In October 2014, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announced the formation of a High-Level Independent Panel to review the UN Peacekeeping system. Nobel Peace Prize winner and former President of Timor-Leste was appointed to head the 16-member panel.

The Secretary General said that the panel “will make a comprehensive assessment of the state of UN peace operations today, and the emerging needs of the future.  It will consider a broad range of issues facing peace operations, including the changing nature of conflict, evolving mandates, good offices and peacebuilding challenges, managerial and administrative arrangements, planning, partnerships, human rights and protection of civilians, uniformed capabilities for peacekeeping operations and performance.”

The Secretary-General received the Panel’s report on 16 June  2015. [The full report is available here.]

The following is edited from remarks on the occasion of the handover of the report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations by President Ramos-Horta. 

On behalf of my fellow Panel members – those here today and those not able to join us – it gives me great pleasure to tell you that I just met with the Secretary-General to handover the report of the High Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations which is entitled Uniting our Strengths for Peace – Politics, Partnerships and People.

We entitled the report “Uniting Our Strengths for Peace” to reflect the essence and spirit in which it was developed and hopefully the way its recommendations will be implemented. Over the course of nearly seven months, we held intensive consultations and numerous meetings with stakeholders across four continents, including many of you here. [We received] almost 60 submissions from Member States. (There were some 130 submissions in all.)

The report is also a result of the ideas and expertise of many hardworking, committed, talented colleagues of the various UN departments and entities, particularly the Departments of Peacekeeping Operation Political Affairs, and Field Support. Our friends and partners within civil society helped us ground our thinking and continually reminded us of the need to be relevant to the needs of the people that peace operations are deployed to serve and protect.

They have taken us back to where it begins in the Charter: “We, the People”.


The role of the peacekeepers

We recall how in 1948 the first peacekeeping mission and the first high profile mediator were deployed as an innovative effort. Nearly seventy years later, UN peace operations are now central to the Organization’s peace and security efforts. For many people across the world, UN peace operations are the United Nations.

We thought long and hard about the 120,000 uniformed and civilian personnel serving under the blue flag across 39 missions, deployed to hardship locations, and the tasks they are called to carry out. We remembered the more than 3,300 individuals who have lost their lives serving under the blue flag. We worked to provide bold, creative but realizable proposals to help make peace operations more resilient and effective and the United Nations more relevant and legitimate to the thousands of suffering people who count on it to be there with them, for them.

At the outset, it must be acknowledged that peace is not achieved nor sustained by military and technical engagements alone, but through political solutions. Politics should be at the heart of UN engagement in conflict prevention and resolution, mediation and post conflict stages.

In practice, we see that conflicts only enter the agenda of the Security Council when they are acute, with little attention to prevention and with political efforts severely hampered by insufficient resources.

Operationally, peace missions are increasingly deployed in volatile and dangerous settings, creating dangers for personnel and limiting their range of action, especially in light of violent extremist acts and attacks against Blue Helmets. The principles of peacekeeping are increasingly tested. Long standing missions endure without prospects for political processes while the system is stretched with new missions that have more ambitious mandates that are not met with matching resources or capabilities.


four essentials shifts

The Panel calls for change through four essential shifts.

First, to re-establish the primacy of politics. Peace operations were originally conceived to keep warring parties apart and monitor ceasefires to enable a political solution. In recent years, some peace operations have been used as military tools, increasingly deployed in the absence of a peace process, a ceasefire, and sometimes even with offensive mandates.

The Panel is convinced that peace operations should always deploy as part of a wider political process in which the United Nations plays the lead or a leading role.

Second, peace operations must be made a more flexible tool, better tailored to the local situation. We should stop differentiating between peacekeeping missions with a military component and political missions. They are all peace operations and each should be tailored to the needs on the ground.

Sequenced and prioritized mandates will allow these operations to develop over time instead of trying to do everything at once and failing.

Third, strengthen partnerships. The United Nations must craft a collective vision for a future global and regional architecture to maintain international peace and security in the face of increasingly challenging crises.

A number of regional organizations have become very active in prevention and mediation and some, particularly in Africa, have also become highly operational. Given that Africa is a key continent for UN peace operations, with ten out of the 16 UN peacekeeping operations and approximately 80% of the annual peacekeeping budget, the UN-AU relationship should be strengthened, including through the interaction between the UN Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council.

The United Nations also needs to look to partnerships within, so that the UN System can bring its development, human rights and peace and security efforts more closely together.

Fourth, peacekeeping operations must become more field-focused and people-centered. This requires improved support from Headquarters to enable field operations to be tailored to each context and deliver more effectively.

There must be an awakening of UN Headquarters to the distinct and important needs of field missions. And there must be a renewed resolve amongst peace operations personnel to serve and protect the people.


Key recommendations

The key recommendations of the panel fall under the above four shifts:

Conflict prevention should be brought back to the forefront of what the United Nations does. The Security Council has a key role to play in this and must engage earlier, bringing its great political influence to bear before an evolving situation deteriorates. The Secretary-General too must be scrupulous in bringing to the attention of the Security Council any threat to international peace and security.

The Panel proposes that the Secretary-General convene a periodic international forum on prevention to bring together governments, regional organizations, civil society and the global business community. The Panel also proposes to build on the good experience of the Secretariat’s regional offices and open additional ones, including the North Africa and West Asia region.

On protection of civilians, the past failures in Rwanda and Srebrenica continue to cast a shadow of shame. The international community, however, still relies on a very ad hoc system to obtain effective and fast deploying capabilities.

In the future, a stronger framework for drawing on national and regional standby capacities is required if we are to respond to mass atrocities. When in the field, the UN missions must spare no effort to protect those who they are mandated to protect and every peacekeeper – military, police and civilian – must pass this test.

The Secretariat must present to the Security Council a frank and clear assessment of threats to civilians and the options for responding. Where resources and capabilities do not match the mandate, the Secretariat should advise the Council of the need to adjust the mandate. Troop and police contributors should ensure that all personnel deployed are trained, equipped and commanded to deliver on the protection task.

Troop and police contributors should be engaged early on so that only those willing to serve under the applicable rules deploy and do so with the expectations of performance clearly understood.

Recognizing the courageous and effective protection work of unarmed civilians, including the humanitarian community and national and international NGOs, UN peace operations should work more closely with local communities and these NGOs to build up a protective environment.

The organization’s peacekeeping operations are facing significant challenges. In some cases long standing ceasefire monitoring missions are finding themselves increasingly within ‘hot zones’ of conflict. Multidimensional missions conceived as a tool to support implementation of peace agreements are increasingly deployed in large and dangerous settings without the underpinning peace agreements that enabled success.

Put simply, we are seeing peacekeeping without a peace to keep. The Panel recognizes that often missions are deploying to contain and manage conflict and calls for new approaches and careful consideration of conditions for success here.

The Panel continues to believe that the principles of UN peacekeeping remain an important guide for success, but they must be interpreted and applied with flexibility and not as a cover for inaction when action is needed most in protecting civilians.

The Panel has wrestled with the difficult issue of use of force and has formed a unanimous view that there are some real limits around what UN peacekeeping can successfully take on. We have formed this view not because we cling to old doctrine but because of the inherent limitations of an instrument that is not built, resourced or empowered to undertake sustained offensive operations. We believe that counter-terrorism operations are beyond the capability of UN missions. We also believe that enforcement tasks if assigned within the mandate of a mission – as in Somalia in 1993 and in DRC in 2013 – must be exceptional and must be authorized and implemented with extreme caution.

Peace processes do not end with the signing of a peace agreement or an election. If we want to sustain peace and avoid a relapse back into conflict, the international community needs to remain vigilant and politically engaged. And it needs to provide more timely and effective support. National leaders need to deepen and broaden peace processes through a commitment to political and economic inclusion and they need to begin a long-term process of reconciliation and healing.

To better sustain peace, we describe several ‘deficits’ in the international approach, including a mindset that needs to be addressed. We call on the UN to leverage its convening role to help governments coordinate international efforts. We propose financing arrangements, including pooled funds and programmatic funding within mission budgets, which can improve the integration of UN efforts and also help missions to better support their critical mandates to support security sector reform and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, advance human rights, justice and the rule of law, support legitimate politics, and help the UN to work in a more integrated way.

We also highlight the importance of jobs and other aspects of economic development and the need for these to advance in parallel with these other political, security and justice efforts.

For peace operations to be more relevant, we recommend to strengthen the entire analysis, strategy and planning process including through the establishment of a small analysis and planning team reporting directly to the Secretary-General drawing from existing resources.

We recommend the Council to use sequenced and prioritized mandates as a regular practice, including a two-stage mandating process requiring the Secretary-General to return to the Security Council with proposals for prioritized mission tasks within an initial six month period. This approach would reduce mission budgets and ensure that missions are tailored to meet ground realities.

…We have integrated women, peace and security throughout our thinking and propose that gender expertise be located across all relevant functional mission components. In addition, we propose that UN peace operations have full access to UN Women’s support, together with Secretariat support already provided.


Sexual abuse by peacekeepers

Let me turn now to the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse.   “Zero tolerance” for sexual exploitation and abuse must mean exactly that, zero tolerance. And immunity must not ever mean impunity.

Immunity for UN personnel was never intended and does not mean immunity from prosecution for those alleged to have committed sexual exploitation and abuse. This must be strictly upheld. The Member States must declare that when it comes to sexual exploitation and abuse, the staff of the United Nations should and will be held to the same standards, the same legal processes, and the same levels of accountability as the rest of the world’s citizens.

The Panel supports the Secretary-General’s decision to establish an external review on the persistent failures of the system and the responsibilities of UN officials in addressing these breaches of law and ethics.

Member States, for their part, need to immediately conduct investigations and prosecutions into credible allegations of misconduct of their personnel and keep the Secretariat informed of the status of investigations and disciplinary actions taken.

In the course of our Panel activities we engaged with many Troop Contributing Countries and Police Contributing Countries at various levels. We visited peacekeeping academies. We had the privilege of participating in a historic gathering of Army Chiefs of Staff from more than 100 countries here at UN Headquarters at the invitation of our esteemed Secretary-General. These are proud senior officers committed to working with the UN to secure a better world for all.

Ending sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeeping and civilian personnel is imperative.

The news of the last few weeks and days are the saddest for the UN. The news rocks and undermines the most important power the UN possesses, its unquestionable integrity. The actions of few undermine the moral and stigmatize all others. It will take firm leadership and enormous effort to overcome this dark chapter.

The Panel has recommended that the Secretary-General include in his reporting information on disciplinary actions taken with regard to UN staff and by the contributing country, noting any failure to report.

We also propose that Member States support the creation by the Secretary-General of an effective and adequately resourced victim assistance program, to support individual victims and children born as a result of sexual exploitation and abuse – some of whom I have had occasion to meet with in my own country.

And we have also called for the Secretariat to develop standard transparent approaches to deal with troop and police personnel contributions from countries whose human rights record and performance present challenges. Governments whose forces are listed in the annual reports of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict and on Conflict Related Sexual Violence should be barred from contributing troops to UN missions until de-listed.



Regarding field support, it is clear that the current administrative system does not meet the needs for effective and efficient field operations. We call upon the Secretary-General to empower the Department of Field Support (DFS) with the fully delegated authority required to support the efficient administration of field-focused policies and procedures and to expedite service delivery and recruitment.. The Secretary-General should also develop specific human resources and other administrative procedures for field missions to facilitate more rapid deployment and tailored management of civilian staff.

…After careful consideration, it is the Panel’s view that the current Headquarters configuration is hampering the effective assessment, design and conduct of UN peace operations and the work in support of international peace and security. The present departmental configuration gives rise to, or exacerbates, significant problems affecting peace operations and does not lend itself to strategic and integrated oversight of all peace operations of the United Nations.

We therefore propose that the Secretary-General develop options to restructure the Secretariat peace and security architecture, …to ensure all peace operations have:

  • political strategies; context-driven realistic solutions based on high quality integrated assessment, analysis and planning;
  • regional dimensions of conflict addressed systematically and in close cooperation with relevant regional organizations; and
  • strengthened unity of effort and integration.

We believe this will help to remove compartmentalized mindsets at Headquarters, for a stronger and more effective field-oriented support to UN peace operations.

The Secretary-General should consider the appointment of a Deputy Secretary-General responsible for peace and security to oversee and manage the changed structures, and be accountable to deliver on them. These structures should be available in support of all types of peace operations. The proposal should be cost neutral.

A related proposal should be developed for a single “peace operations account” to finance all peace operations and related support activities.