Remarks by Ambassador Jürgen Schulz in the Security Council VTC Meeting on the impact of COVID-19 on Peacekeeping, June 4, 2020

04.06.2020 - Speech

Check Against Delivery

Thank you to the three force commanders for their presentation. We very much appreciate the regular direct interaction with the force commanders. This is extremely helpful. We would like to thank the force commanders for their service and their leadership. We would also like to pay tribute to the service of all troops under your command are exercising and we would like to express our deepest condolences to the families of all those who have lost their lives while performing peacekeeping duties.

Mr. President, it's always good to have a direct exchange with the force commanders and this year, of course, particularly as we are discussing the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. It's very important for us to learn and better understand how the pandemic and its implications impact the work of implementing the mandate of the peacekeeping missions. It was very good to hear from the three commanders how this has been done and it was very interesting to hear from them how they on the ground better integrate the efficient pandemic response into their daily work and what can be done further to improve preparedness for pandemics. 

Before I turn to the three missions, very briefly, let me just make three general points. First of all, we  express our strong support for the Secretariat’s efforts to increase the number of women in peacekeeping, especially in senior leadership positions. It is promising that this year we see more diversity already here - also in our conversations and welcome Brigadier General O'Brien as acting head of mission and force commander of UNDOF.

Second point, last year we had also very fruitful exchange. We very much focused last year on the cooperation with host states. I think especially in the light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the cooperation with host nations is more important than ever. Without their consent, no life-saving goods and equipment will reach the missions, and peacekeepers cannot receive the medical treatment they need. The host nations of course bear the primary responsibility for the safety and security of peacekeepers and for full compliance with the respective SOFAs.

And thirdly, safeguarding viable MEDEVAC destinations is a challenge at the moment. Germany stands ready to help and to contribute as a MEDEVAC destination. There are constraints, though, since we still have a high number of cases domestically and since we have to take precautionary measures for a possible second wave.

Now, turning to the missions: more specifically, I would like to start with saying a few words about MINUSMA. Let me focus in particular and thank the force commander for being the driving force behind the Force Adaptation Plan. This Force Adaptation Plan is indispensable to further improve the operational efficiency. And it is, as you said, the driver for change to the mission. So this is a very important plan. The recent Force Generation Conference has demonstrated that there is strong support for the plan and also that we need more pledges for some critical capabilities, in particular helicopters.

Now, turning to my country, Germany, I would like to stress that since the start of MINUSMA in 2013, Germany has been a strong supporter of MINUSMA and a troop and police contributing nation. We will maintain our commitment. And in that vein, we also announced an additional contribution in support of MINUSMA's Force Adaptation Plan, namely further expanding the dislocation of our unmanned aircraft system HERON 1 in Gao.

And as we are going to discuss MINUSMA and the mandate in more detail soon, all I want to say at this point is that obviously there is a limit to what we can do with the capabilities we have at hand. Giving more and broader tests to the mission will backfire if we do not ensure collectively that the mission has the right personnel and adequate resources. So efficiency gains go hand-in-hand with realistic mandate scope. I would also like to recall that the mission is multi-dimensional, as the name already suggests, consisting of civilians, military and police. The Force Adaptation Plan must be geared towards making the military component stronger and enabling the work of the other parts of the mission. So the integration of the civilian part of the mission, the police and the military component has to improve further.

Now, turning to UNDOF: I think it's fair to say that a strong mission leadership is more important than ever in these times. And we would like to thank again General O'Brien for her dedicated service. UNDOF continues to play a vital role in preserving the cease fire between Israel and Syria.

We remain concerned about continued and increased number of violations of the disengagement of forces agreement as reported by the Secretary General in his last report. On the positive side, the return of UNDOF to the “Bravo-Side” is encouraging. Once the situation on the ground allows for it, operational activities such as night patrols as well as inspections as agreed by Syria should be resumed.

We do, however, remain concerned that due to host nation restrictions, mainly due to COVID-19 essential personnel protection equipment cannot reach the peacekeepers in all cases. And for that reason, we call on both parties to ensure the safety and security of military and civilian personnel in UNDOF and the Observer Group Golan and to extend all cooperation to UNDOF in the fulfillment of the task under its mandate. We also call on the parties to allow UNDOF to operate in a safe and secure manner and freely in accordance with the disengagement of forces agreement. It is important for UNDOF to be able to carry out its operations without facing any administrative obstacles.

Now, finally, turning to UNMISS: Reduced operational activities have been a result of the precautionary and preventive measures that the mission has taken, some of them under restriction unduly imposed by the government. We feel that any such SOFA violations certainly must stop. Overall, we witnessed detrimental impact on the security situation, probably due to UNMISS's drastic reductions in light of the outbreak of the pandemic. At the same time, it is clear that under the medical and logistical conditions in South Sudan, UNMISS must take a cautious approach.

We encourage the mission to operate as effectively much as possible under the given circumstances, especially regarding the violence in Jonglei state. We must also remind the government that combating the pandemic must not divert attention from implementing the peace agreement, which is so critical. We ask the government of South Sudan to fully and comprehensively implement the Revitalized Peace Agreement.  To turn to what the Force Commander said: the protection of civilians is and remains the core pillar of UNMISS's Mandate. This remains absolutely key, and the COVID-19 pandemic poses a particular challenge to the POC sites and camps. Those sites are densely populated and social distancing and hygiene measures are difficult to implement.

Last point on UNMISS: safeguarding viable MEDEVAC destinations for UNMISS personnel is a challenge at the moment, too. We would like to ask the Secretariat to keep TCCs informed about the state of play and underline that a robust solution must be found as soon as possible. We also call on South Sudan and neighboring states to fully cooperate with the UN.


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