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Opening remarks to the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly

4 Mar 2008
UN Senior Officials on Peacekeeping


Opening remarks of Ms. Jane Holl Lute
Fifth Committee, Tuesday, 4 March 2008
Agenda item 133: human resources management


Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, 
and good morning to you all.

My role here this morning is to provide some additional context for these human resources management proposals in the particular setting of peacekeeping operations in the field, and to bring you up to date on where we stand with these challenges as they relate to our staff - both our international staff and our national staff.  It is important to keep in mind the special context of peacekeeping and operations in the field, as it is quite different from the conditions or circumstances that we experience here at Headquarters. 

Since 2003, we have newly deployed or significantly expanded 15 missions in the field.  Often, these new missions and expansions happen simultaneously.  In the past 18 months alone, we have started up five new missions in the field.  This pace of operations demands a high degree of professionalism, a high degree of mobility, and a great deal of flexibility and agility, especially with respect to personnel matters. 

The evolution in peacekeeping couldn’t be more stark.  Between 1948 and 1988, 18 new missions were started.  In the last 18 years alone, 45 new missions have been started.  We have been moving at a rapid pace in increasingly dangerous, complex, austere and remote environments.  In the 60-plus year history of this Organization,  peacekeeping can simply no longer be seen as a temporary phenomenon, but must rather be seen as the core activity that it is.  We rely on professional staff able to move quickly in a wide variety of career fields, able to withstand and operate within the periods of time and in the austerity that the field represents.  Peacekeeping is also evolving. We see on the ground a variety of mission formations, ranging from the very small, agile and politically engaged operations to the much larger, much more visible missions with a large multi-dimensional staff and military presence.  We have seen the introduction of new, unprecedented missions in the field.  The hybrid mission in Darfur, in which the United Nations and the African Union operate in partnership, is one example.  In addition, in Chad we have another unprecedented mission, where the UN will operate side-by-side with the European Union and the Chadian Police to bring peace to the eastern part of that country.   

There are changing human resource requirements due to the changing nature of our field operations.  We have learned from the experiences of the 1990s and from the rapid experience and operational tempo that we have had recently.  We must adjust in the dimension of the contractual arrangements that we use to bring staff on board rapidly and to administer them effectively.  We must adjust the conditions of service.  This is no longer a temporary requirement that we have, but an ongoing requirement for the very best expertise the world has to offer. 

How do we know that the challenges we face require us to do business differently in these key human resources areas?  We know because we continue to have a persistently high vacancy rate, particularly in specialized career fields - such as, rule of law, procurement, aviation safety, budget and finance, engineering and COE management, contracts oversight.  We know because we have persistently high turnover rates in our professional staff. These rates hover at about 28% for our professional staff.  We have inexperienced staff as a result.  We rely again and again on people who are new coming into peacekeeping.  Nearly 60% of our professional staff have less than two years of experience; 44% have less than one year of experience in the field.  Again, these are difficult, austere, remote and increasingly dangerous environments. 

There is increased competition in the international staff market for the very best staff.  In many cases, we are competing with other UN agencies for those staff, especially in the critical staff areas.  We are not able to make optimum use of our national staff, which comprise roughly two-thirds of the 25,000-plus authorized posts we have in the field.  

The human resource management reforms have been on this Committee’s agenda for a number of years now.  This most recent round of contractual reforms began in 2004.  The reform of the Field Service category, which was highlighted in the Brahimi Report of 2000, has been taken up since that time.  Since 2006, we have been working on a comprehensive package to bring contracts and conditions of service together into a coherent, rationalized proposal to you to meet our operational needs in the field. 

What does an average peacekeeper look like?  What is he or she doing?  Where do they come from?  How old are they?   Are they married? How many members are in their family?  The average civilian peacekeeper is 46 years old. About half of them are Professionals, and the other half are in the technical Field Service category.  Out of 25,000 posts in the field, only 288 Field Service Officers have career appointments in peacekeeping. Seventy per cent (70%) of our peacekeepers are men; 30% of our peacekeepers are women.  We will not make the kind of progress that we want to make under Security Council resolution 1325 in increasing the number of women in peacekeeping in the field, if we do not adjust the conditions of service under which they serve.  Ninety per cent (90%) of the staff in the field serve in non-family duty stations. Of that, nearly 55% have families, spouses or dependent children.  As we mentioned, 88% - nearly 90% - have a contract of one year or less, and 58% have contracts of nine months or less. The average time a peacekeeper has spent in peacekeeping is 4.8 years.  And, they have done so on a minimum of five different contracts during that period of time, potentially more.  It is not at all uncommon to find peacekeepers with ten or 11 years of experience who have achieved that experience on a series of three- and six-month contracts over that extended period of time.  This is how we manage our work force at the moment. 

We really must do better. We must do better in attracting the highest quality professionals that exist out there, and attracting them during their peak work production years to take up the very special challenge that is peacekeeping.  We have a lot of work to do. We need to understand what our continuing needs are.  We think we know.  We think we know roughly the numbers and the kinds of individuals that we need.  Out of every 100 peacekeepers we have a continuing need for about 50% of them in the logistics and operational support area, 25% of them in the political, communications and legal field, and 25% of them in the administrative field.  We have done the homework to understand and project out our field requirements.  We need them not only at the relatively junior level, but we need those who are experienced in management; experienced in multinational management, where decisions are taken with significant consequences every single day in the field. 

What must we do better?  We must continue to work at our work force planning.  Many of you will know that we have been in dialogue with you about shaping the work force in the field to be sure that the United Nations can do its job well, so that we have the possibility to reduce the duration of a peacekeeping mission while it is operating and accelerate the transition back to national ownership as the way goes forward.  We need to get better at our job descriptions, at clarifying just exactly what job specifications we require at what level.  We need to do better at incumbency management; to manage the people on station in the field; to manage the recuperative breaks or the R & R; and, to manage  the other departures from the field and the nearly 30% rotation that every single mission experiences.

Peacekeeping has become extremely large and extremely complex.  When the missions in Dafur and Chad are fully fielded, we will have nearly 140,000 peacekeepers in the field of all kinds, military, police and civilian.  These kinds of operations require, again, an agility and a flexibility that other headquarter locations may not require.  Field missions do not enjoy the predictability that headquarters often enjoys, but there is no less of a requirement that these operations be conducted under the rules and regulations of this Organization.  Again, that requires a level of expertise not only in the substantive areas, but in the rules and regulations and the operation of this house; we are committed to that. 

It is important for peacekeeping that we achieve these reforms together with you in a way that can be absorbed and introduced to signal to the staff that they are valued.  The human beings that we have in the field, the peacekeepers, are our most important asset.  We ask them to give the best working years of their lives.  We ask them to do it too often without their families, year after year after year, and that causes us consequently to have to find new peacekeepers on the ground.  For this, we pay a price.  So, it is our privilege to sit here with the Department of Management, with our colleagues who have been working so hard on this package of proposals in the area of contracts and conditions of service, to achieve a benefit for our staff in the field and to communicate the signal to them on how valuable they are too us and to the success of peacekeeping. 

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.