UN Security Council: Brief: United Nations Peacekeeping Operations

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

Statement delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 17 June 2015.

I would like to thank Under-Secretary-General Ladsous and the Force Commanders, whom we commend for the frankness of their assessments, as befits the seasoned professional leaders they clearly are.

I would also like to acknowledge and pay tribute to all who serve the United Nations, especially those in high-risk environments. Today we have again been reminded that some United Nations soldiers make the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives in the performance of their duty. This phenomenon of dead United Nations soldiers is extraordinarily confronting. Whatever the reality of the new threat environment, it should not be happening. United Nations peacekeepers should not even be targets, let alone casualties. The fact that it is happening is at the core of the three briefings we have had today. It is also at the core of why some countries find it so difficult to contribute troops to United Nations operations.

Yesterday, the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations told us that all peacekeepers— civilian, military and police — must do all they can to ensure that civilians are not harmed. That is clearly right, yet as we have been reminded today by General Tesfamariam, living up to that principle, which flows so easily off the tongue, is extraordinarily difficult. The challenge for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan is indeed extraordinary — a complete breakdown of civilian Government, with our poor soldiers left to protect the civilians whose Government and leaders have abandoned them. It is unacceptable that the force is having to contend with direct harassment and repeated violations of the status-of-forces agreement. We believe that the Security Council must keep a very close eye on South Sudan and the situation there.

I would also like to congratulate Major General Lollesgaard on the frankness of his assessment. He has told us bluntly that the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali is not properly equipped to operate in the asymmetric threat environment prevailing in northern Mali. That is something that the Organization must listen and respond to. We wholeheartedly support his plea that troops who are sent to Mali are indeed trained and equipped to deal with the situation in which they must operate. We welcome the progress the General was able to point to, particularly in the development of an intelligence capability. We acknowledge the importance of intelligence for enhancing situational awareness, in assisting force protection and supporting the protection of civilians. I would like to ask him whether he sees a role for an all-sources information forces unit capability in the Mission to assist in the conduct of an information operations campaign.

I would also like to ask him a question that continues to challenge me when I think about the operations that the United Nations must now work in. Can a force that is equipped with the armour and other equipment needed to operate safely in a serious threat environment at the same time make the connections to the local population that are necessary to engender the trust that we know is essential to the fulfilment of their mission?

I would like to commend Major General Finn for laying out so clearly the challenge he has had to confront in dealing with the caveats imposed by various troop contributors to the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). In a similar spirit of candour, I want to acknowledge that the reason for some of those caveats is related to a concern that the United Nations operation was not sufficiently equipped, directed and supported to ensure the protection of the soldiers operating there. We do not like caveats, and we certainly agree with the Ambassador of the United States that if caveats are imposed, they should be imposed openly and must not come as a surprise to the Force Commander. New Zealand has withdrawn the caveats it had in place on military observers serving in UNTSO, based on improved medical support, the rehearsal of casualty evacuation plans and the inclusion in the mission of a team to counter improvised explosive devices. But the issue is a serious one, and we believe there must be an open and honest conversation between the troop contributors, the Secretariat and the Council about the caveats and the reasons for them, and how we might find a way of minimizing and preferably doing away with them entirely.


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