PRESS CONFERENCE BY UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
4 October 2006
Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said today there was a surge in United Nations peacekeeping operations around the world, a growth in missions that he called “unprecedented”, and he urged Member States to prevent “political overstretch” and the danger of failing to focus on so many important issues.
At a Headquarters press conference, he noted that when missions in Lebanon, Darfur and Timor Leste reached full deployment, there would be approximately 140,000 military, police and civilian peacekeeping staff on the ground around the world, an almost 50 per cent growth in the staff of missions. This surge could be seen as a good sign, because peacekeeping missions could not be deployed “in the middle of shooting wars”, signaling that a number of conflicts were ending. But there was also a duty to see the enormous challenge these operations represented. Among the challenges he identified were actively supporting 18 different political processes, assuring quality and professionalism in staff, and conducting proper oversight.
He also praised the “immense work” of staff at Headquarters and in the field, and called them “people who are really selfless, and who have done their best in face of extremely difficult circumstances”.
He called on Member States to be “doubly engaged” in peacekeeping missions. He sensed that in some cases, Member States shifted the work of resolving a conflict to the Secretariat once peacekeeping was organized. But he called the Department of Peacekeeping Operations an “orchestrator, the implementer”, and said that the incentives and disincentives to keep a party engaged in a peace process were the responsibility of Member States.
Finally, he called peacebuilding a major challenge, with a particular focus on the reform of security forces in conflict situations. He said that peacekeeping “opens a window” of opportunity, but the peacebuilding strategy was at risk when the security forces of various parties were not drawn down.
The Under-Secretary-General fielded a number of questions about the situation in and around Darfur. Asked whether the United Nations would deploy a mission in Chad, he said it was very difficult, but the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was working with colleagues in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to see what could be done. He offered the reminder that a deployment in Chad would not be any easier than one in Darfur itself.
He said the priority of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was to support the African Union Mission in Sudan, which included the contribution of United Nations military staff officers, logistics officers, and the shipping of equipment, which the Government of the Sudan welcomed. He said a purely military solution to the problem in Darfur “would be a tragedy”, and that a political solution was required. Without a political solution, he explained, peacekeeping could not work. The United Nations had to convince the Government of the Sudan of the merits of peacekeeping operations because one could see the fragmentation of rebel groups and the fight for control of camps for internally displaced people as evidence of fragmentation. He said that the transition to a United Nations-led operation was the most realistic solution, and hoped support for the African Union Mission conveyed to the Sudan that they only sought to help.
He noted that the size of the military forces proposed for Darfur could not create law and order in an area of 500,000 square miles. Peacekeeping made the biggest difference when it operated at the margins and focused on a few spoilers that failed to abide by agreements, but confusing peacekeeping with peace enforcement led to great difficulty. In describing the operations of the Mission in Sudan, he said that a huge military force could be damaging to the people of Darfur by competing for limited resources in the area of the conflict. Therefore, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations emphasized a capacity to quickly deploy resources when problems emerged. He also said that the Mission included a high number of police, which were particularly needed in the camps for internally displaced persons. In this manner, the peacekeeping mission could offer political reassurance.
In related questions about whether or not his department was bound by the “responsibility to protect”, he said it deserved to be enshrined in international law, but that peacekeeping was not always the means of acting on that obligation. Because the United Nations was not a military alliance, it was difficult to see it responding to a World War II-like situation, which probably required the Security Council to authorize coalitions of the willing. In places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, robust peacekeeping had ensured implementation of peace agreements. But in a situation of systemic breakdown, he believed it was unwise for peacekeepers to go the next step and become involved in war operations.
Addressing questions about reform, he praised the report of Lakhdar Brahimi on peacekeeping for defining a roadmap for transformation, without which the department could have collapsed under the weight of its new operations. He explained that successful transformation required that peacekeeping be professionalized and that it retained flexibility. In peacekeeping missions, personal perceptions of the credibility of commanders and civilian staff could be the difference between success and failure. He pointed to the new deployment in Lebanon as a successful implementation of this model. At Headquarters, the department now emphasized supporting the operations of missions in the field. He then pointed to the development of the Peacekeeping 2010 framework to raise awareness that peacekeeping is a core activity of the United Nations. He added that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations wanted a dedicated cadre of 2,500 professionals to guarantee its sustainability, and that plans for rotation of civilian staff within the Secretariat, related to the Secretary-General’s plans for reforming human resources management, could further reduce the vacancy and retention problems faced by peacekeeping missions. He also explained that the department had begun using technology to share lessons learned.
When asked about the de-certification of certain police officers in Bosnia-Herzegovina by the United Nations, he said he did not want to commit to a particular timeline for dealing with the problem, but said that every effort was being made with the High Representative and the Bosnian Government to resolve it satisfactorily. He called the immense majority of police officers the greatest contribution of the United Nations to stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Replying to a question about the compensation of the families of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) members who had been killed in the Israeli air strike at Khiyam, he said that Israel accepted full responsibility for the tragedy and that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was studying with its legal department on how to go to Israel for compensation, as would Member States. He felt very secure about the follow through on commitments of countries to UNIFIL, and said he was encouraged to see so many countries willing to engage in Lebanon that had been “unengaged” in peacekeeping missions for 10 years.
On the subject of the renewal of the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), he called the Mission a good illustration of peacekeeping’s ability to stabilize situations, though it could not resolve the conflict by itself. Although the peacekeeping department was not satisfied with the situation in Western Sahara, he noted that the parties did not differ on the importance of the Mission in preventing resumption of conflict.
In responding to a question about why countries like Canada had drastically reduced their involvement in peacekeeping missions, he called Canada a “founding country” where peacekeeping was concerned. After the end of the cold war, there was a very steep shrinking of armed forces throughout the western world, leaving fewer troops available for peacekeeping. He observed that the strength of peacekeeping missions depended on their universality, and so all types of countries were needed, not only for their varying capacities, but also because of the meaning found in the combination of the United Nations blue flag with that of other national commitments.
When asked about an update of the facts in a report issued by United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) regarding the burning of the village of Kazana in the Ituri region, he said he would not comment on the content of the report itself, but an inquiry into the situation had been transparent and made clear that when forces deployed after fighting, they found four bodies of militia members. He also hoped that European Union countries that had deployed soldiers in MONUC would take a close look at the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and assess carefully what should be done with their forces on 31 October.
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For information media • not an official record
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