2017 was a deadly year for UN peacekeepers with over 60 blue helmets killed in hostile acts but there were plusses for the world body’s various peacekeeping missions and operations.
These include the completion of peacekeeping objectives in Ivory Coast, the soon to be completed mandate in Liberia and a refocus of work in Haiti.
“We protect civilians every day. We save lives every day. We often do it under difficult and stressful circumstances,” Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix said in an overview of last year’s peacekeeping operations.
He named four African countries – Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mali and South Sudan – as being among places where “many lives” were saved.
Among challenges faced by UN peacekeepers last year was, according to Lacroix, the “increasing complexity of operations in dangerous areas”. This, in turn, means the blue helmets need better training and equipment particularly as regards intelligence gathering and enhancing situational awareness. He sees more utilisation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), radar and tethered balloons as assisting in these areas of operations.
Atul Khare, head of the UN Department of Field Support, sees the world body looking to borrow or purchase more equipment related to security reinforcement, accommodation, vehicles and communications tools, among others.
As an example he gave Mali where one of four military hospitals is without staff or equipment. In CAR the figure is one in three hospitals.
The needs also extend to gaps in working with local communities, which means in some areas more French-speaking peacekeepers are needed.
“We must also do more in terms of prevention and risk mitigation when seeking to protect our colleagues. Providing for the safety and security of deployed personnel in volatile environments is an absolute necessity,” Khare said.
One of the main challenges in peacekeeping operations last year was coming to terms with allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers.
Early in the year, Secretary-General António Guterres unveiled his strategy for eradicating the scourge and appointed Jane Connors as the first Victims’ Rights Advocate.
“It is about dignity for the victims, compassion, a real feeling of empathy, a feeling they are not forgotten,” Connors said. “That their hurt, their pain is acknowledged and we do as much as we possibly can do to make the situation better.”
Her comments were made during a visit to South Sudan, where four of last year’s 103 allegations were filed. In 2016 the UN recorded 54 allegations – roughly half.
“This is a result of many robust efforts to train our personnel, raise awareness among communities of the risks associated with SEA (sexual exploitation and abuse), promote and enforce the zero tolerance policy and partner with Member States,” Khare said.
The new UN strategy to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse puts more pressure on governments to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing. In addition, 17 countries volunteered some $1.8 million for a trust fund to aid victims with medical, psycho-social, legal or socio-economic support.
“Information about allegations is coming forward with fewer obstacles than before,” Lacroix said. “At the same time, we need to do more to implement the policy and it has to have strong awareness at every level”.
UN peacekeeping is also managing its impact in another way in countries hosting its operations by preserving natural resources and minimising damage to the environment during physical deployments.
“‘Do no harm’ must include communities and the resources on which they depend: water, land, cultural heritage,” Khare said.
Plans to reduce the peacekeeping footprint and energy consumption will save time and resources, allowing peacekeeping missions to focus on implementing core mandates.
All UN peacekeeping operations last year launched Environmental Action Plans which have, among others, seen 80 wastewater treatment plans installed in peacekeeping operations.
“We are constantly looking at keeping our own house in order and leaving places better than we found them,” he said.
Looking ahead to 2018 Lacroix wants to see “the ambitious reforms that 2017 brought, implemented”, particularly in the field, where colleagues have to be informed and empowered.
Khare echoes this adding the goal is to “ensure we are stronger in prevention, more agile in mediation and more nimble, efficient and cost-effective in our operations”.