As Blue Helmets Face Increasingly Hostile Environments, Rapid Spread
Of Disinformation, Engaging Local Communities Key for Success, Speakers Say
CRISTIAN ESPINOSA CAÑIZARES (Ecuador), associating himself with the Group of Friends on the Safety and Security of United Nations Peacekeepers, noted his delegation has been the Chair of the Committee on Information for the past two years and has witnessed the facilitating role strategic communications play in most of the work of the United Nations and its Member States. Rapidly evolving technology and the digital revolution increase communication tools, but also the complexity of existing challenges — meaning all stakeholders must deepen discussions on the issue. Strategic communication builds trust between peacekeeping operations and the local areas in which they operate, and Action for Peacekeeping+ has identified it as a priority. Noting the link to the women, peace and security initiative, as well as to data and technology-based peacekeeping, he said such communication enhances tools used to detect and deter sexual violence in armed conflict. Strategic communication helps manage the expectations of local communities and counter misinformation and disinformation; it must be part of the transition process of handing over responsibilities to a host country and the many relevant stakeholders. He went on to say that the European Union is engaged in peace and security in the same volatile environments as the United Nations. It too has become a disinformation target. To counter such activities, the bloc has stepped up preparedness to protect its institutions and operational capacities. On 5 December 2018, it adopted an Action Plan against Disinformation with specific proposals for a coordinated response. The plan builds on four pillars: improving its ability to detect, analyse and expose disinformation; strengthening coordinated and joint responses by member States and European Union institutions; mobilizing the private sector to tackle disinformation; and raising awareness and improving societal resilience to disinformation. In addition, the bloc is developing a toolbox to address and counter foreign information manipulation and interference, including in its Common Security and Defence Policy missions and operations. During the day-long debate, many delegates, echoing concerns about the proliferation of hate speech inciting violence, emphasized that missions must adjust to local contexts and meaningfully engage with host Governments, local populations and civil society organizations to build trust and support, while others also stressed the sovereignty of host States. JUAN ANTONIO BENARD ESTRADA (Guatemala) recognized, as a troop-contributing country, the importance of strategic communication to the work of peacekeeping operations and called for strengthening the same to inform the public — locally, nationally and internationally — about the importance of peacekeepers’ work to protect civilians. Peacekeeping operations can improve their strategic communication to accurately report on what is happening on the ground. To that end, the leadership of such operations must use central communication tools to plan and make decisions. Noting that the majority of peacekeeping operations do not have dedicated strategic-communication staff in place, he spotlighted the current tendency to use such communication in a reactive manner. Missions must adapt their messaging to different audiences while respecting the political independence and sovereignty of the host and neighbouring countries. In order to strengthen and improve the use of strategic communication, a “cultural change” is needed to adopt a whole-of-mission approach in this area. Also speaking were ministers and representatives of Brazil, Ghana, United Arab Emirates, Norway, France, Albania, Ireland, Kenya, Russian Federation, United States, Mexico, Indonesia (for the Group of Friends on the Safety and Security of United Nations), Japan, Thailand, Denmark, Egypt, Morocco, Uruguay, Portugal, Switzerland, Republic of Korea, Germany, Guatemala, Lithuania, Ecuador, Australia, South Africa, Bangladesh, Malta, Philippines, Slovakia, Belgium, Israel and Algeria, as well as the European Union, in its capacity as observer. CARLOS ALBERTO FRANCO FRANÇA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Brazil, Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity, saying that the Council should encourage the United Nations Secretariat to continue to develop a strategy, as well as related policies and guidelines, which should then be implemented at all levels and across all components of peacekeeping operations. In addition, the Council, the General Assembly and troop and police contributors should seek further improvements in both United Nations Headquarters and the missions’ communication capabilities. Strategic communications and public information teams in missions can be strengthened through better recruitment and the allocation of adequate resources. Relevant new technologies should be used to their full potential, he said, adding that pre-deployment training on strategic communications for all civilian, military and police officers would have a significant impact on engagement with local stakeholders. Mission leadership must spearhead a move to institutionalize a culture of strategic communications across components in peacekeeping operations, he stressed, adding that it is up to mission leaders to integrate strategic communications into planning, decision-making and implementation of daily activities. Underscoring the importance of strategic communications in implementing United Nations peacekeeping mandates and ensuring the safety and security of both troops and civilians on the ground, the Security Council today welcomed the Secretary-General’s ongoing efforts to include such communications in planning and decision-making, noting that a whole-of-mission approach facilitates confidence-building with local communities. He went on to say that effective communication is critical to secure the political and public support that United Nations peacekeeping needs to create a safe operational environment. To this end, emerging technologies, accompanied by adequately trained and equipped staff, should be used to proactively address mis- and dis-information. Further, United Nations peacekeeping operations should use a whole-of-mission approach to strategic communication that fosters local dialogue and creates a more protective environment for civilians. He added that such operations must also ensure the systematic use of gender-sensitive communication to change gender norms, address issues related to gender-based violence and promote women’s participation in political and public life. JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico), expressing concern about the increasing use of disinformation campaigns aimed at creating a climate of animosity or mistrust towards some United Nations peacekeeping missions, said communication tools fighting misinformation and hate speech must be strengthened. This is particularly urgent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and the Central African Republic, to cite a few examples of countries where communication campaigns against peace missions have been detected. In order to neutralize such campaigns, closer cooperation among missions, the United Nations country team, and local communities, including civil society organizations, and particularly women and youth, is required. Moreover, local populations must understand the scope of the missions and their limits. The Council must contribute to the effectiveness of the missions through improved mandates articulated around realistic and relevant objectives, he said, adding that peacekeeping operations must be provided with the capacity and funding necessary for the full implementation of their mandate. His country is prepared to send a company of engineers with 240 staff, including 67 women, in order to strengthen its participation in peacekeeping tasks, he said. OSUGA TAKESHI (Japan) emphasized the utmost importance of strategic communications for the safety and security of peacekeepers, noting that these efforts should be conducted hand-in-hand with peacekeeping intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Countering misinformation and disinformation are challenges that extend beyond technical issues and relate to ensuring free expression and access to information in the host State. They require peacekeepers and the United Nations in general to build trust among local communities and authorities. A holistic approach that cuts across the development-humanitarian-peace nexus is needed. To enhance communication capabilities in peacekeeping missions, he called for a bottom-up approach adapted to local contexts and encouraged the Secretariat to start collecting best practices. Member States also have a critical role to play in providing support to host countries, he said, citing Japan’s technical assistance to the South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation. MONA JUUL (Norway) expressed concern that armed groups and other spoilers seem to be increasing the use of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech directed at United Nations peace operations, undermining their capacity to fulfil their mandates and endangering the safety and security of peacekeepers. Action for Peacekeeping+ has identified strategic communications as a priority, and Member States must help missions manage such risks using targeted messaging, dialogue with local communities and host Governments, and increased digital presence and communications expertise. She called for increasing the capabilities of strategic communications within missions, based on a whole-of-mission approach, and grounded in the mission’s political objectives. There is also an opportunity to use strategic communications to advance the women, peace and security agenda through gender-specific engagement with local communities and women’s groups — as without their inclusion these processes are more likely to fail. She looked forward to the finalization of the communications strategy, as well as the policy guidelines, tools and training to address misinformation and disinformation. BAE JONGIN (Republic of Korea) said the United Nations should take an integrated approach to support field missions in responses to disinformation, misinformation and hate speech. To tackle these scourges, the Organization must give peacekeeping missions the proper guidance and tools to improve monitoring, detection, analysis and response capabilities. He welcomed the digital transformation strategy of peacekeeping operations, which aims to help missions harness the potential of digital technologies and mitigate their risks. He said his Government has already contributed to the strategy’s development and will keep working closely with the United Nations on its implementation. To counter the tarnishing of a mission’s reputation, the Organization must engage more actively with local communities through civilian and military coordination activities. The experience of Korean peacekeepers, now deployed in South Sudan and Lebanon, has shown this type of engagement not only improves the safety and security of peacekeepers, but also helps improve the implementation of mission mandates. The United Nations Engagement Platoon is another good example to replicate, he said. JARROD PENDLEBURY (Australia) said ceding the information space to those who work against the efforts of the international community can undermine peace operations and damage the credibility of the United Nations. Strategic communication enables facts to be disseminated and disinformation to be corrected, building credibility in the United Nations to advocate on behalf of local populations. He expressed support for the use of strategic communication to raise awareness of a mission’s mandate and to counter misinformation and disinformation. Australia supports the integration and implementation of strong strategic communications in two key areas, he said, pointing first to awareness raising among deployed personnel. Australia has released the first tranche of funding for the establishment of an innovation hub in the Department of Peace Operations and worked to fully implement the Strategy for the Digital Transformation of United Nations Peacekeeping. Gabon’s representative said communications efforts must be combined with other outreach activities to create a positive perception of United Nations forces and ensure better protection of peacekeeping staff. Operations must also have a sound ecosystem of technology and innovation that enhances situational awareness and facilitates more robust implementation of peacekeeping mandates. HEBA MOSTAFA MOSTAFA RIZK (Egypt) noted hers is the sixth-biggest troop-contributing country worldwide, with peacekeeping operations working in extremely difficult and complex environments, facing misinformation, smear campaigns and hate speech. Effective strategic communication therefore helps Blue Helmets to understand their environments and implement tasks in protecting civilians and ensuring the safety of peacekeepers. Peacekeeping operations must intensify their communications with host countries to explain mandates and build mutual trust, she stressed, citing the example of Mali — one of the most dangerous missions as it is an asymmetric environment, with active armed groups — while peacekeeping operations are not mandated to counter terrorism. The Security Council must adopt clear and realistic mandates, away from polarization or ambiguity that undermine the effectiveness of missions. It is also crucial to provide adequate human and financial resources, and advance effective communication strategies using local languages, foregrounding coordination with host countries to ensure integrated efforts. JENNA RUSSO, Director of Research of the International Peace Institute, discussed three points: the role of strategic communications in enhancing the protection of civilians; how to ensure that communication is not only gender-sensitive but gender-transformative; and the importance of active listening to centre the experiences of communities in peacekeeping. She said communicating with community members, belligerents and national and local leaders is central to planning and implementing protection-of-civilian mandates. Strategic communication can also be used to counter hate speech and mis- or disinformation used to incite violence, inflame identity-based cleavages, or mobilize individuals into armed groups. Mission radio programmes and local-level workshops can be an important tool in combating the effects of hate speech, she said. Missions can also train journalists in conflict-sensitive journalism, as has been done in South Sudan, where hate speech has been described as nearly as dangerous as the proliferation of weapons. ARIEL RODELAS PEÑARANDA (Philippines) recommended that the Departments of Peace Operations and Global Communications conduct a joint policy review of strategic communications to provide guidance to peacekeeping operations. This would further build confidence in peace processes and promote better understanding of missions’ raison d’être. In order for strategic communications to be effective and impactful on the ground, both the key messages and messaging must be tailored to missions’ internal and external publics. Communications campaigns that are context-specific and focused on each audience would address the misinformation and disinformation issues against mission leadership, while also helping ensure the safety and security of peacekeeping personnel. Echoing a key proposal from Member States submitted early this year, he called for the Secretary-General to establish a framework on strategic communications in peacekeeping to combat anti-United Nations propaganda. “We need a more broad-based, comprehensive and adequately-resourced strategic communications framework in peacekeeping, that is fit for twenty-first century international diplomacy,” he said. FERIT HOXHA (Albania) said the scourge of misinformation and disinformation is impacting civilians and the United Nations troops on the ground. Disinformation undermines facts, hides crimes and distorts realities, requiring careful communication to properly and securely implement peacekeeping mandates. He called for transparency in every aspect and every field of United Nations activities, which is crucial for consolidating trust and support for the Organization’s work, welcoming every step that has been undertaken to shed light on all the cases of sexual exploitation. Stressing that Blue Helmets must fulfil their mission in due diligence in protecting civilians and not take advantage of those they should help and protect, he commended MONUSCO and all other missions that are taking concrete measures to ensure accountability and justice. He noted there is room to improve strategic communication by expanding it in the digital space of the United Nations. As protection of civilians is the core task of each mission, it therefore requires continued and improved communication to successfully challenge prejudice detrimental to peace operations and win the trust of communities. Stressing the importance of communication between peacekeepers and local communities, he cited how MONUSCO works with local security councils in warning local authorities and the police at the slightest security threat. “Prevention always saves lives,” he stated, and to ensure prevention, communication is instrumental. With peacekeeping operations already affected, he called for the United Nations to inform and adapt, as it is crucial to communicate with local stakeholders in person, from village chiefs to national and regional actors. These voices play a crucial role in countering the criticism. He emphasized the importance of the use of language assistance during patrols, provision of French classes at the battalion level, and regular meetings with civilian military branches to coordinate activities. With the implementation of the new force memorandum, “we shall gain the narrative to favour our operations”, he said. Identifying needs in translation, better training and in countering the menace of fake news, he stressed that the military campaign plan must adhere to the Mission’s communications plan, as “synergy is the word”. Strategic communication is not an ordinary staff responsibility but a command duty, he emphasized, citing the work of 13,000 peacekeepers in the country. KARL LAGATIE (Belgium) said misinformation and disinformation are both old and new challenges — new because digital technology and social media have taken them to new heights, and old because the truth has always been the first casualty of war. In that regard, he expressed particular concern over the Russian Federation’s narrative on its war in Ukraine. Condemning all violence against peacekeeping missions, he noted misinformation can erode the trust of local communities and incite anti-mission sentiment, as fake news moves easily. It is crucial for the United Nations to constantly seek to communicate better and more convincingly, and avoid complacency. The Organization must also focus on avoiding misinformation through clear and proactive communication about its objectives, achievements, values and successes, and listen better to communities’ concerns. That communication, he stressed, must be accessible — the price of convincing local populations that the United Nations is working in their interests. He noted that building trust in host countries means communicating in their mother tongue, which is frequently not an official language of the United Nations. Disinformation also undermines the security of humanitarian actors, with some parties to conflict politicizing and spreading false rumours about their work. He called on all parties to be rigorous in information dissemination, as humanitarian actors work on the principle of neutrality and must be protected. “At its best, United Nations peacekeeping is a remarkable enterprise of multilateralism and international solidarity. But for it to succeed amidst new threats and mounting challenges, all of us must play our part — and all aspects of our operations must adapt to new realities,” he said. The Organization must play a more deliberate role as an information actor in conflict environments and be seen as a trusted source of information by providing engaging, factual content, facilitating inclusive dialogue, demanding the removal of harmful speech, calling leaders to account, and promoting the voices of peace and unity. Member States, particularly those present on the ground alongside peacekeepers, are crucial partners in this critical effort. “Access to information is a human right — in the places where our peacekeepers operate, it can be a matter of life and death, and the difference between peace and war,” he said. SHIRLEY AYORKOR BOTCHWEY, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration of Ghana, pointed out that United Nations peacekeeping operations “have been caught in the crosshairs” of conflicting parties’ disinformation propaganda and their use of hate speech to undermine efforts to protect civilian populations. Digital technologies have amplified the scope of these negative actions, she said, expressing concern over the significant increase in misinformation activity in peacekeeping settings — especially in Africa, which hosts 6 of the 12 peacekeeping missions. In this context, Ghana — a major troop- and police-contributing country — supports all efforts to strengthen strategic communication as an enabler and multiplier to reduce violence and sustain peace, she said, calling for further development of capacity and digital assets for the same. She also urged continued support for the Department of Global Communication’s efforts to embed capacity in peacekeeping missions, along with implementing outreach engagements with local communities in mandated missions to sensitize them on such missions’ mandates. Additionally, quick-impact projects offer opportunities for United Nations peacekeeping missions to convey their commitment to the safety and welfare of the civilian populations they serve. Therefore increased resources should be accorded. The Council’s level of success in addressing anti-United Nations propaganda will influence “the continuing battle to uphold the authority of the United Nations and the enduring values of multilateralism and our Charter”, she added. NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said communications must ensure the protection of civilians, provide real-time information and include early warning networks. Communications strategies should use digital technology to fight hate speech and should include mutual dialogue and reach all stakeholders. Listening to and explaining issues to local people is an important part of the protection of civilian mandates. Missions are facing more hostile environments and information is being manipulated to undermine the reputation of the Blue Helmets, he said, noting that initiatives are under way to strengthen peacekeepers’ security. In addition, it is necessary to train journalists to verify facts. The United Nations must have the means to develop strategic communications and have an integrated approach at every stage of a mission’s development, including when troops are withdrawn. It is also important to reach youth. Communications must be carried out in the local language, he said, adding that the training of staff is crucial. To improve strategic communications in peacekeeping, he said the United Nations is adopting a whole-of-mission approach across uniformed and civilian components to foster a networked communication in the field. That includes holding mission leaders accountable to lead strategic communications and ensure it is fully integrated into all aspects of mission planning and decision-making, as well as providing guidance and training to missions, including sharing best practices, and working with partners to identify and deploy the best tools to better detect and counter mis- and disinformation and hate speech. The Organization also evaluates the efficacy of its information campaigns, adapting its strategy to the tactical needs of specific contexts. As direct person-to-person communications often are the most powerful way to build trust and counter false narratives, missions continue to conduct townhall style gatherings in local communities to listen and learn. Strategic communications is also being used to strengthen accountability and support efforts to end misconduct by personnel and partners, including combating sexual exploitation and abuse. PASCALE CHRISTINE BAERISWYL (Switzerland) noted a mismatch in several peacekeeping operations between the mandate and capabilities on one hand, and the expectations of local populations on the other. Peacekeepers are often perceived by the population as the main guarantor of their protection, whereas they are only deployed in support of the host State Government and face the challenge of explaining the limits of their action. They should understand local concerns and respond appropriately in order to avoid frustrations that can lead to additional risks. Emphasis on diversity within missions underscores the importance of the equal role that women should play. Further, communication channels should also be tailored to target groups, including youth. As action speaks louder than words, peacekeeping operations must become even more effective, particularly through training and the implementation of the Comprehensive Planning and Performance Assessment System. Because effective strategic communication requires an appropriate framework to advance coordination among different pillars, the Secretariat’s efforts to develop a policy in this area is welcomed. Communication is also important for the Council, she said, calling for inclusion of perspectives from Member States, troop- and police-contributing countries and the Peacebuilding Commission, as well as the voices of women and civil society. GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) said the deployment of a peacekeeping mission should send a clear message of hope to populations on the ground in conflict environments: “that the international community stands with them [and] that we are working to give them the chance of a better life in their own countries.” To succeed, these missions must communicate effectively and systematically with local communities, with host State authorities and with all parties to a conflict. The importance of strategic communications is clearly reflected in the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping initiative. Peacekeeping operations are deployed to complex environments, often with competing narratives around conflict. It is critical to clearly explain to populations on the ground — particularly those hard to reach or most at risk of harm — why peacekeepers are there and the role they can play. Irish troops serving in peacekeeping missions have always placed a strong emphasis on outreach operations to ensure effective communications with the local authorities and populations. In the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), for example, this is done through key leader and community engagement, and through local civil and military cooperation projects. In the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), it is carried out through so-called quick impact projects. RYTIS PAULAUSKAS (Lithuania) said information manipulation, including misinformation and disinformation, have long been part of the toolkit used by non-democratic States during conflicts. Misinformation, disinformation and hate speech are increasingly being used as weapons of war. Today, disinformation is being weaponized by the Russian Federation to justify its unprovoked, full-scale and illegal invasion of Ukraine. As a troop-contributing country with 45 Lithuanian peacekeepers in MINUSMA, Lithuania is extremely concerned with the degrading effects of information manipulation and the threats posed by disinformation and misinformation to peacekeeping operations. This trend is particularly worrying in Mali, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Various actors are increasingly using social media and other platforms to deliberately spread disinformation and incite hatred and violence. He said strategic communications is a key tool to address this ever-growing challenge. He welcomed the 2021 Strategy for the Digital Transformation of United Nations Peacekeeping, as well as the Action for Peacekeeping+ initiative, with strategic communications as a priority. THANDEKILE TSHABALALA (South Africa) said strategic communications is imperative if peacekeeping missions are to effectively implement their mandates. It is crucial to incorporate the evolving digital technology into the operations of all missions. Suitable technologies, complemented by capable personnel, should form an integral part of all phases of peacekeeping missions, including transitions. Continuous training should be provided to all troop- and police-contributing countries to ensure digital access and skills. He stressed the importance of United Nations entities communicating clearly in unison to host countries and local communities. The safety and security of peacekeepers remains a major concern, he said, pointing out that about 4,200 peacekeepers have lost their lives since the establishment of the first peacekeeping mission in 1948. Innovative ways must be explored to eliminate these fatalities, including intensifying the collection of intelligence and the sharing of information among the military, police and civilian components of missions. Jenna Russo, Director of Research of the International Peace Institute, pointed out that missions can also train reporters in conflict-sensitive journalism, as has been done in South Sudan, where hate speech has been described as nearly as dangerous as the proliferation of weapons. Emphasizing the need for a dynamic dialogue between missions and communities, she said: “Communication is not only about informing; it is also about being informed.” Strategic communications is thus crucial to protect civilians and prevent violence; secure ceasefires and safeguard political settlements; and investigate and report on human rights abuses, he said. As such, it is a top priority within the Action for Peacekeeping+ initiative. “Disinformation is not just misleading; it is dangerous and potentially deadly. It fuels open violence against our personnel and partners. It transforms our blue flag from a symbol of security into a target for attack,” he said. A recent survey found that nearly half of all peacekeepers consider mis- and disinformation to severely impact mandate implementation and threaten their safety and security. Instances of fake news increasingly obstruct missions from carrying out their lifesaving work. In Mali, for example, a fake letter alleging United Nations peacekeepers were collaborating with armed groups went viral on social media and was picked up by national media. It stirred up hostility and resentment towards peacekeepers, making their task of protecting civilians much harder. The representative of the United Kingdom, spotlighting a significant increase “in the volume of dangerous lies” being spread about the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali’s (MINUSMA) mandate and activities since the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group deployed in that country, said this puts peacekeepers’ lives at increased risk and sows distrust that discourages local communities from sharing information with the Mission, thwarting its ability to prevent attacks. She welcomed the efforts of British and German peacekeepers in MINUSMA to meet local women’s associations and help local radio stations reach out to female audiences, which has helped build mutual understanding. Noting the development of a strategy for the digital transformation of peacekeeping, the Council also encouraged missions as well as troop- and police-contributing countries to support and make full use of available field-focused, reliable and cost-effective communication technologies to support mandate delivery. He said the United Nations is adopting a whole-of-mission approach which will hold mission leaders accountable to lead strategic communications in mission planning and decision-making, and work with partners to better detect and counter mis- and disinformation and hate speech. For United Nations peacekeeping to succeed, “all of us must play our part”, he said, with the Organization having a more deliberate role as a trusted information actor in conflict environments. GILAD MENASHE ERDAN (Israel) said that to be truly effective, strategic communications must address misinformation and disinformation, as well as publicly point out the root causes that disrupt a mission’s mandate. With respect to UNIFIL, one root cause is Hizbullah’s continued presence and activity, he said, noting that the current reality on the ground reflects a dire situation wherein UNIFIL’s freedom of movement is exceedingly restricted, and the safety of its peacekeepers threatened daily. Moreover, Hizbullah’s actions against UNIFIL undermine its ability to utilize strategic communications, by launching a war of disinformation against the Force’s objectives and mandates. By propagating false accusations, Hizbullah tarnishes UNIFIL’s reputation and turns the local population against the entity mandated to keep them safe. Stressing that Hizbullah is the cause of Lebanon’s political, economic and security crisis, he said UNIFIL must receive the backing it needs to fulfil its mandate and Lebanon too must be held accountable. He called on the Council and the international community to condemn Hizbullah’s illegal actions in Lebanon, and to redouble efforts in combating it and other terrorist groups. ANA PAULA BAPTISTA GRADE ZACARIAS (Portugal), aligning herself with the Group of Friends on Safety and Security of United Nations Peacekeepers and the statement to be made by the European Union, said an assessment must be conducted to identify the best ways of reaching local populations before the launch of any mission. “We need to step up efforts to counter disinformation, misinformation and hate speech targeted at missions and peacekeepers,” she stressed, pointing to the establishment of a WhatsApp group by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Efforts to prevent gender-based violence and discrimination would benefit from stronger investment in the protection of human rights, human rights education and communication, and women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and leadership in decision-making. Also, missions should distinguish target audiences by gender and address communications specifically to women, through messages that represent women and men equally while avoiding the reinforcement of gender stereotypes. ANTJE LEENDERTSE (Germany) said recent smear campaigns on social media and an uptick in deliberate misinformation have resulted in “acute and immediate” danger for peacekeepers. Clear communication on the goals and limits of peacekeeping is crucial in pre-empting unrealistic expectations and gathering support for mandate implementation among local population and authorities. “Together we need to echo a shared message,” she said, that United Nations peacekeeping is always the common effort of all Member States to achieve a peaceful resolution of conflict. As political actors, peacekeepers must take part in — and shape — public discourse with an understanding of the public debate in any given context. Listening to local populations is important and requires specific language training, as well as tools and enablers, such as community liaison assistants and engagement teams. The representative of Slovakia said that an enhanced strategic communication, vis-à-vis the local population and international media, is essential in exposing infringements of international norms by other actors. Strategic communications are also crucial for “feeling of the pulse” on local communities, which, in turn, can have a significant impact on the peacekeeping process. He welcomed the Action for Protection initiative and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ increased engagement in countering disinformation, along with the Department of Global Communications. Strategic communications also play an essential role in promoting the protection of civilians and the women, peace and security agenda. Voicing strong support for full participation of women in all efforts to create and maintain international peace and security, he noted that Slovakia has increased the number of women in its armed forces, with servicewomen comprising nearly 12 per cent. It also currently deploys 239 personnel to the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), of which 29 are women. The Council asked the United Nations Secretary-General to provide, by 15 April 2023, a strategic review of strategic communications across the Organization’s peacekeeping operations, including at the Headquarters level, which should assess existing capabilities and impact on local communities, identify gaps and challenges, and propose measures to address them. SURIYA CHINDAWONGSE (Thailand), endorsing the statement by the Group of Friends on the Safety and Security of United Nations Peacekeepers, called for a clear, comprehensive and implementable communications strategy that can adapt to new situations. He urged the Council, host countries and both troop- and police-contributors to step up consultations, not only on mission planning but in evaluating impact on mandate implementation and identifying lessons learned. Cooperation under the auspices of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations is similarly important. Communications must be timely, consistent, and where possible, tailored for different audiences. He underscored the importance of equipping peacekeepers with strategic communications skills and understanding of local conditions, contexts and culture, notably through partnerships and greater use of digital technologies. Building trust of the host Government and local actors is at the heart of effective communications in peacekeeping, he added. ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, United Nations Secretary-General, commended the delegation of Brazil for organizing the discussion, noting that for the first time, the Security Council is devoting a high-level debate to the critical role of strategic communications in peacekeeping operations. “Communications is not a side issue or an afterthought. More than ever strategic communications is central to the success of all our work,” he underscored. In peacekeeping it is crucial that the United Nations communications work be designed not just to inform but to engage audiences in support of its vital mission, as the landscape in which peacekeepers operate is more hazardous today than any time in recent memory. Global geopolitical tensions reverberate locally; conflicts are more complex and peacekeepers are facing terrorists, criminals and armed groups. Misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech are increasingly being used as weapons of war. LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates) said strategic communications are undeniably a key component of peacekeeping and developing effective strategic communications in peacekeeping begins with the Council. Council members have the responsibility to ensure all mission mandates outline clear objectives and give missions the assets needed to develop effective strategic communications. Efforts are needed to adapt Council messaging to local contexts and ensure the messages are understood clearly, she said, adding that this can significantly improve the Council’s ability to bring about positive change on the issues on its agenda. The United Nations should address the pernicious effects of disinformation and misinformation campaigns against peace operations. In addition, peacekeeping communications require strong collaboration with the communities the missions serve. This will help achieve effective outcomes. Missions should not be simply sharing information with local communities, but also be informed by them. MD MONWAR HOSSAIN (Bangladesh), aligning himself with the Group of Friends on the Safety and Security of United Nations peacekeepers, said that his country — the leading troop and police contributor — has been investing its own resources in strengthening peacekeeping missions’ capacity to ensure the safety and security of peacekeepers. These initiatives include the deployment of armoured personnel carriers in conflict-prone areas and of mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles to guard against attacks from improvised explosive devices. While highlighting the responsibility of missions’ senior leadership, he urged the adoption of a whole-of-mission approach to strategic communication and the prioritization of pre-deployment training in this area. For its part, Bangladesh incorporates strategic communication and community engagement in pre-deployment training for its peacekeepers. He also emphasized that, for successful mandate implementation, missions must collaborate with national and local authorities and communities, suggesting the organization of various unarmed protection activities — like sports and social or cultural events — to build engagement and trust between peacekeepers and host communities. OMAR HILALE (Morocco), noting that peacekeeping is the most effective way to provide necessary support and solutions to conflicts, regretted that peacekeeping operations have been damaged by disinformation campaigns. The Secretary-General’s plan underscores that disinformation poses an existential risk to peacekeeping activities, he said, stressing that access to reliable information is more important than ever. Stronger partnerships between the United Nations and host countries are essential to improve the effectiveness of peacekeeping operations and sustainable funding is needed for communications, he said, adding that appropriate strategies should include the management of expectations of people in the communities. The role of media is crucial and can help shed light on the successes and problems encountered by peacekeeping missions. Coordination between the Department of Peacekeeping and the Department of Global Communications in building capacity operations on the ground is encouraging. It is also essential to add new technologies that can provide early warning capacities to improve the safety of Blue Helmets and those working in missions. Briefings Secretary-General António Guterres, opening the debate, underscored that more than ever strategic communications is central to the success of the United Nations work amid global geopolitical tensions and complex conflicts where peacekeepers are facing terrorists, criminals and armed groups who use misinformation, disinformation and hate speech as weapons of war. Disinformation is dangerous and potentially deadly, transforming “our blue flag from a symbol of security into a target for attack”, he said, adding that strategic communications is a top priority within the Action for Peacekeeping+ initiative. DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), aligning himself with the statement to be delivered for the Group of Friends on the Safety and Security of United Nations Peacekeepers, pointed out that, in certain cases where a peacekeeping mission has been in a country for years or even decades, it becomes part of the domestic political process. As such, he said that he “can’t imagine a situation in these circumstances where a mission is untouchable by criticism”. Peacekeeping mission mandates should be clear: serving to establish peace and stabilization in the host country. Such missions must build constructive cooperation with the host country, including reliable contacts with the Government and local people. Further, peacekeeping missions should be seen as a partner in achieving the shared goals of the State and the people, not through their words but through their actions. Any political control sought by overseas Governments or attempts to impose “ideas concocted oceans away” are unacceptable. He went on to spotlight the “deliberate infodemic” gripping global media to serve the interests of a narrow group of countries, which is most dangerous when unreliable information is used to achieve military or political leverage on the ground. Underscoring the need to address this, he also highlighted the importance of peacekeeping missions clearly explaining their mandates so that the local population can have realistic expectations. RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) said strategic communications is critical to enhance the safety of peacekeepers and protect civilians, including women, and build trust in communities. The Secretary-General’s plan can help improve relations with local stakeholders, manage the expectations of local communities and counter disinformation campaigns. The success of a mission rests on its ability to know what is happening on the ground. Communications can establish a mission as a credible source of information, he said, welcoming the Secretary-General’s efforts to bolster peacekeeping communications at Headquarters and in the field. Doing so is especially critical in the Central African Republic and Mali, where disinformation campaigns are threatening the safety of the peacekeepers and undermining the missions’ ability to protect civilians. Pointing to the radio show being used at MONUSCO as a useful platform to dispel rumours and counter disinformation, he said these type of efforts must be amplified. He condemned disinformation campaigns against peacekeepers which undermine their core mission of maintaining international peace and security. In a presidential statement (to be issued as document S/PRST/2022/5) presented by Ronaldo Costa Filho of Brazil, Council President for July, the 15-nation organ stressed the need to improve the culture of strategic communications across peacekeeping operations’ civilian, military and police components and highlighted the critical role played by mission leadership in that regard. OLOF SKOOG, Head of Delegation of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said the bloc closely works on the ground with United Nations peacekeeping operations and is ready to provide further support in that area. Close coordination among local and international partners and an enhanced strategic communication vis-à-vis the local population and international media are essential to expose and denounce infringements of international norms by other actors. Concerned about the significant increase in disinformation campaigns, he said sufficient staff and resources should be allocated to countering disinformation activities, especially on the ground, close to the missions. That requires staff with a good knowledge and understanding of the national and regional dynamics at play who can engage with local populations at all levels, as well as with the media. Thus, an increase in investment and capabilities is essential to protect peacekeeping operations, their staff and the host country from the devastating impact of information manipulation. By the text, the Council also underscored that strategic communications can be an important tool to prevent conflict-related sexual violence, and encouraged peacekeeping operations to invest from the outset in dialogue and engagement with local actors, particularly women and youth, in order to build from the bottom up a protective environment for civilians. Strategic communications in peacekeeping should move beyond a unidirectional flow of relaying information to a dynamic dialogue between missions and communities. “Communication is not only about informing; it is also about being informed,” she said. Her own research with civil society organizations indicates peacekeepers are perceived as maintaining a “power over” relationship with community members, rather than a “power with” relationship. There is a sense among some community members that peacekeepers feel only that they have knowledge to give, rather than knowledge to gain, with an attitude of certainty rather than curiosity. She suggested the United Nations keep growing and developing its work in this area as it focuses as much on the listening aspect of communicating as on the speaking, and focus on the stories of individuals and acts of everyday peace. MARTIN BILLE HERMANN (Denmark), also speaking for Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, pointed out that, in recent years, United Nations peacekeeping operations have been increasingly targeted by misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, detailing examples of such activity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali. Strategic communication, focusing on increasing confidence in peace processes, responding to public sentiment and building support for mission mandates among local populations can address such mis- and dis-information, which — left unchecked — could inflict long-term damage to the credibility of United Nations peacekeeping and special political missions. Against that backdrop, he called on the Secretariat to continue efforts to devise communication strategies designed to build trust between peacekeeping operations and key stakeholders, including host Governments. For example, such operations could disseminate accurate information to help manage the expectations of local communities. Stressing that peacekeeping missions must be equipped with clear mandates and the resources necessary to deliver on them, he called on all parties to strengthen collective efforts to ensure the safety and security of United Nations personnel. ZHANG JUN (China), associating himself with the Group of Friends on the Safety and Security of United Nations Peacekeepers, said the United Nations must create stronger partnerships, as peacekeeping operations can be compared to a concerto, requiring enhanced communications between troop- and police-contributing countries and regional organizations. The host country remains the most important stakeholder, he noted, ensuring the security of personnel, and the United Nations must therefore strengthen that communication. While monitoring ceasefires has stood the test of history, he emphasized that present mandates are expanding in a mindless way. Missions must therefore improve communication with local communities to facilitate their understanding and support for those mandates. Citing the increased challenges Blue Helmets face, he noted that last October, due to a lack of trust between the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and local tribes, medical aid was delayed, leading to the death of a peacekeeper. Host Governments could consider an information-sharing mechanism to avoid misunderstandings. Restoring peace in the host country is the primary objective of operations, he stressed, but military means alone cannot protect civilians. He went on to say that investigating human rights violations requires the consent of host countries, and the Secretariat must integrate strategic communications in all components of its operations. China, he noted, is the second-largest contributor to the peacekeeping budget and a major troop- and police-contributing country. VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta) said creating a safe environment for peacekeepers requires a strong communications strategy that involves reaching out to local governments and stakeholders to foster support both for the fulfilment of mission mandates and creation of the conditions necessary for a mission’s withdrawal. Noting that social media use has increased the reach of disinformation, which sometimes includes terrorist elements, she said these activities have the potential to destabilize whole countries, undermining the trust between mission and local populations. She pointed to the Strategy for the Digital Transformation of United Nations Peacekeeping in this regard, noting that the implementation of complex mandates requires better situational awareness and clear messaging. “Dialogue and increased engagement is fundamental in reaching these goals,” she said. Marcos de Sá Affonso da Costa, Force Commander of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), noting an anti-mission sentiment in some parts of the country, warned that fake news diffused by militias through social media is difficult to distinguish from reality and will soon be virtually undetectable. He called on the United Nations to communicate with local stakeholders in person, from village chiefs to national and regional actors, as those voices play a crucial role in countering the criticism. BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) said that strategic communication should be a whole-of-mission activity, integrated into planning and mandate implementation and measured by the Comprehensive Planning and Performance Assessment System. She stressed that all actors must refrain from anti-United Nations misinformation and disinformation, as this undermines mandate delivery and the safety and security of peacekeepers. Spotlighting a significant increase “in the volume of dangerous lies” being spread about the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)’s mandate and activities since the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group deployed in Mali, she said that this puts peacekeepers’ lives at increased risk and sows distrust that discourages local communities from sharing information with the Mission, which hinders its ability to prevent attacks on civilians and peacekeepers. She went on to welcome the efforts of British and German peacekeepers in MINUSMA to meet local women’s associations and help local radio stations reach out to female audiences, which has helped build mutual understanding and has given Malian women platforms for peace advocacy. Saurabh Kumar, Secretary (East) of India’s Ministry for External Affairs, noting that situational awareness empowers strategic communication, said platforms such as UNITEAWARE, which India helped the United Nations implement last year across four peacekeeping missions, are key in that regard. The first step begins at the Security Council with the drafting of comprehendible, implementable mandates. “No strategic communication in any manner should try to encroach upon the sovereignty of the host State or undermine its interests,” he said, adding that: “Trust and coordination between the mission and host State is essential for success.” ARRMANATHA CHRISTIAWAN NASIR (Indonesia), speaking for the Group of Friends on the Safety and Security of United Nations Peacekeepers, expressed concern over the persistently high number of attacks against United Nations peacekeepers, seen recently in MINUSMA. Emphasizing the direct link between strategic communication and the success of peacekeeping missions in implementing their mandates and protecting civilians, he also expressed concern over the proliferation of disinformation, misinformation and hate speech targeting United Nations peacekeeping operations. SAURABH KUMAR, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs of India, said peacekeeping is now facing another new challenge, mounted by inimical forces and terrorist groups who increasingly use information technology to target “Blue Helmets”. There have been growing misinformation and disinformation campaigns adversely impacting the activities of missions and putting the lives of peacekeepers in danger. Among several observations, he noted that the starting step of effective strategic communication for peace operations begins at the Security Council with the drafting of comprehendible and implementable mandates. Terminologies and formulations need to be avoided in crafting mission mandates so that false hopes and expectations are not generated. “No strategic communication in any manner should try to encroach upon the sovereignty of the host State or undermine its interests,” he continued. “Trust and coordination between the mission and host State is essential for success.” Situational awareness empowers strategic communication. Platforms such as UNITEAWARE, which India helped the United Nations implement last year, are key for strategic communication by creating priorities. In that regard, in 2021, India contributed .6 million towards rolling out of the UNITEAWARE platform as pilot projects across four peacekeeping missions, he pointed out. Engaging in strategic communications that are both gender-sensitive and gender-transformative is vital, she said. Gender sensitive communications require tailoring messages to the needs and concerns of women, as well as men, and considering potential barriers to women’s access to information, including access to radios or cell phones, literacy levels or whether venues chosen for in-person convenings are considered safe or accessible. Improving women’s access to information and addressing their specific concerns related to the mission mandate and the broader peace process is central to achieving the full and equal participation of women and fulfilling the women, peace and security agenda. Statements MARCOS DE SÁ AFFONSO DA COSTA, Force Commander of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), described a complex and rapidly changing environment in that country, identifying the need for enhanced communication and a stronger strategy. Successive surveys in the Democratic Republic of the Congo reveal an overall poor perception among the population about the relevance of MONUSCO in improving their situation. An anti-mission sentiment prevails in some parts of the country, even preventing some deployments, with unfair speeches by some actors putting peacekeepers at risk. He cited extensive use of social media by armed groups and other spoilers, undermining the confidence in the United Nations. Militias diffuse fake news through social media, which is difficult to distinguish from reality and will soon be virtually undetectable, driving a fundamental change in the character of the war. CARLOS AMORÍN (Uruguay) said strategic communication must be in line with both the Secretary-General’s Action for Peace initiative and his A4P+ implementation strategy. Moreover, it must be consistent with the women, peace and security agenda, he said, highlighting the key role that women play in communicating with local communities, particularly in preventing conflict-related sexual violence and as a channel of communication with victims and survivors. As peacekeeping operations are facing increasing risks of disinformation actions, they must build confidence with Governments and local actors to provide truthful information about their activities. Missions must be properly trained and able to proactively counter disinformation. The Council, the Assembly and the troop-contributing countries must all work together to improve strategic communications capacity both at United Nations Headquarters and on the ground at peacekeeping missions. Highlighting the key role played by community liaison assistants in communication between the missions and the local communities, he said his delegation would be interested in the participation of community liaison assistants in an open debate of the Council or informative briefing sessions to the membership and particularly to troop-contributing countries. China’s representative, underscoring that the host country remains the most important stakeholder in ensuring the security of personnel, said the United Nations must therefore strengthen that communication. Citing the increased challenges “Blue Helmets” face, he noted that last October, due to a lack of trust between the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and local tribes, medical aid was delayed, leading to the death of a peacekeeper. Host Governments could consider an information-sharing mechanism to avoid misunderstandings, he said, adding that the Secretariat must integrate strategic communications in all components of its operations. The Council adopted the text during its first ministerial-level open debate on the theme “United Nations peacekeeping operations: The key role of strategic communications for efficient peacekeeping”. Speakers said that with peacekeeping operations deployed in increasingly hostile environments and digital technology rapidly spreading disinformation and hate speech, the United Nations must adapt to new realities and engage, not just inform, audiences in support of its vital mission. LILLY STELLA NGYEMA NDONG (Gabon) said that given current security challenges, sound strategic communication must be adapted to the realities on the ground and take into account the environment in which peacekeeping operations are deployed to facilitate a constructive dialogue with the host country and create a climate of trust. Effective peacekeeping cannot be achieved without the support of the local population and communities, she added, stressing that they must be assured of the peacekeeping mandates’ relevance. Those communications efforts must be combined with other outreach activities to create a positive perception of United Nations forces and to ensure better protection of peacekeeping staff. Operations must have a sound ecosystem of technology and innovation that not only strengthens conflict management and prevention tools but also enhances situational awareness and facilitates more robust implementation of peacekeeping mandates. Despite its advantages, technology can become a factor in exacerbating global conflicts, through hate speech, radicalization, and incitement to discrimination and violence, disseminated through the Internet, of which women and youth are the first vulnerable targets. Stressing the importance of multilingualism, she called for more francophone staff in missions, especially those deployed in French-speaking countries. MOHAMED ENNADIR LARBAOUI (Algeria) said strategic communication plays a pivotal role in helping peacekeeping missions achieve their mandates. He noted that Algeria changed its position, regarding contributing to peacekeeping worldwide, in November 2020 and is working under the umbrella of the United Nations, in line with the Organization’s values and principles. Noting that during conflict, civilians, especially women, children and the elderly, must be protected, he said strategies must be updated as developments on the ground change. Strategic communications are also a pivotal tool for special political missions; it should include all stakeholders and provide a forum for civilians to express their demands, aspirations and expectations. Direct communication with civilians will give the missions a realistic vision of events occurring on the ground and build the confidence of the local community as well as mutual trust between missions and the host Governments. Disinformation can have a negative impact on the peacekeepers themselves, he said, adding that strategic communications initiatives should address this issue. The meeting began at 10:07 a.m., was suspended at 1:05 p.m., resumed at 3:09 p.m. and ended at 3:57 p.m. MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya) said missions must internalize operations, which are themselves forms of communication or miscommunication. The planning of every operation, ranging from the protection of civilians to offensive operations as part of peace enforcement, must have communications expertise involved from the start. Peacekeeping missions cannot ignore the information operations of terrorist groups if they are to meaningfully implement their political stabilization mandates. As such, they must have the ability to understand the messages that terrorists are producing and the audiences being targeted for radicalization and recruitment. In that regard, the United Nations Secretariat should ensure that the communications equipment deployed into mission areas is fit for purpose and suited for the environment. Strategic communications, however, must not be used as a tool to cover mission shortcomings. Every mission must have a dedicated professional public or media communications team that conducts public engagements, constantly communicates the missions’ mandates and activities, collects public information to determine the impact of the missions’ activities and identifies areas of improvement.