Meeting with the Golan-Heights Mission’s Troop-Contributing Countries
Tomorrow afternoon (22 March), Council members will meet with the three countries that are currently troop-contributing countries (TCCs) to the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights – Austria, India and the Philippines. (Croatia which had been a TCC until 17 March was invited but declined to attend.) The meeting is a follow-up to letters sent to the Council by Austria and the Philippines (who together contribute the bulk of UNDOF’s 911 troops) following the detention of 21 Philippine peacekeepers by armed opposition fighters in Syria from 6 to 9 March.
The letter from Austria (S/2013/142) dated 11 March, asks the Security Council to “guarantee an active dialogue between UNDOF troop-contributing countries and the Security Council in the future to ensure full transparency and confidence.” In a similar vein, the letter from the Philippines (S/2013/152), also dated 11 March, “asks the Security Council to ensure that a mechanism is in place that guarantees open, active and transparent dialogue” with TCCs. Council members are likely to be primarily interested in getting TCCs thoughts about how they would like to be kept informed about events on the ground and in hearing their views on how UNDOF could be reconfigured.
Council members last met on the Golan Heights on 6 and 8 March, following the detention of the 21 UNDOF peacekeepers. They agreed on a press statement on 6 March condemning the event and demanding the unconditional and immediate release of the peacekeepers (SC/10933). Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, updated Council members in consultations on the status of negotiations with those holding the peacekeepers on 8 March, and all 21 were released unharmed into Jordan on 9 March.
The safety and security of peacekeepers in UNDOF has been an increasingly significant issue in recent months. On 29 November 2012, five UNDOF peacekeepers were injured in the vicinity of Damascus airport while rotating out of the mission. In response to that incident (and increased activity relating to the Syrian conflict within the area of operations of UNDOF), on 19 December 2012, in resolution 2084, the Council requested more frequent reports (every three months instead of six) from the Secretary-General on UNDOF.
Council members may also be interested in discussing the impact on UNDOF of decisions by Croatia and Japan to withdraw their troop contingents in recent months. In December and January, Japan withdrew its 31 troops and 15 support personnel from UNDOF, citing the violence in Syria. On 28 February, Croatia announced it would withdraw its 97 troops due to the deteriorating security situation. The announcement followed reports that arms purchased in Croatia were being smuggled to Syrian rebels. (The peacekeepers were not implicated in the smuggling).
The Secretary-General’s decision today to conduct an investigation into allegations of chemical weapon use near the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday, following a request from Syria, may also come up for discussion during consultations. Chemical attacks in or near the UNDOF area of operation could result in the Council having to consider a significant reconfiguration (or the complete withdrawal) of the mission.
It seems unlikely that any kind of new mechanism to allow for greater dialogue between TCCs and the Council will be set up in the near future. Council members appear to be united in their opposition to the possibility of involving TCCs in regular consultations on UNDOF—there is consensus that to do so would set a precedent that could lead to other actors asking to be present.
Some Council members have also suggested that TCCs are already receiving bilateral briefings from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations with as much or more information than is contained in briefings to the Security Council.
However, Council members also recognise that more must be done to ensure the safety and security of peacekeepers, and tomorrow’s consultations represent a first opportunity for TCCs to weigh in on how UNDOF might be reconfigured to maximise security. The issue of security for peacekeepers is likely to be of interest to the Council members who contribute significant numbers of troops to UN peacekeeping operations. (Three elected members each contribute more than 1,000 troops and one of these, Pakistan, is the second highest contributor of personnel to UN peacekeeping operations.) While these countries will likely concur with the rest of the Council that allowing TCC access to regular consultations sets an undesirable precedent, they are also likely to be quite sympathetic to the concerns that have been voiced by Austria and the Philippines.
Council members will have another opportunity to discuss these issues next Tuesday (26 March) when it considers the Secretary-General’s most recent UNDOF report (S/2013/174).
A Note on TCC Meetings
Since the early nineties the Council has grappled with the issue of consultations and communications with TCCs. Informal meetings of troop contributors have been organised by the Secretariat since at least May 1993, initially in connection with the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in the former Yugoslavia. However, there were no formal structures in place at the time. Argentina and New Zealand pushed for formal institutionalisation of consultation mechanisms which led to a presidential statement adopted on 4 November 1994 which approved new procedures for future consultations and exchange of information with TCCs and the Secretariat (S/PRST/1994/62). On 14 December 1994, the Council agreed on another presidential statement which stated that there should be an increased recourse to open meetings, in particular at an early stage of consideration of a subject (S/PRST/1994/81).
On 28 March 1996, acknowledging that practical implementation of meetings with TCCs had proved difficult the Council agreed to another presidential statement (S/PRST/1996/13) revising the procedures for consultations with TCCs. It was agreed that meetings would be chaired by the President of the Council supported by the Secretariat and meetings would be held with prospective TCCs ahead of the establishment of a new mission.
On 13 November 2000 the Council adopted resolution 1327 which included a decision to strengthen the existing system of consultations through the holding of private meetings with TCCs, including at their request. Pressure for better cooperation with TCCs continued, leading finally on 13 June 2001 to resolution 1353 which stipulated that consultations with TCCs would take place in the following formats:
- public or private meetings with the participation of TCCs to ensure a full and high-level consideration of issues of critical importance to specific peacekeeping operations;
- consultation meetings with TCCs chaired by the president of the Council would continue as the principal means of consultation; and
- meetings between the Secretariat and TCCs.
(For more background information on the relationship between the Council and Troop-Contributing and Police-Contributing Countries please see Security Council Report’s 24 June 2009 Update Report.)