restaurants in Metro Manila

PH: Kidnapping peacekeepers unacceptable

Ayee Macaraig
The Philippines cites the kidnapping of peacekeepers and health issues like Ebola as top issues that must be reviewed in UN peacekeeping

'ADDRESS KIDNAPPING.' Philippine Ambassador to the UN Libran Cabactulan says kidnapping, health issues like Ebola must be addressed to improve UN peacekeeping.

UNITED NATIONS – As an independent review of United Nations peacekeeping is about to begin, the Philippines highlighted the kidnapping of peacekeepers as an urgent issue on the agenda.

Philippine Ambassador to the United Nations Libran Cabactulan cited the August standoff between Filipino peacekeepers and Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights as an incident that showed “the vulnerability of our peacekeepers.”

Cabactulan addressed the UN General Assembly’s special political and decolonization committee on Friday, October 31, which tackled the comprehensive review of all aspects of peacekeeping operations.

“We are gravely concerned at the increase in the frequency of [kidnapping] incidents, the increase in the numbers of peacekeepers being detained and the increase in the length of time that peacekeepers are held in captivity. There is only one word to describe this: unacceptable,” the ambassador said at the UN Headquarters in New York.  

Cabactulan was referring to the attack of Syrian rebels on the mission known as the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which monitors the ceasefire between Israel and Syria.

Rebels including the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front kidnapped Fijian peacekeepers and stole their weapons. The rebels held the Fijians for two weeks, much longer than past kidnapping incidents where Filipinos were seized twice for days in 2013.

The rebels also demanded that the Filipinos to lay down their arms but the troops did not surrender, and instead engaged them in a firefight and escaped.

Cabactulan made his remarks on the same day that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced the appointment of former Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta as chair of an independent panel that will assess peace operations, the first comprehensive review of peacekeeping and political missions in 15 years. 

Cabactulan again raised the need for the UN to look into the safety of peacekeepers during kidnapping and siege incidents, and the accountability of mission leaders on decisions made during crises – issues that the UN said will be included in the review.

The Philippines’ call for accountability came after its military officials criticized UNDOF commander Lieutenant General Iqbal Singh Singha for allegedly ordering the Filipino troops to surrender their weapons to Al Nusra. The UN denied that the order was made.

The permanent representative cited another issue that President Benigno Aquino III has complained about: the lack of weapons for peacekeepers. Aquino said in a speech in October that the UN denied Manila’s request for more arms for its troops.

“We also wish to stress that the provision and delivery of critical and already approved self-defense equipment such as Counter Improvised Explosive Device (CIED) must be done expeditiously,” Cabactulan said.

Even before the August siege, Aquino already ordered the pullout of 344 troops from UNDOF because of last year’s kidnapping incidents.

Ebola, health also safety issue

Another 150 Filipino peacekeepers are set to return to Manila in November, this time from the UN mission in Liberia. Aquino also ordered their withdrawal because of the Ebola outbreak.

Cabactulan said the safety of peacekeepers also involves health issues, with pandemics and disease as emerging threats.

“Sustained efforts must be made to enhance the ability of peacekeeping missions to address these pandemics,” he said.

The Philippines will quarantine the troops from Liberia for 21 days in a military camp in Tarlac as a precautionary measure even if their leaders said they are well and have not shown signs of infection.

On Friday, UN System Coordinator on Ebola David Nabarro said people working in Ebola-hit countries of Liberia, Guinea ,and Sierra Leone do not need to be quarantined unless they came into contact with Ebola patients or showed symptoms of the disease like fever.

“The feeling people should be in quarantine if they are just living in the 3 countries is understandable but it does not equate with the best public health guidance. We do not wish to comment on decisions of individual governments. All we can do is say what seems to be right or wrong from a public health perspective,” Nabarro said.

Besides keeping peacekeepers healthy, Cabactulan said that the UN must ensure that blue helmets do not harm the health of local communities. This issue is central to a lawsuit against the UN where peacekeepers from Nepal are accused of bringing cholera to Haiti, killing 8,500 people.

“It must be pointed out that care must be taken to ensure that missions – through effective standard operating procedures – do not leave behind a footprint that negatively affects locals, particularly their health,” Cabactulan said.

Higher reimbursement for troops

The diplomat emphasized Philippine contributions to peacekeeping, both on the ground and at headquarters. He said that the graduated increase in reimbursement rates to troop-contributing countries was made upon the request of the Philippines.

The Philippines is among the top troop-contributing countries in Asia, ranking 48th as of September. It has 348 peacekeepers currently deployed to Haiti, Liberia, India and Pakistan, and Côte d’Ivoire.

Manila has been deploying peacekeepers for more than 50 years.

“We have a huge responsibility to our peacekeepers and to those who rely on peacekeeping to live a decent life. Let it not be said that we were remiss in our duties. We must – in our decisions and actions – make sure that the peacekeeping narrative remains a story of hope and of life,” Cabactulan said. –

Rappler multimedia reporter Ayee Macaraig is a 2014 fellow of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists. She is in New York to cover the UN General Assembly, foreign policy, diplomacy, and world events.    

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.