Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on the Safety and Security of Peacekeepers

Ambassador Richard Mills
U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
May 24, 2021


Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you to our briefers for your comprehensive updates this morning.

The United States welcomes this opportunity to discuss this critically important issue as we look ahead to the International Day of UN Peacekeepers later this week. We are deeply grateful – and let me echo Sven here – for the military, police, and civilian personnel who have served in UN peacekeeping operations. And we honor the more than 4,000 peacekeepers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of peace, who have been injured, and who continue to risk their lives.

According to the most recent data, the UN has already lost more peacekeepers this year to malicious acts, than in all of last year. And since the pandemic started, we have lost 30 peacekeepers to COVID-19. Given this urgent situation, we as a Council – as many have said before me – must focus on concrete actions to improve peacekeeper safety. And this is best achieved by ensuring peacekeepers have achievable and realistic mandates, as well as the resources and skills they need to implement those mandates. The 2017 Dos Santos Cruz report made clear that the better the performance of peacekeepers – whether in terms of their operational proficiency, their skills, their conduct, their discipline – the safer and the more secure they will be.

With that in mind, the United States is proud that we have now built more than 50 partnerships with troop- and police-contributing countries. We have invested more than $70 million a year in these capacity-building partnerships. We focus on these partnerships because they have proven effective in making tangible progress on the ground in both improving peacekeeper performance and making peacekeepers safer. To continue our momentum, we – alongside our co-host Rwanda – will focus on ways to build partnerships to increase both performance and safety during our July preparatory meeting in advance of the Seoul Peacekeeping Ministerial.

I’ll take a moment, Mr. President, just to describe a few positive outcomes from our partnership efforts. With the support of the U.S. Global Peace Operations Initiative, U.S. partners have now developed more than 60 new critical enabling capabilities. This means new capabilities like Level 2 hospitals. The United States has provided more than $28 million to deliver hospital equipment and build up hospital capacity, with an aim of reducing the critical time from when a peacekeeper is wounded to when she or he can receive care. With our partners, we also provide counter-IED training and equipment, including armored personnel carriers to contingents in MINUSMA – which is the most dangerous peacekeeping mission, in our assessment. This helps protect peacekeepers from threats while also enabling them to deliver on their mandates. To assist with leadership training – which was another gap identified in the Dos Santos Cruz report – we developed a Formed Police Unit Command Staff course, which the UN has since adopted as part of its standard pre-deployment certification.

And when peacekeepers sexually exploit or abuse the people they were sent to protect, it not only makes peacekeepers less effective, but also more at risk, as they lose the situational awareness that only comes from a strong relationship with local populations. Research has shown that the integration of women into peacekeeping units better enables those units to engage with local communities, and it may lower incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse. The United States has assisted partner countries in reducing the barriers to women’s meaningful participation in peacekeeping – building female barracks, latrines, and showers at training centers, for example – and we stand ready to partner with troop- and police-contributing countries on this effort.

Finally, let me end, Mr. President, by saying that we would underline – as part of this discussion – the importance of respect for Status of Forces Agreements that host governments sign with UN peacekeeping missions. Host government cooperation with missions, and governments’ willingness to uphold SOFAs, are essential to keeping peacekeepers safe. SOFAs guarantee peacekeepers’ ability to move and communicate freely, to seek medical care when necessary, and to receive essential supplies. We are concerned by SOFA violations in the Central African Republic and we call on the CAR government to respect its commitments in CAR under the Status of Forces Agreement, ensuring that any forces or elements in CAR at the invitation of the CAR government also respect the SOFA. We are particularly concerned by reports of Russian instructors engaged in security sector reform there. They need to deconflict their activities with MINUSCA, respect the SOFA, and ensure humanitarian access.

The United States looks forward to continuing to work with this Council and all stakeholders for concrete actions we can take to make peacekeeping safer and more effective.

Thank you, Mr. President.