For countries hosting United Nations peacekeeping missions, the shift to post-conflict peacebuilding is both a sign of progress and a time of profound risks, officials told the Security Council today, as they called for more attention to that crucial, sensitive transition from the moment “the first boots hit the ground”.
“Peacekeeping missions can help put a country on the right track, but only local stakeholders can keep it there in the long-term,” said Secretary-General António Guterres, briefing the 15-member Council’s open debate on the topic of transitions between peacekeeping operations and their successor United Nations presences. Noting the complexity of a mission’s drawdown and the need to tailor it to the conditions on the ground, he emphasized that no peacekeeping operation has ever been designed to be permanent. Engagement with local actors must continue through the transition period and beyond, he said, citing the drawdown of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) in Sudan — as well as simultaneous scale-up of the new United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) — as an example of a recent successful transition.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and member of The Elders, agreed that no matter how successful a peacekeeping mission, the host country and its people must guide post-conflict recovery efforts and “adopt peace as a way of life”. Recalling the case of her native country, she said the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) deployed some 180,000 peacekeepers over its 15-year history and was widely viewed as a success, due in part to its strong engagement with regional and international partners. Today, Liberia remains at peace with itself and its neighbours and has itself become a troop-contributing country. She advocated for transitions that are nationally owned, integrated, coherent and sustainable, as well as for expanded representation of African countries — which make up nearly 70 per cent of the Council’s agenda — in the organ’s membership.
Also briefing the Council was civil society representative Safaa Elagib Adam, President of the Community Development Association of Sudan, who recalled that her country “impressed the world” when women and youth led a historic, non-violent revolution ending decades of brutal military rule in 2019. As the new UNITAMS mission was deployed, UNAMID hurried to exit Sudan, leaving Darfur fragile and rife with security challenges. In particular, an only partially signed peace agreement, the spread of armed militias and the proliferation of weapons are complicating the country’s transition. Outlining ways in which the Council can help Sudan as it responds to ongoing fighting, killings, rape and lootings, she said members can assist with security sector reform, support civil society and provide technical support, capacity-building and gender training.
As Council members took the floor, many speakers echoed the complexity of peacekeeping transitions and rejected attempts to impose “one-size-fits-all” solutions in any country or context. Several speakers underlined the primacy of the host country in the peacebuilding process, while warning against externally imposed constraints or timelines. Still others emphasized the importance of addressing the root drivers of conflict — a process distinct from security considerations — and of continuing to engage with local women, minorities and civil society members as the United Nations presence enters its next phase.
Meenakshi Lekhi, Minister for External Affairs of India, pointed out that her country is the largest troop-contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations in cumulative terms, having deployed more than 250,000 peacekeepers across 49 missions. Noting that a mission’s withdrawal signals both progress for a host country as well as a real risk of relapsing into conflict, she said successful drawdowns require the active cooperation of all stakeholders. From the start, peacekeeping missions should be given clear, focused, sequenced, prioritized and practically achievable mandates, matched by adequate resources. Meanwhile, transitions must employ well-planned strategies that fully respect a host country’s sovereignty and priorities.
The representative of Kenya said peacekeeping is not a substitute for conflict resolution and must be undertaken alongside well-resourced projects to address the root causes of the conflict. Noting that the exit of peacekeeping missions can lead to employment falloffs, he said transitions should therefore be planned in collaboration with national, regional and international economic development bodies and linked to investment promotion schemes. For its part, the Council should draw more advice from the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission to ensure that longer-term perspectives are reflected in missions’ formation, review and reconfiguration.
China’s representative joined others in emphasizing the primacy of political objectives and national priorities as peacekeeping operations draw down. Citing successful examples of transition in Timor-Leste, Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, he nevertheless cautioned that post-conflict States are not capable of managing transitions alone and require targeted international support. China has supported a range of countries emerging from conflict, including in such critical sectors as infrastructure development, agriculture and education. Describing the events that transpired recently in Afghanistan as evidence that externally imposed democracy does not work, he stressed the need to listen to host countries and make timely adjustments as situations evolve.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines said exit strategies should never be driven by budgetary considerations but rather determined through a comprehensive review of the situation on the ground. The needs and priorities of host countries must always preside over any decisions to withdraw or reconfigure peacekeeping missions. Noting that peace, security and development challenges are closely linked, she said sustainable and climate-friendly initiatives can pave the way for successful transitions. More efforts are needed to draw on the expertise of local and regional actors, whose political and community-level engagements are best suited to guide the way forward.
Meanwhile, the representative of Ireland — Council President for September and the debate’s facilitator — recounted her country’s first-hand experience with the fragility of hard-won peace. “Sustained commitment is needed for it to prosper,” she said, describing the end of conflict as an opportunity for peace, but not a guarantee. Noting that the Council plans to take up its first-ever standalone resolution on the transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding, on 9 September, she said the draft sends a “clear and united message” and will deliver a framework to manage such critical and sensitive junctures.
Also participating were the representatives of Tunisia, United States, United Kingdom, Norway, Viet Nam, France, Russian Federation, Niger, Estonia and Mexico. Several delegations that are not Council members submitted written statements for inclusion in the debate.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 12:17 p.m.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, described United Nations peacekeepers as an extraordinary group of people who put themselves in harm’s way to protect civilians around the globe. However, their presence is never meant to be permanent. “Transitions come with no on-off switch,” he said, spotlighting their complexity — as plans must be made in line with the specific to conditions on the ground — and noting that they must be carefully conceived from the moment boots first step onto the ground. Emphasizing the centrality of engaging with local stakeholders, he said consolidating peace, building resilience and preventing conflict relapse are at the heart of his “Action for Peacekeeping” (A4P) and “Action for Peacekeeping Plus” (A4P+) agendas. The United Nations stands committed to continually improving its transition processes and learning from the lessons of past missions.
Emphasizing that political engagement must be sustained throughout the transition period and beyond, he cited the recent drawdown of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) in Sudan — as well as the simultaneous scale-up of the new United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) — as an example of a successful and highly complex transition. “Peacekeeping missions can help put a country on the right track, but only local stakeholders can keep it there in the long-term,” he said, emphasizing that local actors must work together to build truly responsive and representative Governments going forward. Citing the recent closure of parts of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in the country’s Kasai provinces as another positive example, he said a host country’s people must always be the ultimate architects of peace, with the United Nations playing a supporting role.
Warning that many missions face the stark risk of a “financial cliff” as they transition and donors turn their attention elsewhere, he said that often leads to shrinking and less-predictable resources at a time when they are sorely needed. Against that backdrop, he called for more support for the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund and for matching international ambitions with resources. During the drawdown, the Council must also ensure that parties to conflict live up to their obligations under international law and help to address any remaining threats to civilians. He pointed to the lingering intercommunal violence still being seen in Darfur as an example of those challenges, emphasizing that civilians must continue to be protected and supported even as the United Nations presence moves into a new phase.
ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF, former President of Liberia and member of The Elders, said that, while costly in terms of lives and resources, peacekeeping missions are largely viewed as successful tools to restore security and enable peace. However, she added that “peace must really be in the hearts of men and women of any nation” and stressed that following a conflict the population of any war-ravaged country must adopt peace as a way of life. Recalling the situation in her native country, she said the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) deployed some 180,000 peacekeepers over its 15-year history and was widely viewed as a success, due in large part to its strong engagement with regional and international partners.
Welcoming the Secretary-General’s reform agenda, she said the One United Nations system in Liberia now operates more coherently and with more effective relationships, more integrated support and more productive partnerships with national stakeholders than ever before. While the system is not free of flaws — facing a destroyed national economy, a non-existent security sector and the impacts of Ebola — she said those post-withdrawal challenges suggest the need for transition plans to recognize the specificities and special circumstances of countries and to have the flexibility to address them, despite the fact that the prime responsibility is that of the Government.
“I am pleased to report that today, more than three years since the final withdrawal of UNMIL from Liberia […] our country remains largely at peace with itself and with its neighbours,” she said, adding that it is now a proud troop-contributing country to United Nations peace operations. Its example proves the need for the Council to continuously re-examine and assess opportunities for more successful models of peacekeeping operations and for transitions that are nationally owned, integrated, coherent and sustainable. Those elements should be included in mission mandates as well as in the regular briefings and reports to the Council. Specific measurable activities, including with women and youth groups, should be developed, supported, monitored and reported on. The inclusion and involvement of minorities — too often abandoned to the margins of society — as well as civil society should also be present in transition planning as well as overall peacekeeping and peacebuilding processes.
“One of the milestones of transition planning must be the institutional measure of reforms of national security and the rule of law,” she continued, noting the invariable breakdown in the capacities of State institutions. Transition planning should therefore also consider how prepared the national Government is, especially to protect civilians. Proposing that some regions of the world should be considered for earlier engagement in peace and conflict resolution, she noted that some $8 billion was spent on peacekeeping in Liberia. “Arguably, with a new focus we may likely spend less in preventing conflicts, for instance, in Cameroon and Myanmar, where the warning sounds are growing precariously louder and louder,” she said.
Drawing attention to the additional challenges now posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, emerging threats to multilateralism and the global climate crisis, she went on to emphasize that peacekeeping must also evolve to keep pace with those changes. “As an African, I cannot conclude […] without reminding of the common-sense position of the African Union, expressed in the Ezulwini Consensus, for improved and increased representation of Africa, and other countries and regions of our world, on the Security Council,” she stressed, also spotlighting the need to better finance peace operations through assessed United Nations contributions.
SAFAA ELAGIB ADAM, President of the Community Development Association of Sudan, recalled that her country’s people impressed the world with the vital role of women and youth in leading the non-violent historic revolution of December 2019. The revolution ended brutal military rule after 30 years of war and political unrest in different parts of Sudan. This paved the way for Sudan to enter a transition period within the framework of liberty, peace and equality. UNITAMS took a new mandate under Chapter VI of the Charter of the United Nations with the objective to attain peace. However, UNAMID, operating under a Chapter VII mandate, left Sudan in a hurried exit strategy, leaving Darfur in a fragile security situation.
She observed that the partially signed peace agreement, the spread and fragmentation of many armed groups and militias in the region, and the proliferation of arms are making the transition difficult. UNITAMS faces a fragile security situation, as it lacks protection and peacekeeping mandates to respond to fighting, killings, rape and lootings. Despite the struggle of the Sudanese women to include the gender dimension in the transitional process, their current representation in the new Government is far below the 40 per cent target set out in the Constitutional Declaration and the Juba Peace Agreement.
She went on to outline how the Security Council can help Sudan, through UNITAMS. It can assist with security sector reform, with the engagement of civil society. Assistance could also include technical support in arms control and collection, capacity-building and gender training. It is also essential to establish a fund for compensation and reparation and psychosocial support for the war victims. UNITAMS can help the transitional Government to complete establishing the legislative parliament and commissions, especially the peace commission, women commission, the constitutional court and justice reform system.
She recommended that peacekeeping missions be deployed where final peace is agreed, not where there is only partial peace. Learning from Darfur and the current UNITAMS mandate in Sudan, a holistic approach or a mutable approach mixing peacebuilding and peacekeeping missions is highly recommended. This will help in filling the gaps in protecting internally displaced persons and civilians in a fragile security context. Without peace, no democratic transformation will take place. Peace agreements must be funded for their implementation. It is vital to ensure livelihood and economic empowerment of youth and women. She also recommended reviewing the mandate of UNITAMS to include a protection component for the Darfur region.
MEENAKSHI LEKHI, Minister for External Affairs of India, said her country is the largest troop-contributor to the United Nations peacekeeping operations in cumulative terms, having deployed more than 250,000 peacekeepers across 49 missions. The first-ever all-women peacekeeping contingent, which hailed from India, was stationed in Liberia, and today India’s Female Engagement Team plays an important role in MONUSCO. Noting that a mission’s withdrawal period signals both progress for a host country as well as a real risk of relapsing into conflict, she said successful drawdowns require the active cooperation of all stakeholders. From the start, peacekeeping missions should be given clear, focused, sequenced, prioritized and practically achievable mandates, matched by adequate resources. Transitions must be well planned, considering objective assessments of the situation and fully respecting a host country’s sovereignty. “Transition strategies should recognize the primacy of national Governments and national ownership in identifying and driving priorities,” she stressed, also underlining the primacy of political solutions and peacebuilding.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) said the main purpose of peacekeeping is to end conflict after violence ceases. The end of violence does not mean the end of conflict, he stressed, citing cases of relapse into a cycle of violence after the withdrawal of missions. Therefore, transitions must be thoroughly prepared. Enhancing peacebuilding capacities after a mission’s exit must draw on the gains made during the peacekeeping phase. It must be ensured that host Governments can achieve their goals, including establishing a police and justice system and providing public servicers. It is imperative that all relevant actors are involved in the early planning of missions. This participatory process must also include youth and women, he said, emphasizing the valuable role of the Peacebuilding Commission in sustaining peace.
HALIMAH AMIRAH FARIDAH DESHONG (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) emphasized that exit strategies should never be driven by budgetary considerations, but rather determined through a comprehensive review of the situation on the ground. In all circumstances, the needs and priorities of host countries must preside over any decisions to withdraw or reconfigure peacekeeping missions. The peace, security and development challenges facing the world today cannot be solved in isolation of each other. Peace dividends provided through sustainable and climate-friendly development initiatives pave the way for successful transitions and sustainable exits. Noting the contributions of the African Union to peacekeeping and peacebuilding, she said that in all settings and at all stages of the conflict-cycle, efforts should be made to draw on the immeasurable expertise of local and regional actors whose political and community-level engagements are better suited than externally-imposed “one-size-fits-all” approaches.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFILED (United States) recalled that during the Council’s December 2020 renewal of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) mandate, her delegation’s strategic priority was to “think beyond the mandate” and truly plan for the future. Noting that peacekeeping missions are never intended to be permanent, she recalled that following its long civil war Liberia has now held three successful consecutive democratic elections. “We knew UNMIL’s leaving could cause challenges to peace and stability,” but the United Nations developed a long-term vision that engaged civil society, local actors and the broader international community to ensure that the Government was prepared. UNMIL built capacity into Liberia’s courts and its police and supported civil society in building up institutional trust. Emphasizing that all those efforts were guided by an inclusive, strategic plan and led by the host country, she expressed hope that the Government of Sudan will continue to demonstrate similar commitment as it advances reforms and work to address intercommunal violence in Darfur.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) said peacekeepers must have the necessary training, equipment and support to perform at their best. In 2020, the United Kingdom deployed peacekeepers to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), working alongside partners to improve the Mission’s agility and responsiveness — particularly in protecting civilians. Peacekeepers helped Malian Government officials and civilian human rights colleagues in MINUSMA expand their reach, in a positive example of military support for local governance. “However, no matter how effective our operations, long-term peace and successful transitions in Mali and elsewhere rely on finding sustainable political solutions,” he said, underlining the need for collective, coherent and consistent responses at all levels. The United Kingdom’s bilateral funding is also helping to increase the participation of Malian women in the peace process and facilitate humanitarian access. Meanwhile, in Sudan, the establishment of UNITAMS and drawdown of UNAMID has successfully enabled the continuation of international support for Government efforts to build lasting peace and security.
MONA JUUL (Norway) said transitions can have a destabilizing impact on the security environment, potentially endangering vulnerable populations as the mission’s protective capabilities diminish. Sudan is a case in point. The Secretary-General’s latest report on UNITAMS observes that insecurity and lack of protection of civilians remain issues of concern. Transitions must be planned and carried out through processes which include the full, equal and meaningful participation of women. The United Nations country presence should incorporate the implications of climate-related security risks in its reconfiguration strategy. To this end, it must ensure that adequate analytical and programmatic capacity remains to support host communities in addressing risks and building resilience.
DINH QUY DANG (Viet Nam) said the planning and implementation of transitions should consider different unique and specific contexts of the host country. The goal is for the host country to own not only its problems, but also the capacities to solve them and own its future in a sustainable way. The United Nations should adopt a comprehensive approach and tackle the root causes of conflicts. This process should also aim towards protecting the role and needs of various socioeconomic actors, including women, children and other vulnerable groups. International assistance is much needed to support political processes and national institutions, he said, also stressing the need to enhance cooperation with regional and subregional organizations, whose in-depth and unique understanding of a local situation is critical to addressing international peace and security challenges.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) expressed his delegation’s support for the Secretary-General’s approach to preparing for peacekeeping transitions, noting that it is up to host countries to demonstrate the necessary political will to protect civilians, respect human rights, restore State services and ensure the participation of women and young people. For its part, the United Nations must meet the challenge of integrating civilians and soldiers, peacekeeping and peacebuilding and humanitarian and development actors. The Council’s role is to define strategic orientations and clear mandates “sufficiently upstream”, considering the reality on the ground. He also spotlighted the importance of minimizing disruptions to international support, as well as giving successor missions the mandates and resources needed to effectively support host country authorities. In that vein, he cited the example of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), which among other things aims to coordinate the efforts of the international community to support the country’s police and the judiciary.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation), welcoming the Secretary-General’s focus on national leadership and national responsibility in peacekeeping, said each conflict has its own set of drivers and therefore requires a “delicate and impartial approach” tailored to conditions on the ground. While the goal for any peacekeeping mission should be the full passing of responsibility to the host country, that can rarely be achieved immediately. Warning that missions’ mandates in recent years have become overly complex, she advocated instead for a focused mandate leading to a transformed United Nations presence and stressed that the host country’s opinion must always be a key factor as the Organization considers whether and when to withdraw. Citing the Government of Sudan’s cooperation in drawing down UNAMID and transitioning to UNITAMS, she noted that the Russian Federation has consistently called for international support to be provided exclusively in line with the request of the host country, without dictates and with full respect for national sovereignty. She also cautioned against mixing the mandates of United Nations organs and offices, spotlighting the Peacebuilding Commission’s unique role in coordinating those various efforts and calling for it to be strengthened.
NIANDOU AOUGI (Niger) said the most difficult thing about peacekeeping is not to intervene in a conflict but to leave the host country in a peaceful climate, favourable to recovery and sustainable development. Warning that a hasty withdrawal or an ill-prepared reconfiguration of peacekeeping missions carries enormous risks, he said the Council must carry out a thorough assessment of the situation and consider the opinion of local and international actors before withdrawing. No United Nations withdrawal should be made without ensuring that national actors have the minimum capacities necessary to lead themselves. Therefore, special attention should be paid to how a peacekeeping operation engages in integrated planning with local and national authorities, communities, civil society and with the United Nations system in its entirety. Citing the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) as a successful example in which the host country identified its own priorities and took ownership to consolidate them, he said the recent transitions in Liberia in 2018 and in Darfur in 2020 provide additional lessons, including the central role to be played by civil society, young people and women.
DAI BING (China) emphasized that peacekeeping missions must be properly formulated and implemented, highlighting the importance of optimizing planning. Transitions should follow political goals. As the situation stabilizes, exit strategies must be generated, he said, citing successful examples of transition in Timor-Leste, Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia. Post-conflict countries, however, are hardly capable of managing transitions alone, he cautioned, stressing the need for targeted support from the United Nations and the international community. China has supported those countries in their economic development of key sectors, such as infrastructure, agriculture and education. What transpired in Afghanistan is that an externally imposed democracy failed. In designing transitions, it is imperative to listen to host countries and make timely adjustments as the situation evolves, he said, expressing his disappointment at the situation in Haiti.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) said integrated mission transitions require the transfer of a multitude of tasks to a variety of actors, including international partners, host Governments and civil society organizations, while at the same time maintaining continuity. Drawdowns have at times occurred amid incomplete political settlements, persistent threats to civilians, and significant social and economic disparities. Therefore, greater attention to transition should be considered and there should be periodical reporting on the status of ongoing transitions. Experience has also demonstrated how changes in the mission footprint benefit from being accompanied by adequate attention to corresponding environmental and ecological impacts. Care must be taken to ensure that environment and climate related security implications are considered in transition assessments.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico) said that setting an artificial deadline for a mission’s exit should also be avoided. The experience of Haiti, for example, begs the question whether the closure of the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) in transition to BINUH was taken at the most appropriate moment. He recommended the involvement of resident coordinators and United Nations country teams to ensure inclusive peacebuilding strategies that allow for the reorganization of the social fabric and respond to the needs of the societies and Governments they reach. The Security Council should strengthen dialogue with the Peacebuilding Commission under a shared responsibility approach. The Commission has an important capacity to convene all relevant actors in the transition and to establish a strategic partnership with regional organizations.
MICHAEL KAPKIAI KIBOINO (Kenya) said peacekeeping is not a substitute for conflict resolution. It must be undertaken alongside a well-resourced and highly prioritized process of addressing the root causes of the conflict. Since peacekeeping missions are drivers of employment and production, their departure can lead to employment falloffs that are not conducive to peace and security. Transitions should therefore be planned in collaboration with national, regional and international economic development bodies. Peacekeeping is undertaken in fragile environments that are regarded as politically risky by investors. Transitions should therefore be linked to investment promotion schemes. The Security Council should draw more advice from the Peacebuilding Commission to ensure that the longer-term perspective required for sustaining peace is reflected in the formation, review and reconfiguration of peace operations.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), Council President for September, spoke in her national capacity, recounting her own experience as an Irish woman witnessing how fragile a hard-won peace can be. “Sustained commitment is needed for it to prosper,” she said, describing the end of conflict as an opportunity for peace, “not a guarantee”. The draft resolution which the Council will take up on 9 September — the first ever standalone draft on transitions — sends a clear and united message, delivering a framework to manage such critical and sensitive junctures. When the time comes for peacekeepers to leave, the United Nations must be ready to step in, and the Council must have a shared vision of what that means. Describing transition as a gradual process that enables and supports long-term peacebuilding efforts, she stressed that it will not always be linear. States bear the primary responsibility for the protection of their population, but the Council also has a responsibility to support Governments in developing effective, inclusive national strategies.