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IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse

As Wars Multiply, U.N. Takes a Hard Look at Peace Operations

U.N. Peacekeepers patrol the South Sudanese village of Yuai. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 1 2014 (IPS) - Finding ways to better integrate the two arms of U.N. Peace Operations – Special Political Missions and Peacekeeping Operations – will be one of the priorities for a new review panel headed by Nobel Peace Laureate and former president of Timor-Leste José Ramos-Horta.

The review panel will look at how combined U.N. Peace Operations can respond to demands from the international community for increased responsiveness and effectiveness.

“The international community is demanding that the U.N. intervene faster and more effectively to end conflicts.” -- Jose Ramos-Horta

In light of recent reports of incomplete or untruthful reporting from U.N. Peace Operations, such as the investigation into an alleged mass rape in Tabit, Sudan, another pressing issue for the panel will be transparency and accountability.

In an interview with IPS, Ramos-Horta explained that the review was not a fact-finding mission but that serious events that happen on the ground “illustrate the need for serious thinking and changes, in the whole of the peacekeeping and political missions.

“The U.N. cannot be seen to shy away from reporting to the powers that be what happens on the ground. Because in not doing so we add to impunity,” he said.

The 14-member Panel on Peace Operations was announced on Oct. 31 by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and quickly drew criticism for only having three female panel members. In response, an additional three female panel members were announced Monday.

The low representation of women on the panel, particularly initially, was considered incongruous with the U.N.’s public talk about greater participation from women in its peacebuilding activities.

Ramos-Horta told IPS last week “it is acknowledged that there is significant discrepancy, and as I understand there are well-placed, well-argued criticisms in regard to this imbalance.”

Ramos-Horta said that utmost in the thinking of the panel will be the protection of women and children and the role of women in dialogue and peace agreements.

One of the new panel members is Radhika Coomaraswamy, a former Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, who is expected to help ensure the panel works together with plans for implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325.

This may represent some recognition of the need to move towards action after several years of talk on women’s role in the peace building agenda.

Ramos-Horta told IPS that the panel will work closely with U.N. Women and will listen to civil society and representative women’s groups more so in regions where they suffer the brunt of conflicts.

José Ramos-Horta (right), Chair of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, briefs journalists. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

José Ramos-Horta (right), Chair of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, briefs journalists. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Balancing act with finite timeline

That the panel is also missing members from countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan, where seemingly intractable conflicts have caused significant challenges for U.N. Peacekeeping in recent years, is another area for concern.

Ramos-Horta’s own experience with U.N. Peace Operations includes in his home country of Timor-Leste and in his recent role as U.N. Special Envoy to the Special Political Mission in Guinea-Bissau.

Consultation with representatives from countries at the receiving end of peace operations could help to identify new ways to control these conflicts that in some cases seem out of control.

Ramos-Horta said that one of the reasons that difficult conflicts have continued is in part due to a lack of local leadership and cooperation from local governments. For this reason, more consultation with representatives from these countries may be strategically wise.

But it is likely the the panel will feel that it is more pressed to focus on consulting with the governments of major troop and fund contributing countries, as well as the African Union and the NATO as the two other sources of multilateral peacekeepers.

Considering the spiraling scale and cost of U.N. Peace Operations, this will certainly be a priority for the review.

During the interview, Ramos-Horta also discussed the absence of a standing army or training camp for U.N. peacekeepers that would be ready to respond when crises erupt.

Ramos-Horta said that his own country of Timor-Leste had to turn to bilateral support in 2006, because the U.N. was unable to provide immediate assistance when violence re-ignited.

However, although a standing army may be able to bring conflicts under control faster through a faster response time, it would undoubtedly also provide new challenges in terms of financing.

Although one role of the panel will be to review peace operations in light of the changing nature of conflict, Ramos-Horta had a measured view of modern conflict.

He said it was important not to forget the horrors of past wars, such as the killing fields of Cambodia or the Iran-Iraq War.

Indeed, notwithstanding the complexity and severity of contemporary conflicts such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria, the average number of people killed by war each year has decreased since the end of the Cold War.

Over this same period, the scale of U.N. Peace Operations has increased.

Ramos-Horta said that there are now greater expectations on the international community to act quickly in response to conflict.

“Civil society has more access to information and demand action from governments, that’s why you see today much greater demand and pressure on the international community to act,” he said.

“I wish that in my own country [Timor-Leste] from 1975 onwards there had been digital media and there had been international outrage from the very beginning as it is now happening in regard to Central African Republic, for instance, or in regard to Iraq, Libya, Syria conflicts”, he said.

“The international community is demanding that the U.N. intervene faster and more effectively to end conflicts.”

One way of making Peace Operations more efficient is to also look at conflict prevention measures.

To this end, Ramos-Horta said that one of the aims of the review will be to look at how to better finance the Special Political Missions, the arm of U.N. Peace Operations that aims to reduce the need for peacekeepers by stemming conflicts at their source.

Currently the funding available to Special Political Missions, of which there are currently 11 worldwide, is limited.

While peacekeeping has it’s own separate, ballooning, budget that currently stands at seven billion dollars for the 2014-15 financial year, the secretary general has to find funds for the Special Political Missions from the already cash-strapped U.N. General Budget.

At the end of the day, the limited financial capacity of the U.N. to do the work the international community expects of it may be the greatest priority for the panel, despite the other practical considerations it will have to make.

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter @lyndal.rowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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