What's In Blue

Posted Thu 27 Jul 2023

UN Peacekeeping: Heads of Military Components Briefing

Tomorrow morning (28 July), the Security Council will receive a briefing on UN peacekeeping from Under-Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and the heads of military components of three UN peacekeeping operations: Force Commander of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Lieutenant General Mohan Subramanian, Force Commander of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) Lieutenant General Otávio Rodrigues de Miranda Filho, and Head of Mission and Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Major General Aroldo Lázaro Sáenz.

The annual briefing by heads of military components of UN peacekeeping operations to the Council has been held since 2010 but did not take place last year. The UK, July’s Council President, decided to convene the briefing, which is expected to focus on the protection of civilians (PoC) and the role of the military components in preventing and responding to threats of physical violence. In doing so, the UK, which is the penholder on PoC, is seeking to build on the annual Security Council open debate on PoC in armed conflict that took place on 23 May.

The annual briefing is usually held in an interactive format to allow the force commanders to supplement their briefings with responses to questions and issues raised by Council members. The UK has circulated a concept note which proposes several guiding questions, including:

  • What are the current and evolving trends regarding threats to civilians in peacekeeping contexts?
  • How do peacekeeping missions, in particular their military components, prevent and respond to threats of physical violence against civilians?
  • How have complex and dynamic operational landscapes, including new threats such as mis/disinformation, affected UN peacekeeping’s efforts to prevent and respond to threats against civilians?

Lacroix is expected to deliver introductory remarks before the briefing by the heads of the military components. In light of the 75th anniversary of UN peacekeeping, Lacroix is likely to offer a broader view of the current state of peacekeeping in an increasingly complex security landscape and the difficult challenges faced by peacekeepers in carrying out their mandates and protecting hundreds of thousands of vulnerable civilians in conflict situations. He may shed particular light on such critical issues as the persisting political schism among member states, the mounting risks arising from asymmetrical threats that endanger the lives of civilians and the safety and security of peacekeepers, the detrimental impacts of misinformation and disinformation campaigns, and the issue of weak host state consent.

Lacroix is also likely to emphasise the need for UN peacekeeping to find innovative solutions and adapt to the new realities and highlight some of the recommendations contained in the policy brief on the New Agenda for Peace launched by the Secretary-General on 20 July. He may also underscore the need to provide peacekeeping missions with the necessary capabilities to fulfill their mandated tasks and express hope that member states will make renewed commitments in this regard at the upcoming Peacekeeping Ministerial meeting, which will be hosted by Ghana in Accra on 5 and 6 December.

The UK expects the three force commanders to focus their briefings on what the concept note calls the “three tiers” of PoC—dialogue and engagement, provision of physical protection, and the establishment of a protective environment. Subramanian is expected to detail UNMISS’ efforts to protect civilians in line with its mandate. Resolution 2677 of 15 March, which most recently renewed UNMISS’ mandate until 15 March 2024, directed the mission to ensure effective, timely, and dynamic protection of civilians under threat of physical violence through a comprehensive and integrated approach, and to maintain a proactive deployment and a mobile, flexible, robust, and effective posture. Subramanian may describe the physical protection provided by the mission to internally displaced persons (IDPs) sheltered in PoC sites and its response to allegations of sexual and gender-based violence in these sites, the enhanced patrols by the mission, and the quick response teams it deploys to address security incidents. He may refer to the temporary operating bases the mission has set up to increase its operational reach and secure main supply routes and monitor trouble spots to prevent attacks against civilians, as well as the mission’s support for local peace efforts to resolve intercommunal violence through dialogue.

Filho is likely to highlight the heightened risks faced by civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) because of the persistence of conflict and violence in the region and describe MONUSCO’s efforts to protect civilians, particularly displaced people who are often a target of attack by armed groups. According to the latest Secretary-General’s report on MONUSCO (S/2023/451) published on 19 June, the mission provides protection to between 50,000 and 70,000 IDPs sheltered in PoC sites in eastern DRC. Filho may also refer to the community alert networks established through consultation with local communities, which have enhanced the mission’s early warning and response mechanisms. The Secretary-General’s report notes that the information gathered through these networks have helped the mission to provide physical protection to more than 300,000 displaced persons through its standing combat deployment and temporary operating bases. Filho might draw attention to the challenges faced by the mission because of misinformation and disinformation, which continue to stir anti-MONUSCO sentiment among local communities. He might note the mission’s efforts to enhance its communication and outreach activities to engage better with these communities.

Sáenz might expound on UNIFIL’s efforts to address misinformation and disinformation and to explain the mission’s liaison and coordination channels. Resolution 2650 of 31 August 2022, which extended UNIFIL’s mandate for one year, included new language requesting UNIFIL to address “disinformation and misinformation” against the mission, an indirect reference to perceptions reported among some in southern Lebanon that UNIFIL is not authorised to patrol without the presence of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), among other issues. Sáenz may speak about the mission’s support for dialogue between the LAF and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to de-escalate tensions and address contentious issues along the Blue Line, a withdrawal line acting in practice as a boundary between Lebanon and Israel in the absence of an agreed-upon border between the two states. Sáenz might also refer to UNIFIL’s support to local communities in southern Lebanon.

There has been a broad consensus in the Council on PoC and most peacekeeping operations count PoC among their priority tasks. In recent mandate renewal negotiations, however, there has been a tendency by some Council members to place greater emphasis on the support peacekeeping operations provide for the implementation of peace processes, the extension of state authority, and security sector reform (SSR). They argue that these issues are critical in assisting countries to emerge from conflict.

Other Council members continue to insist on maintaining PoC as a top priority for various peacekeeping operations. They express particular concern about ongoing violations of international humanitarian law by parties involved in conflicts, the escalating number of attacks on IDP camps, the lack of accountability for crimes committed against civilians (especially women and children), the targeting of humanitarian personnel, and the devastating effects of explosive weapons, among other pressing issues.

With some of the larger UN missions currently undergoing transition processes or winding down their operations, there is increasing concern about the safety and well-being of civilians who rely on the physical protection provided by these missions. This issue is particularly relevant considering the upcoming drawdown of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). In resolution 2690 of 30 June, the Security Council terminated the mission’s mandate and requested MINUSMA to complete the withdrawal of its personnel and the transfer of its tasks by 31 December. In light of this situation, some Council members may emphasise tomorrow the importance of drawing lessons from past experiences, especially the departure of the UN-AU Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) that led to a deterioration of the security situation in Darfur and exposed civilians to grave danger. Top of Form

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