Statement Regarding the High-Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations

Today, more than 120,000 United Nations peacekeepers are deployed within 16 operations across the globe. They are increasingly sent into the most dangerous and desperate of conflict zones, with mandates that are broader and more challenging than ever before. Sensing that these unprecedented demands had stretched the UN to the breaking point, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon established a high-level independent panel in October 2014 to “make a comprehensive assessment of the state of UN peace operations today, and the emerging needs of the future.” The panel is expected to deliver a draft report to the Secretary General in May 2015, with the final report made public during the UN General Assembly in September 2015.

Refugees International (RI) believes that the panel must address the role of UN peacekeeping missions in the protection of civilians (PoC). In recent years, the UN has significantly improved its understanding of and planning for PoC activities. Yet RI’s research in South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and elsewhere, indicate that better PoC guidance policy will not deliver results without accountability and proper resources. RI therefor believes the panel should highlight ways to improve adherence to PoC mandates through both policy and management and budget reforms. 

RI is recommending that the panel:

  • Seek clear institutional guidance that UN troops who fail to protect civilians under threat, while possessing the necessary information and means to do so, will be investigated for serious misconduct and may be repatriated; 
  • Call on the Secretary General to consistently express his/her willingness to execute repatriation orders for military personnel implicated in this type of serious misconduct, and encourage Special Representatives of the Secretary General not to withhold such orders for political reasons; 
  • Seek the creation of bonuses or special recognition for countries that regularly deploy troops to UN missions without imposing national caveats, and not simply for individual members of national contingents;
  • Suggest that in cases of repeated or senior-level non-compliance with PoC mandates, penalties such as withholding of reimbursements, or non-acceptance of contingents for ongoing/future missions should be considered;
  • Seek the early and consistent deployment of UN civilian staff who are sufficiently trained to carry out key PoC tasks, and call for the revision of administrative rules and regulations to ensure these staff can be based in or regularly deploy to conflict-affected areas, as logistics and security permit;
  • Stress that in any peacekeeping missions expected to undertake offensive activities, mission staffing and strategies must reflect a commitment to minimizing civilian harm and humanitarian fallout. This may include the appointment of Civilian Risk Mitigation Advisors and/or the creation of Civilian Casualty Tracking Cells. Non-adherence to approved civilian harm mitigation strategies should trigger accountability.

Perfecting the UN’s approach to PoC is important, yet so is recognizing its limits. That is why RI believes the panel should also acknowledge that the UN’s ability to protect civilians is severely diminished in some conflict settings, particularly in situations of active conflict, where no peace agreements exist. Indeed, RI is particularly concerned by the growing number of mandates that effectively ask UN peacekeepers to disregard their principle of impartiality. Such requests erode the ability of other UN actors – including humanitarians – to access and serve all civilians in need. The Panel should suggest that in these situations, the UN Security Council should authorize the deployment of other forces (such as multinational coalitions) to protect civilians.