Hervé Ladsous, a French diplomat who is the new under secretary-general for United Nations peacekeeping operations, said on Thursday that though he had “no predetermined grand vision” for the agency, he would focus on cutting back on the UN’s presence in Haiti; its work in Sudan and South Sudan; and the death this week of three peacekeepers in Darfur.
In his first address to the UN press corps, Ladsous emphasized that protecting UN peacekeepers is a top priority. Eighty-six peacekeepers have died this year so far, including 29 civilians.
“Peacekeepers nowadays have very complicated mandates, very complex, very specialized,” he said. “We need to give them all the means to face these challenges.”
With a full head of white hair and a straightforward manner, Ladsous is a departure from his French predecessor, Alain Le Roy, a bear-size man with a gentle demeanor. Ladsous is also a step apart from the soft-spoken but articulate Jean-Marie Guéhenno, another French diplomat who had the post before Le Roy. Yet Ladsous brings extensive knowledge of his past UN experience to the job, which he was assigned in September by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
France is the fifth-largest financial contributor, nearly 8 percent, to the UN peacekeeping department’s budget for 2010-2012. (The US is the largest.) The peacekeeping department has 16 missions totaling about 122,000 personnel and a current annual budget of $7.8 billion.
Most recently, Ladsous was the chief of staff for French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé; he has been France’s ambassador to Indonesia and China and was the deputy permanent representative to the United Nations in New York and a delegate to the UN in Geneva. He also served as a chief of affairs for France in Haiti. Ladsous was born in 1950 and has a degree from the National School of Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris as well as a law degree.
Acknowledging that the peacekeeping department has reached its highest staffing levels ever, Ladsous said it would make cuts that could include Haiti.
“There is a lot of desire from the government of Haiti” and the Haitian people to “reclaim Minustah,” the abbreviation for the UN mission,” he said. The Security Council decides today on whether to renew the mission’s mandate for another year. The secretary-general has recommended that the council reduce peacekeeping staff by 2,750 police officers and military personnel. [On Oct. 14, the Security Council voted to extend the mission’s mandate for a year and cut uniformed personnel there by 2,500 people, leaving about 10,500 in place.]
Ladsous is heading to South Sudan and Sudan in the next two weeks on his first trip in his new post. There, at the contested border between the two countries, fighting has been brutal, particularly bombing directed by Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and other criminal acts.
But the Security Council has not passed a resolution yet regarding the fighting, though this summer it authorized an interim force, called Unisfa, supplied by Ethiopia to work in the contested border area of Abiyeh. Ladsous said that the security force’s efforts were hindered by the rainy season, making roads impassable and conflict prevention difficult. When the rains end, migrations traditionally begin, he said, along with potential for violence.
“My first goal is to get to know the interlocutors,” he said, discussing how he will proceed, meeting the leaders of South Sudan and Sudan, the UN missions and people in Darfur and Abiyeh, noting the recent fatal attacks of three peacekeepers in Darfur, which is part of Sudan and where the UN and the African Union have a joint mission. The UN also has a new peacekeeping force, called Unmiss, in South Sudan; the mission in Sudan was closed this summer.
While in Africa, Lasdous will travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which is a big contributor of peacekeeping troops.
Reform of the peacekeeping agency will prevail under his leadership, Ladsous said. “Protection of civilians, helping countries changing police and justice” and protecting the rights of women are part of the mix. Years ago, he added, there were no women special representatives in UN peacekeeping; now a third of those jobs are filled by women. The agency will keep pushing this agenda with UN Women, the newest UN entity. [See Barbara Crossette’s article on UN Women: http://passblue.com/barbara-crossette/]
Ladsous emphasized that he wanted to learn and talk to “all those who have a stake” in peacekeeping, noting that partnerships and working with governments, troop contributors, the peacekeepers themselves, other UN agencies and regional organizations – like the European Union – are on his agenda. Investments in communication tools and helicopters are two areas that must continue, he added, along with building skills and knowledge. Financial concerns by member countries, however, require the department to find the “best value for their money.”
As to sending UN troops to Libya, Lasdous said that no request by the interim government had been heard. The department provides police advisers and rule of law experts to the new UN political mission in Tripoli, headed by Ian Martin, a former British diplomat and a founder of Amnesty International.
Lasdous described the wait-and-see attitude on Libya as “comme aller les choses,” or “as things go.”
[This article was updated on Oct. 14, 2011.]
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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.