In 2019, the UN Secretariat began implementing a set of systemic and interlinked changes.
These reforms center around three pillars: (1) repositioning the UN development system so that it is best able to make progress on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals; (2) pursuing management reform that simplifies processes, works toward gender parity, streamlines human resources procedures and generally creates a more efficient organization; and (3) restructuring peace and security operations to better meet modern day challenges.
The reforms aim to make the UN nimbler, less bureaucratic, more transparent and accountable, and more decentralized and effective.
A core element of the reform agenda is about placing sustainable development “at the heart” of the UN because development is the UN’s “best tool for preventing conflict and building a future of peace.” An important part of this approach was transforming the role of the Resident Coordinator–the senior-most UN official in the field, which was moved from the UN Development Programme to the UN Secretariat.
Resident Coordinators are responsible for heading up the UN’s development work on the ground in individual countries, often also encompassing humanitarian and security responsibilities. Underpinning these reforms is a stronger team in New York, with the Resident Coordinators reporting directly to leadership at the top of the UN – creating a direct accountability link between the UN in New York and leadership on the ground, where most UN staff working on development issues are located, and allowing for better coordination across UN agencies to ensure that the UN as a whole is delivering assistance in a non-duplicative and effective manner.
The aim of the management reform pillar is to enable the Secretariat to more effectively and accountably deliver on its mandates, and therefore better positions the United Nations to confront global challenges.
A central component of this plan was to achieve gender parity, particularly in the senior management group of the Secretary-General, and among resident coordinators. This goal was achieved in 2019. The UN has also achieved the highest number of women as of heads of missions and deputy heads in peace operations in its history.
An additional part of management reform was to implement an annual budget rather than a biennial budget starting in 2020, a reform sought by Secretary-General Guterres to ensure that spending and resource decisions are made closer to the point of implementation and based on more up-to-date information. The $3.12 billion UN Regular Budget approved by the General Assembly for 2022 represented a decrease of 2.8 percent from 2021, despite the growing list of challenges the UN is expected to respond to, including mediating conflicts, delivering humanitarian and development assistance, and investigating human rights abuses in countries such as Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, and Colombia; responding to the public health and economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic; and its efforts to promote a coordinated global response to the threats posed by climate change.
As it does every three years, the General Assembly also approved new assessment rates for the UN Regular and Peacekeeping budgets in December 2021. For the first time since 2009, the U.S.’s assessment rate for UN peacekeeping operations dropped below 27 percent—decreasing from the 27.89 percent rate in place last year to a new rate of 26.94 percent for 2022. Meanwhile, China saw its assessment rate increase, from 15.21 percent in 2021 to 18.68 percent for the current year. China’s assessment rates have increased significantly and dramatically in recent years, and the country is now the second largest financial contributor to both the peacekeeping and regular budgets, having paid approximately just three percent of each in 2009.
PEACE AND SECURITY
The Secretary-General has also implemented a restructuring of the peace and security architecture of the UN Secretariat in order to prioritize conflict prevention and enhance the effectiveness and coherence of UN peacekeeping and special political missions. A key step in this process is the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping Initiative, launched in 2018, which brought together all of the key stakeholders in UN peacekeeping (members of the Security Council, troop-contributing countries, top financial contributors, and countries that host peacekeeping missions) around a set of reform priorities.
Among these reforms, one of the most innovative is the Comprehensive Planning and Performance Assessment System (CPAS), which better enables leadership within a mission to make informed and evidence-based decisions to improve the implementation of its mandate. The CPAS was first piloted in the Central African Republic to help the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) coordinate and track its support for implementation of a peace agreement signed in December 2019. By tracking indicators such as the number of conflict-related civilian deaths, the number of children released from armed groups (a commitment under the agreement), and the number of public buildings being occupied by armed groups, MINUSCA has been able to more readily see where its support to the peace agreement is bearing fruit and where it is not. Having worked successfully in the Central African Republic, CPAS has now been rolled out in eight additional missions.
ADDRESSING SEXUAL EXPLOITATION AND ABUSE BY UN PERSONNEL
In addition to the three broad categories of reform discussed above, the UN has implemented policies to address instances of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN personnel, including peacekeepers. These measures have been wide-ranging and are summarized below.
- The UN has appointed victims’ rights advocates, both at UN Headquarters and in the field, who work across the UN system to make sure victims have access to urgent assistance, can file complaints safely and reliably, and get timely information on the progress of their case.
- Since the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2272 in 2016, the Secretary-General has enjoyed expanded authority to repatriate entire military or police units that engage in widespread or systematic violations. To date, the Secretary-General has utilized these powers in the Central African Republic with troops from the Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Gabon sent home.
- The UN has expanded a vetting database currently in place for civilian personnel to cover all troops and police serving on UN peacekeeping missions.
- In order to ensure transparency, the UN maintains a publicly available online database of credible allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse made against personnel in field missions. The database provides information on the nationality of uniformed personnel accused of misconduct—a critical element in holding troop and police-contributing countries accountable for the conduct of their citizens—as well as information on interim actions taken, the duration of investigations, and details around steps taken by Member States, including criminal prosecutions and administrative sanctions.
- UN investigative entities are now required to conclude their investigations into sexual exploitation and abuse cases within a six-month timeframe, shortened to three months in cases suggesting “the need for greater urgency”. The Secretary-General has taken other steps too, urging troop-contributing countries to deploy national investigation officers (NIOs) with sufficient experience and expertise to investigate allegations of SEA by their personnel. In partnership with Member States, the UN is working to support the capacity-building and training of these NIOs.
- The Secretariat has developed a mandatory online training program for all UN personnel on preventing sexual exploitation and abuse.
- The UN administers a trust fund to provide critical services to victims of sexual exploitation and abuse, including psychosocial assistance, medical care, access to legal help, and assistance in establishing paternity claims. The trust fund is financed in part through reimbursement payments that are withheld from troop-contributing countries when allegations against their troops are substantiated. To date, project funding has been disbursed in the Central African Republic, DR Congo, Haiti, and Liberia.