Amb. Samantha Power’s remarks at open debate on regional partnerships and peacekeeping

Thank you so much. Thank you, Mr. Secretary General, European External Action Service Deputy Secretary-General Popowski, and African Union Ambassador to the United Nations António.
Amb. Samantha Power, the US permanent representative to the United Nations. Courtesy
Amb. Samantha Power, the US permanent representative to the United Nations. Courtesy

New York, July 28, 2014

Thank you so much. Thank you, Mr. Secretary General, European External Action Service Deputy Secretary-General Popowski, and African Union Ambassador to the United Nations António.

And thank you, Ambassador Gasana for convening and framing today’s debate, which could not be more timely.

Rwanda knows of what it speaks. Rwandans understand the importance of getting peacekeeping right, having experienced the catastrophic consequences of it going terribly wrong.

As we meet, regional organizations are playing a more central role in peacekeeping than ever before, particularly in Africa. They have proven swift and nimble in responding to serious crises. They have been willing to take on robust protection mandates and we’ve seen, in the last 18 months alone, the AU and ECOWAS have deployed to address the urgent burning crises in Mali and the Central African Republic.

When African countries came together in 2002 to form the new African Union, they decided they never wanted to stand by as atrocities were being committed on the continent. They refused to accept the arguments of those who said that such violence was endemic to Africa; that their newly created union lacked the capacity or the authority to stop it; and that it was not in their collective interest to intervene. They knew such atrocities could be stopped, and that they had the power and the responsibility to do so. And so they enshrined a commitment to non-indifference in the very charter establishing their new union. 

They committed not to turn a blind eye to atrocities.

Not only does the AU have the right to intervene in the face of atrocities, but any member can request an intervention when such horrors occur.

The AU charter gives letter to the growing consensus that neighbors, regions, and the entire international community have a profound stake in the security and stability of countries in conflict. In every region of the world, we’ve seen that conflicts don’t respect borders, especially when they are fueled by groups intent on targeting civilians and sowing terror. And ignoring these conflicts can be devastating, not only for the countries and regions where they occur, but for all of us.

In order for mandates to protect civilians to be effective, they must be enforced. And enforcement is the key to deterrence.

Warlords and militants take notice of peacekeepers’ willingness to stand up or to stand by. The failure to uphold the commitment to protect civilians in one mission can undermine the legitimacy of all of the others.

That is part of why it is so troubling that – according to a March report by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services – UN peacekeeping missions have routinely failed to use force to protect civilians under attack, despite the mandates under which they operate. Of the 507 attacks against civilians that the OIOS reviewed from 2010 to 2013, it found that peacekeeping missions almost never used force to protect civilians under attack.

The Secretary-General has launched a comprehensive review of peacekeeping which needs to tackle this grave challenge head on. It should draw lessons from the leadership of Rwanda, as well as that by other countries like Ethiopia and Nepal, regarding the protection of civilians. Rwanda’s troops were among the first boots on the ground when conflicts metastasized in the Central Africa Republic and South Sudan. And it’s not just that the Rwandans volunteer for complex and dangerous missions. It’s that because of their commitment to protect civilians, the population in countries where the Rwandans serve trust them; troops from other countries who serve alongside them draw strength from their fortitude; and aggressors who would attack civilians fear them.

We recognize the many challenges to making regional and international peacekeeping missions work. The challenge of training and equipping troops; the challenge of airlifting them into theater; and the challenge of maintaining their supply lines once they’re there.

So we're investing deeply in regional missions, as well as in the capabilities of troop contributing countries. The United States contributed more than $500 million to the AU mission in Somalia and $166 million toward equipment and training for the African contingents deploying to the UN mission in Mali, as well as logistics support to its African-led predecessor. And we are providing up to $100 million in similar support to the AU-led mission to CAR, MISCA. Our African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program has trained nearly 250,000 peacekeepers from 25 partner countries since 2005.

Our support for regional initiatives is a clear affirmation of our broader commitment to making peacekeeping more effective, as well as to our partnerships with countries that contribute troops to critical missions. Next week, President Obama will meet with African Heads of State at the Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC to discuss how the United States can deepen our partnership with countries that commit troops both to UN and regional peacekeeping, and how we can help them address persistent operational challenges along with other partners.

This regional cooperation is in everyone’s interest. First and foremost, it is in the interest of civilians threatened by violent conflicts. It is in the interest of the United Nations, because regional peacekeepers often lay the foundation for the UN’s multidimensional peacekeeping efforts, and advance the core principles of the UN charter. And it is in the interest of countries that send troops, countries whose stability is enhanced by the investments in training and equipment that come with such interventions – and the stability from having played a role in preventing deadly conflicts from spreading across borders.

Perpetrators who commit atrocities are routinely testing peacekeepers’ limits. When the first killings began in Rwanda in the spring of 1994, Romeo Dallaire – the UN force commander there at the time – appealed for reinforcements. He cabled UN headquarters and said that he could do more. He needed more, better trained peacekeepers, he said. He recognized that if he could send a clear message early on, a wholesale massacre might be averted.

Regional organizations have shown that not only can they do more, but they are willing to do more. As they step forward – it is not just the people who they protect who benefit from greater peace and stability, but all of us. We owe it to regional and international peace and security and to the civilians – the many civilians in harm’s way right now – to give them our full support.

Thank you.