Remarkable but challenging year
In 2011, over two dozen United Nations peacekeeping and special political missions worked to provide security and stability, facilitate political processes, protect civilians, help refugees return, support elections, demobilize and reintegrate former combatants, and promote human rights and the rule of law.
The UN was called upon to take on tasks as varied as providing logistical support to the January referendum in Sudan and consequentially closing the UN Mission there; setting up and deploying new missions in South Sudan, Abyei and Libya; continuing to contribute to the reduction in the level of insecurity in Darfur; supporting presidential and legislative elections in countries such as Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire and helping them to consolidate the gains achieved so far; proceeding with its peacekeeping and peacemaking work in the Middle East and Cyprus; and preparing to wind down the mission in Timor-Leste and downsize missions, such as Haiti. Further, as the political actors in Somalia agreed on a roadmap for completing the transitional period, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid a surprise visit to Mogadishu to bolster the peace process and urge the parties to move the roadmap forward.
But 2011 was far from smooth sailing. The United Nations had to deal with the violent aftermath of the contested presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire earlier in the year. The situation in the newly independent South Sudan continued to be a matter of grave concern because of inter-tribal clashes, not to mention the lack of effective political and governance institutions, and there were questions raised about the credibility of the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) towards the end of the year. Some missions continued to face “shortages of critical capacities”, including helicopters. Having this capacity was of utmost importance in protecting civilians and ensuring the safety and security of UN personnel, a senior UN official told Member States at a meeting in October 2011.
In December, the Secretary-General issued his second progress report on the New Horizon initiative launched in July 2009. This process aims at assessing the major policy and strategy dilemmas facing UN peacekeeping today and over the coming years. It also seeks to reinvigorate the ongoing dialogue with Member States and other stakeholders on possible solutions to better calibrate UN peacekeeping to meet current and future requirements.
Also in 2011, the Secretary-General released a major report on preventive diplomacy. It highlighted the recent strides made using preventive diplomacy and mediation as a costeffective tool in dealing with crisis and set out the agenda for the next five years. As Secretary-General Ban noted, “Our new emphasis on preventive diplomacy and mediation has produced encouraging results — in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Kyrgyzstan, Cyprus and Nepal”.
Once again in 2011, cases of sexual exploitation and abuse against a few peacekeepers underscored the challenge in implementing the UN’s zero tolerance policy. As Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Susana Malcorra noted, “Nowhere is our commitment to our core values more visibly demonstrated, and tested, than in the exercise of the fundamental duty of care that all peacekeeping personnel (uniformed and civilian) owe to the local population that they serve and protect […] This exemplary record continues to be clouded by serious acts of misconduct by a few individuals including inexcusable acts of sexual exploitation and abuse that continue at an unacceptable rate”. While the UN Secretariat followed the cases where civilian staff were involved, it reached out to troop-contributing countries to ensure that allegations were addressed promptly by their respective authorities.
Peacekeeping is a dangerous undertaking. Tragically, 113 UN staff, both uniformed and civilian, lost their lives in 2011 while serving the United Nations in the field. They were serving in difficult and treacherous parts of the world, as far apart as Afghanistan and Côte d’Ivoire, DRC and Haiti, Lebanon and Sudan, Cyprus and Liberia. In the words of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “Our best tribute to them…is to continue the life-saving and life-enhancing work for which they gave their lives”.