Public Briefing by UN Force Commanders
Tomorrow morning (9 October), the Council expects to discuss key cross-cutting operational issues in UN peacekeeping during a briefing by Military Advisor Lieutenant General Maqsood Ahmed from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and force commanders Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz (Brazil) of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), Major General Jean Bosco Kazura (Rwanda) of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and Lieutenant General Iqbal Singh Singha (India) of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
This marks the fifth consecutive year that the Council will host a meeting with force commanders. According to the report of the Finnish workshop for newly elected Council members, held on 21-22 November 2013, the annual briefing by the force commanders was referred by some Council members as a model for Council meetings, because of the substance of the topics discussed and the interactivity allowed by the format (S/2014/213). Besides presenting statements, some members in the past have taken advantage of the presence of the force commanders to ask specific questions. Given the challenging environments a number of the missions are currently operating in, Council members are likely to view tomorrow’s meeting as an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the perspectives from the field, particularly on operational issues.
The topics that will be covered tomorrow are as follows:
Protection of civilians: concept and implications (Lt Gen dos Santos Cruz, MONUSCO)
Lt Gen dos Santos Cruz is expected to brief the Council on the implementation of MONUSCO’s protection of civilians mandate. MONUSCO has been focusing its efforts on prevention and early warning mechanisms. According to the most recent Secretary-General’s report (S/2014/698), community protection committees in five provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are managing local protection plans aimed at improving preventive responses by MONUSCO and Congolese authorities. MONUSCO’s role in protecting civilians will be of particular interest, especially in light of the 7 March report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, which evaluated the implementation and results of protection of civilians mandates in UN peacekeeping operations and found “a persistent pattern of peacekeeping operations not intervening with force when civilians are under attack” (A/68/787).
Lt Gen dos Santos Cruz is also expected to brief the Council on the challenges MONUSCO faces in transferring its tasks in the western parts of the DRC to the UN Country Team and focusing its presence and operations in the eastern DRC provinces most affected by violence.
Another key area of concern for the Council that is also likely to be raised tomorrow is the disarmament of the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) Hutu rebel group. There is widespread consensus in the Council on the need to neutralise the FDLR. On 26 August, Council members issued a press statement (SC/11533) expressing deep concern regarding the sustained threat posed by the FDLR and reaffirming support for its swift neutralisation. Council members took note of the ultimatum for the FDLR to disarm within six months or face military action set by the defence ministers of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries on 2 July. On 3 October, Council members issued another press statement (SC/11586) noting their disappointment at the FDLR’s failure to voluntarily demobilise to date. The statement stressed that only full demobilisation could justify further delays in Congolese military action against the FDLR, with the support of MONUSCO. (MONUSCO is authorised, through its Intervention Brigade, comprised of troops from SADC countries, to neutralise armed groups and disarm them).
Expectations from military contingents under a changed security environment (Maj Gen Kazura, MINUSMA)
Maj Gen Kazura is expected to brief the Council on the challenges for robust peacekeeping operations deployed in contexts with asymmetric threats. Briefing the Council this morning from Bamako by videoconferencing, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous stated that MINUSMA is no longer operating in a peacekeeping environment. Maj Gen Kazura is expected to focus particularly on the measures taken by the mission to address the deteriorating security situation and the deliberate targeting of MINUSMA by terrorist groups. A 7 October attack on MINUSMA, in which a Senegalese peacekeeper was killed, was the latest of a series of similar attacks over the summer. Since 1 July 2013, 31 peacekeepers have been killed and 91 injured in hostile acts. Although most of the casualties have been the result of improvised explosive devices, the latest deadly attacks have been the result of rocket fire, which indicates a qualitative change in the nature of the threat and the strategies used by terrorist groups. Given the spate of attacks in recent months, Council members may be interested in discussing what measures can be taken to enhance the safety and security of UN personnel in Mali.
Along these lines, Maj Gen Kazura is expected to draw some lessons learnt on the re-hatting of troops from African-led operations to UN peacekeeping operations and how the UN can bolster the capacities of these peacekeepers in order to improve their safety and security. As part of the re-hatting process from the African-led International Support Mission to Mali into MINUSMA, troop and police-contributing countries were given a four month grace period until 31 October 2013 to meet UN standards for contingent-owned equipment. Even though some of the capacity gaps were bridged through bilateral donations and a trust fund, some of the contingents are still seeing their capability to operate hindered by the lack of basic equipment, such as armoured vehicles.
Accomplishment of traditional mandates under a changed politico-military environment (Lt Gen Singha, UNDOF).
Lt Gen Singha is expected to brief on recent developments in UNDOF. The mission, which was established in 1974 to monitor the ceasefire between Israel and Syria, had been relatively calm and uneventful for most of its operational life. But more recently, UNDOF has had to significantly alter how it carries out its mandate due to the escalating spillover of the Syrian civil war into the mission’s area of operations. Council members will likely be anxious to hear Lt Gen Singha’s account of the events that began on 27 August when the Al-Nusra Front overran Syrian government forces at the Quneitra crossing and the subsequent detention of Fijian peacekeepers and besiegement of Filipino peacekeepers. While all of these peacekeepers are now safe, the crossing remains outside of Syrian government control and the extremely unstable operating environment led to UNDOF’s relocating personnel from the Bravo (Syrian) side to the Alpha (Israeli) side of the area of operations in mid-September. Council members will also be interested in whether these recent events have spurred a crisis of confidence among troop-contributing countries, as the Philippines has withdrawn its 331 peacekeepers and asked for an investigation of Lt Gen Singha’sallegedly endangering the safety of the Filipino peacekeepers. (Ladsous said on 3 September in Any Other Business that he fully supports the force commander’s actions, and subsequently reiterated this view in public.)
Furthermore, regarding risk mitigation, Council members will want to know how Lt Gen Singha has continued to adjust the operating posture of the observer mission following the personnel relocation and whether UNDOF will find it difficult to implement its mandate in the changed security circumstances. Tomorrow’s briefing will also likely inform Council members’ thinking ahead of the 20 October consultations on UNDOF when the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is expected to provide an assessment of the mission and preliminary options on how the UNDOF mandate may need to be further adjusted when it comes up for renewal in December. (It may be difficult to significantly alter the mandate since it derives from the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement between Israel and Syria and any changes would require the consent of both parties and the cooperation of the remaining troop-contributing countries.)