High-ranking Canadian UN official presses Ottawa for security funding

Shortly after the Taliban returned to energy in Afghanistan, former Mountie Gilles Michaud got here face-to-face with a person with a $10 million US bounty on his head.

In his position as an under-secretary normal of the United Nations, Michaud was in Afghanistan in 2021 to satisfy with the brand new Taliban authorities’s inside minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani. Their purpose that day — simply two weeks after the hasty and chaotic departure of American troops — was to barter the circumstances beneath which UN staff would proceed to function in Afghanistan.

As quickly as a deal was struck, Haqqani left. He is on the FBI’s wished checklist as a “specifically designated world terrorist” and lives in worry of a drone assault.

Michaud, 57, who runs the UN’s Division of Security and Security (UNDSS), left the assembly understanding he would not accumulate the reward on Haqqani — however assured he had achieved what may very well be achieved to make sure the protection of humanitarian staff within the absence of American troopers.


Taliban appearing Inside Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani speaks throughout a commencement ceremony on the police academy in Kabul, Afghanistan on March 5, 2022. (Related Press)

The assembly with Haqqani was one of many stranger twists within the profession of the previous RCMP deputy commissioner. Over his 33 years within the nationwide police power, Michaud moved up from small-town drug busts within the Eighties to worldwide investigations of Russian espionage actions and world terrorist networks within the 2000s.

“Criminals, often, I need to put them in jail. In these cases, I’ve obtained to cope with them as a result of they’re those that can give entry to our humanitarian companions,” he mentioned in a current interview at UN headquarters in New York.

As the pinnacle of UNDSS, Michaud — a local of Saint-Léonard in northern New Brunswick — is accountable for defending a whole bunch of 1000’s of UN staff and their households, the group’s buildings throughout the globe, and tens of billions of {dollars} in humanitarian assist to high-risk areas.

That final activity solely will get extra advanced by the day. Humanitarian crises are multiplying. When catastrophic earthquakes struck Turkey and Syria in early February, the UN was already coping with the conflict in Ukraine, drought in Somalia, armed conflicts in Ethiopia and the Congo, dysfunction in Haiti and waves of refugees world wide.

Gilles Michaud, the UN under-secretary general (left), met in 2022 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (right) in Kyiv, alongside Secretary General António Guterres (middle). Gilles Michaud, the UN under-secretary normal (left), met in 2022 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (proper) in Kyiv, alongside Secretary Common António Guterres (center). (United Nations)

Michaud’s division operates with an annual price range of $300 million US that is still steady, regardless of a gradual rise in calls for for assist. Speedy inflation has helped to make the state of affairs untenable.

In current weeks, he has been hitting up potential donor international locations with one-time, extra-budgetary funding requests to modernize his division. His purpose is to construct an emergency response workforce that may transfer rapidly into high-risk areas and guarantee simpler UN deployments.

Since final November, Michaud has been urging the Canadian authorities to give you $10 million US to get his program off the bottom. That, he mentioned, would make it simpler to persuade different international locations to fund his tasks, which are estimated to value $15 million US over two years.

“They’ve been receptive to what I am proposing, however I nonetheless haven’t got a solution if they’ll and to what quantity,” Michaud mentioned.

“There is no such thing as a humanitarian program that may be delivered with out security.”

UNDSS was created one yr after a 2003 suicide bombing in Baghdad killed 22 folks, together with the group’s consultant in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.


UN operations stay harmful to today. Yearly, a whole bunch of staff are injured, robbed or attacked, kidnapped or killed. 5 UN staff have been held hostage in Yemen since final yr. Three UN staff died in Benghazi, Libya in August 2019 when their automobile exploded.

nigeria hungerA girl attends to her malnourished little one on the United Nations Vitamin Heart in Banki, on the outskirts of Maiduguri, Nigeria, on Might 3, 2022. (Chinedu Asadu/The Related Press)

“Often, we are going to spend money on security when there are incidents … When there aren’t any incidents, folks don’t acknowledge the preventive work that’s achieved by way of security,” mentioned Michaud.

With regards to constructing assist in worldwide circles for UN operations, he mentioned, it helps to be Canadian.

“Globally, in each setting, there may be one factor about presenting your self as being from the United Nations. [People] respect that, they respect the neutrality that you just deliver. However as quickly as they know you are Canadian, it adjustments the dynamics within the room,” mentioned Michaud. “For me, that has been very useful.”

Joyce Msuya, UN assistant secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs, is a local of Tanzania who attended the College of Ottawa. Though her personal humanitarian assist applications continuously require extra funds, she mentioned she helps UNDSS’s request for more cash.

“It takes two fingers to clap. Humanitarians work very intently with UNDSS,” she mentioned. “To have entry to ship humanitarian help anyplace on the planet, the primary and basic standards, not simply for the UN companies but additionally humanitarian companions akin to NGOs, is security.”

In her personal expertise in international locations like Yemen and Somalia, she mentioned, UN security groups are “underrepresented” on the bottom.

A car drives past collapsed buildings.A automotive drives previous collapsed buildings in Antakya, southern Turkey, on February 20, 2023. (Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Photos)

Calls for humanitarian assist are blowing up world wide. The UN plans to spend $51.5 billion US to assist 230 million folks in 70 international locations this yr.

UN groups on the bottom take dangers each day. With out the enter of UNDSS — which coordinates security with different companies and organizations, makes danger assessments and negotiates entry with native authorities — humanitarian work might grind to a halt in high-risk areas.

“We cope with crises each day. We can’t ourselves be in a state of disaster once we reply to crises. So we have to have a sure serenity within the administration of crises and a capability to answer these crises that’s everlasting and never linked to the mobilization of funds for a selected disaster,” mentioned Florence Poussin, deputy director of regional operations for UNDSS.

Going past weapons and guards

To make sure the protection of humanitarian deployments, the UN continuously negotiates entry with opponents. In Ukraine, for instance, UNDSS groups have interaction with each Moscow and Kyiv to seek out out when the combating will cease every day in order that they will ship assist to displaced populations.

To persuade all events of its impartiality, the UN is barred from receiving info from any of its member states’ intelligence providers. That situation might engender belief — however it additionally aggravates the dangers confronted by UN staff.

“My concern is that you will note conditions the place UN employees will be unable to go and ship on the bottom the place they have to be. You might discover that UN employees are in a rustic, however might sit in a bunker someplace or in some fortified constructing as a result of they’re afraid to exit as a result of the state of affairs is simply too harmful, which might fully defy the aim,” mentioned Esther Kuisch Laroche, director of partnerships inside UNDSS.

Esther Kuisch Laroche is the director of partnerships within the UN's Department of Safety and Security.Esther Kuisch Laroche is the director of partnerships throughout the UN’s Division of Security and Security. (United Nations)

The UN is lively in 125 international locations, together with 40 that qualify as high-risk places. Making certain security in these international locations goes past the presence of armed guards.

The UN says it expects its humanitarian missions to attract on data of native circumstances and of diplomatic dealings with authorities (together with armed and terrorist teams), and to coordinate with numerous humanitarian companies, together with non-governmental organizations.

“After we point out the phrase ‘security,’ it at all times comes again to weapons, gates and guards. And it’s one component of what we do, however it’s a really small component,” Michaud mentioned. “The actual component that we do on the subject of security is enabling program supply for UN entities.”

Richard Gowan, a world affairs professional with the Worldwide Disaster Group, mentioned the UN usually finds itself nearly alone when participating with international locations in disaster.

“There are locations like Afghanistan or Syria the place you do not have NATO forces and Western troops should not there on the bottom in important numbers, however assist companies are. In a few of these locations, akin to Syria, we depart it to the UN to assist individuals who, fairly frankly, we’ve in any other case abandoned,” he mentioned.

An ‘insurance coverage coverage’ for humanitarian assist

Michaud is wanting for a everlasting price range enhance for UNDSS. Within the meantime, he’s proposing tasks price $15 million US over two years — higher psychological providers for his staff, IT modernization instruments to enhance communication with groups on the bottom, and the deliberate emergency response workforce.

He approached Ottawa in November, saying he wished to offer Canada “first dibs.”

“It is turning again to Canada, understanding that Canada has numerous investments in humanitarian help worldwide they usually might have a extra important influence by having a small funding [in security],” he mentioned.

Michaud mentioned an extra funding in UNDSS could be a type of “insurance coverage coverage” that may assist to ensure the supply of $52 billion US in humanitarian assist deliberate for 2023.

“This $52 billion just isn’t going anyplace until you’ve an agile and responsive security component to assist these operations,” Michaud mentioned.

International Affairs Canada instructed CBC/Radio Canada it’s learning the UNDSS funding request.

Along with his five-year time period ending subsequent yr, Michaud is rising impatient. Whereas he didn’t take his present place with a mandate to reform UNDSS, the concept has taken maintain of him since 2019.

Whereas he awaits responses from potential donor international locations, Michaud continues to go to operations on the bottom. Day by day he is confronted by the truth that hundreds of thousands of individuals depend upon UN assist in elements of the world the place the traditional order has damaged down.

“What strikes me essentially the most is seeing how they want the United Nations to come back to their help. We’re speaking about actually primary wants, offering them with water, meals, blankets. To see the kids, the ladies, the households who’re separated due to displacement, it’s at all times touching,” he mentioned.

“There are such a lot of folks in want that we’ve to take dangers, as a result of we’re actually speaking about taking dangers to save lots of lives each day.”

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