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Striking a Better Balance in the Newest UN Peacekeeping Reforms


A US-led Security Council resolution focused on improving peacekeepers’ performance was approved on Sept. 21, 2018, but is devoid of details on how the UN will measure such assessments. Pakistani troops, above, are among the UN’s largest continents in peacekeeping. MARK GARTEN/UN PHOTO

Just days before the United Nations held a meeting with heads of state and foreign ministers on Secretary-General António Guterres’s Action for Peacekeeping initiative, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2436 on peace operations, on Sept. 21.

Drafted by the United States, the resolution is the result of collaboration between Council members and other UN member states heavily involved in peacekeeping efforts, and aims to answer Guterres’s Declaration of Shared Commitments issued in March as a call for countries to renew their commitment to peacekeeping reform. The resulting resolution focuses on improvements to peacekeeping, emphasizing political solutions, data reporting and safety for civilians and peacekeepers.

Though defended as intentionally leaving “as much space as possible for the endorsers to determine how best to take implementation forward,” David Haeri of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations wrote with others in the IPI Global Observatory recently, celebration could be premature before it is clear how the renewed commitments will actually lead to real change.

An official pillar of the UN’s mandate since 1948, the UN currently has 14 peacekeeping missions throughout the world, with most of them based in Africa. In the 70 years since the original mandate, the department that is now called DPKO (which is now under reorganization) has achieved, for the most part, significant success.

Yet the department has been dogged throughout its existence by concerns about wasted resources and other inefficiencies, inadequate security planning for peacekeepers themselves and frequent allegations and confirmed incidents of sexual abuse and other violence by peacekeepers.

Over the decades, however, reform efforts constantly get stuck in longstanding tensions between countries that provide troops (mostly from Africa and South Asia) and countries that sit at home and provide money (mostly the US, European countries and Japan).

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Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, was quick to take credit for a hard-line approach to reform in the new resolution, which a permanent member of the Security Council told PassBlue after the vote on Sept. 21 was likely playing to national interests just weeks before the US midterm elections. The US provides only 55 troops to peacekeeping, but has been providing about 28 percent of the budget, and the Trump administration has been keen to prove that the US alone can improve the UN.

Collaboration, however, seems to have produced a stronger document than the original version, obtained by PassBlue, proposed by Haley’s office. One European ambassador involved in the negotiations said that the first draft provided was heavy on accountability from the troop-contributing countries (TCCs) on one side, but on the other side, light on incentivizing positive performance and ensuring enough resources to peacekeeping operations.

Indeed, fellow Council members strove for a better balance between performance demands from the US and provision of resources and incentivization — a sentiment echoed by several Council members and others in interviews with PassBlue.

Between the original draft and the approved resolution, for example, a clause was added to call attention to “instances of outstanding performance in order to highlight best practices and promote their widespread adoption.”

The US mission to the UN, for its part, is credited with bringing troop-providing countries, like Pakistan, a major contributor, who do not currently sit on the Council into the conversation. Only one currently elected Council member, Ethiopia, provides more than 5,000 personnel to peacekeeping operations.

A representative from the Pakistan mission to the UN said that inclusive steps allowed for the concerns of troop-contributing countries — such as “emphasis on transparency and feedback between the Secretariat, the Council and the concerned TCCs” — to be accounted for in the final resolution.

While these accommodations smoothed over some issues, troop contributors and others still see a lot of work to be done to make the resolution a prelude to real progress, particularly in key areas.

Women in Peacekeeping

Since the approval in 2000 of Security Council Resolution 1325, which opened gender-equality opportunities in peacekeeping processes, among other requirements, there has been slow progress in addressing the needs and positioning of women in conflict and resolution environments.

As PassBlue reported earlier this year, “Female participation in peacekeeping remains low, especially in military and combat roles, partly due to the low number of women in the military in their own countries.”

Better gender representation among peacekeepers, emphasized in the new US-led resolution at the bottom of the document, remains a serious challenge for the UN. Pakistan and other major troop-contributing countries want more incentives from the UN for women’s participation. MARTINE PERRET/UN PHOTO

Anecdotally, it is clear that women’s presence in peacekeeping missions has many benefits. In the 2015 Global Study on Implementation of Resolution 1325, a female major in the Senegalese Army reported, “In the field [Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia], I’ve always been the one called upon to work with local women — they trusted me more,” reinforcing that when women are present they become liaisons to other women, who are underrepresented in security environments.

Lt. Gen. Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, a Brazilian who was the force commander for the UN mission in the Congo, Monusco, agreed that women in peacekeeping is essential. Citing an example of a female officer inside the first helicopter going to the front line in the embattled region of North Kivu Province, he said: “This way . . . she collect[ed] important information to integrate the female perception in the situation awareness.” The officer, he added, “developed a trustful relationship with the females in the villages.”

The new resolution’s clause regarding gender representation among peacekeepers, which comes at the bottom of the document, dwells on “a revised strategy to double the numbers of women in military and police contingents of UN peacekeeping operations by 2020.”

Achieving these increases has proven tricky, though, in the past 17 years. Humble objectives such as a 20-percent mark for female participation in UN police are far behind schedule.

In some countries, such as Pakistan, the gender parity in the current police and military contingents does not exist. The 2015 Global Study pointed out that Pakistan’s military academy accepts only 32 women and 1,000 men.

In response, the Pakistan mission to the UN pointed out that for “women’s participation to be incentivized, it should not be limited to a numbers game,” adding that “our approach should be incremental in application.”

A Council on Foreign Relations report released last week goes into greater detail about possible incentivization and what that could look like.

Lt. Gen. Cruz agrees about quotas. “A higher rate of female in a peacekeeping [operation] may improve the overall mission performance,” he wrote to PassBlue, “but attention should be put not only in figures,” explaining that field conditions should accommodate women, which can be done only by giving women a more active voice so that the correct suggestions are made.

Assessing performance

Haley, in her comments to the Security Council as the envoy of the US after the new resolution passed on Sept. 21, stressed what could be considered a report-card system to improve the “performance” of peacekeepers. “This resolution mandates a timely and transparent reporting process for performance failures,” she said. “It requires real accountability measures for when these failures occur. And it applies objective criteria.”

But although Haley claimed that the resolution “creates real accountability measures and applies objective criteria to match the right team with the right mission,” there are no details in the document what these measures would look like.

A spokesperson for the British mission to the UN gave a clearer indication of purposes for the data, which would serve “to be aggregated in Headquarters so that we can assess what changes are required to mandates.”

Each peacekeeping situation is unique, however, which the TCCs — whose troops’ lives are always on the line in such dangerous missions as Mali, South Sudan and the Central African Republic — particularly want acknowledged. The Council will have to negotiate a balancing act in its work between the demands of countries that provide money and the counterdemands of countries that provide troops: a long-simmering tension that never goes away.

The Pakistani delegation pointed out, for example, in an interview that “no data-based system can be fair in judging performance until we have achieved a level playing field.”

People from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who fled to a neighboring country, the Republic of Congo, were forced back to their own country, left to subsist in transit camps, for example, like this one outside the capital, Kinshasa. SYLVAIN LIECHTI/UN PHOTO

A European delegate on the Council agreed that this discrepancy still needed to be worked out. Talks in December at the UN will reportedly focus on financing for peacekeeping, leaving it unclear if this discrepancy will be part of the discussion. Without real measures, this “new” item will become meaningless.

The questions to consider in the coming months, one former UN official said, are how this data will be developed and who is going to review and compile it. Will the standards be developed by peacekeeping department staff or by independent experts?

Special investigations

The Secretariat’s original Declaration of Shared Commitments earlier this year mandated “holding personnel and leadership accountable for proper conduct, including through support to the UN zero-tolerance policy with its victim-centered approach on all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse.”

The new Council resolution, 2436, reiterates this priority — critical to both fairer treatment of civilians in host countries and to building trust on the ground — as it requests the secretary-general “to act with urgency to initiate Special Investigations into significant instances of performance failures, including failure to protect civilians.”

Sweden’s ambassador to the UN, Olof Skoog, emphasized that peacekeeper accountability is an element “that we find particularly important, as well as the full implementation of a human rights due diligence policy and the zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.” (Sweden is an elected member of the Council through December.)

Nick Birnback, the chief of public affairs for the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, pointed out, however, that the department “launched a number of Special Investigations into critical incidents last year, including the killing of [15] UN peacekeepers in Semuliki in the [North Kivu province] in Democratic Republic of the Congo and allegation of inaction in the Central African Republic.”

He added that all of the special investigations “were independent and led by former UN officials with first-hand knowledge of UN Peacekeeping.”

In addition to tracking the progress of existing investigations, the Security Council will have to evaluate if current methodologies are sufficient, or how to develop new ones. In the coming months, one former UN expert said, the UN needs to also determine what kind of fast-tracking procedures are available and what kind of follow-up is pursued.

With skepticism, though, the expert cautioned that the public can’t depend on self-reporting by the UN, noting that there needs to be follow-up on what makes current investigations different from what has come before, which is safe to say can be said for the new resolution in general.

This article was updated to correct the fact that Security Council Resolution 1325 was passed in 2000, not 2001. 

Maria Luisa Gambale, a graduate of Harvard University, lives in New York City. In addition to writing, she produces film and media projects and is director of the 2011 film “Sarabah,” about the Senegalese rapper-activist Sister Fa. She has produced and directed video for National Geographic, ABC News, The New York Times and Fusion Network. Gambale’s work in all media can be viewed at

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