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UN: Panel Urges Basic Peacekeeping Reforms

  • Robert McMahon

Peacekeeping is one of the core functions of the United Nations. But a new report by an international panel says weaknesses have emerged during the past 10 years that have deeply marred its performance. In part one of a two-part feature, correspondent Robert McMahon examines the panel's criticisms and recommendations for reform.

United Nations, 24 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A panel of experts chosen by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called on the world body's member states to support a series of sweeping reforms to make peacekeeping operations more coherent and effective.

The panel released a report yesterday (Wednesday) that called for a major increase in peacekeeping troops, police and other professionals to improve the UN's responsiveness to outbreaks, or serious threats, of violence.

The chairman of the panel, former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi, said the goal was to both strengthen peacekeeping and avoid the sequence of events that led to the debacles of the past 10 years. He referred to the failure to prevent the massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995 and the Rwanda genocide of 1994.

"I think the UN has to be ready to face up to difficult situations. They have got to defend themselves. They have got to protect their mandates. Everybody wants the UN not to get into a Srebrenica."

A key area of responsibility is the 15-member UN Security Council. The council has been widely blamed for failing to provide clear mandates in dangerous missions such as Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina and, more recently, Sierra Leone.

The panel's report said that at the moment, the secretary-general is given only a council resolution specifying troop levels on paper. But he doesn't know whether he will be provided with the troops and other personnel the mission needs to work properly.

At the same time, the report said that UN officials must tell council members what realistically to expect in the field and not yield to pressure when devising a mission plan. Brahimi told reporters that peacekeeping missions need to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

"What we are telling the council [is]: 'O.K., don't send the United Nations if you don't want to, but if you send it, send it with the right tools and if you give it a job to do, give it the right tools to do that job you have tasked it to do.'"

The panelists, who conducted more than 200 interviews over the past four months, said restructuring peacekeeping needs to start at the conception stage. It said there is currently no planning unit at UN headquarters that brings together those responsible for key peacekeeping functions such as military operations, civilian police, electoral assistance, human rights, refugees and public information. And the panel found that the UN's department of peacekeeping operations had a severe shortage of personnel to deal with a growing number of missions.

"What shocked us is to see, for example, that you have 32 officers in this headquarters here to provide leadership and everything else for 28,000 soldiers scattered all over the world. This is clearly not enough."

The panel called for a fundamental change in the way the UN approaches the role of civilian police in peacekeeping areas. It says UN peace operations need to emphasize what it called a "team approach" to upholding the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Key to this is the ability to deploy well-trained civilian police, prosecutors and judges who can act as an impartial justice team until local officials are trained to take over. Delays in this kind of deployment in Kosovo is blamed by some for the continuing cycle of violence there.

But as the example of Kosovo has shown, it is difficult to recruit a trained force of international police because donor countries find it difficult to replace them. A spokesman for UN peacekeeping operations, David Wimhurst, told our correspondent that recent missions indicate the high need for police.

"It does pose a problem to get an adequate number of civilian police into the field, and more and more police are being required -- certainly in circumstances such as those to be found in East Timor and in Kosovo, where you have a breakdown in the traditional forces of law and order."

The panel also stressed the need for rapid deployment of international peace forces after ceasefires have been signed. Its report calls on governments to work together to create multinational brigade-sized forces. It says they should be able to fully deploy within 30 days of the adoption of most Security Council resolutions and within 90 days even for the most complex missions.

To support rapid deployment, the panel recommended establishing what it termed an "on-call" list of about 100 trained military officers and 100 police officers. UN officials are to follow up the report by submitting a plan of action for the General Assembly's session this autumn. The panel's report is also expected to be widely discussed at next month's summit of world leaders at the UN in New York.

(A copy of the report can be found at: operations/)