What is wrong with UN peacekeeping?

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What is wrong with UN peacekeeping?

UN peacekeeping is big business, but is it successful? asks Louisa Waugh.


Do UN peacekeepers look after people’s needs? © Xinhua/Alamy Stock Photo

The last time I met Sultan Ibrahim Senoussi, he was at home in the town of N’délé. He sat under his favourite tree, and talked from his armchair. I saw a book on his lap and secretly read the title upside-down. It was a book to learn English. After we said hello, I asked why he was learning English. ‘Because of the peacekeepers!. Those Pakistanis don’t speak French. If they can’t talk to us, we must learn to talk to them!’

In the Central African Republic, the old leaders hold political and moral power. As a sultan, Ibrahim Senoussi looks after local administration, including humanitarian works. So he knows the UN peacekeepers. Central Africans call them casques bleus (blue helmets). The Pakistanis in N’délé are part of the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission to the Central African Republic (or MINUSCA). It started in September 2014.

The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York now looks after 16 international peacekeeping missions. MINUSCA is the newest. The oldest is the UN Truce Supervision Organization in Jerusalem, started in 1948 to check ceasefires. These missions now employ over 120,000 persons from 123 countries. Last year’s budget was $8.27 billion. This is less than half of one per cent of the yearly world military budget. But in a world with more and more connected conflicts in nations and between nation, is the way the UN does things still useful?

Peacebuilding is difficult

Jonathan Cohen is Director of Conciliation Resources. It is a British NGO and works with communities with conflicts across Africa, South Asia, and the Caucasus. ‘UN peace keeping starts with the old solutions,’ he says. ‘This makes it hard for the UN to use new ideas or to learn from mistakes.’

UN peacekeeping was always armed men in blue helmets in places where there are conflicts. What is not there is another way to build peace by working with local communities to solve conflicts without more violence.

Peacebuilding is a difficult problem. It is difficult to show successes to the people who give the money. It takes months and sometimes years to rebuild trust slowly between broken communities. The UN is doing a lot to help this. Ten years ago, it started a Peacebuilding Architecture to ‘help countries build sustainable peace and stop them going back into violent conflict’. This big plan includes a Commission supporting political peace processes, a technical Support Office, and a Peacebuilding Fund.

Bautista Logioco works at the Peacebuilding Fund, also in New York. ‘We are moving away from a limited idea of peacebuilding,’ he says. ‘This is an important starting point. Now we have to think of peacebuilding in stages. We must include the nation in the process, political will, and commitment.’ He says the Fund gives money but does not take action with projects. He says it has successes in the Central African Republic. In 2014, for example, civil servants had no salaries because there was no government money. The Peacebuilding Fund came and paid the police their salaries for five months. This ‘helped the situation at a very important time,’ says Logioco.

The UN also helps projects in the community to reduce violence. The mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has a community project that has involved about 9,000 youths in labour-intensive work. The project rebuilds roads and rebuilds trust between communities and also helps local economies.

In Tajikistan, female community leaders with the help of UN Women have started Women’s Watch Groups across rural jamoats (local councils). The local councils are giving more protection for women and helping them with very important social services.

Peacekeepers can be violent

The UN gives money for projects to reduce violence, but the UN has to look into violence by its own peacekeepers. These claims are not new. Cases of abuses of power have been a problem for years. In the Central African Republic there have been hundreds of claims of shocking cases of child sexual abuse by peacekeepers since the end of 2013. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is promising to investigate these cases very seriously.

But there have been angry campaigns against some UN officials who have reported cases of abuse. Anders Kompass is a veteran Swedish UN representative. The UN asked him to leave his job after he reported cases of sexual abuse against peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. Kompass refused to go quietly. In public he said, ‘The UN’s accountability system is broken. It simply doesn’t work.’

Most peacekeepers are not abusers, and do not rape or abuse civilians. Military observers are now helping Pakistani peacekeepers in N’délé and they are also helping with translation services. There have been no claims of abuse there. But in other places the problem is serious.

International UN personnel, including peacekeepers, have diplomatic immunity. In cases of alleged abuse of power when on duty, an individual can only be charged criminally in their own country, and not in the country where there are claims of abuse. Wealthy states still control the UN and India, Pakistan and Bangladesh give troops to UN peacekeeping operations. In these countries there is poverty and there are human rights abuses, including by the military. Peacekeepers usually go to poor countries and there they can buy power over the civilians they should protect.

Tatiana Viviane is the Director of Femmes Hommes Action Plus. It is a Central African NGO which helps women and children. She says that the UN isn’t doing enough to stop abuse. ‘UN peacekeepers need training in protecting women and children,’ she says.

UN member states now have the highest number of refugees since records began, mainly because of more violent conflicts. So now there is a greater need for peacekeepers and peacebuilders to work together. Abuses by peacekeepers can destroy all the good work done to rebuild broken communities. How is the UN really going to stop the problem of abuse? At the end of 2016, Ban Ki-moon will leave his job. The UN General Assembly will find a new Secretary-General, who for the first time will probably be female. She will have a choice. She can keep the situation the same with the claims of peacekeepers abusing civilians in countries with conflict. Or she can be strong against abuses by all peacekeepers and ask that they are all punished.

Louisa Waugh is a writer who works for international NGOs as a peacebuilder in Africa and the Middle East.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://newint.org/features/2016/09/01/how-not-to-build-peace/

(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).