What's In Blue

Posted Tue 17 Aug 2021

Peacekeeping: Open Debate, Resolution and Presidential Statement*

Tomorrow (18 August), the Security Council will hold a ministerial-level open debate on “Protecting the Protectors: Technology and Peacekeeping”. The meeting, which is one of India’s signature events during its August presidency, will be chaired by India’s Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to brief. Council members will participate in person, while non-Council members will submit their statements in writing.

A resolution on the protection of peacekeepers and a presidential statement on technology and peacekeeping, which were proposed by India, are the expected outcomes of the meeting.

Open Debate

India has circulated a concept note ahead of the debate to help guide the discussion. It underscores the role of technology in helping peacekeeping missions fulfil their mandates, increase their situational awareness and enhance their safety and security. The concept note also highlights the advantages offered by technology and innovation in facilitating greater mobility, enhancing operational effectiveness, reducing missions’ environmental footprint, and strengthening mission support.

The concept note describes the challenges faced by peacekeeping missions, which are operating in a volatile security environment, and points out the major gaps in capabilities and training. It says this puts the missions in a disadvantageous position as they confront threats posed by armed groups, criminals and terrorists who are increasingly utilising sophisticated weaponry and technology.

At tomorrow’s debate, Guterres may refer to the strategy for the digital transformation of UN peacekeeping which has been developed by the departments of Peace Operations (DPO), Operational Support (DOS) and Management, Strategy and Policy Compliance (DMSPC). The strategy, which was released on 15 August, seeks to enhance the effective use of technology across the major themes of the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping initiative (A4P). Guterres might also note the UN’s Partnership for Technology in Peacekeeping initiative, which was established in 2014 based on the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in Peacekeeping and the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO). Furthermore, he may elaborate on the work that is being carried out in the field to enhance the effective use of technology through the implementation of A4P, including the UNITE Aware platform, a software programme which is being implemented in some UN peacekeeping missions to enhance situational awareness.

The concept note invites members to discuss the following questions:

  • How can technology be a strategic enabler in a complex security environment and what can the Council do to allow technology deployment to become an integral part of mission mandates?
  • How can technological improvements enhance the safety and security of peacekeepers, strengthen communications within missions, improve situational awareness, and reduce the environmental impact of peacekeeping operations?
  • How can technology be used to make peacekeeping operations more cost-effective and efficient?
  • How can confidentiality concerns related to information-gathering by unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) be addressed?
  • How can cooperation among troop-and-police-contributing countries, host states, and the Secretariat be enhanced to reduce capacity gaps in the use of technology?
  • How can peacekeeping missions incorporate technology in the design and implementation of strategies for the protection of civilians, in particular their early-warning and response mechanisms?

In the past, Council discussions on the use of technology in UN peace operations tended to focus on the use of unarmed UAVs in certain peacekeeping missions. Some members have expressed reservations about the use of these technologies because of concerns regarding the possible intrusion on states’ sovereignty. The concept note argues, however, that “[t]echnology and innovation must not be seen as euphemisms for the introduction of non-transparent or intrusive technology into mission areas for narrow politicized purposes”. It also maintains that the use of technology does not violate the basic principles of peacekeeping and that advanced technologies such as UAVs should be considered as an “integral part of the update equation that can bring decided advantages to peacekeeping operations”.

Draft Resolution

At tomorrow’s meeting, the Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution on the protection of peacekeepers.  The draft text in blue builds on previous Council products on the safety and security of peacekeepers, including resolution 2518 of 30 March 2020, but also focuses on facilitating accountability for crimes committed against peacekeepers. In this regard, it expresses concern that the low rate of prosecution of such crimes contributes to an environment of impunity and urges all parties to armed conflict to fully respect their obligations under international law.

The draft resolution in blue requests the Secretary-General to include updates in his annual briefing to the Council on peacekeeping reform, which is carried out pursuant to resolution 2378 of 20 September 2017, on progress by member states in the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of crimes against peacekeepers and measures undertaken to promote accountability within their domestic justice systems, consistent with applicable international obligations. In addition, it asks that the Secretary-General include updates on measures taken by the UN to follow up on cases and support the efforts of member states towards facilitating accountability.

The draft text also requests the Secretary-General to establish a comprehensive online database of crimes against UN peacekeepers as well as information on capacity-building assistance offered by the UN to member states and progress they made in bringing to justice perpetrators of such crimes.

India circulated the zero draft on 28 July and convened two rounds of negotiations. The draft text was put under silence on 12 August, but the silence procedure was extended twice to allow members to consult with their capital. The text was agreed and put in blue yesterday (16 August). The negotiations appear to have been generally smooth. However, there was some discussion over the new provisions on the Secretary-General’s reporting. Some members had concerns over the budgetary implications of the establishment of a database. As a compromise, the draft text notes that this should be done within existing resources and encourages voluntary contributions for that purpose. Some members also raised concerns about the protection of sensitive information. Therefore, the draft resolution requests the Secretary-General to take appropriate measures in this regard.

Another issue that elicited comments was the proposal for the designation of focal points in every UN peacekeeping mission to report on issues related to the prevention, investigation and prosecution of the crimes committed against peacekeeping personnel. At least one member sought to broaden the reporting to issues of safety and security, but it was not acceptable to other members who apparently argued that peacekeepers’ safety and security included more than crimes committed against peacekeepers.

Presidential Statement

India circulated a first draft of the presidential statement at the end of July. Following two rounds of comments and one round of negotiations via video teleconference, agreement was reached on the draft. The negotiations were apparently not contentious, as there appears to be general support in the Council on the use of technology in peacekeeping. There were some differences over language members wanted to include in at least two areas, which led to the silence procedure being broken twice.  Apparently one member wanted to include language on taking into consideration a gender perspective on the use of technology, which was incorporated into the final draft. Another member sought to limit the focus of the draft text to the safety and security of peacekeepers, but eventually, a compromise was reached. The draft text highlights the significance of existing and new technologies in supporting not only the safety and security of peacekeepers but also the protection of civilians by enabling effective and timely decision-making, including through early warning and response.

Although the Council has made numerous references to the use of technology in its previous products, this is the first standalone presidential statement on the subject. The draft text “recognizes that technology has the potential to act as a force multiplier by enhancing performance, saving resources, simplifying work processes, and allowing peacekeeping missions to have a deeper understanding of the environments they operate in, through improved collection, analysis and dissemination of data”.  It encourages better integration of existing and new technologies, especially digital technology, to enhance field support, implementation of safety and security, and protection of civilians tasks. It also encourages troop- and police-contributing countries and field missions to support field-focused, reliable, and cost-effective technologies that are driven by the practical needs of end-users on the ground and increase the use of renewable energy technologies, which can enhance the safety and security of UN personnel, mission efficiency, and sustainability.

The draft text also notes the development of a strategy for the digital transformation of UN peacekeeping and the Secretary-General’s ongoing initiatives, including the UNITE Aware platform and encourages him to continue working with member states in exploring available and future technologies and best practices. In addition, it encourages the Secretary-General to provide updates on the use of new technology in supporting UN peacekeeping missions, as appropriate, in his periodic reporting.

*Post-script: On 18 August, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2589, focused on facilitating accountability for crimes committed against peacekeepers, requested the Secretary-General include updates in his annual briefing to the Council on peacekeeping reform and called for the establishment of a comprehensive online database of crimes against UN peacekeepers. On the same day, India—Security Council President for the month of August—issued a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/17) highlighting the significance of existing and new technologies by enabling effective and timely decision-making, including through early warning and response.