Understanding UNIFIL three years on
At the launch of 'Al-Janoub' in 2007 we hoped to have it serve as a platform for exchange of information between UNIFIL and the people of south Lebanon. We believed, and still do, that human relationships are best founded on a well informed appreciation of mutual concerns and sensibilities.
Now, more than three years since the UN Security Council resolution 1701, the need remains more than ever for UNIFIL to explain to the people what the mission is about and to in turn better understand the needs and expectations of the people. One would think that after more than three decades of UNIFIL's existence [since 1978], the Lebanese would know all there is to know about it. However, the situation over these years has evolved and so has UNIFIL.
Perceptions carried forward from the long years of presence, multiple UN involvement on issues related to, but often outside, UNIFIL's remit and the plethora of UN documents representing the many international attempts to address developments in this part of the world, all underline the need for UNIFIL to constantly clarify its mandate to the people.
We therefore thought it appropriate to turn the lens once again on UNIFIL, what it does and why. The lead articles in this issue look at UNIFIL's mission in simple practical terms, both with respect to the activities of UNIFIL on the ground and the role the mission plays in fostering a long-term solution to the conflict.
Before proceeding to see what UNIFIL is, let us begin here with 'what UNIFIL is not':
First, NOT every provision of resolution 1701 is UNIFIL's responsibility: True, one part of 1701 defines UNIFIL's mandate, but the resolution also addresses other concerns, most notably for a permanent ceasefire and long-term solution to the conflict that must be achieved through a political process, which is outside the remit of UNIFIL. UNIFIL does many things to maintain the cessation of hostilities, de-escalate tensions and support the Lebanese Army in ensuring a secure environment - things that foster a long-term settlement; but the settlement itself must be reached by the parties. In other words, UNIFIL facilitates a political solution, but cannot substitute for it.
Second, UNIFIL is NOT a party to the conflict: UNIFIL is an impartial presence that is here at the request of the Lebanese government and that more broadly draws from the consent of the parties in the context of the cessation of hostilities that the parties have agreed on.
UNIFIL must therefore blow the whistle every time there is any side violating any element of their agreement on the cessation of hostilities. UNIFIL does this in an impartial and factual manner, making its observations with full transparency and ultimately deferring the judgment to the UN Security Council.
Third, UNIFIL is NOT the agency that has primary responsibility for security in south Lebanon: the Lebanese Army is. Having facilitated the deployment of the Lebanese Army in south Lebanon, UNIFIL now supports the Lebanese Army in ensuring security in the area. The primary responsibility for security, a sovereign right as much as a responsibility, legitimately belongs to the Lebanese state. UNIFIL only assists in this.
Fourth, UNIFIL is NOT here to provide a military solution to the conflict: On the contrary, the very essence of UNIFIL and of UN peacekeeping is to achieve a peaceful resolution to a conflict. True, UNIFIL has the mandate and the ability to use force, but that is not the defining intent of its robust military capability. For UNIFIL, force is a measure of last resort to be used, besides in self-defence, to resist attempts by forceful means to prevent UNIFIL from discharging its duties; to protect UN personnel, facilities, installations and equipment; to ensure the security and freedom of movement of UN personnel and humanitarian workers; to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence; and to ensure that UNIFIL's area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities. The essence of having 'weapons of peace' is in negating the need for their use.
Fifth, UNIFIL is NOT a development or humanitarian agency: the UN has other agencies mandated for such tasks, while UNIFIL has a specific peacekeeping mandate. The small scale projects that UNIFIL undertakes or the services it extends to the local communities are all done in the context of the relationship the peacekeepers share with the people, whereby it is imperative to address the consequences of wars and destruction that our hosts in south Lebanon are faced with.
So let us find out what UNIFIL is about; read on...