Statement by Chargé d'Affaires of the Russian Federation Dmitry Polyanskiy at UNSC open debate on strategic communications in peacekeeping
We welcome your personal participation in this meeting. We very much appreciate the contribution of your country to the UN peacekeeping efforts. A separate thank you for raising here such an important issue as strategic communications in peacekeeping. We supported the initiative to prepare a relevant document on that matter. The delegation of your country has performed very important work, which is a valuable asset. We also join the statement delivered by Indonesia on behalf of the Group of Friends on the Safety and Security of UN Peacekeepers.
We thank the Secretary-General and other briefers for their inputs in this discussion.
Blue Helmets perform their noble duty in extremely complicated and dangerous conditions, risking their lives on a daily basis. We would like to avail of this opportunity and pay tribute to all peacekeepers who do their service. We also express our condolences to states and families of peacekeepers who died in the line of duty.
Strategic communications are called to promote implementation of peacekeeping mandates and ensure security of the Blue Helmets in the face of fake data and provocations; build confidence towards peacekeepers among the opposing sides on the ground and local population.
By all means, the key task is to establish effective operation within the Missions. Today’s peacekeeping operations are complex multifunctional institutions. Their mandated obligations vary from purely military and sometimes even offensive tasks to those bordering with assumption of certain functions of state in the area of protection of human rights, promoting the rule of law, and engaging with children and the youth. In some cases, when a Mission is deployed in a country for years or decades, it becomes integrated in the political process and changes the essence of those states. Whether it is good or bad is a rhetorical question, at the same time we should be mindful that when such circumstances occur, one cannot imagine a situation when the Mission remains immune to criticism.
We are convinced that all functions (they need to be clear and accurate) that Security Council assigns to peacekeeping operations should serve one purpose – achieve political settlement, establish peace and stability in host countries. Mission leadership plays a key role in addressing this task.
Another critical aspect of strategic communications, which is no less important, is establishing constructive interaction with the host state, maintaining trust-based contacts with the government and local population. Peacekeeping missions should be perceived – in fact rather than in word – as partners in achieving goals that they share with the government and people of the host state, e.g. rendering disinterested assistance in addressing problems of the most vulnerable states. Missions must not act as political oversight bodies that monitor the work of sovereign governments and bring some foreign imperatives that have been articulated far abroad to a new soil. All components of peacekeeping operations must strictly abide by their mandate, act consistently and never come to contradict one another. We are convinced that sooner or later we will have to get back to discussing what impartiality, unbiasedness and objectivity of the United Nations are in the changing environment. We will need to make sure that none of these means idleness.
The third aspect that we wanted to raise today is ways to operationalize steps aimed at improving strategic communications. As a matter of fact, the problem of criticism of peacekeeping operations is not new. We saw it many years ago in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Haiti, now in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Mali. Some Missions were more effective in addressing these challenges – they raised awareness about their mandate, reached out to the local population through radio and TV, implemented local projects. Others were far less effective. But in most cases, it were quick impact projects that proved to show good results. Being rather cost-efficient, QIPs made it possible to maintain contacts with and provide practical assistance to the most vulnerable population groups. Such approach was widely used and appreciated in Haiti (where it was actively promoted by the delegation of Brazil) and in the DR Congo.
In the age of cutting-edge technology, social networks and other methods of reach-out to the population play a crucial role. Yet we must not forget that deeds are more eloquent than words. We call on the UN Secretariat to pay specific attention to this issue when preparing a corresponding report.
Both in the Concept Note for this meeting that was prepared by Brazil and during our consultations regarding the Presidential statement, safety and security of peacekeepers was one of the central issues. Let me stress that this has been and remains one of Russia’s priorities. Like other troop-contributing states, some time ago we lost a peacekeeper from the MONUSCO contingent. That is why we take this topic with all seriousness. We call to discuss it in a comprehensive and substantive manner.
It is no secret – and Secretary-General’s reports, including those he prepares for GA’s Special Committee, confirm this – that peacekeepers mostly suffer from asymmetric attacks, armed groups, improvised explosive devices, overextension of peacekeeping forces, lack of required equipment and means of evacuation. COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters have come to be a major problem for the Blue Helmets recently. Those are the main enemies of peacekeepers. Addressing those problems should be our priority.
As for spreading false information and disinformation, there is no doubt that these trends are on the rise worldwide and that they deserve our strongest condemnation. Unfortunately, the fundamental norms and principles of ensuring freedom of expression and access to information, as well as protection of professional rights of journalists have eroded to an unprecedented degree. We have to do with a targeted infodemic that has usurped world’s leading media, serving the interested of a small group of states. Information space suffers from censorship. In the first place, it comes from IT giants that monopolize the area of social networks and video hostings.
Personnel of both the United Nations Headquarters and UN Missions needs to be cognizant of these processes. Making use of unverified information in order to gain political or military advantage on the ground is a very dangerous trend. We need to ensure early identification and prevention of disinformation campaigns, and neutralize their aftereffects. Even in this Council, we have had situations when blurred photos from social or mass media were presented as rock-hard evidence of committed offences. Today we also heard some of our colleagues make politicized propagandist claims. Attempts to abuse the topic of safety of peacekeepers for the sake of achieving narrow political goals having nothing to do with protection of Blue Helmets or stabilization in countries in conflict are very risky.
We call on the United Nations never to disregard cooperation with law enforcement bodies of host countries, because under the international law, they bear the main responsibility for safety and security of peacekeepers. All life and health threats concerning peacekeepers, let alone attacks on them need to be investigated in accordance with national legislations of host states.
As for criticism-containing publications or even demonstrations, what is required here is engagement with the population and painstaking clarification of peacekeepers’ mandate so people can have realistic expectations. Nothing can better improve the image of peacekeepers than effective implementation of their mandate, including with regard to protection of civilians.