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UN holds debate on improving peacekeepers’ role

The floor of the United Nations, on December

The floor of the United Nations, on December 21, 2017 in New York City. Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

UNITED NATIONS — UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wants to change the way he deploys the UN’s “blue helmets,” the 110,000 men and women tasked with quelling conflict in up to 15 hot spots around the world.

Guterres said peacekeeping operations must be safer and stronger and given greater support and more realistic expectations.

“Put simply, peace operations cannot succeed if they are deployed instead of a political solution, rather than in support of one,” Guterres told the 15-member Security Council and more than a dozen other nations Wednesday at an open debate on improving peacekeeping operations.

“UN peacekeeping missions now operate in far more dangerous, complex and high-risk environments. They are under threat from armed groups, criminals and terrorists, who have access to powerful modern weapons,” he said, adding that as many as 59 peacekeepers were killed last year, up 74 percent from 34 in 2016.

Guterres said the 15 missions, eight of which are in Africa, must be recast and, perhaps most importantly, given greater support from member nations — along with clear mandates in tandem with political efforts — to be most effective.

Peacekeepers have become a focal point for the UN’s top administrator in the wake of a series of sex scandals. Some UN peacekeeping troops — composed of soldiers from various countries — have been accused of sexually exploiting the people they were deployed to protect.

“I have launched a new approach to sexual exploitation and abuse, by ensuring that victims have a clear way to report allegations, and working with troop- and police-contributing countries to address allegations, end impunity and prevent future cases,” Guterres said.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, who has championed reducing peacekeeping costs and closing missions, called for greater accountability for missions and told the ambassadors that the United States would only provide up to 25 percent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget.

“Peacekeeping missions need to support political solutions,” she said, calling for hard data on missions’ performance. “They need host country cooperation. Mandates must be realistic and achievable. Missions need to have an exit strategy. And we need to be willing to change mandates when things aren’t working.”

Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, said one peacekeeping force in his area of the world, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, is failing.

“We continue to see an alarming situation on the ground, suggesting that UNIFIL may be unable to fulfill all the provisions of its mandate,” he said, stressing that Israel fully supports the UN’s peacekeeping operations. “Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy and internationally designated terrorist organization, has taken over two-thirds of Shiite towns and villages in UNIFIL’s area of operations in southern Lebanon, using Lebanese civilians as human shields to protect its arsenal of overl00,000 missiles and rockets.”

Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, which as president of the Security Council in March convened the meeting, said his country supports Guterres’ reforms.

“We will continue to press for modernization of UN peace missions, during our membership of the Security Council and beyond,” he said. “I hope that today will spark greater commitment to making peace operations more effective. So that the United Nations can go on making a difference to the lives of millions of men, women and children around the world.”

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