The Accountability System for the Protection of Civilians: A Shared Responsibility

Almost 20 years since the first Protection of Civilians (POC) mandate was established for a United Nations peacekeeping operation, POC has become an essential element of peace operations. However, gaps in means and resources, command-and-control issues, inadequate training and expertise of UN personnel, and caveats imposed by troop-contributing countries have all hampered the actual delivery of POC mandates. Over the years, internal and external reports and investigations have highlighted performance shortfalls and the need for better accountability for the implementation of POC on the ground.

On Monday December 3rd, 2018, the International Peace Institute (IPI) organized a roundtable workshop on the “Accountability System for the Protection of Civilians: A Shared Responsibility” as part of IPI’s Protection of Civilians project, supported by the Netherlands. The first session of the workshop focused on accountability and performance of the UN Secretariat and peace operations, while the second session focused on the accountability of member states in pursuing the protection of civilians, looking at the responsibility of the UN Security Council, Troop and Police Contributing Countries (T/PCCs) and host states.

This workshop gathered more than 40 participants, including researchers, UN officials, member states representatives and civil society organizations representatives.

The accountability and performance of the UN Secretariat and peace operations

Despite the progress made since 1999, UN peacekeepers continue to face many challenges in the implementation of POC mandates and to be criticized for failing to protect civilians. Such failures have negatively affected the credibility of the UN, especially in a context of increased scrutiny of the performance of UN peacekeeping operations. Although inquiries and investigations have been conducted following these incidents, they often have been left confidential, and a general lack of transparency has made it difficult to ensure accountability for POC.

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO, though now known as DPO, or the Department of Peace Operations) has developed important initiatives to enhance performance and accountability in peace operations. In May 2018, DPKO and the Department of Field Support (DFS) adopted an addendum to the 2015 Policy on POC to specifically address “accountability for implementation of POC mandates.” The document defines and clarifies the roles and responsibilities of mission personnel in the implementation of POC, in order to improve the integration of POC in existing performance management tools, such as individual workplans and compacts for heads of missions. The Comprehensive Performance Assessment System was also mentioned as an important tool being established to gather real time data on the mission’s overall performance and impact, to inform corrective actions.

While efforts within the Secretariat to improve accountability for POC were welcomed, participants recognized that more steps will need to be taken to further strengthen accountability. Policy changes should be complemented by legal changes, and more robust measures and clear sanctions should be established by UN leaders to hold personnel accountable and ensure that there are consequences to underperformance. Participants specifically recommended improvement in communication flows between field missions, UN headquarters, the Security Council and TCCs, to ensure that under-performance and challenges faced on the ground are known and that proper levers are used to address them. In particular, reporting more frequently on cases of units refusing to follow orders, including by engaging with permanent missions in New York, could help improving accountability for POC responses.

The lack of equipment and resources, insufficient training and preparedness, inadequate mindsets and risk awareness, gaps in command and control, as well as the absence of a political process, have all contributed to serious shortcomings in different peace operations such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan or the Central African Republic. However, participants mentioned a recent quantitative study conducted by Office of Internal Oversight Services which established that the readiness of UN personnel to respond to POC threats does not necessarily depend on their equipment or their proximity to POC incidents. While there is a recognized organizational responsibility for UN missions to protect civilians, and POC structures and processes have been established, specific roles and responsibilities are not always understood, and a culture of accountability for all is needed to boost performance.

Participants stressed that POC is a whole-of-mission and multidimensional task, and highlighted the shared responsibility for the delivery of POC by peacekeeping missions. Accountability for POC should not only apply to the military component, but also to the civilian and police components. Furthermore, accountability should be established beyond the senior mission leadership, and include all working levels of peace operations.

As participants discussed the definition of accountability, some highlighted that accountability implied the role of a third actor whom peace operations would be accountable to. UN missions can be considered accountable to UN headquarters and the Secretariat, the Security Council, TCCs, or local populations themselves. The question of confidence and transparency towards beneficiaries was therefore raised in discussions. Local populations must trust that peacekeepers will do their utmost to protect them, and community engagement was described as an entry point to enhance confidence-building and accountability towards local communities.

The accountability of member states in pursuing POC: UN Security Council, T/PCCs, host states

Participants also stressed that POC requires a whole-of-organization approach involving other key actors such as the UN Security Council, T/PCCs and host states. They recommended that the Security Council adopt clearer mandates and wording in its resolutions, and remain engaged on country-specific situations beyond the adoption of mandates.

More inclusive approaches and triangular cooperation were also highlighted as key. Elected members of the Security Council could, for example, be consulted earlier on mission mandate renewals to allow enough time for consultations at capital level, and be associated in the drafting of resolutions. Participants also highlighted the importance of continuous consultations between the Security Council and T/PCCs on the definition of mandates, tasks and rules of engagement, especially in contexts of volatile and changing environments. The creation of an informal group of TCCs at mission level in New York was described as an important step to improve consultations of TCCs. As such, participants called for active participation of TCCs in consultative meetings hosted by penholders, and in all debates informing the renewal process of mandates.

Participants also encouraged a more frank and honest depiction of the situation in the field by the Secretariat, in order to be able to hold the Council accountable to its decisions. A suggestion was put forward to implement mid-mandate assessments of peace operations to reassess the needs of missions. Furthermore, reports from the Secretary General could include more comprehensive information on political and financial support needed to ensure good performance. The informal expert group on the protection of civilians was also mentioned as a tool which could allow for better communication among stakeholders.

Participants also called for increased informal and frank exchanges between the Council and senior mission  leadership (including Special Representatives of the Secretary-General (SRSGs), force commanders and police commissioners). Arria formula meetings or informal briefings to regularly engage with human rights components, protection advisors or force commanders were specifically encouraged. This will help inform Council decisions in terms of funding and capacities, and also constitutes an additional way to strengthen the Council’s accountability. Inadequate or poor budgeting has led to under resourcing which in turn leads to under performance.

On the accountability of T/PCCs, while noting the limits for POC within the capabilities and areas of deployment of peacekeepers, participants highlighted issues related to command and control and the use of force. To address these challenges, participants suggested taking stock of examples from the performance of T/PCCs in different mission contexts.

While noting the difficulty in measuring military performance, participants encouraged initiatives from the Secretariat to identify areas of improvement through force commanders’ evaluations and engage with underperforming units in a collaborative way to support corrective actions. Meetings with high performing T/PCCs to share lessons learned and best practices were also encouraged. Another element raised to improve accountability for T/PCCs was to strengthen leverage through financial incentives in cases of underperformance. Participants also noted the challenge of finding TCCs available or willing to replace underperforming units in volatile security contexts.

Questions were further raised in the workshop regarding the accountability of the host state, bearer of the primary responsibility to protect civilians, and the need to find entry-points and leverage opportunities when the host state fails to fulfill this responsibility. The role of member states, through bilateral engagement with the host state, was highlighted as essential. This engagement can also be done through regional organizations.

Participants welcomed the endorsement by 150 member states of the Declaration of Shared Commitments on Peacekeeping Operations, part of the Secretary General’s Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative, which supports effective performance and accountability by all peacekeeping components.

The discussions were chaired by Namie Di Razza, Research fellow and head of IPI’s Protection of Civilians project, and Jake Sherman, Director of the Center for Peace Operations. This workshop was part of IPI’s POC Project and follows an informal briefing on accountability co-hosted by the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the UN, the Permanent Mission of the Netherlands to the UN, and IPI in October 2018. The discussion will inform IPI’s upcoming research paper on the accountability system for POC.