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The Not So Peaceful Reality of UN Peacekeeping

November 14, 2015
The UN Peacekeeping forces are “military, police and civilian personnel, who work to deliver security, political and early peacebuilding support” in nations that are negatively affected by conflict and seek lasting peace.[1] The operations are led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations of the United Nations (UNDPKO) and those involved come from several different nations which have offered their own men and women in assistance.

The three basic principles are consent from all involved parties, impartiality, and abstinence of force save moments of self-defense and defense of the mandate. There have been UN Peacekeeping operations since 1948, when the Security Council authorized deployment of observers to the Middle East, and there have been armed operations since 1956, when forced were deployed during the Suez Crisis. Since then, the UNDPKO has quickly become one of the most important and effective instruments for the United Nations in helping to steer conflict-ridden countries to peace. 

A Tainted Past

While they do not cancel out the selfless and courageous work that the peacekeeping forces put in, the moral transgressions that some of the officers and volunteers have committed while abusing their powerful positions have certainly detracted from their humanitarian missions. While there may have been a system of local reporting for some of the heinous sexual exploitation & abuse (SEA) crimes committed abroad by peacekeepers who assumed they had a sort of immunity, the United Nations has had an explicit zero tolerance policy since then Secretary-General Kofi Annan posted a signed Bulletin in 2003.[2] Since 2003, there has been ongoing action to prevent sexually abusive and exploitive acts against those persons the peacekeeping forces were charged to protect; in assessing the reported results, the Office of Internal Oversight Services has seen a decrease in allegations, but not a total effacement.[3] In the midst of the promising decrease exists the lamentable statistic that 36% of the SEA allegations from 2008-2013 involved minors and the majority of them have come from missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Sudan, and South Sudan.

<strong>UN Peacekeepers in Kidal, Mali</strong>
UN Peacekeepers in Kidal, Mali. Source: Adama Diarra, Reuters.

Current Situation

In recognition of the long history of peacekeeping and the imperfections of the current system, the General Assembly, during the UN Peacekeeping Summit in September 2015, issued a declaration last month. The statement describes the high esteem for the work that the peacekeeping operations do and the hope that there will be drastic improvement with the “High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations” that was imposed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2014.[4] With sixteen ongoing missions involving “almost 124,000 personnel from 122 countries” there is a strong need for oversight and effective authority to prevent international atrocities from happening under the United Nation’s watch and by its own forces.[5]

In order to best serve the international community, the forces deployed by member nations should have similar discipline and knowledge of their missions. At the heart of the peacekeeping missions, there are honest intentions to improve the wellbeing and current situations of those that have been trapped in physically, emotionally, and mentally damaging situations. The key to peacekeeping reform has been, and still is, ensuring that its mission is upheld effectively and efficiently without taking advantage of vulnerable citizens of the host nations or harming the reputation of the United Nations. While there are clear limitations to complete consistency, provided that United Nations cannot have a standing military or even enforce its own discipline on the forces its member nations deploy, it is vital that the troops supplied are successfully and adequately protecting countries that may have endemic violence and/or a lack of strong governance. These points are all made with the knowledge of the incredibly impactful and positive effects that peacekeeping forces have had in their other missions throughout history. While the international justice community fights for an end to impunity for war crimes, which include sexual crimes, these military troops should not be responsible for adding to the problems that the United Nations is trying to end.

Foreseeable Improvement

To combat the lack of balance among the troops in terms of their military experience, permanent member nations on the Security Council should take more responsibility in training and supplying better trained militaries with more financial backing to these missions. Poorer countries that supply their forces should not carry so much of the burden of expensive training in international peacekeeping missions.[6]

Nobel Laureate and Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta suggests in his 2015 report that there be an implementation of vanguard troops to allow for more efficient deployment in nations with several conflicts. The report also suggests implementing ‘enabling units’ to improve the logistical situations of military bases in states with missions. With the several reforms suggested in this report and others (Brahimi, New Horizon), coupled with the cooperation from United Nations member states,, there is a positive outlook for the peacekeeping troops that work to maintain safety in an ever-growing international community.[7][8] Those that are suffering in these war-torn countries need not suffer more at the hands of their “protectors.” There is a dire need for change and the time for that change is now.


References:

  [1] Council of Councils. Toward more fair and effective peacekeeping. 2015. Available from http://www.cfr.org/councilofcouncils/global_memos/p36969.

  [2]  Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Department of Field Support. A new partnership agenda: Charting a new horizon for UN peacekeeping. New York, 2009. http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/documents/newhorizon.pdf.

  [3] Panel on UN Peace Operations. Brahimi report. 2000Available fromhttp://www.unrol.org/files/brahimi%20report%20peacekeeping.pdf.

  [4]  Council on Foreign Relations. UN general assembly: Declaration of leaders’ summit on peacekeeping. 2015Available from http://www.cfr.org/peacekeeping/un-general-assembly-declaration-leaders-summit-peacekeeping/p37077.

  [5] Council of Councils. Toward more fair and effective peacekeeping. 2015Available from http://www.cfr.org/councilofcouncils/global_memos/p36969.

  [6]  http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/operations/reform.shtml

  [7] Office of Internal Oversight Services, Inspection and Evaluation Division. 2015. Evaluation of the enforcement and remedial assistance efforts for sexual exploitation and abuse by the united nations and related personnel in peacekeeping operations. IED-15-001.
  [8] http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/operations/

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