In the second briefing of the day, we had the pleasure to hear Mr. Markus Pallek from the Office of Legal Affairs, subsection Office of the Legal Counsel, who talked about the legal aspects of Peacekeeping Operations – one of the main tasks of his office.
Mr. Pallek started his presentation by giving us a short overview of Peacekeeping – a form of conflict prevention not mentioned in the Charter of the United Nations. The Security Council decides upon the deployment of a Peacekeeping mission. The General Assembly has to decide about its financing. The military personnel for a mission are voluntarily provided by Member States. Peacekeeping Operations are led by the so called “head of mission”, usually a Special Representative of the Secretary-General.
Peacekeeping missions are described as falling into four categories, drawn from the Report on possible reform measures in the field of Peacekeeping Operations prepared by Lakhdar Brahimi (2000): (1) Traditional Peacekeeping under Chapter VI of the Charter of the United Nations, with the use of force allowed only in situations of immediate self-defence, (2) Peacekeeping Operations that may use armed force beyond mere self-defence, (3) Peacekeeping Operations on the basis of Chapter VII, and (4) Peace-Building Operations with a mandate extended to include post-conflict rebuilding tasks. He went on to describe the legal construction of Peacekeeping Operations and explained that their legal framework is generally widely determined by the constantly changing practical experience.
The legal framework and the status of a Peacekeeping mission are set by the political mandate formed by the Security Council. Further important sources are the so called “status of forces agreements (SOFA)” and the “status of mission agreements (SOMA)”. These are agreements between the United Nations and the country in which the operation is to be conducted, in some cases also with its neighbouring States. They determine the privileges and immunities of the mission personnel, the status of the head of the mission, taxation and customs matters, the status of the mission premises and many other aspects. Yet another important legal element of any Peacekeeping Operation are the so called Rules of Engagement. They lay down the conditions for the use of force within the limits set out by the Security Council mandate and state that any exercise of force should be in conformity with humanitarian standards and the international law. Finally, since the Convention on the Safety and Security of the United Nations and Associated Personnel entered into force in 1999, its principles are to be included in the SOFAs and SOMAs. Little known to the public, is the fact that there are currently efforts to overcome the deficits of this Convention – foremost in its operative hindsight – by means of a joint General Assembly and Security Council declaration.
Mr. Pallek noted that modern Peacekeeping Operations are based on Chapter VII of the Charter and thus authorize the use of force. That gave rise to the question of applicability of international humanitarian law. For members of the civilian contingent of a Peacekeeping mission this question has been addressed through the passing of a binding internal rule, the so called “Secretary-General’s Bulletin”. The Bulletin does not apply to Member State provided military personnel as the troop-contributing countries are directly bound by international humanitarian law.
After this very interesting outline on the legal aspects of Peacekeeping Operations, Mr. Pallek was at our disposal for further questions. The issues discussed were, among others, the genocide in Sudan and the slow broadening of a mission’s mandate, the so called “mission creep”. Mr. Pallek’s reference to the Peace-Building Commission was especially relevant to Guatemala, as it was proposed in the High-Level-Panel report as a mechanism for post-conflict situations. Mr. Pallek was to leave after one and a half hours last but not least to continue the discussion with some of our legal students.