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SG/SM/19899-PKO/804
6 December 2019

Political Solutions Must Remain at Centre of All Efforts to Achieve Sustainable Peace, Secretary-General Tells Meeting on Troop Performance

Following are UN Secretary‑General António Guterres’ remarks to the high‑level meeting on peacekeeping performance, in New York today:

I thank the United States and our co‑hosts, India, Portugal, Senegal, Uruguay and Viet Nam, for convening this event, and for their support to United Nations peacekeeping operations.

Our peacekeepers represent the last, best hope for millions of people around the world.  Some of them operate in highly dangerous environments, just short of full‑blown conflict.  We can never forget their service and sacrifice.

As the nature of conflict evolves, peace operations face more dangerous environments, adversaries and weapons.  The Action for Peacekeeping initiative, launched in March last year, was conceived to respond to these challenges.

Action for Peacekeeping stresses our shared commitment to improve the performance of United Nations peacekeeping missions.  We welcome every opportunity to consider our effectiveness, including those provided by Security Council resolution 2436 (2018), as our Chair has mentioned, on enhancing peacekeeping performance at all levels.

Performance is a collective responsibility of all those involved in peacekeeping.  This responsibility starts with the Security Council, and the adequate defining of mandates.  It proceeds through the Secretariat, and through me personally, as Secretary‑General.  In the field, United Nations military, police and civilian staff all have a role.

Performance is also the responsibility of Member States — as troop and police contributors, host Governments, members of the General Assembly, as financial contributors and providers of capacity‑building support.

Since the launch of Action for Peacekeeping, we have seen some clear improvements.

Our first mission is to support peace processes and political solutions.  For example, in the Central African Republic, thanks to our enhanced partnership with the African Union, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) contributed to the peace agreement with multiple armed groups — a tangible political and security gain that is now being implemented.

Across all missions, we have introduced new systems and tools to evaluate performance.  These include regular military and police unit evaluations, hospital evaluation systems and other mechanisms to address the work of civilian personnel.

As a result, we are engaging with Member States in a more focused way.  In some cases, we have repatriated underperforming troops; in others, we have deployed mentors or training teams.

At the same time, we are doing everything possible to improve accountability and end sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations peacekeepers through strong prevention and response measures, centred on victims and survivors.  We have improved our outreach, and the Victims’ Rights Advocate and I have made it a priority to meet survivors personally.

The 87 Members of my Circle of Leadership have committed to ending impunity and to supporting efforts to combat sexual exploitation and abuse across the United Nations system.

I would also like to thank 103 Member States that have signed the voluntary compact to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse.  We need your continued support so that these commitments become a reality on the ground every day.  And to those who have not yet joined, I invite you to do so.

We have improved the analysis that informs key decisions about our peace operations.  As a result, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), for example, has shifted towards a more mobile posture, enhanced the sharing of peacekeeping intelligence, and improved its casualty evacuation procedures.

We have also reduced the number of units experiencing gaps in vital equipment, from 23 units in 2018 to 12 today, but even those 12 need to be addressed and solved.

There has been progress on increasing the numbers of women in peacekeeping at all levels, but still a slow progress — and this is a key way of improving performance, as noted in resolution 2436 (2018).

The biggest success was in the number of female military staff officers and observers that has doubled since 2017, to 14.5 per cent.  Women peacekeepers on patrol improve the effectiveness of our protection for all civilians, and in particular for women.

In South Sudan, women police working with UNMISS have improved community outreach, while women troops in MINUSCA have supported efforts to address conflict‑related sexual violence.

Strengthening peacekeeping performance includes improving the safety and security of peacekeepers.  Here, too, we have seen progress.

Fatalities due to hostile acts among uniformed personnel went down from 58 in 2017 to 27 in 2018 and 23 so far in 2019.  This was not because forces became less proactive, it is exactly because forces became more proactive that it was also possible not only to protect better civilians, but to reduce the number of causalities.

Twenty‑two of the 23 fatalities we suffered this year were peacekeepers in MINUSMA, our most dangerous mission.  There was just one fatality in our 12 other missions combined.  And in MINUSMA we are facing an environment where all kinds of terrorist organizations are operating and where peacekeeping indeed is, I would say, a strange concept in an area where there is at all, no peace to keep.

Even in Mali, we have reduced peacekeeper fatalities from improvised explosive devices from 24 in 2016 to 5 so far in 2019.

We are also making peacekeeping operations more flexible and more responsive, working across civilian and uniformed personnel to fulfil our mandates, including the facilitation of political processes and the protection of civilians.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is using a combination of military bases, six rapidly deployable battalions, and civilian personnel to prevent and respond to threats to civilians.

But even in these efforts in recent developments in the Beni area of north‑eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, we have a cause for serious concern.

The killing of more than 100 civilians by the Allied Democratic Forces, coming after years of armed violence, has sparked understandable frustration with the authorities and with MONUSCO.  Our hearts go out to all those who have lost their loved ones.

This frustration has spilt over into armed attacks on our peacekeepers and humanitarian workers.  These are doubly worrying because they all play an important part in supporting the response to the Ebola outbreak and in meeting the humanitarian needs of the people living in the areas.

MONUSCO is now reinforcing its presence and increasing its outreach activities.  It is absolutely essential to have a close contact with populations, to understand their needs, their fears, their aspirations, and to be able to respond to their anxieties in a much more proactive way.  This is a gap in which we still need to substantially improve in several of our operations.  We are working closely with the government and all Congolese partners to strengthen the protection of civilians in this difficult context.

We are assessing our response to these incidents.  The Under‑Secretary‑General for Peace Operations has just returned from the Beni area, and Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz will conduct a more comprehensive assessment in the coming weeks.  Also, in relation to this, accountability needs to be based on solid and objective analysis.

Looking ahead, we must keep up this momentum and strengthen our partnership for collective action to improve peacekeeping performance.

First, we need to do more to support missions in the most challenging environments.  In Mali, we are considering reconfiguring the Force, and we are improving coordination with the Malian, G‑5 Sahel and Barkhane forces on the ground.  Recent events have proven how difficult this is in that extremely dangerous context.

Second, we must build greater capacity in our peacekeeping forces so that they can fully implement their mandates, particularly protection of civilians.  The Light Coordination Mechanism is supporting partnerships to increase capacity, while the Triangular Partnership Project is helping to equip and train specialist troops.  We must build on these, while improving leadership training.  We are making progress but we still have a long way to go.

Third, we must enhance our intelligence, situational analysis and understanding of the needs and aspirations of host governments and local populations.  We need to strengthen our direct engagement and communications, with the people around us and also to use the most sophisticated and modern techniques to counter false narratives and connect with the people we serve.

Fourth, we need to build on progress made by several missions over the past year to establish and strengthen implementation of the human rights due diligence policy.  This includes human rights risk assessments, review mechanisms and training.

Fifth, women peacekeepers are a force multiplier.  We need more.  We must remove barriers that prevent women from being deployed, including a lack of basics like personal protection equipment.

Sixth, we can do more to reduce peacekeeping fatalities by enhancing force protection and improving trauma care.  Our commitment to you is that we will never allow a peacekeeper to die for want of adequate and timely medical care.  In the last nine months none of the injured peacekeepers have died and this was only possible by a substantial improvement of our care capacity.

Seventh, we must fill critical equipment gaps, including with helicopters, quick reaction forces and enabling units like engineers, transport and medical units.  There are still many meaningful gaps, especially as we move from a traditional peacekeeping concept where peace is what is to be maintained, to situations where peace is quite elusive as we are facing in so many scenarios.

Eighth, those who commit unlawful acts and engage in misconduct, including sexual exploitation and abuse, must be prosecuted and punished.  Our cooperation with Member States is absolutely essential to making it happen in all the situations detected.

Ninth, we plan to build a framework, in cooperation with troop‑ and police‑contributing countries, to better systematize performance evaluation and accountability.

Tenth and finally, United Nations peacekeeping missions must set standards for sustainability and environmental management.

Political solutions must remain front and centre in all efforts to achieve sustainable peace.

The conflict in the Central African Republic is just one example in which the signing of a peace agreement, through close coordination with the African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States, led to a significant reduction in violence and civilian deaths.

Elsewhere, political solutions often remain elusive.

In South Sudan, we have not yet made the progress we hoped for.

In Mali, the implementation of the Algiers agreement has been too slow.  I welcome the recent announcement of the start of the national dialogue on 14 December, and urge all parties to contribute.

In the absence of political solutions, armed groups may try to exploit a power vacuum and create even greater insecurity.  Unfortunately, there are limits to what peace operations can achieve.  Counter‑terrorism is beyond our mandate and in Mali, for example, our collective success is reliant on our partnerships with national forces, the G5‑Sahel and Barkhane as I mentioned.

I therefore call again on members of the Security Council to provide sustained and predictable funding as well as a robust framework for African peace operations that have a clear comparative advantage in peace enforcing and counter‑terrorism.

I also urge you to address the serious cash crisis that is affecting the United Nations, including in peacekeeping.

Thanks to increased flexibility in the management of resources between missions, we have reduced outstanding payments to troop‑ and police‑contributing countries for active operations to an all‑time low.  But this is just a temporary solution.  The underlying liquidity and structural problems with the budget remain, so we can expect the debt crisis to recur.

United Nations peace operations are more cost‑effective than ever, but we cannot implement mandates without consistent, predictable and adequate financing.

We need budgets to follow mandates, not mandates to follow budgets.

Our peace operations around the world depend on successful partnerships, particularly with Member States.

I hope you will work closely with us to build a culture of continual improvement and accountability so that we can meet the expectations of the people we serve.

For information media. Not an official record.