United Nations Peacekeeping Operations

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:35 pm on 3rd July 2000.

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Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 8:35 pm, 3rd July 2000

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for initiating this debate. The noble Lord raises an important and interesting question, and it is perhaps unfortunate that a greater number of noble Lords have not been able to be present to share it with us.

Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness have rightly outlined the history which led to the tragedies of Srebrenica and Rwanda. The cold-blooded slaughter of defenceless civilians in Srebrenica and Rwanda and the failure of the international community to prevent those slaughters stand as shameful events in recent history. Today we remember those who died and those who lost loved ones during those terrible tragedies. I agree with both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that we owe it to them and to the vulnerable everywhere to learn from experience and avoid repetition.

The two reports published at the end of last year provide the painful but honest and objective analysis to aid us. The two reports stress the need for terror, murder and persecution to be met with decisive international action. They highlight the need to bring those responsible for such actions to justice and for the international community to improve current tools for conflict prevention and peace keeping. The Government have acted decisively to defend the lives and rights of those in danger. Most recently in Kosovo, our diplomatic and, ultimately, military services responded to the overriding humanitarian need of a people subjected to organised state terror and murder. On this occasion we did not fail, whatever others may have done before us. In East Timor British Gurkhas and police officers played a key part in international action to protect democracy and the right to free expression.

I do not accept the assessment of the noble Baroness of what has been done in Sierra Leone. Britain has played a fundamental part in resisting illegal efforts to topple a legitimate government and in facilitating wider international action. There has been no back-tracking. We undertook to make available troops, including a rapid reaction capacity, and did so. We called upon others worldwide to join our efforts. The reshaping of Britain's Armed Forces following the 1998 Strategic Defence Review transformed our ability to contribute to peace keeping and humanitarian operations, with more and better equipped rapid reaction forces, additional strategic lift and better logistics capabilities. We declared most of those capabilities as potentially available to the UN in the June 1999 UN/UK MOU on peace keeping. These are just the kinds of capabilities that the UN needs. Progress on new defence arrangements in the European Union following the British initiative in autumn 1998 will enable Britain and the EU to contribute more effectively to international peace keeping efforts by enhancing European capabilities and speed of response.

We have also stepped up work on conflict prevention. In practice, this has meant placing human rights at the centre of our foreign policy. We have worked ceaselessly in defence of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the core UN human rights instruments. That has meant the enhancement of co-ordination within government to ensure that we can use all the tools at our disposal--military, political and aid--coherently to prevent and manage conflicts. It has meant addressing the root causes of conflicts as well as the more immediate triggers, through support for democratic development and sustainable economic growth. It has also meant supporting the development of democratically accountable security forces which enhance rather than endanger the security and well-being of communities; tightening our own controls on arms export; agreeing a code of conduct with EU partners; and encouraging other states to pursue similarly responsible policies to help to limit the means of waging war.

We have acted where we can to make a difference, but we recognise that we cannot be everywhere or do everything. We have also been working to ensure that others do their part. We continue our efforts to build international consensus around a set of guidelines that would help the council to decide how it should respond to large-scale atrocities. As Kofi Annan has said, the UN Security Council and the United Nations as a whole must forge unity behind the principle that large-scale violations of humanitarian law and crimes against humanity should not be allowed to stand.

This is a core lesson of the tragedies of Srebrenica and Rwanda which we cannot afford to ignore. At the United Nations we have strongly supported the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and Yugoslavia which was set up by the Security Council to bring those responsible for war crimes to justice. We have been in the vanguard of those supporting the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

In the Security Council we have sought to ensure that resolutions mandating peacekeeping missions are as clear as possible and provide for the necessary resources for implementation. I know that noble Lords are interested in the accountability of the United Nations. I should therefore like to take this opportunity to underline that the UK has actively participated in this way, promoting greater transparency in the work of the Security Council.

The UK's priorities have been made clear from Mr Annan's report on peacekeeping operations. We have outlined a number of priorities for the UN Secretary-General's report on peacekeeping operations. Those include an early warning: that the UN needs more effective mechanisms to collate and analyse early warning data and to identify programmes of preventive action. The department of peacekeeping operators in New York needs a chief of staff to draw together the various strands of planning permissions. We should like reports from the Secretary-General to contain more detailed recommendations for UN action. That will help the council to focus and use its time more effectively.

In our view, it is essential that the UN identifies as many measures as possible to speed the planning and deployment of peacekeeping missions.