posted on Mon 16 May 2016 1:03 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 (16 and 17 May) at Greentree Estate, New York. The annual retreat affords Council members a rare opportunity to engage in collective brainstorming on specific issues with the Secretary-General and senior members of the Secretariat.

The sessions are expected to cover a range of themes relevant to the Council’s current work, with a focus on peace operations, in particular relations of peacekeeping operations with host countries and the environmental footprint of UN peace operations. Enhancing the role of the Council in conflict prevention is also likely to be addressed.

Council members are expected to discuss the active challenges by host governments to peacekeeping operations that prevent them from fulfilling their mandates. A similar discussion took place in last year’s retreat, but mounting hostility by several host governments is testing the Council’s will and capability to support politically the operations it has mandated. Host government consent is a legal and political prerequisite for the establishment and deployment of UN peacekeeping operations. Recent examples such as the ongoing violations of the status-of-forces agreement in Sudan and South Sudan and repeated calls for the withdrawal of the mission in the DRC show how host governments have placed significant constraints on peacekeeping operations, having a negative impact on the protection of civilians and the ability to monitor human rights violations.

Uppermost on many Council members’ minds will be the recent example of its response to the Moroccan government’s decision to expel most of the international civilian staff from the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). While the Council was provided with regular updates on the situation, it was unable to agree to more than “press elements” on the situation. Resolution 2285, which renewed the mission’s mandate on 29 April, emphasised the “urgent need” for MINURSO to “return to full functionality” without specifying how this could be achieved. 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.

Issues such as how to overcome deadlock among Council members, increasing the collective engagement of the Council through demarches, messaging and more time-effective field missions might be covered as well. There may also be discussion of what measures are available to the Council to ensure host state compliance.

The Council’s role in conflict prevention may be covered at the retreat. This is in keeping with a broader recognition that prevention needs to a priority for the UN system, a theme underscored in the 2015 reports of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO), the Advisory Group of Experts for the Review of the UN Peacebuilding Architecture, and the Global Study on the Implementation of Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. Indeed, conflict prevention is a particularly pressing issue given the rise in new or deteriorating conflict situations that have required the Council’s regular attention in the last five years, such as in the Central African Republic, Mali, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Members recognise that the Council is in constant conflict management mode, jumping from one crisis to another, and that a better job needs to be done by the Council, in collaboration with the broader UN system, to prevent conflicts from breaking out in the first place.

During the retreat, members are expected to engage in a discussion of the tools at their disposal for receiving timely information about emerging crises, and for engaging in preventive action. Members may want to examine the current means of receiving information from the Secretariat and other sources—e.g., “any other business” briefings, informal briefings from the Department of Political Affairs, and Arria-formula meetings, among other means—and discuss how they can be improved or adapted. The discussion could focus on how tools for action—e.g. the use of article 34 for investigatory action; visiting missions; preventive deployments; and the subsidiary bodies such as the ad hoc Working Group on Conflict Prevention and Resolution in Africa and sanctions committees—can be better utilised, and how to generate the will to act when political sensitivities are a hindrance to action.

Council members are also expected to discuss the role that they can play in ensuring that environmental risk, impact and protection are taken into account in the mandate, design and management of peace operations. As part of its “people-centred approach”, the HIPPO report highlighted the importance of incorporating environmentally responsible policies throughout the life cycle of peace operations, in order to ensure their green footprint. In this context, Council members could reflect on the type of mandated tasks that could contribute to this objective. Given the harsh environments in which peace operations are often deployed, their presence can further degrade living conditions to communities and contribute to tension over access to and use of scarce or contentions natural resources. Council members might want to discuss the current backstopping mechanisms and field support arrangements to support this goal. Council members might also reflect on the impact of the exploitation of natural resources and transboundary environmental threats in many situations in the Council’s agenda, and how to better address these issues.

The annual retreat (which is being held for the 17th 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 in an informal setting. The choice of issues such as host state consent, conflict prevention and mitigating the environmental footprint of missions is particularly timely and relevant to the Council’s work.