José Ramos-Horta on UN Peace Operations

A Speech by José Ramos-Horta, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, made at the “International Conference on the Protection of Civilians”, Kigali, Rwanda, May 28-29, 2015

Africa now contributes more to UN Peace Operations than any other region.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I thank Her Excellency Foreign Minister Mushikiwabo for inviting me and my Panel colleagues Marie-Louise Baricako and Hilde Johnson to this conference.

Allow me to introduce the Timor-Leste Ambassador to the EU and Belgium HE Nelson Santos who is accompanying me.

I am here as the Chair of the High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations and also as a former resistance leader and President of my own country, distant Timor-Leste.

Being here for the first time since the 1994 genocide, I bow in tribute to the 800,000 fellow human beings who were murdered during that period.

The Rwanda genocide will always stand as an indictment of the leaders of the United Nations and the international community at that time for their utter failure of moral leadership, compassion and courage in making the decisions that peoples of the world expected of them, that they expected of the United Nations.

I bow in tribute to the people of Rwanda for the path of reconciliation you have pursued and for the extraordinary transformation your country has experienced, from tragedy to peace and prosperity.

Making sure that the UN never again leaves at a time when it is most needed, or betrays the most vulnerable at a time when their protection is most urgent, has been at the heart of the work of the Panel.

Those who endure immense suffering are entitled to be angry; but those who are angry and yet forgive and live on and let live their worst enemies, teach us all enduring lessons in courage, humanity and wisdom.

I also applaud this initiative which links to the Summit last September chaired by Vice President Biden and President Kagame, among others. This year-long effort is focusing on mobilizing more countries to support UN missions as part of their global commitment to peace and security. I had the opportunity to participate in the European roundtable hosted by the Dutch in Amsterdam. I hope that the Summit that will take place in the margins of the General Assembly this September will bear fruit.

Africa for one, is now delivering. Africa now contributes more to UN Peace Operations than any other region. And this is in addition to your contributions to African-led peace support operations.

On behalf of the High-Level Panel on UN Peace Operations, I would like to take this opportunity to summarize our efforts since the Secretary-General appointed us in October 2014. I would also like to share our deliberations so far, and hear from you, while we, the Panel, are in the process of drawing conclusions so we can present the final report to the Secretary-General on June 16th.

The Panel has undertaken an intensive consultation process listening to the major stakeholders of UN peace operations; we have received in total 80 submissions, from Member States, regional organizations, UN bodies and civil society.

The most recent submission we received was a very important and thoughtful one from the African Union.

We have also travelled to as many regions and capitals as possible in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.

We have held countless meetings with Member States, regional organizations, international and national non-governmental organizations, in addition to relevant UN Secretariat, offices and agencies, funds and programmes.

Panel members visited three peace operations in DRC, Mali and Dakar to listen to the concerns of communities and host governments, as well as to the staff of peace operations and other partners on the ground.

We have met and spoken with many Special Representatives of the Secretary-General, Special Envoys, Force Commanders, and other senior mission leaders.

Throughout our work, the Panel has maintained close communication with the SCR 1325 Expert Study and the Advisory Group on the Review of Peace-building Architecture to ensure a synergized approach to our respective areas of focus.

The Protection of Civilians featured heavily in all these consultations and it has become clear to the Panel that Protection of Civilians is of critical importance.

Protection of Civilians is the measure by which most UN Peace Operations are judged today. 95 percent of UN peacekeepers have this mandate. It is what local communities and the international community expect from the UN. And yet there are so many challenges, particularly the gaps that we continue to see between mandates and resources.

Our Panel has heard that some missions are making serious efforts to address armed groups that are threatening civilians and that UN missions have saved many thousands of lives either by acting quickly, such as in CAR, or opening their gates to civilians, as in South Sudan.

In many cases, AU missions are doing even more in this regard and often with fewer resources to back them up or safeguard their own safety and security.

But we also have heard a lot of discontent from communities that UN personnel need to get out of their vehicles, be more visible, show that they are determined to act against the groups that are threatening civilians, and, as a last resort, even put themselves at risk when the lives of civilians are threatened.

Many community-based local NGOs think that the UN may prioritize negotiating an agreement between parties in conflict and are less concerned by the civilians caught in the crossfire. This misperception affects us all.

And the challenges of protecting civilians appear to be, if anything, increasing. Two-thirds of UN peacekeepers today are trying to protect civilians in the midst of armed conflicts, some in the presence of violent extremist groups. How do missions deal with these difficult environments? Rwanda knows these challenges well as it has deployments in some of the most difficult countries in this regard, including Sudan and South Sudan. The challenges to logistics, mobility, and rapid response in these environments are very significant.

In Mali, the most dangerous place by far for peacekeepers today, the violence is not really targeted against civilians but against the mission and other international forces there. Peace Operations need to be able to protect themselves in order to protect others.

Protecting civilians is not just the responsibility of uniformed peacekeepers.

The primary responsibility to protect civilians lies with the host government and Missions are slowly helping to build national capacity.

Civilians in all UN peace operations as well as NGOs and of course the communities themselves are all playing very important roles as well. Some are also effectively engaged in non-violent protection actions.

This burden also exists for Peace Operations.

We find ourselves within a normative framework with the Responsibility to Protect, endorsed at the 2005 World Summit, the Secretary-General’s Human Rights Up Front initiative and the increasing prominence of POC in Security Council mandates.

The United Nations Secretariat has developed guidance and training materials – and continues to adapt these as UN Peace Operations face evolving situations on the ground.
UN Peace Operations are deployed with protection advisors, dedicated civilian capacity with expertise on POC, the protection of women and children and addressing sexual violence as a weapon of war.

However, it is with the ability to protect civilians under imminent threat that the UN’s credibility is most at stake. And as we have heard, and seen, there is a lot of room for improvement in this area. The responsibility to improve, however, is a shared one – the Security Council, the General Assembly, SRSGs, troop- and police-contributing countries, us. We, as those obligated to serve and protect, need to better align our understanding and implementation of a POC mandate.

There are several ways to make sure Peace Operations deliver more effectively in implementing this mandate. These relate to how the mandates are formulated, better planning, better capabilities, better mobility assets and support systems, ensuring missions have more timely and better information on threats as they evolve, and better training and other efforts to address what some have called the “mindset.”

More efforts need to be made made to generate forces and capabilities that are tailored to the situation and can enable better and more effective protection by the UN in the future. More also needs to be done to make sure that the forces we deploy are able and willing to do so pro-actively.

When we say there is a mindset problem, what we really mean is that Member States simply do not agree on whose job this is and just how far missions are supposed to go with the resources that they have been provided.

Are troop- and police-contributing countries fully aware of the situation and dynamics on the ground and are the ready to carry out this mandate?

Do the Security Council, the TCCs and the Secretariat have a shared view on implementation and objectives?

You cannot protect everyone in all places. That is “mission impossible.” So who is responsible to closing that gap?

Is it the Secretariat’s job to tell the Security Council who will be and who won’t be protected?
Is it the Security Council’s job to give more restricted mandates covering, for example, a smaller area?

All of these issues must be very clear to everyone and, in our opinion, we are not there yet. I look forward to your thoughts and wisdom on this issue of the gap between mandates on the one hand and capabilities on the other.

Turning to the likelihood of success, it is one thing when you are trying to protect civilians in a relatively small country like Timor-Leste.

But what about today when peacekeepers are deployed in countries the size and scale of the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Mali and parts of Sudan?

These are Missions in vast territories with limited infrastructure, and particularly difficult conditions with regard to terrain and climate. From a military perspective, it seems that the capabilities don’t add up in several of these large scale operations, but how much is enough in these massive environments? And how much is enough for the protection of civilians?

Planning and coordination is also very important, they are vital. The analysis and planning of missions have to be strengthened and POC has to be fully incorporated into every step of that process as a central objective of the mission.

The Secretary-General has to be as clear as possible to the Security Council on how mission efforts will be deployed and how priorities will be set. This also must be communicated much more clearly to communities.

There has been a lot of discussion around better information, analysis and risk assessments for POC. It is clear missions should have access to the technology they need to preempt threats and respond quickly to ensure greater safety for all.

Practical training is crucial because this is not the “usual” job of militaries around the world. It is closer to the work of formed police units around the world. Whether military or police, training in protecting civilians is needed.

The Panel is very aware of the difficult situations where Peace Operations are deployed today. It is also acutely aware of the threats that exist to civilians and the expectations – and obligation – we have to proactively protect these civilians from imminent threats.

UN Peace Operations are deployed to pre-empt threats to civilians through non-violent means but also, within limits, use of force. Together, we have to make sure we do what is necessary.
All of these discussions link up closely to the broader questions around the use of force in UN peacekeeping operations.

As some former Force Commanders have pointed out to us, here we see a double standard where there are regular investigations when force is used and repercussions when it is deemed to have been used excessively — and this is only appropriate.

But where are the repercussions when mission personnel failed to act even when they have the information and the ability to act on that information?

We need to ask what kind of signal that sends to those who are out there on the front lines of UN peacekeeping.

The push and the leadership to truly protect civilians cannot only come from those who are not participating in UN peacekeeping but also from those, like our hosts who are here today, who are acting on their words and on the lessons of the past.

You are all in my daily prayers and thoughts and I ask God to continue to bless you with endless wisdom and health so that you may carry on your noble work for a better world for all.

God Bless You.