Seton Hall Graduate Degree in International Affairs
Seton Hall Graduate Degree in International Affairs

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UN Security Council and Troop Contributors Chided by Review Panel


A new report reviewing UN peacekeeping operations recommends smarter preventive steps to avoid superficial solutions. The peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast, above, mourns Egyptian members killed in the line of duty, February 2015. ABDUL FATAI ADEGBOYE/UN PHOTO

While restructuring at the top of the United Nations and better strategies and tactics for troops on the ground are issues provoking discussion and controversy after the recent release of a report by a high-level panel on current and future peacekeeping, less attention has been paid to the experts’ admonitions to the Security Council and to troop-contributing countries who fear where missions are headed in an era of deadly unconventional conflicts.

Contemporary peacekeeping, members of the panel concluded, needs more emphasis on prevention, greater cooperation within the UN system and, above all, more consultation with the troop and police commanders being asked to do the dangerous, dirty work — and sometimes resist orders or fail to discipline soldiers under their commands. But the panel makes clear in its report that “In the face of imminent threat to civilians, there must be no tolerance for national constraints and the failure to follow orders.”

The Security Council, where missions are actually created, must play a central role in almost every aspect of change, the 15-member panel concluded in the report, a copy of which was made available to PassBlue.

“There’s a tendency in the Security Council — even stated somewhere — that the secretary-general does prevention; the Security Council deals with disasters — and we don’t think this is really the right division,” said B. Lynn Pascoe, a panel member and head of the UN Department of Political Affairs from 2007 to 2012.

Pascoe is a strong advocate of the proposal to create a new deputy secretary-general position responsible for cooperative political-military policymaking on peace and security, while the other deputy secretary-general would continue to concentrate on huge issues of development and other areas of UN work. Such changes would be unlikely to take place before Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon leaves office at the end of 2016.

In the Security Council, Pascoe said in an interview, the tendency has been to put a “military Band-Aid” on terrible situations. “They’ve got to be talking about a trouble spot before it blows up, and put their muscle behind it when they can. Let’s get back to the basics, the politics, and trying to prevent things in the first place.”

The panel has listed as its first priority that “Politics must drive the design and implementation of peace operations.” The experts called their study peace operations rather than peacekeeping to emphasize the more comprehensive nature of UN activity that they propose. It isn’t just troops.

Ameerah Haq, vice chair of the high-level panel, spent years in UN fieldwork around the world, including as head of the UN mission in the newly independent Timor-Leste from 2009 to 2012, after which she led the Department of Field Support in UN peacekeeping. She said in an interview that troop-contributing countries must be involved from the start when missions are planned or when the Security Council changes their mandates.

“What we have found through the whole exercise is that many of them are not aware fully of exactly what they’re getting into,” Haq said, referring to the countries providing the troops. “There is a particularly really strong resentment of how the mandate changed in DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo, where an armed intervention brigade was created], and the troop contributing countries were not consulted.”

Changes in tactics and scopes of peacekeeping missions, especially when troops face terror attacks or they are asked to take on offensive, rather than strictly defensive assignments, have led to confrontations by troops with the UN. Such situations are unacceptable and undercut operations, the panel said.

“Troop contributing countries must declare their caveats upfront,” Haq said, “and not change their caveats once they are in the theater.” When contingents demand new caveats in crisis situations, the UN should condemn that as unacceptable, she added. “Where there is poor performance by a TCC [troop-contributing country], those troops should be sent home,” she said. “The troop contributing countries are the ones enabling the operation, and so they are a very important part of the formulation of missions and discussions related to mandates.”

On the conduct of troops under UN command and the civilians employed in UN field missions, Haq clarified the issue of immunity, which differs from military to civilian components. Troops and police who are part of national contingents under their own military command as well as an overall UN force commander in peacekeeping missions have immunity from prosecution in the countries where they serve, whatever allegations are in question. Their national militaries and governments must withdraw people against whom accusations are made and report within six months the outcome of the cases.

In the future, the panel said, all countries with infractions of conduct that go unpunished, including but not limited to sexual abuse or exploitation, will be publicly named and listed in reports by the secretary-general. Such countries can be delisted only if there has been acceptable action on cases.

Civilians who work for the UN directly and not for national governments have immunity, but it is applicable only to the work they do in a peace operation. They have no immunity against allegations of sexual abuse or other crimes, and immediately fall under the legal or criminal jurisdiction of the country in which they are working. Investigations into such cases can also be expected to conclude in six months — down from the yearlong process more common around the UN. This policy has a history at UN headquarters and other UN centers, where people accused of lawbreaking have in the past been turned over to local police or prosecutors.

Troop-contributing countries that prefer to hew to traditional, impartial peacekeeping may take solace in the decision by the high-level panel to argue against any role in counterterrorism. The panel’s report says:

“The Panel believes that UN peacekeeping missions, due to their composition and character, are not suited to engage in military counter-terrorism operations. They lack the specific equipment, intelligence, logistics, capabilities and specialized military preparation required, among other aspects. Such operations should be undertaken by the host government or by a capable regional force or an ad hoc coalition authorized by the Security Council.”

There is a “however”; and many experts outside and inside the UN anticipate exceptions to the rule to multiply in the years ahead, along with continuing controversy. The report says that “Where asymmetrical threats are present in the operating environment, UN missions must be provided with the necessary capabilities and training.”

Ameerah Haq, in her interview, provided insights into the atmosphere in which the panel worked, and the enormous accumulation of expertise they shared. While all panelists were experienced globally in diverse settings, three were veterans of the complicated experience of Timor-Leste: Ian Martin, the international human-rights expert who oversaw the 1999 referendum in which the Timorese chose independence from Indonesia; Haq herself; and José Ramos-Horta, the panel chairman and Nobel Peace laureate, who is Timorese and whose resumé was notably unique.

“What was interesting in having José as chair was that he had lived through all facets of the report,” Haq said. “When does the UN go in? Are we not looking at things early enough? He was pacing the halls in New York urging the UN to get involved. Then, highly unusually, he saw the UN come in as a complete executive authority over the country. Then the experience of a ‘coalition of the willing,’ which was led by Australia. Then New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal coming with forces, and then blue helmets of UN peacekeeping.”

It did not end there, Haq said. “He saw the UN leaving, because the UN thought the benchmarks had been achieved — and the country relapsing into conflict, and having a UN mission come again to concentrate more on the building of police capacity, solidifying institutions, working towards reconciliation and then finally having the UN transit out of the country a very smooth manner.” Ramos-Horta was president of Timor-Leste before moving on to run a UN mission in Guinea-Bissau.

A great deal of fieldwork knowledge gave the panel depth, Haq said. “There was a lot of understanding that just signing a peace agreement isn’t success enough. At some point, someone counted around the table and there was something like 632 years of experience among us.”

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.

Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”

Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.

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