Expected Council Action
As one of the signature events of its presidency, China is organising a debate on “UN peacekeeping operations: Better capacity building, more safety and security”. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support Atul Khare are expected to brief. A product, such as a resolution or presidential statement, is anticipated.
Background and Key Recent Developments
A report commissioned by the UN Secretariat, Improving Security of United Nations Peacekeepers: We need to change the way we are doing business, was published in December 2017. The report responded to the rise in UN peacekeeper fatalities that had taken place since 2013 as a result of violent incidents. Prepared by a team headed by Lieutenant General (ret.) Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, it concluded that a change of mindset and break from a certain “Chapter VI Syndrome” are needed to adapt to the new contexts in which the UN flag no longer offers the “natural” protection that leads peacekeepers to deploy without a full appreciation of security risks and the operational approach needed to address them.
The report argued that a more proactive posture would contribute to the credibility of peacekeeping operations and their ability to protect civilians and their own personnel. It also maintained that enhancing the capacity of peacekeepers with better training and equipment was an important way to improve their safety and security. (The report did not address peacekeeper casualties resulting from accidents or illness, which constitute the majority of deaths in peacekeeping missions)
On 28 March 2018, Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the urgent need for “a quantum leap in collective engagement” and announced the launch of “Action for Peacekeeping” (A4P), an initiative aimed at renewing political commitment to peacekeeping operations. To date, over 150 member states and four regional organisations have endorsed the A4P’s “Declaration of Shared Commitments on UN Peacekeeping Operations”. One of the eight thematic areas in the declaration is “improving the safety and security of peacekeepers”. In this regard, the A4P initiative commits its supporters to “take all appropriate measures to bring to justice perpetrators of criminal acts against UN personnel”, and notes “efforts to improve continually medical, technical and logistical support in peacekeeping operations”. Members signing the declaration furthermore “commit to provide well-trained and well-equipped uniformed personnel” while emphasising “the need for increased funding to better support training”.
On 7 May 2019, at the initiative of Indonesia, the Council held an open debate on “Investing in peace: improving safety and performance of United Nations peacekeepers”. Secretary-General António Guterres; the force commander of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Lieutenant General Elias Rodrigues Martins Filho; and the director of the Challenges Forum International Secretariat, Björn Holmberg, briefed. Guterres updated the Council on measures to strengthen training and capacity-building with regard to UN peacekeeping. He described casualty evacuation training and crisis management exercises in specific missions, as well as pre-deployment training on countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs). During the debate, the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST2019/4) in which it recognised “the added value that the (A4P) Declaration…has in relation to training and capacity building”.
On 9 September 2019, the Council held a debate on peacekeeping reform at Russia’s initiative. During his briefing, Lacroix spoke about the efforts of UN peace operations to help facilitate the pursuit of political solutions, the importance of prioritised and sequenced mandates, and initiatives to improve the safety and security of peacekeepers. He maintained that improved and context-specific training was important for enhancing the security of peacekeepers. He also noted that peace operations had “embarked on an ambitious programme of health reform to formally establish a chain of reliable and safe care from the point of injury to the hospital” and that UN peace operations in Mali, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were working to improve medical and casualty evacuation policies.
The number of peacekeeping fatalities has decreased in the last two years, from 134 in 2017 to 95 in 2018 and 87 in 2019.
Key Issues and Options
An ongoing key issue is the importance of equipping and training peacekeepers in a way that enhances their performance and their safety and security. In this regard, in pursuing a potential product, the Council could:
- emphasise the link between capacity building and the safety and security of peacekeepers;
- highlight the importance of contributions such as helicopters, medical support, rapid reaction forces, counter-IED technology, and other resources helping to promote peacekeeper safety and security;
- encourage initiatives such as the “light coordination mechanism”, through which member states provide pre-deployment training and equipment to troop-contributing countries; and
- underscore the efforts that have been made to improve medical evacuation in high-risk environments.
Another key issue is how to address the high number of peacekeeping fatalities as a result of accidents or illness. According to the Department of Peace Operations, through 31 January 2020, 3,911 UN peacekeepers have died since 1948 as a result of accidents (1,346), illness (1,255), malicious acts (1,038), or other causes (272). Members could request the Secretariat to produce options for ways to reduce the peacekeeping fatalities resulting from accidents or illness in a potential outcome.
There is a high degree of unity within the Council concerning the need to improve the safety and security of peacekeepers and the key role of training and capacity building prior to and during their deployment. China’s interest in this topic may reflect the fact that it is the 10th leading contributor of UN peacekeepers and the leading contributor of such personnel among permanent Council members.
Views differ in the Council and among the wider membership over how to improve peacekeeping performance. Some Council members have prioritised increased accountability for under-performance, while others, including some troop contributors, have argued for broadening the focus of these discussions, underlining that performance and security cannot be delinked from other factors related to mandate formulation.
UN DOCUMENTS ON PEACEKEEPING
|Security Council Resolution|
|21 September 2018S/RES/2436||This was a resolution on peacekeeping performance.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|7 May 2019S/PRST/2019/4||This Presidential Statement was on peacekeeping training and capacity-building.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|9 September 2019S/PV.8612||This was a debate on peacekeeping reform, which featured a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix. Lacroix spoke of the efforts of UN peace operations to help facilitate the pursuit of political solutions, the importance of prioritised and sequenced mandates, and initiatives to improve the safety of peacekeepers.|
|7 May 2019S/PV.8521||This is a meeting record from the open debate on “Investing in peace: improving safety and performance of United Nations peacekeepers”.|