United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Improving Safety and Security of Peacekeepers - Security Council VTC Open Debate

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24-May-2021 02:21:43
Issuing presidential statement, Security Council expresses grave concern about threats, attacks against peacekeepers around globe.

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Situation Unlikely to Improve as Social, Political Root Causes of Conflicts Persist, Says Under-Secretary-General

After declining for several years, 2021 has seen an alarming uptick in deadly attacks against United Nations peacekeepers, senior officials told the Security Council during a videoconference debate today, as members adopted a presidential statement reiterating their support for blue helmets deployed amid some of the world’s most complex conflict environments.

Through the statement (document S/PRST/2021/11) issued by the representative of China in his capacity as President of the 15-member Council for May, delegates expressed grave concern about the security threats and targeted attacks being launched against peacekeepers in many missions around the globe. Paying tribute to all those who have been injured or killed, they underscored the need for stakeholders — including the Secretary-General, troop- and police-contributing countries and all Member States — to work in concert to ensure that missions are adequately resourced and all peacekeepers are “willing, capable and equipped effectively and safely” to implement their mandate.

Noting progress made by the Secretary-General in mobilizing partners and stakeholders in support of more effective United Nations peacekeeping, through both his “Action for Peacekeeping” (A4P) initiative and its next iteration, the “A4P+” initiative, the Council also recalled a recent report titled “Improving Security of United Nations Peacekeepers”, its related action plan. It also noted the recent establishment of the Group of Friends on the Safety and Security of United Nations Peacekeepers, which is a collaboration between dozens of Member States representing all the world’s geographic regions.

By other terms of the statement, the Council underscored that the primary responsibility for United Nations personnel’s safety and security rests with the States hosting missions and condemned all violations of status-of-forces agreements. It called on States hosting missions to promptly investigate and effectively prosecute those responsible for attacks on United Nations personnel. Members also requested the Secretary-General to take steps to improve the safety and security of peacekeeping personnel; continue to review and ensure uniformity of United Nations standards on training and performance; and submit an independent review of United Nations peacekeeping operations’ responses to the growing threat posed by improvised explosive devices by 15 December.

At the meeting’s outset, the Council heard briefings by three senior officials with responsibilities related to peacekeeping, missions’ operations and safety and security. Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, said peacekeepers continue to operate in challenging environments and face increasing attacks. Since 1 January alone, 15 peacekeepers have been killed by malicious acts. Additional challenges, such as illnesses and vehicle accidents, also pose significant challenges to peacekeepers’ safety, and have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Building on progress made through the Secretary-General’s A4P strategy, he said safety and security will remain a top priority as the United Nations takes forward its next iteration, known as A4P+. Efforts in recent years have contributed to a sustained decrease in peacekeeper fatalities due to malicious acts, from 59 in 2017 down to 13 in 2020. Missions continued to strengthen camp protection. For example, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) centralized command, control and coordination in its integrated camps, leading to more efficient threat responses. The use of specialized units also improved intelligence, situational awareness and early warning.

He reported that United Nations peacekeeping has updated its existing guidance, processes and tools, and developed new ones. It revised its casualty evacuation policy and is in the process of establishing a systematic tracking system for violations of status-of-forces agreements. Training is being provided on improvised explosive devices threat mitigation, with notable results. In MINUSMA, the rate of improvised explosive devices detection and neutralization has increased from 11 per cent of devices detected before detonation in 2014, to nearly 50 per cent in 2020. New technologies have also helped detect rocket and mortars in advance of impact, enabling staff to take refuge in bunkers and helping to save lives.

Outlining progress in supporting host States’ work to hold perpetrators of crimes committed against peacekeepers accountable, he said recent years have seen an increase in the identification of alleged perpetrators and rising numbers of investigations and convictions. Noting that good performance can enhance peacekeeper safety, he said in-mission evaluations — with a new tool to evaluate performance in line with tasks, conditions and standards — will soon roll out in MINUSMA and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and to all missions by October. Enhancements are also under way in such areas as tactical and operational intelligence, force protection, situational awareness, improvised explosive devices training and strategic communications.

Atul Khare, Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support, next briefed the Council on the Department of Operational Support’s key security initiatives, aimed at mitigating and responding to malicious acts against peacekeepers. Citing one recent example, he said the Office of Information, Communications and Technology recently launched a new initiative in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), which offers a comprehensive, integrated approach to situational awareness and information analysis for field missions.

Echoing Mr. Lacroix, he pointed out that camp security and early warning technologies are readily available to peacekeeping missions and help save lives by alerting personnel to mortar and rocket attacks. They also help pinpoint the origin of the attack to assist with the allocation of patrol and defense resources. The Department is currently focusing on mobile solutions to extend these capabilities to convoys and patrols, he said, adding that support for casualty evacuation continues to be a key focus for the Department. An updated casualty-evacuation policy was issued in February 2020 — following stress tests conducted in high-risk missions — and field missions are now amending local procedures.

Noting that a new series of stress tests are planned for 2021, along with the implementation of a data-based trauma system, he went on to spotlight the Department’s ongoing to work on its COVID-19 response. That includes the delivery of vaccines to all peacekeeping missions that have requested support, as well as the establishment of criteria for the safe, partial resumption of uniformed rotations, repatriations and deployments. The Department also established the MEDEVAC Mechanism, an Organization-wide system to ensure that personnel, uniformed and civilian, “can stay and deliver in some of the most difficult duty stations in the world”.

Gilles Michaud, Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, declared: “Traditional and non-traditional security factors, including increasingly deadly weapons, pose serious threats to the entire United Nations family.” Adding that the global security landscape is unlikely to improve in a generation as economic, social and political root causes of conflicts persist, he said the international community therefore has an urgent and collective responsibility to improve the security of United Nations personnel. Among other things, such improvements will better enable the Organization to deliver on its peace, security, human rights and humanitarian mandates.

Noting that the Department of Safety and Security directs and leads the Security Management System — with representatives working on the security of more than 180,000 United Nations personnel and their dependents across the globe — he said that system does not cover troops deployed in military contingents, nor those in formed police units. Peacekeepers that are included under Department’s purview include United Nations civilian personnel in missions and individually deployed military and police personnel working in peace operations.

Outlining the System’s policy guidance and operational support, he said it provides security threat and risk analysis and increases security awareness through tried-and-tested programmes. Crucial mechanisms are in place to support dialogue and collaboration among Secretariat departments and Member States. For example, the Department worked closely with other United Nations system focal points to develop guidance on improvised explosive devices, and crisis mechanisms continue to connect staff in the field with those at Headquarters for daily coordination.

Meanwhile, he underlined the crucial need for adequate resourcing, emphasizing: “Security involves resources and cannot be an afterthought.” Truly improving the safety and security of peacekeepers requires that security considerations and their corresponding resources become an integral part of mandate deliberations and be included in the design and planning of all missions, he stressed.

As Council members took the floor, many echoed the expressions of gratitude by Under-Secretaries-General to the peacekeepers and civilian staff risking their lives under the United Nations flag around the world, as well as those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Many voiced concern about the emerging threats facing Blue Helmets — including improvised explosive devices, targeted and asymmetrical attacks by armed groups, the impacts of climate change and the spread of COVID-19. While many speakers underscored the importance of peacekeeping as one of the United Nations most effective tools, some also emphasized the need for missions to act in strict accordance with their mandates, respect the priorities of host States and adhere to the basic tenets of peacekeeping — namely, the consent of parties, impartiality and the non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of mandate.

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