Last week VERTIC and the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) co-hosted a workshop on the United Nations’ Secretary-General’s Mechanism (UNSGM). The workshop took place at the UN Headquarters in New York from March 19th -21st.

The workshop’s objective was to identify needs and priorities for pre-deployment orientation for a UNSGM mission, with a specific focus on investigations of alleged use of biological weapons. The UNSGM is not a standing mechanism, but will be activated only upon requests from any UN Member States. UNODA maintains a roster of nationally nominated ‘qualified experts’ who may be drawn upon for the mission team if the UNSGM is activated. To ensure readiness, qualified experts undergo additional training following their nomination; in this context, pre-deployment orientation is meant to brief team members on the details and goals of the mission, provide refreshers on field operations and equipment, convey certain skills needed in the investigation and ensure that the experts are able to operate together as part of a UN mission team. 

According to the UNSGM Guidelines and Procedures, the qualified experts called upon from the roster are to be deployed to the site of investigation within days after the submission of a request by a Member State to the UN Secretary-General for investigation. However, as was the case for the 2013 UNSGM mission in the Syrian Arab Republic, teams may be assembled and waiting at pre-staging areas for a long period of time, potentially up to several weeks, due to the need to conclude an agreement with the host state(s) or for other reasons. In light of the range of possible timelines for pre-deployment, workshop participants were asked to consider both the minimum requirements for orientation, as well as additional training and preparatory activities in case of additional time before deployment to the field.

The workshop was attended by a select group of expert consultants nominated to the UNSGM roster (whose role includes, inter alia, advising the United Nation on training of qualified experts for investigations), representatives from relevant UN offices and departments, and other experts with a high level of practical experience in field investigations. Participants worked in groups to discuss operational needs, elements of a pre-deployment orientation curriculum, and existing resources within the UN system and beyond. UNODA and VERTIC facilitated this dialogue, with VERTIC also serving as rapporteur and consolidating the proposals in a report.

The workshop yielded clear recommendations for strengthening the mechanism and preparing rostered experts for on-site investigation if necessary, and further highlighted existing resources that could support pre-deployment orientation for such a mission.

VERTIC is very grateful for the collaboration extended by UNODA in developing, hosting and facilitating this workshop, contributions and engagement of the workshop participants, and financial support provided by the United States, Canada, and the European Union. VERTIC’s work on this workshop was supported by the United States.