the establishment of the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission there, known by the acronym UNAMID, challenges remain – such as continuing conflict between Government and opposition forces, increased criminality and banditry, and restlessness among militia formerly supportive of the Government.

“Progress has also been slow in the implementation of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD),” he added.

A comprehensive peace plan finalized in May 2011 in Doha, Qatar, the DDPD forms the basis for a permanent ceasefire and comprehensive peace agreement to end the fighting that began in Darfur nine years ago, pitting Government forces and allied militiamen against rebel groups.

Established in July 2007, UNAMID has the protection of civilians as its core mandate, but is also tasked with contributing to security for humanitarian assistance and assisting with an inclusive political process, amongst other responsibilities.

Meanwhile, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Mr. Ladsous noted, has been helping

South Sudan – in its second year of independence from Sudan – face “significant” internal security and state building challenges.

“The relation between Sudan and South Sudan has also, for the most part of 2012, been dogged by a lack of agreement on the resolution of outstanding issues of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement,” he said.

These include, he added, the implementation of security arrangements, oil and financial agreements, and the establishment of institutions in the Abyei area, a disputed region straddling the border between Sudan and South Sudan. In addition, both countries have also accused each other of cross border incursions and of providing support to their rebel groups

Mr. Ladsous noted that that UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) – charged with overseeing the demilitarization of the area and maintain security – has nevertheless succeeded in restoring security in the past year and the demarcation and delineation of the contested border.

In late September, in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan signed cooperation agreements in a range of areas, particularly in security, the common border and economic relations. The agreements were welcomed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the members of the Security Council, amongst others.

“If implemented in good faith, the agreements… should allow them to focus on building two viable and stable states and UNISFA, in particular, will be responsible for supporting the border security arrangements,” Mr. Ladsous stated.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in July last year, six years after the signing of the peace agreement that ended decades of warfare between the north and the south. However, the peace between the two countries had come under threat over recent months by armed clashes along their common border and outstanding post-independence issues that have yet to be resolved.

In relation to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the peacekeeping chief flagged how the situation in the country’s east has deteriorated significantly due to the activities of the March 23 Movement (M23).

The DRC's eastern provinces of North and South Kivu have witnessed increased fighting between Government troops and the M23, which is composed of renegade soldiers who mutinied in April. The fighting has displaced more than 300,000 people, including many who have fled to neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda, as well as within DRC.

Peacekeepers with the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) have been supporting Government efforts against the M23, and have clashed with its fighters on several occasions. In mid-October, six UN peacekeepers and a local interpreter were wounded in an overnight ambush in North Kivu province, while another peacekeeper was killed in the same province in July when he was caught in a cross-fire in clashes between the DRC’s armed forces and the M23.

In Afghanistan, Mr. Ladsous said, the mission there is actively preparing the post-2014 phase, particularly in terms of supporting a peaceful political transition, including its support to the Afghan authorities in the planning and organizing of the presidential elections in 2014 by Afghan electoral authorities, in addition to helping with an Afghan-led reconciliation process and furthering international support in line with Afghan priorities.

While the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is a political mission, it is directed by DPKO. Mr. Ladsous added that UNAMA, at the request of the Security Council in 2011, reviewed its activities and posture to optimize resources and focus on priority core mandate areas in an increasingly supporting role to Afghan counterparts.

Crossing over to the Asia-Pacific region, the peacekeeping chief paid tribute to the efforts of the staff of the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), which helped the country with the peaceful and orderly conduct of two rounds of presidential elections and the parliamentary elections this year, as well as the inauguration of the country’s new Fifth Constitutional Government in August.

UNMIT has started a phased drawdown which is expected to lead to the closure of the Mission on 31 December 2012.

“This is the outcome that we wish for all our Missions, and I wish to pay tribute here to those who have served in Timor, and of course the Timorese themselves, for this formidable achievement,” Mr. Ladsous added.

Looking ahead, the UN official stressed the need to be prepared for potential future roles for UN peacekeeping “whether in Mali, Syria, Somalia, or elsewhere.”

“While we cannot predict when or where our next operation may be mandated or in what configurations, our responsibility is to be proactive in planning for a range of contingencies so we may engage rapidly and effectively if called to action by the Security Council,” he said. “In this, we will continue, with the support of this Committee, to further our partnership with regional organisations.”

He made particular mention of the African Union, describing it as a “vital strategic partner” to UN peacekeeping, and expressing his commitment to enhancing strategic and operational cooperation with it, building on experiences shared between the world and regional bodies in Somalia and Sudan.

In his speech, Mr. Ladsous listed five priorities for UN peacekeeping: military and police capacities; civilian capacities, in particular, rule of law and security institutions; the mandated roles of UN peacekeeping in peacebuilding and the protection of civilians; strengthened field support arrangements, through DFS’ Global Field Support Strategy (GFSS); and, the conduct of UN personnel, with the need to hold them to the highest standards.

“With respect to military and police capacities, we are working to place effectiveness at the heart of our operations through a ‘capability-driven’ approach,” he said. “I see the introduction of an overarching quality assurance framework, supported by guidance and training, as a means to improve performance, while also enhancing safety and security. Under this broad performance framework, we have specific initiatives to ensure a practical and field-oriented approach.”

On standards, the peacekeeping chief noted that three sets of initial standards on medical, staff officer training and infantry battalions have been established, with DPKO working to pilot, with a specific troop-contributing country, the application of the so-called Infantry Battalion Manual, from pre-deployment through to deployment and rotation.

Mr. Ladsous said that DPKO is considering introducing new technologies such as unarmed Unmanned Aerial Systems to the peacekeeping missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Côte d’Ivoire, in support of the implementation of their mandates, as well as to enhance force protection and staff security and to reduce their dependency on helicopters.

“I am aware of the sensitivities surrounding the use of such technology and would like to assure you that the use of this technology would be with the agreement of the host countries and in full transparency with all countries concerned,” the Under-Secretary-General said.

In the area of civilian capacities, Mr. Ladsous said that strengthening the performance and structures of police, justice and corrections institutions, conducting Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR), and supporting national security sector reform efforts are ongoing priorities as these areas are vital to consolidating peace.

“This is an area of growing demand,” he said. “DPKO’s rule of law and security institutions team is working to roll out new ways to monitor progress in these difficult areas through use of some indicators developed in partnership with peacekeeping, human rights and development partners.”

On UN peacekeeping’s peacebuilding and protection of civilians responsibilities, Mr. Ladsous flagged DPKO’s “important” progress on clarifying the role of peacekeepers in peacebuilding. He also said that DPKO and DFS can now build on a solid base of guidance and training, and focus on application and training. He noted that regional courses have been conducted so far in Latin America and Asia to prepare Member States’ military, police and civilian trainers.

“Recognising the primary responsibility of the host-countries to protect civilians, we are working to develop the capacity of host-state security institutions, particularly police, to sensitise them to their responsibilities to protect, and to strengthen accountability and oversight through justice and security sector reform,” Mr. Ladsous said.

“We also coordinate closely with capacity-building efforts by bilateral and development partners. We also understand that the best protection is prevention and are focusing on establishing effective early warning mechanisms in our missions,” he added.

On DFS’ Global Field Support Strategy, the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support and head of DFS, Ameerah Haq, told the Fourth Committee that the GFSS will bring about a clearer division of labour amongst various UN bodies involved – UN Headquarters, the world body’s Global Service Centre, its Regional Service Centre in the Ugandan city of Entebbe, and the peacekeeping missions.

“Today, operational, transactional, and strategic functions too often take place alongside one another at all four levels of activity; this duplication of roles must be replaced with a clear delineation of responsibilities and functions,” Ms. Haq said.

“(UN) Headquarters must focus on dialogue with, and guidance from, Member States, and on strategic support to the field. The Global Service Centre must evolve into the role of logistics and IT hub for UN peace operations worldwide – the global supply chain manager,” she added. “The Regional Service Centre should carry out the lion’s share of administrative transactions for its client missions. And, in the field, missions and their staff and personnel must receive the quality support they require.”

In regards to the conduct of UN personnel, Under-Secretary-General Ladsous said that the collective efforts of the United Nations and countries which contribute police and military personnel are making a difference.

“Misconduct allegations in missions continue to decline, in particular those involving sexual exploitation and abuse,” Mr. Ladsous said, adding that both he and Ms. Haq are personally committed to upholding the highest standards of conduct for all UN peacekeeping personnel.

“We, together with PCCs (police-contributing countries) and TCCs (troop-contributing countries), need to continue our efforts and ensure full attention to all categories of personnel and to respond to any allegations swiftly and decisively,” he stated. “I also look to our contributors to ensure that the personnel they contribute meet the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity, including in terms of human rights and criminal records.”