The number of fatalities among United Nations Peacekeeping Forces (UNPKF) in direct attacks is growing, said U.N. Undersecretary General Jean-Pierre Lacroix in an interview to The Hindu, when he visited Delhi last week to discuss the need for more “robust” mandates and better equipment, training and technology with Indian officials. Mr. Lacroix’s visit to the region came amid a number of attacks by anti-U.N. groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where two Indian soldiers were among those killed in the last few weeks.
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India is among the highest contributors of troops to the UNPKF, and has lost 179 soldiers in the past six decades, the highest fatality suffered by any country among “blue helmets”, and has been demanding a greater say in the decision making on U.N. peacekeeping missions.
Full text of the interview:
‘U.N. peacekeepers need ‘robust’ mandates, to be able to go after the armed groups’
U.N. Peacekeeping fatalities due to malicious acts (not illness or accidents) that were once on the decline, are rising — from 13 in 2020 to 25 in 2021 and this year as many as 26 U.N. peacekeepers till August. What do you attribute the sudden increase to?
Many of our peacekeeping operations are in an environment that is deteriorating, both from the point of view of the political environment, but also the security environment. And I think that’s because the political efforts to solve conflict are not moving forward in most of these situations, and the threats against our peacekeepers, against the population we’re protecting are increasing. In many of our operations, particularly the big operations in Africa, we are facing groups that are either terrorist groups or criminal groups and they’re not interested in peace, they’re not interested in stability, they’re interested in chaos. That’s why our peacekeepers are facing threats in a way that is really, quite increased. And it means that we have to adapt, so as to better protect our peacekeepers, but also better protect the population we are serving. And I think this is an important theme of discussions with countries such as India and other countries that are providing high numbers of peacekeepers.
One of the criticisms in New Delhi, that has lost 179 peacekeepers over the past 60 years, is that they don’t get enough of a say in the kind of missions that the U.N. peacekeepers take part in. Is there an imbalance between those deciding the mandate of missions, and those who are actually contributing the soldiers?
Well, I think there has to be a geographical balance in our peacekeeping operations and indeed, we are trying to get as much of a variety of countries contributing to peacekeeping as possible. I do agree that troop and police contributing countries need to be very much in the loop and involved in the process of making decisions on peacekeeping. The ultimate decision-making process is at the U.N. Security Council, and whether the Security Council needs to be reformed or not is an issue for our member-states to decide, not for the U.N. Secretariat.
India has complained that the mandate is for U.N. peacekeeping, but when soldiers actually go to the ground, it quickly becomes a mandate for peace enforcing, something they are not actually prepared for...
I totally understand the concerns, especially when it comes to the number of fatalities in peacekeeping. However, we have been making a lot of efforts to improve the geographical diversity of our troop and police contributing countries. We all need to sort of step up our efforts to make sure that our peacekeepers are better equipped, trained and prepared. Peacekeeping has its limitations. It’s not war. It’s not peace enforcement. But we have mandates to protect civilians, and we have to have “robust” mandates, which require our peacekeepers to be proactive and to be able to go after all these armed groups. So it requires a robust posture, a robust mindset.
India has proposed a 10-point plan, including making those targeting U.N. peacekeepers more accountable. Have you discussed this further during your visit?
The initiative by India is absolutely critical, because I think it was the first time that the issue of impunity and accountability was raised as a priority within the Security Council. Crimes against peacekeepers can constitute war crimes. Eventually, with sustained efforts and determination, I think we can eventually achieve accountability. So it’s important to stay the course, however frustrating that can be.
Is the U.N. considering India’s suggestion to build a memorial wall to honour fallen peacekeepers?
This is a welcome initiative by India. There could be an initiative at this current General Assembly that would accelerate things and we would be definitely be supportive because it is only fair that all these peacekeepers who have lost their lives under a blue flag should be remembered and honoured.