United Nations Security Council open debate: peacekeeping and protection of civilians

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

Statement delivered by Phillip Taula, Deputy Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations

Mr President,

We wish to start by acknowledging France’s contribution on the front line of efforts to protect civilians in Mali, the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire and elsewhere. We also thank the President of the Central African Republic and we particularly welcome your remarks about your government’s commitment to national reconciliation. New Zealand has learned from our own experience, how important this is for longer term stability.

Mr President,

Twenty-two years ago this week, the Council adopted its first explicit protection of civilians mandate in Resolution 925 relating to Rwanda.
Tragically, in spite of this resolution, nothing significant was done to stop the subsequent genocide.

We have come a long way since that historic failure. Today, UN peacekeepers play a decisive role protecting civilians, saving many thousands of lives, and delivering many more from the threat of violence. 

Their work is difficult and many peacekeepers have paid the ultimate price. We pay tribute to their commitment and their sacrifice. 

Today I wish to focus on four areas where New Zealand believes action is needed to improve the UN’s performance.

First, protection mandates need to be clear, realistic and part of a coherent political strategy.

We need to avoid exposing our peacekeepers to unacceptable levels of risk, or setting expectations that they cannot fulfil.

New Zealand echoes the call by the High Level Panel on Peace Operations for more sequencing and prioritisation of mandates.  These need to be grounded in clear strategies for addressing the factors that make civilians vulnerable in the first place. Political solutions will always deliver more for protection of civilians than boots on the ground will.

If we are honest, we have not seen Council practice improve much since these recommendations were made. Mandating remains a relatively pro forma exercise, often without much consultation or policy deliberation on the key implementation challenges.

Recent adjustments to the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan were a more positive experience in terms of prioritisation and phasing but we would like to see more of this.

Second, we need to build better understanding amongst all stakeholders of how protection mandates should be carried out.

Progress has been made in developing protection strategies, clear doctrine and operating procedures, but coordination is still lacking across political, humanitarian, military, human rights and development actors.

The experience in South Sudan has highlighted many serious challenges, including cooperation with humanitarian actors, and questions of mission authority and host-State relations.

We believe protection of civilian sites should never be a strategy of first choice. They should be employed only in extreme circumstances, as we saw in South Sudan, or when the mission is genuinely unable to provide more proactive protection further afield. 

New Zealand has pushed for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to report on lessons learned from the protection of civilian sites in South Sudan and we look forward to acting on the findings from this report.

Mr President,

Meaningful consultations with key stakeholders are also essential for making sure mandates are fit-for-purpose and effectively implemented. Engagement with troop and police contributors is critical. It is unreasonable to expect countries to take on the difficult and dangerous job of protecting civilians while excluding them from key discussions.

New Zealand has been working over the past year to improve the quality of Council engagement with contributing countries and the Secretariat.  Through the informal, off-the-record format, these ‘triangular consultations’ give Council members a deeper understanding of the realities on the ground, and they help contributing countries to better understand the Council’s approach. We believe that over time they will mean better mandates and more effective implementation.

New Zealand has facilitated these consultations with four missions so far and we are working with Council colleagues and contributing countries to make them an established and consistent feature of ongoing Council practice.
Third, decision-makers at all levels need to receive better more timely and reliable information on emerging threats and protection needs.

This requires close engagement with local populations and an understanding of why and how civilians are being targeted. It requires relevant information to be systematically gathered, collated, analysed and provided to those who need it – whether that be area-level commanders or the Council itself.

To ensure key challenges and risks to civilians are understood and effectively managed, the Council requires better, unfiltered reporting. The Secretariat should be more open regarding the difficult policy and operational choices facing missions. 

Mechanisms such as the one New Zealand helped establish last year for the Council to monitor the operational risks and protection challenges faced by MONUSCO can help in this regard. But this needs to go further. 

We hope we can move forward on practical steps to ensure this Council is regularly informed of key risks to civilians and personnel across all missions. This is an essential complement to the Council’s existing tools for situational awareness.

Finally, protection mandates must be backed by the necessary political will to enable them to succeed. 

For the Council and the General Assembly, this means providing missions with the resources and political support to carry out their mandates.

For contributing countries, it means ensuring deployed personnel have a clear understanding of their mandated tasks, and are trained, equipped and empowered to implement these effectively.  It also means being restrained and transparent in imposing caveats, and respecting the UN chain of command and mission leadership.

The protection of civilians would also benefit enormously from a more systematic approach to reviewing implementation at the mission level. The Council needs to know in what areas and by whom protection mandates are being implemented effectively and where they need to be improved.

During our remaining time on the Council, New Zealand wants to achieve practical progress in these areas.

If we succeed, we will be more likely to generate the political will needed to protect civilians in crises.  Let us make sure we do.

Thank you Mr President.


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