What's In Blue

Posted Tue 17 May 2016

Informal Interactive Dialogue with Heads of Military Components of UN Peace Operations

Tomorrow (18 May), the Security Council expects to discuss key cross-cutting operational issues in UN peacekeeping during a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous and four force commanders: Lieutenant General Derick Mbuyiselo Mgwebi (South Africa) of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), Lieutenant General Yohannes Gebremeskel Tesfamariam (Ethiopia) of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Major General Michael Lollesgaard (Denmark) of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and Lieutenant General Balla Keïta (Senegal) of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

This marks the sixth consecutive year that the Council will host a meeting with force commanders. In the past, the heads of military components of UN missions have briefed the Council in a formal and public setting. It seems that the informal interactive dialogue format was chosen for this year’s briefing because Council members are likely to be represented at a less senior level as a number of permanent representatives are travelling to Africa today for the Council visiting mission to the Horn of Africa. Council members are likely to view tomorrow’s meeting as an opportunity to gain a better understanding of perspectives from the field, particularly on operational issues. Council members in the past have taken advantage of the presence of the force commanders to ask specific questions.

The topics that will be covered tomorrow are as follows:

Information and intelligence (Maj Gen Lollesgaard, MINUSMA)

Maj Gen Lollesgaard is expected to brief Council members on the importance of improving intelligence and situational awareness so as to ensure informed decision-making in a context with asymmetric threats. He is expected to highlight the added value of the All Source Information Fusion Unit (ASIFU) established within MINUSMA, giving the mission an unprecedented capacity to gather and process actionable information on threats to civilians and UN personnel. With some 55 peacekeepers killed by malicious acts since MINUSMA’s establishment in 2013, integrating intelligence-gathering as a core function of its operations has been a priority for the mission. Maj Gen Lollesgaard may address some concerns expressed in the past by some Council members regarding confidentiality related to intelligence-gathering by UN missions. He might also elaborate on some of the key resources needed to be able to gather and process of information, both in terms of technological capacities and skill sets.

Briefing the Council in June 2015, Maj Gen Lollesgaard highlighted the importance of public information to encourage support from the population in order to create a safer environment. In this context, he explained the concept of “information operations” that combine the entire mission’s messaging activities in a coordinated manner.

Protection of Civilians (Lt Gen Yohannes Gebremeskel Tesfamariam, UNMISS)

Lt Gen Tesfamariam is expected to brief on the mission’s protection of civilians activities. The UNMISS mandate emphasises that the protection of civilians, which is one of the core responsibilities of the mission, “must be given priority in decisions about the use of available capacity and resources within the mission.” Lt Gen Tesfamariam’s briefing will probably cover what the mission is doing to provide protection at the UNMISS protection of civilians’ sites, which provide shelter to over 190,000 people, as well as how well the mission is able to project its protection efforts outside these sites.

Members may be interested in hearing more about the barriers to fulfillment of UNMISS’ protection of civilians’ mandate—such as government restrictions of movement, and access and resource shortages—and how these can be overcome. Members may want to learn more about whether the forward operating bases the mission is employing to project its protection capacities are functioning effectively and how they can be strengthened. There could also be interest in Lt Gen Tesfamariam’s assessment of the implementation of the transitional security arrangements in Juba, as well as the cantonment of opposition troops in areas that were not major theatres of the conflict; media reports have indicated tensions between the government and opposition over the transitional security arrangements. While the Independent Board of Inquiry report on the February violence in the protection of civilians’ site in Malakal has yet to be submitted to the Council, some Council members may want to hear Lt Gen Tesfamariam’s views on the performance of UNMISS troops in responding to the incident.

Use of technology (Lt Gen Derick Mbuyiselo Mgwebi, MONUSCO)

Lt Gen Mgwebi is expected to brief Council members on the importance of the use of technology in order to overcome the limitations of deterrence by presence, and in fulfilling proactively the mission’s protection of civilians’ mandate. He is expected to elaborate on how the use of new technology to improve information-gathering has resulted in better safety and security and situational awareness for the mission.

Since 2013, unmanned aerial systems (UASs) have been deployed in MONUSCO in order to reinforce the mission’s surveillance capabilities. In early 2015, the Final Report of the Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in UN Peacekeeping considered the use of these systems as an indispensable source of information which should be immediately expanded, given their role in terms of surveillance and visualisation capabilities, as well as constituting a commanding deterrent. Since then UASs have also been deployed in UN missions in Côte d’Ivoire and Mali.

In addition to the use of UASs by MONUSCO, Lt Gen Mgwebi is expected to highlight how other technological improvements—such as the development of early warning systems through the use of mobile devices distributed to the population, or using gaps in TV whitespace to provide connectivity and extend network coverage—contribute to the fulfillment of the mission’s mandate. Lt Gen Mgwebi might also address the uneven familiarity of troop contributors with new technologies, as well as the challenges to ensuring full and consistent integration of these technologies in missions.

Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (Lt Gen Balla Keïta, MINUSCA)

Lt Gen Keïta’s presentation will be dedicated to the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. Many Council members see the continued focus on this issue as an essential response to the serious allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in the Central African Republic by MINUSCA personnel. While tomorrow’s session is specific to UN peacekeepers, the scrutiny this issue receives is also a result of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by members of the French parallel forces, as well as an overall protection environment in CAR that has resulted in women and girls being extremely vulnerable to ever-increasing incidents of human trafficking, sexual violence and transactional sex.

Regarding UN peacekeepers, an independent panel appointed by the Secretary-General to review how the UN handled reports of sexual exploitation and abuse by international peacekeeping forces in the CAR released its report in December 2015. The panel found systematic failures in UN reporting chains and inadequate responses by several UN officials, including by the then-head of MINUSCA, Babacar Gaye. In August 2015, due to these allegations, the Secretary-General asked for Gaye’s resignation. In light of the fact that the majority of allegations were lodged against the Democratic Republic of the Congo contingent, the Secretary-General took the decision to repatriate the DRC contingent to MINUSCA. The Council has increased its own attention to the issues and adopted resolution 2272 on 11 March 2016, endorsing the decision of the Secretary-General to repatriate a particular military unit or formed police unit of a contingent when there is credible evidence of widespread or systemic sexual exploitation and abuse by that unit. Meanwhile, the recent report of the Secretary-General on conflict-related sexual violence recommends that the Security Council not allow national forces listed in the annex of that report to be police or troop contributors to UN peace operations (CAR, Côte Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan).

Council members will be interested to hear Lt Gen Keïta’s views on how he plans to enforce greater adherence to the UN’s zero-tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and abuse in the mission. So far in 2016, the UN’s conduct and discipline unit has registered 27 sexual exploitation and abuse allegations against MINUSCA peacekeepers. There has been a decline in newly registered allegations against MINUSCA following the repatriation of the DRC contingent. Council members will be interested in the force commander’s assessment of whether the accountability measures taken by the Secretary-General in January and endorsed by the Council in March have led to better conduct by MINUSCA peacekeepers and whether there are any lessons learned that can be applied to other peace operations.

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