Expected Council Action
In May, China is organising an open debate on “Improving the Safety and Security of Peacekeepers” as a signature event of its presidency. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support Atul Khare are expected to brief. A Council product, most likely a presidential statement, is anticipated.
Key Recent Developments
During its last Council presidency in March 2020, China had scheduled an open debate on “UN Peacekeeping Operations: Better Capacity Building, More Safety and Security”. According to the concept note China disseminated to Council members at the time, the debate was envisioned to address ways member states could help build capacity through training and provision of equipment and other resources; how the Security Council, the Secretariat, troop–contributing countries (TCCs) and police–contributing countries (PCCs), financial contributors, and host countries should respond to the challenges presented by complex situations and dangerous environments; how the UN could improve its training system; and what uniform deployment standards for peacekeepers should be established. Because of measures put in place to address the escalating COVID-19 pandemic, however, Council members were unable to meet in person, and the debate was cancelled.
Despite the cancellation, China decided to proceed with a resolution that members were in the process of negotiating as the anticipated outcome of the signature event. On 30 March 2020, the Council adopted resolution 2518 on capacity–building and safety and security of peacekeepers. Resolution 2518 requested, amongst other things, that host states facilitate access and freedom of movement for UN peacekeepers and their equipment consistent with the mandate, including for casualty and medical evacuation. Given that peacekeepers are often deployed in deteriorating and complex political and security environments, the resolution highlighted the need for missions to remain agile and effective in implementing their mandates in order to enhance the safety and security of peacekeepers, including through the provision of adequate medical facilities and critical capabilities. The text referred to the need to augment operational health support and requested the Secretariat to instruct all peacekeeping missions to systematically document violations of status of forces agreements. It further requested that member states hosting peacekeeping operations investigate and prosecute those responsible for attacks on UN personnel. Finally, resolution 2518 requested the Secretary-General to review and ensure uniformity of UN standards on training and performance as ways to improve the safety and security of peacekeepers.
On 14 September 2020, the Council held its annual open debate on peacekeeping in accordance with resolution 2378, which requested the Secretary-General to provide a comprehensive annual briefing on “reform of United Nations peacekeeping” every 12 months and to update the Council on the “continuous efforts made in filling the existing gaps in terms of force generation and capabilities”. During the meeting, Lacroix described the steps that the Department of Peace Operations (DPO) had undertaken to improve the safety and security of peacekeepers since the adoption of 2518, including by promulgating policies on casualty evacuation and by improving force protection, camp defence, and medical standards, training and care.
The issue of peacekeepers’ safety and security has gained further momentum over the past several weeks: on 26 March, Kenya and 12 other Council members (including China) co-hosted an Arria-formula meeting on “Protecting the Peacekeeper: Suppressing the Deployment of Improvised Explosive Devices against Peace Operations”, which focused on how improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are often used to inflict harm on civilians and humanitarian workers, as well as peacekeepers. The meeting also highlighted the use of IEDs in a number of countries where there are peace operations—including Somalia, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo—that have seen a rise in injuries and fatalities of peacekeepers.
On 8 April, China announced that it was establishing a “Group of Friends on the Safety and Security of Peacekeepers” in conjunction with key troop contributors Brazil, India and Rwanda. It also extended invitations to all other member states to join the group. According to the concept note on the group’s establishment, this informal mechanism aims to provide a forum for discussing the difficulties peacekeepers face with regard to their safety and security; increasing awareness and information–sharing on this issue and proposing initiatives to address these concerns; enhancing coordination with the Secretariat on peacekeeper safety and security; and adopting common positions for collective action. At the time of writing, it was unclear when the group would be officially launched. On 13 April, the Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations, a subsidiary body of the Security Council currently chaired by Tunisia, met at the request of China to discuss implementation of resolution 2518 and discuss further the formation of the informal group of friends.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the safety and security of peacekeepers. When resolution 2518 was adopted, the COVID-19 pandemic was in its early stages, and its potential impact on peace operations remained an open question. During the final stages of negotiations, some Council members argued that language should be included to refer to the pandemic, as peacekeepers’ health is a key aspect of their safety and security, while other members felt that there should be no specific reference to COVID-19 given that threats such as Ebola have also had an impact on peacekeepers’ health. A general reference to “infectious diseases” was agreed upon.
Given that the impact of COVID-19 on peacekeepers’ safety continues to remain a point of concern for Council members, the Council and briefers may wish to focus on how peace operations are undertaking their mandated tasks in the context of COVID-19.
Council members may also wish to use the open debate to further expand on the discussions around the use of IEDs in settings where there are peace operations.
Another ongoing issue is the importance of equipping and training peacekeepers in a way that enhances not only their performance but also their safety and security. While negotiating a potential presidential statement, the Council may wish to both emphasise the link between capacity–building and the safety and security of peacekeepers and 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.
There is a large 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. The unanimous adoption of resolution 2518 illustrates this.
There are, however, differing views within the Council and among the wider membership over how to assess and improve peacekeeping performance. Some members have prioritised increased accountability for under-performance. In contrast, others have felt that missions are too often tasked with difficult mandates that are formulated with limited input from TCCs. Some also believe that a spotlight is placed on troop under-performance, but less so on the performance of civilian mission leaders.
China’s focus on this issue is likely to reflect the fact that it is currently the ninth leading contributor of UN peacekeepers and the leading contributor of such personnel among permanent Council members.
UN DOCUMENTS ON PEACEKEEPING
|Security Council Resolutions|
|30 March 2020S/RES/2518||This was a resolution on improving the safety and security of peacekeepers.|
|21 September 2018S/RES/2436||This was a resolution on peacekeeping performance.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|17 September 2020S/202/911||This was a letter from the president of the Security Council addressed to the Secretary-General and the permanent representatives of Council member states containing the record of the 14 September 2020 meeting on UN peacekeeping operations.|