Civilian capacity in the aftermath of conflict: Independent report of the Senior Advisory Group (A/65/747-S/2011/85)
Agenda item 120
Strengthening of the United Nations system
As communities emerge from conflict, they often face a critical shortage of capacities needed to secure a sustainable peace - the core capacities to run a government, to re-establish institutions of justice, to reintegrate demobilizing fighters, to revitalize the economy, to restore basic health and education, and many more.
The United Nations has seen success in humanitarian operations and peacekeeping, built on a strong partnership with Member States. But the international community has had less success in supporting and enabling the national capacities that are essential for an enduring peace. Faced with expanded civilian mandates in a growing number of crises, the United Nations struggles both to rapidly deploy the range of expertise required and to transfer skills and knowledge to national actors. This has increased the risk of relapse into conflict.
In some cases, the needed capacities are just not available. It is difficult, for example, to find people who can rebuild a judicial system. Conflict may have weakened capacities at home and the international market has not been able to provide enough talented people with the right skills, language and cultural fluency who can deploy at short notice and will stay long enough to be effective.
Often, however, there is more national capacity than is at first apparent. Even countries ravaged by conflict have latent capacities that must be protected and nurtured. And despite some persistent gaps, there is more deployable capacity in the international system than has been fully used. Diasporas offer one potential reservoir.
The emergence of confident new economies in Africa, Asia and Latin America has also created an opportunity to deploy people who have the right professional skills, backgrounds and experience. In addition, many donor countries have made considerable investments in developing pools of highly specialized capacities that can be difficult to find elsewhere.
The United Nations can do much by itself, but there is also much that it cannot and should not do. Where national capacity does exist, the United Nations needs better systems to identify and support it. Where there are real gaps in civilian capacity, it must focus on how to develop needed capacities. The international community needs a constant mapping of what the gaps are, long-term commitments to filling those gaps and enough coherence to accomplish this without undue overlap or confusion.
Where additional capacity is needed from the international community, better ways must be found of finding and deploying that talent. To do so, the United Nations needs to find a new way of working - future missions may have to be leaner in terms of civilian staff and more flexible.
In discussing how the United Nations might accomplish this, the Senior Advisory Group uses a framework it calls "OPEN", which refers to four key principles - ownership, partnership, expertise and nimbleness. For each of these areas, the Group identifies approaches and makes specific recommendations, some of which are highlighted below. All of the recommendations are set out in annex II.
Effective support for national efforts requires the international community to listen to fragile and conflict-affected States and to align international assistance with nationally identified needs and priorities. The Group therefore stresses the primacy of national capacities and national ownership. As the Peacebuilding Commission has emphasized, unless conflict-affected communities can develop their own abilities to cope with crisis and change, international assistance will not succeed. A primary task of the international response is to identify, protect, nurture and support national capacities. This includes ensuring a stronger role for women, whose active participation is essential for lasting peace.
International actors need to take more care not to exacerbate "brain drain", and to limit the economic distortions that are often an unintended consequence of international interventions. In particular, international actors should be aware of the possible negative impact of large-scale deployments of international civilians on local capacity.
More positively, the international community should ensure that, to the extent possible, it is supporting host institutions from within. In addition, international interventions can act as a valuable economic and capacity stimulus: whether information and analysis or goods and services are needed, international actors can strengthen both the economy and national capacities by sourcing their requirements locally.
The recommendations under ownership include:
Primacy of national capacity. The principle that international capacity is the mechanism of last resort should be adopted by Member States, the World Bank and the United Nations. Whenever feasible, international capacities should be co-located within national institutions. Wage principles should be revised to prevent brain drain.
Support to core government functions. The international community should resource rapid support to aid coordination, public financial management and policy management, as these are essential for national ownership.
Procurement and economic impact. United Nations procurement procedures should be adjusted to enable more local procurement, thus supporting local economic recovery and strengthening private sector capacity.
Much of the capacity needed in countries emerging from conflict is best found outside the United Nations - either in the affected countries themselves or elsewhere. This is particularly true of specialist capacities that may be needed for relatively short periods of time.
These niche skills can be found in Member States - in government, in civil society and in the private sector - and it makes little sense to bring in these experts as career-track United Nations civil servants. Instead, the United Nations needs to be able to work more flexibly and predictably with a range of partners to find, recruit and deploy personnel with the right skills and experience. Rather than relying only on in-house capacity, the United Nations will better serve conflict-affected countries by acting as a platform for qualified expertise. The United Nations agencies, funds and programmes have shown that this can be an effective approach.
If the United Nations is to rely more heavily on external partners for niche skills, however, it will need an easy process to access these capacities at short notice in response to demand. It will also need to be able to ensure minimum interoperability between partners, and standards.
The recommendations under partnership include:
Building a mechanism for partnerships. The United Nations should establish a Civilian Partnerships Cell to offer external providers of capacity a simple and effective mechanism for cooperation. This cell would, inter alia, establish long-term relationships and legal/administrative arrangements with capacity providers, to enable rapid deployment.
Better systems for deployment of partners. The United Nations should make more use of the experts on mission arrangement to deploy partners. The Group proposes creating civilian support packages, adapting the successful model used by the United Nations in partnership with Member States to secure military capacity. These mechanisms have worked well in other contexts, and can be important vehicles for expanding South-South cooperation.
Better systems and standards of training. The United Nations should promote cooperation among international actors through the development of training standards and quality certification of training programmes for civilian deployment in United Nations contexts.
The United Nations has some of the core capacities needed in the aftermath of conflict, but these capacities are uneven and there is confusion as to who does what. This leads to duplication and to unfilled capacity gaps that jeopardize the United Nations ability to support conflict-affected States. These gaps are:
(a) In the area of basic safety and security: disarmament, demobilization and reintegration; police; and security sector reform and governance;
(b) In the area of justice: corrections; criminal justice; and judicial and legal reform;
(c) In the area of inclusive political processes: political party development; and public information;
(d) In the area of core government functionality: aid coordination; legislative branch; and public financial management;
(e) In the area of economic revitalization: employment generation; natural resource management; and private sector development.
The humanitarian system has successfully addressed capacity gaps through the use of the cluster approach and through building up partnerships with external sources of capacity. For those gaps identified in the report, there is currently no process for the United Nations to clarify the nature of the gaps and work with partners to fill its needs.
The Secretariat faces additional challenges. Whereas the agencies, funds and programmes have adapted to operations in the field, the same is not always true of the Secretariat. Systems of recruitment that are designed for Headquarters personnel falter in the face of large, time-sensitive field operations. Where rapid deployment of the right personnel affects the ability to implement mandates, the Secretariat just can't deliver. A separate annex to this report (annex I) is devoted to the specific measures that might be taken to strengthen the capacity of the United Nations to find, recruit and deploy the right people at the right time.
To respect the principle of national ownership, United Nations leaders in the field need to listen better and respond to the needs of conflict-affected communities. To do so, they require better training, and need to work more closely with United Nations country teams, which often have long experience in the country or region. With this responsibility comes a commensurate need for stronger accountability mechanisms.
The recommendations under expertise include:
Core capacities. The cluster approach used by the humanitarian community has helped to deliver capacities more reliably and promptly. The Group proposes extending the cluster model into other areas of post-conflict work, with appropriate modifications, and suggests cluster leads based on current capacities. The Group suggests the expansion of the existing model of global service providers, so that United Nations actors with capacity can provide assistance in response to needs, across the whole United Nations system.
Accountability and leadership. The Group proposes measures to improve accountability, particularly with respect to implementation and gender equality. It is recommended that the United Nations adopt a results-based audit culture that seeks to enable and improve implementation, rather than just punish administrative non-compliance. The Group also recommends strengthening the quality and scope of training for senior leaders.
Human resources. The Group recommends the creation of a career path that enables the United Nations to retain talented staff who are willing to serve in the field. A number of measures are specified, including better rotation and mobility programmes that are essential for staff retention and to keep service in difficult duty stations attractive. Also proposed is a corporate emergency model to ensure that the Organization can effectively respond to crises.
If the United Nations is to leave behind the minimum capacities for peace, it will have to be more nimble. Things change quickly as a community moves from war to peace, and the international actors present must be able to adjust accordingly. Yet the system is risk-averse and fragmented. This limits its ability to be responsive.
In addition, the United Nations is weighed down by its own conceptual baggage - conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping, early peacebuilding, peacebuilding, early recovery, recovery, and transition. In a world where conflict is chronic and recurrent, these distinctions often confuse rather than clarify. They create stovepipes that make it harder for the United Nations to listen to the needs of conflict-affected communities, and to design its response accordingly, choosing the right mix of instruments at the right time.
The Group believes that a more flexible system will also be more efficient. Leaders in the field, who are closest to needs, must be able to draw on a menu of resources and capacities - within mission structures, the United Nations country team and beyond - to allocate resources based on comparative advantage.
The recommendations under nimbleness include:
Direct capacity towards needs. United Nations leaders in the field need to be able to respond flexibly to change. The Group proposes that, in mission contexts, they should be authorized to reallocate up to 20 per cent of resources in the mission budget line for civilian personnel, with ex post facto justification (equivalent on average to less than 5 per cent of the total budget of a peacekeeping operation).
Use the principle of comparative advantage. Where capacities outside a mission, whether in the agencies, funds and programmes or beyond, have a comparative advantage in implementing a task mandated by the Security Council, the Head of Mission should be able to direct funds to that actor. Whenever feasible, local capacities should be used.
Flexibility for missions to undertake programmatic tasks. Where civilian capacities within a mission have a clear comparative advantage in implementing a mandated task, heads of mission should be able to provide - for a limited time - the necessary programmatic funds from assessed contributions. This is essential to deliver meaningful peace dividends in the early window of opportunity. The Group urges the General Assembly, building on existing successful examples, to expand this initiative.
Harmonize overheads. The United Nations should reduce the rate of overhead it charges for voluntary contributions to mission trust funds from 13 per cent to 7 per cent.
Faster funding for agencies, funds and programmes. The Working Capital Finance model used by the World Food Programme should be adopted more broadly by the United Nations, adapted to each entity's needs. Effective use of loans against reserves can enable significantly faster delivery in the aftermath of conflict.
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In conclusion, stronger civilian capacity alone cannot prevent a relapse into conflict. Conflict-affected countries need effective national political processes, strong institutions and economic development to build a durable peace. Supporting these processes with responsive civilian capacities is a shared responsibility.
Building these capacities requires a United Nations that is more open, working in stronger partnership with the international community. These, together, can help conflict-affected communities to build the stability and prosperity they seek.