Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on UN Peacekeeping Operations

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
May 23, 2017


Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Lieutenant General Mgwebi, Major General Menon, Lieutenant General Keita, and Major General Uba for your briefings this afternoon and for the commitment you have shown to the ideals of this organization. We, too, are very grateful for what you do every day in the service to the United Nations to protect the world’s most vulnerable people. And we know that you, and the troops under your command, are on the frontlines. Some of these troops, as has been noted by many colleagues, have made the ultimate sacrifice, and I would first like to extend our deepest condolences over the deaths of peacekeepers this month in both MINUSMA in Mali and in MINUSCA in the Central African Republic, and for the other nine peacekeepers who have lost their lives in the past year.

We recognize that leading a UN Peacekeeping force is extremely challenging. Increasingly, you are working in dangerous environments and with sometimes half-hearted commitment by political leaders to the agreements that led to your deployment. Security Council mandates have also become more complex, and admittedly, in some places confusing. So it is very important for us to hear today your ground-level insights to the challenges you face.

One challenge of particular concern to us is that of performance and accountability. As Force Commanders, you have the most direct influence over our peacekeepers in the field, and we count on your leadership as the first line of accountability for the conduct of the troops and police under your command. This is particularly true with regard to sexual exploitation and abuse. All of us condemn such abuse and call for zero tolerance, but it is you who can most directly ensure that these crimes do not happen on your watch.

You also have the clearest view of peacekeeper performance. If you encounter performance issues, we need to know. If you help us identify problems, we can help you address them. It is much better for the Security Council to learn of issues early, from our own peacekeeping mission leaders, than to have to deal with the consequences later. Standardized, objective performance reporting will help us greatly and we encourage you to make effective use of the existing systems to track and document performance and to embrace those now in development.

I would now like to touch on your individual briefings. First, Lieutenant General Keita, thank you for your briefing on robust peacekeeping. We commend you for MINUSCA’s demonstrated willingness to take risks and act decisively against armed groups, for its support to the government, for its proactive protection of civilians, and for the provision of security in the Central African Republic. MINUSCA’s robust and proactive response in Bambari serves as an example for all peacekeeping missions. However, the threats to MINUSCA in the Central African Republic are quickly evolving and require an immediate response. So I would like to ask: do you feel you have enough flexibility to determine operational requirements within the mandate?

Lieutenant General Mgwebi, in MONUSCO, as with all peacekeeping missions, we must look at ways to improve the performance of the mission, including by “unlocking” the force intervention brigade, so that it can be more mobile and by building the capacity of the troop- and police-contributing countries serving in them. Ensuring accountability for poor performance and conduct and discipline remains a U.S. priority. So, a question on MONUSCO: you mentioned the difficulty of moving troops quickly given national caveats; what can we do to ensure you can act quickly when the situation demands it?

General Menon, we know that UNDOF has faced a number of serious challenges since its creation in 1974. In recent years, these challenges have stemmed from the fact that its area of operations has changed so dramatically. The Mission has patiently worked with the parties and garnered the support of the Council for major upgrades to its equipment and force protection, as well as to plan for a successful return to the Syrian side of the Area of Separation. We commend your work, General, to execute this difficult strategy and to plan so diligently for UNDOF’s future. Can you give us additional details on how you are addressing force protection concerns while ensuring the mission fulfils its mandate? And are there particular technologies that could be useful in the unique environment in which you operate?

And Major General Uba, we’ve seen how difficult it can be to draw down peacekeeping missions. UNMIL’s force has undergone a significant reduction since resolution 2333 was adopted last December. The 2017 presidential and legislative elections are now six months away. Can you tell us how you are preparing the remaining force to provide a back-up role for security during the elections? And finally, as we continue our review of peacekeeping operations, we expect to see drawdowns in other missions. Are there any additional lessons you have learned in UNMIL that you think could be applied usefully to other missions?

Thank you, Mr. President.