UNITED NATIONS – With the growing risks United Nations peacekeepers face in global hotspots, the world body’s head ordered a review of the operations.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced on Wednesday, September 24, that the UN will revisit peacekeeping operations as multiple crises put military, police and civilian personnel in increasingly challenging environments.
“To better meet the challenges before us, I have called for a review of United Nations peace operations and will appoint a high-level Review Panel in the coming weeks,” Ban said at the opening of the UN General Debate, where heads of state and ministers of UN’s 193 member states gather in New York every year.
Ban did not elaborate on the nature and scope of the review but noted in his speech the problems that the UN as a whole dealt with this year.
“It has been a terrible year for the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter. From barrel bombs to beheadings, from the deliberate starvation of civilians to the assault on hospitals, UN shelters and aid convoys, human rights and the rule of law are under attack,” he said.
Ban’s announcement comes after the controversy surrounding the standoff between Filipino troops in the Golan Heights and Syrian rebels in late August. Philippine military officers said they approved the peacekeepers’ plan to defy the orders of the UN mission’s Indian commander Iqbal Singh Singha to surrender their weapons to armed groups including the Al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front. (READ: Inside Filipino troops’ ‘greatest escape’ in Golan)
The Filipino blue helmets executed an escape plan without the approval of the mission formally known as the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). The UN supported Singha’s position and denied he ordered the surrender of arms.
Since then, the Philippine government asked the UN to review the rules of engagement and mandate of UNDOF. The UN was non-committal about the proposal.
Last week, UNDOF sent home Filipino peacekeepers deployed to the mission after armed groups advanced on peacekeeping positions in the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
Violence from the Syrian civil war spilled over to the Golan, making the mission’s mandate of observing the 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria difficult.
Ban has submitted a report to the UN Security Council noting the dangers that peacekeepers face as the situation in the Golan Heights is “evolving rapidly and remains volatile.”
One of the top contributing countries to peacekeeping missions, the Philippines sent a new batch of 157 peacekeepers to Haiti on Monday, September 22, replacing troops scheduled to return.
After the abduction of Filipino troops in the Golan last year, Manila urged the UN to ensure that issues like full troop strength, the equipment for protection and defense, and rotation are addressed.
The UN has suffered attacks in various peacekeeping missions besides UNDOF. Last week, 5 Chadian peacekeepers serving in the UN mission in Mali were killed while 5 injured when an explosive device hit their vehicle.
There are 97,947 UN peacekeepers as of August. They are deployed to 16 peacekeeping operations and one special political mission in Afghanistan.
UN peacekeepers provide security and the political support to help countries transition from conflict to peace.
Since UN peacekeeping began in 1948, operations evolved to include not just the maintenance of peace and security, but also the facilitation of the political process, the protection of civilians, assistance in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants and support in organizing elections, the UN said.
Peacekeepers have also sparked controversy, with some accused of rape, sexual abuse, theft and murder.
Analysts noted that the UN must revisit peacekeeping operations considering the changing nature of conflicts.
“Modern conflicts involve combatants whose ends are not merely the control of territory or the monopoly of politics. They wage war with their own rules, without concern for the U.N.’s mission to referee,” said Canadian writer Adam McCauley in an article for TIME.
They also pointed out that the UN must ensure to troop contributing countries, most of which are developing nations, the safety of their personnel, and the viability of the missions they are dispatched to.
“The missions seem to get at best only cursory attention from the global community — and usually only when peacekeepers come under attack, are detained or are killed. As the world grows more dangerous, the role of peacekeepers will only become more vital. Member states of the UN should keep up their financial and political support for the operations to ensure the planet’s safety for the coming decades,” said historian Stephen Schlesinger, author of Act of Creation on the founding of the UN. – Rappler.com
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.