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Category: peacekeeping

Migration-Refugee Exodus: A Worldwide Challenge

During the summer of 2015, the international community has become increasingly concerned with the causes behind the mass exodus of people from their homes—the refugees and migrants.

 It has been all too easy to become accustomed to the image of the refugee: the displaced in Europe after World War II, internally displaced Chinese during the Chinese civil war, the struggle of Jews to enter Palestine prior to the creation of Israel followed by the flight of the Palestinians, the Hungarians in 1956, and the boat people from Vietnam—the refugees who made the front pages of the world press and all the others too often forgotten. The sum of human misery since the Second World War has been so heavy and so constant as to have a numbing effect.

However, the summer of 2015 has brought images of refugees and migrants drowning at sea or trying to make their way under barbed wire, with the most recent photos of some 70 persons who died in a closed truck in Austria near the Hungarian border.

Until now, governments within the UN system have gone on the assumption that security and peacekeeping are political matters to be kept as separate as possible from emergency humanitarian efforts. Since, in nearly all the cases that have led to massive departures, the UN has failed in its attempts at conflict resolution, humanitarian aid did what it could to bind up some of the wounds. Both the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and non-governmental organizations working on direct relief avoided political considerations as much as possible. For public political analysis leads to controversy, to charges of being one-sided, and to misunderstanding the historic complexities of the situation.

June 26: Anniversary of the Signing of the UN Charter

June 26 is the anniversary date of the signing of the Charter of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945.  While UN Day is usually celebrated October 24 when the UN Charter came into force after ratification by States—especially the five permanent members of the proposed Security Council—it was June 26 that the Charter was presented to the world. As a friend noted, "I prefer to celebrate the birth and not the baptism.”

For today, we will look at two reports that outline challenges facing the emerging world society and the role that the UN should play.

Since the presentation of the Charter in 1945, there have been criticisms and proposals for reforms and revisions. In response to these criticisms, the UN Charter provided that a review conference on the Charter would be put on the agenda 10 years after the Charter's coming into force—that is, in 1955.

Issues at the United Nations 69th General Assembly

Last week I attended at my first panel on Capitol Hill, which pertained to the currently ongoing 69th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City. The panel was hosted by The United Nations Association of the United States of America, and included guests from the State Department, the Better World Campaign, and Peacekeeping Operations Support Section of the UN. The discussion centered on what the likely topics were going to be at the UNGA, as well as on the role of UN peacekeeping forces around the world.

After the panelists were introduced, they quickly highlighted some of their expectations from this UNGA, and what major issues the US was going to lobby for. The audience was then shown a video of an interview featuring one of the panelists, Ken Payumo, who served with the UN peacekeepers in South Sudan. He described the conditions that political refugees lived in, his role in the operation, and a harrowing story of being threatened by pro-government forces who wanted inside the UN compound to look for political dissenters. Ultimately, he did not allow these forces inside the compound and was taken out of South Sudan for his own security. Though I’m sure it wasn’t intended, a lot of the subsequent audience questions focused more than his story than the issues of the UNGA.

May 29: UN "Blue Helmets" Day

How effective are UN peacekeeping operations in preventing and stopping violence? What about in addressing the root causes of conflicts? How does one measure this effectiveness? Are there alternatives to the ways that UN and regional organizations currently carry out peacekeeping operations?

May 29 is the date that the UN General Assembly has designated as the day to honor the efforts of UN Military peacekeepers. Honor is due. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the “Blue Helmets” in 1988 − a testimony to the respect and confidence placed in them.

However, we must also examine their effectiveness and question whether these military personnel should be complemented by other forms of peace-building.

There have been recent news stories of UN peace operations in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo that highlight the inability or unwillingness of UN troops to stop the systematic rape of local women.  Rape has become standard practice in the area, on the part of both members of the armed insurgencies as well as by members of the regular Congolese Army. This is just one example of “failure” being a key word in evaluating UN forces.

One problem is that there are no permanent UN-trained and -motivated troops. There are only national units loaned by some national governments but paid for by all UN Member States. Each government trains its army in its own spirit and values, though there is still an original English ethos as many UN troops come from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Nigeria. Now China is starting to provide troops with a non-English tradition.

Global 911: It's Time for a UN Emergency Peace Force

PHOTO: U.N. peacekeeper walks with children/Wikipedia

Genocide, mass atrocities, violent oppression; these acts, these words, invoke fear, disgust, anger and beg the question why? Human history is littered with examples of these heinous crimes against humanity and yet it took one of the darkest moments in world history to garner a response.

That event? The Holocaust.

An estimated eleven million people died as a direct result of the Holocaust. Of that eleven million, nearly six million Jews were systematically eliminated in what was called the Final Solution.

In the wake of the terror of World War II the world said it had enough. For the first time in history countries came together to lay framework of cooperation, peace, and most importantly, prevention. The United Nations was founded in the wake of the horrors of WWII, a means to protect the human family.

The UN has evolved since its foundation and so has the means by which the UN meets its goals. One of the primary tools of the UN is its peacekeeping function.

Peacekeeping in itself has evolved over time, from observer missions to peacekeeping to building and enforcing. All with two primary goals in mind; prevent a third world war and eliminate the threat of genocide.

While the former has been prevented to date, the latter is far from. Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur and the Central African Republic, ravaged by ethnic cleansing and threats of genocide. In these cases the slow response of peacekeeping operations has undoubtedly led to unnecessary loss of life.

Remembering Rwanda

Photographer Pieter Hugo documented the forgiveness and reconciliation between perpetrators and victims of Rwanda's genocide.

One hundred days and nearly 1 million men, women, and children alike killed; killed only because of their ethnic backgrounds. Neighbors, friends, coworkers, and in extreme cases spouses, fell victim to what the United Nations has declared “one of the darkest chapters in human history.” Twenty years later Rwandans are moving forward in inspiring ways.

Throughout the African country, villages are emerging; villages in which perpetrators and victims live as neighbors, some even as friends. Known as Reconciliation Villages, these are places where forgiveness is becoming the norm and where life is moving on.

New York Times photographer Pieter Hugo has chronicled several of these reconciliations in a piece titled “Portraits of Reconciliation.” These powerful images capture the work of AMI, a non-profit working with national efforts for reconciliation. These Reconciliation Villages are part of a grassroots effort to address the thousands of accused who have yet to face trial.

In an attempt to reduce the overwhelming number of accused waiting for trial, the national reconciliation efforts re-established community tribunals. This effort allows these communities to try their accused and, as is often the case, reach reconciliation as a means of justice. The Gacaca court system ran from 2005 to 2012, trying more than 1.2 million cases country wide.

Genocide: A World Away

The world is again facing the threat of genocide. Much like Rwanda twenty years ago, sectarian violence is ravaging a small, largely unheard of country, The Central African Republic (CAR). Over two days in December, Amnesty International estimated that approximately 1,000 people were killed in the capital city of Bangui. Additionally, estimates indicate that more than 2,000 people have killed; victims are being raped, lynched, cannibalized, and hacked to death in the village streets and millions have fled their homes.

According to BBC News and UN reports, the violence is now largely retaliatory attacks between two religious rebel groups. Seleka (meaning “union”), a predominantly Muslim group, and the Anti-balaka (meaning “anti-sword”), a Christian faction, have the country on a downward spiraling toward genocide.

Turmoil in the Central African Republic

The current situation in the Central African Republic is beyond terrible. Following the rebel overthrow of President Francois Bozize in March of this year, thousands have been displaced and are facing starvation and malnutrition. Almost 70,000 refugees have fled the country, putting strain on unstable and poor neighboring countries like Chad. The countryside is almost completely lawless with armed gangs attacking civilians and villages. It is almost impossible for humanitarian aid to reach those suffering and two UN officials have been attacked.

Two groups are responsible for the majority of the violence and terrorism, the Seleka rebels and self defense militias known as anti-Balaka. People affiliated with the groups terrorize the civilian populace, conducting nighttime raids and attacks on houses and even entire villages. 18 women and children were massacred in late October by Seleka fighters. The clashes between the rebels and the militias have deepened cleavages along sectarian and ethnic lines in the population.

Last week the UN Security Council approved a 250-strong 'Protection Force' to provide security for humanitarian aid workers and UN officials in the country. This force could be increased to 560 soldiers if necessary. The UNSC has condemned what is going on in the CAR, but beyond the Protection Force, not much has been done.

The CAR needs a full scale peacekeeping force like the one in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Mali. The UN has also called for an increase in humanitarian aid, but if that aid cannot reach those suffering, it will not be very useful. The situation in CAR is not in the headlines either; many people do not know about the humanitarian crisis or the atrocities being committed.

A Peacekeeping Mission with Teeth

photo courtesy of unmultimedia

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or MONUSCO, has been conducting peacekeeping operations in the unstable countries since early 2000. But on March 28th, 2013, the Security Council approved Resolution 2098 which allowed for the creation of an Intervention Brigade. This Brigade, a first in the history of the UN, is allowed to conduct offensive operations against numerous rebel and guerilla groups, including the Lord's Resistance Army, operating in the DRC. These groups have been responsible for 59 peacekeeper deaths and have attempted to further destabilize the country and halt elections. The Brigade has a one year mandate and a defined exit strategy; it consists of almost 20,000 soldiers in 3 infantry battalions, 1 artillery battalion, 1 Special Forces group, and 1 Reconnaissance Company.

A peacekeeping force that can actually go after rebels and guerrillas that attack civilians and destabilize regions is a very positive step forward for UN Peacekeeping. Past UN operations have been heavily criticized for be unable to stop events and groups that were killing innocent civilians. The most damning example of a UN Peacekeeping failure is the Rwandan Genocide. Peacekeepers were not allowed to combat machete wielding Hutus as they massacred Tutsis and even when several Peacekeepers were killed the force was withdrawn rather than being reinforced and allowed to counterattack. Being able to stop and combat the groups that led to a need for a UN mission will make for a more lasting peace than when the groups were ignored or government forces had to be relied on to stop them. Future instances of the brigade will depend on how well the one in the DRC performs, but being able to actually stop violence directed at civilians and peacekeepers alike will go a long way in ensuring that a tragedy like the Rwandan Genocide will not happen again just because peacekeeping forces' hands are tied by red tape.

R2P and Goals the Public Could Support

The Responsibility to Protect

The United Nations has been moderately successful at ending the scourge of war between its member states. It has also shown creative support for human rights by developing norms such as the Responsibility to Protect to assert that people are more important than states—that no member state is to commit gross abuses and violence against its people.

However, action to effectively ensure observance of the R2P norm has been blocked repeatedly by the veto possibility in the UN Security Council. The veto power and the status of Permanent Members of the Council given to the 5 victorious powers from World War II was seen as the only way to get agreement to the San Francisco Charter in 1945, but many scholars believe this was not intended as a permanent arrangement. In fact, the Charter provides that "A General Conference of the Members of the United Nations for the purpose of reviewing the present Charter may be held at a date and place to be fixed by a two-thirds vote of the members of the General Assembly and by a vote of any seven (later nine after the membership of the Council was increased from 11 to 15) members of the Security Council" . . . . "Any alteration of the present Charter recommended by a two-thirds vote of the conference shall take effect when ratified . . . . by two thirds of the Members of the United Nations including all the permanent members of the Security Council."

Because it was not possible for the Security Council to negotiate effectively to prevent the bombing of Kosovo in the 1990s, a coalition of the willing was formed to take action bypassing the veto. Now in Syria, some UN member states have been looking for a way to protect the insurgent groups in Syria against the bombing and the evident use of poison gas by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.