US seeks tougher UN action against peacekeepers' failures

The United States is seeking Security Council approval for a resolution to toughen U.N. action against peacekeepers that fail to protect civilians, including by sending them home and refusing to pay their governments.

The United Nations, which deploys 96,000 peacekeepers in 14 missions from the Mideast and Africa to Haiti and India-Pakistan's disputed Kashmir region, has come under sharp criticism for sexual abuse by its troops and failures to protect civilians.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told a council meeting Wednesday that the key to peacekeeping is trust between the protected and the protectors, and when that is gone the mission will fail.

"Even worse than failures to protect are instances in which civilians have been attacked, abused, and exploited by the peacekeepers who are supposed to protect them," she said.

Haley said the draft resolution aims "to empower the U.N. Secretariat and accelerate progress on improving peacekeeper performance."

It mandates timely reporting of "performance failures," creates "accountability measures for failures of performance and concrete incentives for stronger performance," and recognizes "the role of data in improving troop performance," she said.

The United States is the largest contributor to peacekeeping and Haley has been trying to cut its budget, which this year is $7.3 billion. She announced in March that the U.S. was cutting its 28.5 percent assessment to 25 percent.

Countries that contribute troops to U.N. missions have privately expressed unhappiness at the U.S. draft resolution. Russia and China say the views of troop contributors need to be taken into account, and Russia told the council Wednesday it would support a weaker council statement on peacekeeper performance — not a legally binding resolution.

Haley told the council that the draft resolution mandates timely reporting of "performance failures," creates "accountability measures for failures of performance and concrete incentives for stronger performance," and recognizes "the role of data in improving troop performance."

Bangladesh, a leading troop contributor currently to 11 peacekeeping missions, stressed that adequate resources and personnel are "inextricably linked" to performance.

And it warned that "using alleged performance failures as grounds for cost-cutting and force reduction may help score political gains, but hardly responds to the interest of those peacekeeping missions are mandated to serve."

Bangladesh and Pakistan, another top troop contributor, also stressed the importance of Security Council mandates being precise and achievable, with adequate funds and manpower. Pakistan noted, for example, that the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan "is burdened with 209 tasks."

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia also stressed the importance of "very clear mandates with emphasis on the political settlement."

During the current strategic reviews of all peacekeeping missions, he said, "what we need to do is clean up the mandates and make sure that we remove from them the peripheral human rights, humanitarian and social goals because all of these are goals for the host country."

Nebenzia said the best platform for cooperation between the U.N. Secretariat, the Security Council and troop contributing countries is the Special Committee for Peacekeeping.

"We do not think that the council should bypass the (committee) and get involved in micro-management," he said.

Nebenzia said it will be important "to send a political signal stating that the performance improvement of peacekeeping is a very important issue" — but he said this could be done in a council statement.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has initiated a series of reforms to U.N. peacekeeping to respond to allegations of misconduct against peacekeepers. These include a victims' advocate to help victims of sexual abuse.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix stressed that improvements are a collective endeavor and the reforms are "ultimately about performance."

"Much work remains to be done, but we are beginning to see the effects of our collective efforts," he said.

He noted that the number of peacekeeping deaths between January and Aug. 31 fell from 26 in 2017 to 17 this year, 55 countries have signed on to a declaration on enhanced peacekeeping measures, and new U.N. requirements on acting on sexual abuse cases have led to a decrease in the time governments are taking for investigations.