Keynote Address by Assistant Secretary-General Dmitry Titov at the International Conference on the Protection of Civilians

Assistant Secretary-General Dmitry Titov
High-Level International Conference on the Protection of Civilians
Kigali, Rwanda
28 May 2015

I am humbled to speak today – on behalf of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations – after President Kagame and President Ramos-Horta. But I must begin by particularly thanking the Government of Rwanda for bringing us together, to discuss the protection of civilians. As you know, the vast majority of United Nations peacekeepers now operate in Missions with POC mandates, and in the most challenging security environments facing new threats, such as extremism and asymmetric warfare. This crucial task is often the yardstick by which the international community, and those whom we endeavour to protect, judge UN peacekeepers. We in DPKO have devoted significant time, attention, thought and care to make progress in this area.

The timing of this conference is also auspicious. Not only does this week commemorate the Day of Africa. Tomorrow also marks the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, which closely follows the recent approval of the first DPKO Policy and Military Guidelines on the Protection of Civilians. These strategic documents consolidate the lessons that the Organization has learned over the past fifteen years.

When I first joined the UN in the early 1990s, there was little discussion of the protection of civilians. While certain aspects of the issue seem to be obvious, peacekeeping was primarily framed by the traditional issues of international peace and security. However, the atrocities in Rwanda twenty-one years ago, and then in the Balkans, more than any other single event, have changed that perception completely. The Rwandan genocide was a horrific reminder of the dire need for the international community to take swift and decisive action to protect civilians. We know that the UN Mission in Rwanda, UNAMIR, faced problems of a weak mandate, a lack of resources and an absence of political will, including in the Security Council. The failure of UNAMIR was a failure of the whole United Nations and the international community more broadly. Therefore we bow – again and again – our heads before the people of Rwanda. Yet, many UNAMIR peacekeepers displayed great bravery in these tragic days and weeks. One of them, the late Captain Mbaye Diagne of Senegal, is now recognized through a special UN medal for courage named in his honour.

We cannot undo the Rwanda tragedy but, just as this country has risen stronger in the twenty-first century, so should we learn from past. We at the UN Secretariat must tell the Security Council what it needs to know rather than it wants to hear; we must demand the necessary resources for crucial peacekeeping and peacebuilding tasks; we must ensure an international system of effective accountability; and we must acknowledge when a situation is beyond the scope of peacekeeping – and instead demands a major multinational response.

In 1999, the UN completed an independent inquiry into its handling of the Rwandan genocide. It is no coincidence that the Security Council issued the first protection of civilians mandate that same year . It authorized peacekeepers, for the first time in the history, to “use all necessary means” not only to protect themselves, but also to protect civilians.

Today, peacekeeping missions engage in numerous activities, but the protection of civilians is the priority mandate. This is recognized in Security Council resolution 1894 adopted 2009, and many Mission mandates. But it is also a natural result of the moral logic of peacekeeping. As the Brahimi report affirmed some 15 years ago, it is unconscionable to deploy peacekeepers under the UN banner without equipping them to stop atrocities committed before their eyes. Similarly, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated clearly (and I quote): “All of us share a fundamental responsibility to do more to protect civilians caught up in the horrors of war.”

The past decade has witnessed a remarkable growth in knowledge and skills on the protection of civilians. Today, there exists an official policy on the subject, along with military guidelines and special training modules for military, police and civilian personnel, and an Action Plan for implementation. This guidance provides a clear definition of the protection of civilians, based firmly on Security Council mandate language.

DPKO policy on the protection of civilians also highlights a series of principles upon which implementation of the protection of civilians mandate should be based.

First, it is important to recognize that the primary responsibility to protect remains with a host State. Peacekeepers are only deployed with the consent of a host State, and they fundamentally act in support of international peace. If threats to the civilian population arise, a first act for all of us should be to strongly call upon the Government involved to address the situation. The issue of accountability is very big in this equation. But also – everything possible should be made to assist in the Government’s national capacity to protect its civilians.

Regrettably, however, Host States often lack the capacity or adequate presence in affected areas. Thus, the most important principle is that peacekeepers must be ready to actively protect if needed. This is their sacred responsibility. It means that peacekeeping Missions must constantly assess threats to civilians and plan deployments, patrols and all their operations accordingly.

Moreover, protection of civilians is a Mission-wide mandate. Modern peacekeeping Missions bring many capacities to bear, including political dialogue and mediation, human rights monitoring, rule of law capacity-building, and training and reforming the police and security sector. The full range of these capacities is essential for protection, and the use of force by peacekeepers is naturally the last resort – but an indispensable tool. The United Nations has a moral responsibility and cannot stand by while civilians are being killed.

In view of the required robustness of peacekeeping in many Mission settings, I would like to emphasize that the protection of civilians should not only be addressed through military means – good offices, mediation and rule of law are of equal importance. Also, mindful of the high expectations concerning the protection of civilians, we should also avoid the scapegoating of peacekeepers.

Allow me to give you only two examples to illustrate the important contribution of Blue Helmets. Just a few weeks ago, on 14 May, a MINUSCA patrol encountered members of the ex-Seleka militia who were robbing civilians at gunpoint. The militia immediately opened fire on the UN patrol. When the MINUSCA troops returned fire, the militia fled and the Mission rescued a large group of local people. And last year, in Darfur, the UNAMID base in Khor Abeche shielded more than 3,000 IDPs when Janjaweed militias attacked. The militiamen burned more than 400 homes, but the IDPs remained safe.

Our policies and guidelines have been translated into training materials available to Member States and peacekeeping training centres. In 2014, DPKO/DFS has supported the training of almost 45,000 military personnel and 12,000 police officers, including on the protection of civilians. As you know, DPKO conducts training within Missions, but frequent rotations and pre-deployment visits make troop and police contributors themselves key in ensuring that all UN Blue Helmets are familiar with all their responsibilities and are fully prepared to act accordingly.

DPKO’s approach to the protection of civilians also emphasizes close cooperation with regional organizations. Our two newest Missions, in Mali and the Central African Republic, were again established through close liaison with their African Union-led forerunners. DPKO also works actively with this strategic partner, and sub-regional training centres, on matters of policy development and training.

Despite these activities, many of our Missions still face significant challenges in implementing their formidable mandates. Allocating sufficient resources and capabilities for peacekeeping remains a major priority. While the resources provided to peacekeepers have dramatically improved since the days of UNAMIR, our Missions still face shortfalls in many areas.

Let us admit – United Nations Missions also face a greater spectrum of threats. The UN Mission in South Sudan protects more than 100,000 civilians in its own bases, while a third of the country is locked in a state of active armed conflict. We pay tribute to SRSG Hilde Johnson and her colleagues for that. The UN Multidimensional Stabilisation Mission in Mali faces violent extremist groups that attack our personnel and the local population through improvised explosive devices and more. As of April this year, peacekeepers in Mali had been attacked almost 90 times, suffering 38 fatal casualties and 138 injuries. In Darfur, 69 peacekeepers have been killed in attacks since the Mission was established. Year after year, over 100 peacekeepers are killed in the line of duty.

I am confident that many of the above aspects will be reflected in the report of the High-Level Independent Panel on the Review of Peace Operations, under the able guidance of President Ramos-Horta, who is with us here today. Together, we are aiming at creating a stronger, flexible, agile, delivery- oriented peacekeeping that reflects the rapidly changing world, the new threats and the renewed international determination for collective action.

Following the High-Level Summit on Peacekeeping Operations, which was co-chaired by the Secretary-General and Vice-President Biden, your conference seeks to produce consensus recommendations for improved mandate implementation, an objective that DPKO actively supports. It is a significant challenge, but I have no doubt that it is one to which we will rise. I use this opportunity to express special gratitude to the Government and people of Rwanda for their contribution to UN operations – 5,575 of their brave men and women in military and police uniforms now serve in the name of peace, and serve with particular distinction. They proudly serve shoulder to shoulder with the other 125,000 uniformed and civilian staff in 16 UN peacekeeping operations and many special political missions. We pay tribute to all of them.

My thanks to our gracious hosts, and I wish you the best of luck in deliberating on this most important of topics.