What's In Blue

Open Debate on UN Transitions

Tomorrow (8 September), the Security Council will hold a ministerial-level open debate on UN transitions under the agenda item “UN peacekeeping operations”. This is one of the signature events of Ireland’s September presidency. Secretary-General António Guterres, former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and a civil society representative are expected to brief. Council members will participate in person, while non-Council members will submit their statements in writing.

A draft resolution on UN transitions, proposed by Ireland, is an expected outcome of tomorrow’s meeting. The text was put in blue today (7 September) and Council members will vote on the draft resolution on Thursday (9 September). The draft resolution is open for co-sponsorship by the wider UN membership. The draft text describes the transition of UN peace operations, which include peacekeeping missions and Special Political Missions, as a “strategic process which builds towards a reconfiguration of the strategy, footprint, and capacity of the UN in a way that supports peacebuilding objectives and the development of a sustainable peace in a manner that supports and reinforces national ownership”.

In resolution 2378 of 20 September 2017, the Security Council requested the Secretary-General to provide a comprehensive briefing to the Security Council on UN peacekeeping reform every 12 months, to be followed by a debate. Ireland chose to focus this year’s annual debate on UN transitions as part of the continuum of UN peace operations.

Ireland has circulated a concept note ahead of tomorrow’s debate to help guide the discussion. It says that the meeting aims to highlight the Security Council’s central role in underscoring the importance of transitions within the wider peacekeeping and peacebuilding agenda. The meeting will also serve as an opportunity for members to consider the management of transitions and to reflect on recent experiences to draw lessons on how to effectively plan and implement transitions in line with the prevailing security conditions on the ground and in a manner that promotes local and national ownership of the process.

The concept note refers to the Security Council’s 21 December 2017 presidential statement that recognised the importance of adequately resourcing the peacebuilding components of UN peacekeeping missions, including during mission transitions and drawdown, and emphasised the need to build upon the advice of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) in discussions on mission mandates and transitions. The concept note underlines the role of peacekeeping in undertaking tasks that are critical for transitions, such as the protection of civilians; Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR); and capacity-building in the security and justice sectors. It further notes the importance of engaging with local and national authorities, communities, civil society, and the broader UN system in promoting a successful and sustainable transition.

Furthermore, the concept note underlines the lessons that can be drawn from recent transitions, such as the closure of the peacekeeping operations in Côte d’Ivoire in 2017, Liberia in 2018 and Darfur in 2020. It points out the need for coherence and cooperation across the UN system and with regional, national and local stakeholders, particularly women and youth. It also advocates for a “phased and graduated approach” in implementing transitions, which should fully consider the risks to civilians, and the capacity and priorities of the host government and citizens. Moreover, it stresses the need for this process to be accompanied by ongoing international engagement and support to reinforce a sustainable peace.

The concept note suggests several questions for discussion at tomorrow’s debate:

In his briefing to the Council, the Secretary-General may highlight transitions as a matter of priority for the UN and refer to the policy and planning documents developed by the UN to assist the implementation of consistent and coherent UN transition processes and integrated assessments. He may also describe the work carried out by the UN to promote comprehensive, coherent and integrated transitions across the continuum of peace operations.  Guterres might emphasise the significance of partnerships with regional and sub-regional organisations and international financial institutions in support of UN transition processes. He may also underline the PBC’s role in enhancing coherence among these stakeholders and note the need for continued attention to the long-term needs of countries where UN transitions are taking place.

Sirleaf may share lessons learned from her country’s experience in relation to the drawdown and exit of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which took place in 2018. The civil society representative may underscore the need to take into account input from key local actors, particularly women and youth, in the design and implementation of UN mission transitions.

Council members are expected to discuss various aspects of UN transitions, which may include, among other things, the need to promote the primacy of politics (that is, trying to ensure that political goals drive transition processes), to avoid risks to civilians, to promote national ownership, to draw upon the advisory role of the PBC, and to implement benchmarks and timelines in a prioritised, flexible and sequenced manner. Some Council members, including European members of the Council, may emphasise the need to enhance the full, equal and meaningful participation of women and youth in UN transition processes. These Council members may also note the need to address the possible effects of climate change on security and reduce UN missions’ environmental footprints. Several members may also note the need to facilitate predictable and sustainable financing for peacebuilding.  During its 76th session, the General Assembly is expected to hold a high-level meeting to consider options for ensuring adequate, predictable and sustainable financing for peacebuilding.

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