UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. peacekeeping forces responded immediately to only a minority of attacks on civilians and almost never used force to protect them when they did respond, the U.N.'s internal watchdog said.
The Office of Internal Oversight Services said only 20 percent of the 507 attacks reported by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon between 2010 and 2013 led to an immediate response by eight U.N. peacekeeping missions with a mandate to protect civilians that it evaluated.
"In most cases, mission personnel were not on site at the time of the attack and did not reach the site during the attack," OIOS said in a report to the General Assembly this week. "Where mission personnel ... actually were on site at the time of an attack or threatened attack against civilians, force was almost never used."
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous expressed regret Friday that the report focused "solely on the last resort — the use of force" and not comprehensive political solutions which "must always be paramount."
He also expressed regret that the study did not highlight the central role of the nations where U.N. peacekeepers are deployed in protecting their own civilians.
"The (U.N.) blue helmets can provide breathing space for a fragile peace process to take hold, but they cannot substitute for the fundamental requirements of the institutions of a functioning state," Ladsous said.
The OIOS report said the rate of response by U.N. peacekeepers to attacks on civilians varied across missions, reflecting the seriousness of the incidents, early warning, accessibility to the site, and other factors.
The highest rate of response — 68 percent — was by the U.N. mission in Abyei, an oil-rich region contested by Sudan and South Sudan, followed by a 26 percent response in Congo. The lowest levels — less than 10 percent — were in Haiti and South Sudan, it said.
Instead of using force to protect civilians, OIOS said, peacekeepers responded by supporting local security forces, securing areas and facilities, evacuating civilians to safety, sheltering them on U.N. premises and launching human rights investigations.
The report identified several factors that contribute to the non-use of force in peacekeeping, including different views in the U.N. Security Council and countries that contribute troops to U.N. peacekeeping missions on the use of force and a de facto "dual line of command" exercised by troop-contributing countries over their soldiers in peacekeeping missions.