With United Nations peace operations being executed in complex environments and facing multiple challenges, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has stressed the need to adapt peacekeeping to “our changing world.”
“Peace operations are at a crossroads. Our task is to keep them relevant with clear and achievable mandates and the right strategies and support,” the Secretary-General told a Security Council meeting. He also called on the 193-member General Assembly for political support and on troop and police contributing countries for professional and committed personnel.
In context Jean-Pierre Lacroix took up his post as the new Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations at the beginning of April. The French national, with more than 25 years of political and diplomatic experience, currently oversees 16 UN peacekeeping operations on four continents.
UN peacekeeping missions are called on not only to maintain peace and security, but also to facilitate the political process, protect civilians, assist in disarmament, support holding of elections, protect and promote human rights, and assist in restoring the rule of law.
UN peacekeepers go to the most physically and politically difficult environments, some making the ultimate sacrifice – as evidenced by the more than 3,500 peacekeepers who died in the service of peace since UN deployments began in 1948.
Lacroix witnessed this first-hand when he recently visited UN operations in the Central African Republic and Mali, which lost seven peacekeepers between them in a month. In an interview with UN News, the peacekeeping chief discusses a number of issues, including the challenges facing peace operations, his plans to make them more efficient and tackling sexual exploitation and abuse. He answered questions posed by the UN News Service.
UN News: The UN Secretary-General said recently UN peace operations were at a crossroads and facing multiple challenges. Could you tell us more about these challenges?
Lacroix: Yes, we face challenges in our operations. At the same time, we should not forget our peacekeepers – civilian, police, men and women, military personnel – are saving lives every day. They are protecting civilians and they are helping peace processes be implemented. It is also important to recognise the added value of peacekeeping and what we bring to destabilised societies and nations.
Challenges, yes, we have many. I think the most important challenges are when we have operations on the ground doing their best but political processes are not there for us to support and to support our operations. We need everyone – the UN, the Secretary-General – to be determined to move forward. We need the support of the Security Council to make sure we get the right support and that political processes also get the right support.
In some cases, we don’t have the support we would expect from host governments. Our operations often operate and deploy in challenging security environments. Therefore, we need to make sure we can cope with these. It’s a question of posture; it’s a question of equipment; it’s a question of organising so we can protect our peacekeepers better, civilian as well as uniformed, and better protect the populations we are serving.
UN News: The Secretary-General mentioned nine areas of reform for UN peacekeeping. What are your plans in the coming months to make peacekeeping operations more efficient?
Lacroix: The Secretary-General said beyond the importance of pursuing political solutions is we have to make sure we have the right kind of deployment on the ground we optimise resources and mandates at any given moment are most adequate for the situation on the ground.
There are important areas where we can develop co-operation, especially in trying to find political solutions in a concerted way, the right thing to do especially in Africa. But, how can we support operations deployed by either the AU or sub-regional organisations? We intend to supportive of these.
UN News: What support do you expect from Member States to help UN peacekeeping operations deliver on the ground?
Lacroix: First of all, we need their political support. Their continuous political support to peacekeeping operations – individually, from the Security Council, from the General Assembly. This is absolutely key if we want to succeed.
And obviously, we need their support in terms of resources. We need finances from Member States and we need to have the right resources for our operations, even though we are making a strong and determined effort to optimise resources, as well as to downsize and terminate peacekeeping operations whenever possible.
We depend on Member States’ contributions of troops, equipment, and so on. And a lot has been done. Since 2015 more contributions have been forthcoming, more contributions that will be deployable in less time, so we need to continue this effort. We still have shortfalls in critical capabilities in some operations. We are working hard to convince Member States, especially those who can come up with specific capabilities, to help us.
UN News: The UN has a new system-wide strategy to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse. What is UN peacekeeping doing for its part to prevent this kind of abuse?
Lacroix: We have to be extremely firm and well organised. The Secretary-General has made the fight against sexual abuse one of his top priorities and policies and decisions made are clear in the sense that we will really do our best to both prevent and also deal with allegations in a way making it clear determination is there. We have to be organised as well.
We have organised in a way that we are more responsive and troop-contributing countries also are more responsive and much more aware of the importance of dealing with sexual abuse and exploitation. I can see the determination of troop-contributing countries is stronger. We have to make sure we have the right kind of response on the ground. We also need to make sure we address the plight of victims and have put in place mechanisms ensuring concerns will be properly addressed.
UN News: The United Nations celebrates the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on 29 May. What is your message to peacekeepers who sacrifice so much?
Lacroix: It’s a message of immense gratitude. They are doing work that is extremely difficult and yet indispensable for the population they are protecting and serving. And they do it at immense risk.
Many of our peacekeepers have paid the highest price. In 2016, 99 of our peacekeepers lost their lives as the result of courageous engagement in serving populations. We recently had the murder of four peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, the number later rose to six, and 10 peacekeepers wounded.
It’s gratitude and not only gratitude but we owe them all the support we can give. I think there is a sense of responsibility we all have in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The team is committed, is aware of the conditions in which our people, our colleagues, operate on the ground and dedicated to do their best to serve them and this is my approach as well.