Security Council

United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: United…

8 September 2021


United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: United Nations Transitions - Security Council, 8851st Meeting

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08 Sep 2021

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In post-conflict states, engagement with local actors must continue through transition period and beyond, Secretary-General tells Security Council.

For countries hosting United Nations peacekeeping missions, the shift to post-conflict peacebuilding is both a sign of progress and a time of profound risks, officials told the Security Council today, as they called for more attention to that crucial, sensitive transition from the moment “the first boots hit the ground”.

“Peacekeeping missions can help put a country on the right track, but only local stakeholders can keep it there in the long-term,” said Secretary-General António Guterres, briefing the 15-member Council’s open debate on the topic of transitions between peacekeeping operations and their successor United Nations presences. Noting the complexity of a mission’s drawdown and the need to tailor it to the conditions on the ground, he emphasized that no peacekeeping operation has ever been designed to be permanent. Engagement with local actors must continue through the transition period and beyond, he said, citing the drawdown of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) in Sudan — as well as simultaneous scale-up of the new United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) — as an example of a recent successful transition.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and member of The Elders, agreed that no matter how successful a peacekeeping mission, the host country and its people must guide post-conflict recovery efforts and “adopt peace as a way of life”. Recalling the case of her native country, she said the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) deployed some 180,000 peacekeepers over its 15-year history and was widely viewed as a success, due in part to its strong engagement with regional and international partners. Today, Liberia remains at peace with itself and its neighbours and has itself become a troop-contributing country. She advocated for transitions that are nationally owned, integrated, coherent and sustainable, as well as for expanded representation of African countries — which make up nearly 70 per cent of the Council’s agenda — in the organ’s membership.

Also briefing the Council was civil society representative Safaa Elagib Adam, President of the Community Development Association of Sudan, who recalled that her country “impressed the world” when women and youth led a historic, non-violent revolution ending decades of brutal military rule in 2019. As the new UNITAMS mission was deployed, UNAMID hurried to exit Sudan, leaving Darfur fragile and rife with security challenges. In particular, an only partially signed peace agreement, the spread of armed militias and the proliferation of weapons are complicating the country’s transition. Outlining ways in which the Council can help Sudan as it responds to ongoing fighting, killings, rape and lootings, she said members can assist with security sector reform, support civil society and provide technical support, capacity-building and gender training.

As Council members took the floor, many speakers echoed the complexity of peacekeeping transitions and rejected attempts to impose “one-size-fits-all” solutions in any country or context. Several speakers underlined the primacy of the host country in the peacebuilding process, while warning against externally imposed constraints or timelines. Still others emphasized the importance of addressing the root drivers of conflict — a process distinct from security considerations — and of continuing to engage with local women, minorities and civil society members as the United Nations presence enters its next phase.

Meenakshi Lekhi, Minister for External Affairs of India, pointed out that her country is the largest troop-contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations in cumulative terms, having deployed more than 250,000 peacekeepers across 49 missions. Noting that a mission’s withdrawal signals both progress for a host country as well as a real risk of relapsing into conflict, she said successful drawdowns require the active cooperation of all stakeholders. From the start, peacekeeping missions should be given clear, focused, sequenced, prioritized and practically achievable mandates, matched by adequate resources. Meanwhile, transitions must employ well-planned strategies that fully respect a host country’s sovereignty and priorities.

The representative of Kenya said peacekeeping is not a substitute for conflict resolution and must be undertaken alongside well-resourced projects to address the root causes of the conflict. Noting that the exit of peacekeeping missions can lead to employment falloffs, he said transitions should therefore be planned in collaboration with national, regional and international economic development bodies and linked to investment promotion schemes. For its part, the Council should draw more advice from the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission to ensure that longer-term perspectives are reflected in missions’ formation, review and reconfiguration.

China’s representative joined others in emphasizing the primacy of political objectives and national priorities as peacekeeping operations draw down. Citing successful examples of transition in Timor-Leste, Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, he nevertheless cautioned that post-conflict States are not capable of managing transitions alone and require targeted international support. China has supported a range of countries emerging from conflict, including in such critical sectors as infrastructure development, agriculture and education. Describing the events that transpired recently in Afghanistan as evidence that externally imposed democracy does not work, he stressed the need to listen to host countries and make timely adjustments as situations evolve.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines said exit strategies should never be driven by budgetary considerations but rather determined through a comprehensive review of the situation on the ground. The needs and priorities of host countries must always preside over any decisions to withdraw or reconfigure peacekeeping missions. Noting that peace, security and development challenges are closely linked, she said sustainable and climate-friendly initiatives can pave the way for successful transitions. More efforts are needed to draw on the expertise of local and regional actors, whose political and community-level engagements are best suited to guide the way forward.

Meanwhile, the representative of Ireland — Council President for September and the debate’s facilitator — recounted her country’s first-hand experience with the fragility of hard-won peace. “Sustained commitment is needed for it to prosper,” she said, describing the end of conflict as an opportunity for peace, but not a guarantee. Noting that the Council plans to take up its first-ever standalone resolution on the transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding, on 9 September, she said the draft sends a “clear and united message” and will deliver a framework to manage such critical and sensitive junctures.

Also participating were the representatives of Tunisia, United States, United Kingdom, Norway, Viet Nam, France, Russian Federation, Niger, Estonia and Mexico. Several delegations that are not Council members submitted written statements for inclusion in the debate.

The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 12:17 p.m.

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