While the Security Council determines the mandate and size of new United Nations peacekeeping missions, getting these operations up and running is a joint venture that takes many months and involves several actors. And it is no easy task.
“Mission start-up is a really difficult time because you’re trying to work within a tight timeframe,” says Ameerah Haq, the head of the Department of Field Support (DFS).
The Department was created by the General Assembly in 2007 to bolster the UN’s capacity to “mount and sustain” peacekeeping operations in light of the surge in demand for and increasing complexity of those operations.
Currently, it provides support to more than 113,000 personnel serving in 16 UN peacekeeping and political missions, in the areas of finance, logistics, information and communication and technology (ICT), human resources and general administration.
Ms. Haq recently returned from the West African nation of Mali, where the UN is in the process of setting up the newly-established UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA.
“There are many, many challenges in looking at what the mandate is, how we can respond and determining then how we will operationalize that mandate,” she told the UN News Centre today in an interview ahead of this year’s International Day of UN Peacekeepers.
“There’s a military concept of operations. There’s a sort of overall strategic framework of the mission. Then we need to take that kind of blueprint and just make the engines run.”
Northern Mali was occupied by radical Islamists after fighting broke out in January 2012 between Government forces and Tuareg rebels. The conflict uprooted hundreds of thousands of people and prompted the Malian Government to request assistance from France to stop the military advance of extremist groups.
While security has greatly improved following the actions of French and African military forces which helped push Islamists and other militants out of the cities they had seized, much remains to be done to restore Mali’s constitutional order and territorial integrity.
The 12,600-strong MINUSMA, set up by the Council in April, is slated to support the political process in Mali and take over from the African-led mission that is currently there on 1 July. But before then, there are a myriad of activities that need to be completed.
“It runs the whole gamut – from establishing contracts that will provide food and water to the troops, looking at their needs for shelter, vehicles, setting up communications, setting up the infrastructure where our planes can land, getting the whole complement of personnel…,” said Ms. Haq.
The fact that Mali is a landlocked country posed a particular challenge for the UN in getting goods – whether they be food, fuel or other supplies – into the country.
She added that the Government of Mali was very welcoming of the UN presence and has agreed to put all the necessary agreements that the UN needs to have with the host country in place. There is also a start-up team in the country. The plan is to set up a headquarters for MINUSMA in the capital, Bamako, as well as establish a presence in Gao and Timbuktu in the north.
As part of her visit, Ms. Haq met with representatives of civil society, including women’s groups and human rights groups, in Gao, one of the areas most affected by the recent fighting.
“There’s obviously the expectation that the UN presence will bring some element of stability and that they can get back to their normal lives and go about agriculture and their traditional livelihoods,” she said.
In addition to helping to restore stability, MINUSMA will also help the Malian authorities implement the transitional roadmap towards the full restoration of constitutional order, democratic governance and national unity. This includes the holding of elections in July, confidence-building and facilitation of reconciliation at the national and local levels.
Ms. Haq noted that the mission in Mali reflects the changing nature of UN peacekeeping, which has come to involve more than just monitoring ceasefires and now includes mandates such as protecting civilians and providing a safe and secure environment for the holding of free and fair elections.
UN peacekeeping has also been partnering more with regional organizations, particularly with the African Union, in places such as Sudan’s Darfur region and in Somalia. They are also increasingly being entrusted with more “robust mandates,” said Ms. Haq, such as in Mali and in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the UN has just deployed an intervention brigade to tackle the threat of armed groups in the region.
Adapting to these new challenges is the focus of this year’s International Day of Peacekeepers, which is observed annually on 29 May. On this day, the UN pays tribute to all the men and women who have served either as military, police or civilians and continue to serve in UN peacekeeping operations for their high level of professionalism, dedication and courage and to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives in the cause of peace.
“I think it gives everyone an opportunity to reflect on what it is that we attempt to do and how we do it. So it’s a good day for pause and reflection on peacekeeping,” said Ms. Haq.