posted on Mon 6 Apr 2015 3:38 PM
Secretary-General’s Retreat with Security Council Members

The annual Security Council retreat with the Secretary-General will start this evening and continue throughout the day tomorrow (6 and 7 April) in Greentree, New York. The Secretary-General and senior staff of the UN Secretariat will meet with the Permanent Representatives of the 15 Council members. The annual retreat affords Council members a rare opportunity to engage in collective brainstorming on specific issues alongside the Secretariat.

The sessions are expected to cover a range of themes relevant to the Council’s current work, with an especially close focus on peacekeeping, in particular relations of peacekeeping operations with host countries, and the peace operations review currently underway. The evolving role of UN sanctions is also likely to be a focus.
Council members are expected to explore the challenges associated with the interaction of peacekeeping operations with host governments whose consent is a legal and political prerequisite for the establishment and deployment of UN peacekeeping operations. The cooperation with the host government frames the environment in which peacekeeping operations are able to implement the Council’s mandates. Recent examples show how host governments have placed significant constraints on peacekeeping operations.

Since late last year, there has been increasing tension between the UN and the government of Sudan, which among other difficulties, restricted access for the AU/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) to investigate cases of sexual violence in Tabit, a village in North Darfur. Soon after the Tabit incident, in November 2014, Sudan transmitted a note verbale to UNAMID indicating that the mission needed “an exit strategy”.

In South Sudan, the tension with the UN mission has recently included episodes of staff harassment, delays in equipment delivery and restrictions to humanitarian access. These tensions are also likely in situations of ongoing hostilities where peacekeeping missions’ push for inclusive political settlements may be perceived by host governments as biased. Tensions can also be exacerbated by the implementation of protection of civilians and human rights protection mandates, as exemplified by the October 2014 expulsion from the Democratic Republic of the Congo of the head of the Human Rights Office of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC, Scott Campbell, following the publication of a report on extrajudicial killings and disappearances by Congolese police.

Council members might be interested in discussing how the Council can become more involved in ensuring and sustaining host government cooperation throughout the life cycle of peace operations. There may also be discussion of the Council’s role in supporting implementation of mandates and the need for possibly more flexible mandates as well as the type of information that should be provided to the Council before a peacekeeping mission is established.

During the retreat Council members expect to have an opportunity to interact with some members of the high-level independent panel on peace operations. (Council members first met with members of the panel on 20 November 2014 during an informal interactive dialogue.) Council members are likely to take this opportunity to ask for an update on the key areas that the panel is working on, such as the use of force, interaction with regional organisations, cooperation with troop- and police-contributing countries and the challenges in implementing protection mandates. Some Council members may wish to raise questions regarding organisational challenges, such as the inflexibility of peacekeeping operations or the delays in achieving their full operational capability, as well as bureaucratic constraints that sometimes trump the delivery of results.

It seems UN sanctions are also likely to come up for discussion at the retreat. Sanctions have become an increasingly high profile issue for the Council and UN member states during the last year. On 28 May 2014, then Council member Australia plus Finland, Germany, Greece and Sweden launched the High Level Review of UN Sanctions. In November 2014 during its presidency of the Council, Australia scheduled a briefing on sanctions from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and INTERPOL Secretary-General Jūrgen Stock. Drawing in part on recommendations from the High Level Review, Australia also attempted to negotiate a draft resolution on sanctions implementation, but due to strong opposition from Russia who threatened a veto, it was not put to a vote. Despite political differences among Council members on sanctions, they continue to be a frequently utilised tool. Most recently, on 3 March, the Council authorised sanctions on South Sudan with resolution 2206, creating the sixteenth UN regime (an all-time high).

Some sanctions issues that may be discussed at the retreat include coordination and cooperation within the UN system, mitigating unintended consequences, state capacity for implementation and transnational security threats. Better coordination and cooperation among actors within the UN system remains a dimension of sanctions implementation with considerable room for improvement. One approach the Council has utilised has been to include language in peacekeeping and political mission mandate resolutions on sanctions-related roles, such as assisting in implementation of an arms embargo or facilitating the work of a group of experts. Regarding the mitigation of unintended consequences, there may be discussion on whether it would be useful to ask the Secretariat to conduct strategic and humanitarian assessments before sanctions are imposed. State logistical and technical capacity, particularly among developing countries, seems to be another area of weakness in UN sanctions implementation. Members could discuss how to mobilise sufficient financial commitment from UN member states for the purpose of training and institutional development of states involved in implementing sanctions. Lastly, UN sanctions regimes are frequently limited by their state-centric approach—with the singular exception of the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida regime—even when tackling transnational threats such as organised crime, terrorism,drug and arms trafficking and money laundering. Council members may want to discuss this systemic gap and consider options for dealing with these increasingly interrelated transnational threats.

The annual retreat (which will be held for the 16th time) is often seen as a useful opportunity for senior Secretariat staff and permanent representatives on the Council to reflect at a strategic level on key peace and security issues. However, no formal outcome is produced and there doesn’t appear to be any obvious follow-up. Despite the potential for useful policy discussion, in the past the annual retreat has rarely led to real changes in the Council’s approach to, or dynamics on, specific issues. However, perhaps this year, with the ongoing discussions about the need for the Council to develop new tools for addressing the new international security threats, if presented with more concrete recommendations, there may be potential for more tangible results. A frank discussion could lead to a better understanding and eventual addressing of the needs of both the Council and the Secretariat in effectively dealing with the key international security threats and challenges.