DPI Briefing, January 18, 2018
The UN Department of Public Information has undertaken a campaign to build support for the service and sacrifices made by United Nations’ Peacekeepers. Peacekeeping operations began in 1948 and since then there have been 71 missions. There are currently 105,187 personnel working in 15 peacekeeping operations around the world. Each peacekeeping operation is unique and its mission is defined by a mandate from the United Nations. The peacekeeping forces are contributed by the member nations and at present 123 different countries are contributing uniformed personnel to the peacekeeping missions. The peacekeeping operation is not an army, or a counter-terrorist force, or a humanitarian agency. It is a tool to create the space for a nationally-owned political solution. The peacekeepers do assume a variety of roles that can include protecting the civilian population, monitoring a situation, ensuring that aid is received, disarming and serving as role models. Over 3,500 peacekeepers have lost their lives on mission.
The panel was moderated by Hawa Diallo, currently a Public Information Officer at DPI, but she has also served in two United Nations Peacekeeping Operations in Cambodia and Somalia.
Other panel members included:
- Daria Miglietta Ferrari, Senior Political Affairs Officer in the Europe, Latin America and Asia Integrated Operational Team, Department of Peacekeeping Operations,
- Brigadier General Khan Firoz Ahmed, Defense Advisor, Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to the United Nations. Bangladesh is the 2nd largest troops contributing country to the UN. The General spoke of the UN values of Integrity, Professionalism, and Respect for Diversity that are part of every UN mission and how the peacekeepers are trained both in their home countries and again once they are part of a mission.
- John Greenway, Strategic Communications Officer, DPI. Mr. Greenway manages communications campaigns and crisis communication and spoke about this campaign and showed two short films featuring specific peacekeepers on missions now. Both were very moving in their humanity and showed the risks these people undertake.
- Charles Anyidoho, Senior Political Affairs Officer at Europe Division of the Department of Political Affairs.
- Amaka Azikiwe, Political Affairs Officer, UN Operations and Crisis Center
- Douglas Coffman, Peace and Security Strategic Communications Officer, Department of Public Information
Every member of the panel had significant experience in the field and spoke about that experience – including their fears and the rewards of being part of history when a mission accomplishes its goals or at least some of the goals – which can seem like a miracle – and the impact their work can have on the local population.
The missions of the peacekeepers are crucial to the peace and security of our politically charged world and recognizing the contributions and sacrifices of these individuals is important.
The issue of sexual harassment did come up and how the UN is dealing with charges when the occur. New procedures have been developed for transparence and a policy of zero tolerance. The response to the question on sexual harassment reminded me of the DPI briefing held on January 18th with Assistant Secretary-General, Victims’ Rights Advocate for the United Nations, Ms. Jane Connors. I have included my notes from that briefing below:
Ms. Connors’ position is significant in that it is newly created, adding strength to Antonio Guterres commitment to protecting the rights and dignity of victims as he works to address sexual exploitation and abuse in the United Nations’ system world-wide. The new office also puts another woman in a position of leadership at the United Nations, reaching gender parity at the senior level – 22 men and 22 women. Ms. Connors’ background as an attorney and educator combined with years of experience as the Director of International Advocacy for Amnesty International and various positions at the United Nations make her a very good choice for this office.
In 2017 there were 54 allegations of abuse made against UN workers. The Un has a strict “No excuses, zero tolerance approach to UN personnel. Ms. Connors’ position is to put the rights and dignity of the victims at the forefront. She wants to focus on victims’ care and follow-up – including medical care and other types of support and advocacy. Prevention is also a priority. She wants to be sure that there is communication in the local community so that victims know what to expect should abuse or exploitation occur. At the field level, the UN is seeing progress in its desire for transparency and refusal to take a defensive stand. The rule is “ Do not harm” and there is zero tolerance.
There are challenges ahead as allegations of abuse made against UN workers mirror this situation world wide, where positions of inequality and a vulnerable population make exploitation possible.