Looking back over an “intense” three-year tenure at the helm of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, outgoing Under-Secretary-General Alain Le Roy said that, despite some shortcomings, blue helmets should be credited for their achievements in reducing the scale of conflicts around the world.
“It’s a failure that we have not been able to protect everyone,” said Mr. Le Roy — who was appointed to the United Nations’ top peacekeeping post in 2008 — during his final Headquarters press briefing today. Nonetheless, he stressed, peacekeepers had reduced the number of killings and averted several large-scale crises. Indeed, he felt they did so “quite well”, and had exhibited high levels of commitment and sacrifice.
Highlighting several key accomplishments made during his term, Mr. Le Roy said stability had been brought to Liberia following the end of its long civil war; peace had been restored in Timor-Leste; and the number of security incidents along the so-called “blue line” between Lebanon and Israel had been greatly reduced. Further, peacekeepers had long been at work in Haiti, and their presence had been a major asset after last year’s earthquake.
Most recently, he said, “genocide like Rwanda” had been averted during Côte d’Ivoire’s political crisis, and South Sudan had voted — peacefully — to splinter from the rest of the country. “No one a few months ago expected the referendum to be on time, fair, credible and accepted by both parties,” he said of that historic development.
Despite such success stories, ongoing challenges remained, said Mr. Le Roy, noting, among others, the greatly reduced – but still existent – incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, and the recent death of four troops in the restive Abyei region of Sudan. Many correspondents throughout the briefing raised questions and concerns about both matters.
To one question about sexual misconduct, he answered: “A solider behaving badly is very bad, and when it’s a peacekeeper it’s even worse.” Much had been done to confront the problem since 1999, when United Nations peacekeepers in Bosnia were reported to be involved in a sex-trafficking ring. In 2003, for example, the Organization had issued a “zero-tolerance” policy for sexual exploitation and abuse. Today all peacekeepers underwent extensive training with a major focus on sexual conduct.
Last year, some 84 cases of sexual misconduct had come to light. With some 120,000 peacekeepers participating in United Nations operations worldwide, that was a small fraction, and represented a drastic reduction from years past. Yet, he stressed that “84 is still too many”, and efforts to further reduce the number of cases of sexual exploitation and abuse were ongoing.
Regarding the deaths earlier this week of four Ethiopian peacekeepers from the United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA), he explained that the incident, in the contested border region between Sudan and South Sudan, had occurred when a convoy of troops on patrol had hit a landmine. Seven people had been injured and four were killed.
A correspondent inquired about reports that a delay in obtaining take-off clearance for a medical helicopter carrying the injured troops had led to several of the four deaths. Those concerns were justified, replied Mr. Le Roy. An investigation was being conducted, and the matter had been clearly articulated to the Permanent Representative of Sudan. “It’s another tragedy showing how difficult it is for us,” he added.
Responding to a question on why the United Nations had not done more to investigate human rights violations in Southern Kordofan state — including reports of attacks against peacekeepers and allegations that militiamen had been impersonating Red Cross workers — he recalled that the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) had terminated on 9 July 2011, the same day that South Sudan had achieved independence. Nonetheless, he said, a report prepared on the incident was being reviewed and would be widely available in the next few days.
Several correspondents also had questions about the role of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in southern Lebanon. Mr. Le Roy said that he had seen first-hand that the area’s population welcomed the stability brought by UNIFIL. The mission’s presence had also allowed Lebanon’s own forces to enter that conflict-ridden area, which had not been possible before. Additionally, UNIFIL had prevented the escalation of a recent incident in which shots were fired on the Israeli-Lebanese border, he said.