Mental Health Support for UN Peace Operations Personnel: Vote on Draft Resolution*
Tomorrow morning (21 December), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution on mental health and psychosocial support for personnel of UN peace operations (that is, peacekeeping operations and special political missions), which was initiated by Mexico. If adopted, the draft resolution will be the first stand-alone Security Council resolution on mental health. The draft text is open for co-sponsorship by the wider UN membership.
The draft resolution in blue is a short two-page text which recognises the need to raise awareness of the importance of mental health and psychosocial support for UN peace operations personnel. It encourages troop- and police-contributing countries, member states and the UN Secretariat to provide such support to UN peace operations personnel before, during and after their deployment.
The draft text in blue also notes the work that is being conducted by the UN Secretariat to provide guidance on the provision of mental health and psychosocial support. In this regard, it references the 2018 UN Mental Health and Well-Being Strategy, a comprehensive approach to addressing the needs of UN personnel and improving organisational capacities to prevent and protect mental health, which applies to the entire UN system. The draft text in blue also notes that the UN Secretariat—together with experts from member states, the World Health Organization (WHO), and non-governmental organisations—are carrying out work on mental health for uniformed personnel. In this regard, it appears that the UN Secretariat is currently identifying best-practices regarding mental health strategies and services in the military field to adapt them into an integrated UN approach to support uniformed personnel. In initiating this draft Security Council resolution, it seems that Mexico sought to contribute to the discussions in this process.
Mexico circulated a first draft of the resolution on 28 November and then convened an informal expert-level meeting on 6 December to discuss the text. The meeting featured briefings by representatives of the UN Secretariat and the WHO, who apparently provided data on mental health-related incidents of UN peace operations personnel in different phases of deployment. After receiving comments from Council members, Mexico revised the text twice, and convened informal meetings to discuss the drafts on 13 and 15 December. It then placed the third draft text under silence until 16 December. Russia broke the silence procedure, and several members subsequently submitted comments. Mexico then placed a revised draft in blue yesterday (19 December), which will be voted on tomorrow.
It seems that Council members generally agree on the importance of promoting the well-being of UN peace operations personnel, including through the provision of mental health and psychosocial support. However, some members—including China and Russia—apparently questioned the need for a Security Council resolution on the matter. It seems that these members suggested that this is an internal UN personnel management issue, which may be more adequately addressed by other bodies, such as the Special Committee on Peacekeeping (C-34), a committee of the General Assembly mandated to conduct a comprehensive review of all issues relating to UN peacekeeping. This position led Russia to break silence on the draft resolution on 16 December. However, it seems that the penholder did not make any changes to the text that would address Russia’s concerns. Rather, the amendments to the text before it was placed in blue were made to address comments from other Council members.
Some members apparently thought that the Council should wait until the Secretariat finalises its strategy on an integrated UN approach to support uniformed personnel before pronouncing its views on the matter. As such, these members raised concerns that such a resolution may be premature. Nonetheless, despite the concerns raised, it seems that the negotiations were constructive and generally smooth.
Several members—including France and the US—apparently made suggestions aimed at clearly delineating which bodies bear the main responsibility for the provision of mental health and psychosocial support for UN peace operations personnel in the different phases of deployment. In line with common practice, troop-and police-contributing countries are responsible for providing the necessary pre-deployment preparations for personnel (such as training and equipment) and the relevant post-deployment support, while they share responsibility with the UN Secretariat for supporting UN peace operations personnel during the deployment phase.
In addition, references were added to the text to reflect bilateral voluntary support that member states can provide for mental health services for UN peace operations personnel. While earlier iterations of the text requested troop-contributing countries, the UN Secretariat and member states to provide mental and psychosocial support, some members believed that such language was overly prescriptive.
Therefore, the draft resolution in blue only encourages:
- Troop-and police-contributing countries, as well as member states and the UN Secretariat, as appropriate, to provide mental health support during the pre-deployment training, “in order to sensitize personnel on effective recognition of signs symptoms of mental distress”.
- The UN Secretariat and troop-and police-contributing countries, as well as member states, as appropriate, to foster a “culture of well-being and care” during the deployment phase.
- Troop-and police-contributing countries, as well as member states and the UN Secretariat, as appropriate, to continue the provision of mental health support in the post-deployment stage, while taking into account the needs and experiences of those receiving them and applying a gender-responsive approach.
There was also discussion of a reporting requirement proposed by Mexico. The initial draft of the resolution requested the Secretary-General to conduct a survey on the prevalence of mental health conditions of peace operations personnel and issue a follow-up study within three years. It seems that several members objected to this proposal, expressing concern about the possible budgetary implications of such a request. In an apparent compromise, the draft resolution in blue requests the Secretary-General to include information on the implementation of aspects of the 2018 UN Mental Health and Well-Being Strategy, as appropriate, in his regular comprehensive reports mandated by resolution 2378 of 20 September 2017 on UN peacekeeping reform.
Mexico’s initiative to promote a Security Council resolution on mental health can be viewed as part of a broader strategy to promote the issue—which is one of its priority areas—in various UN fora, such as the General Assembly and ECOSOC. During its 2021-2022 Security Council term, which will end this month, Mexico sought the inclusion of language on mental health in Council products, including resolutions on the mandates of UN peace operations. It also organised a 25 March Security Council Arria-formula meeting on “ensuring access to mental health and psychosocial support in conflict, post-conflict, and humanitarian settings”. (For more information, see our 24 March What’s in Blue story.)
Building on that Arria-formula meeting, on 10 October Mexico launched a “Call to Action on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support”, which outlines several actions that can be taken at the global, regional and national levels to strengthen health and social care systems, and to improve access to mental health and psychosocial support, among other things. To date, some 80 member and observer states, international organisations, and civil society organisations have endorsed the call to action.
*Post-script: On 21 December, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2668 on mental health and psychosocial support for personnel of UN peace operations. The resolution was co-sponsored by 53 member states.