Tag Archives: UN Peacekeeping

UN Peacekeepers as Lackeys of Governments

image from wikipedia

Peace-keeping mission of United Nations is need the consent of the host governments to operate; the UN cannot invade. But too often agencies and blue helmets (as in the headgear worn by peacekeepers) are lackeys of autocrats, forming “abusive” relationships with those in power, according to Richard Gowan of Columbia University. This undermines the UN’s claim to moral authority.

The operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a case in point. The UN has deployed peacekeepers there since 1999, and MONUSCO, the French acronym by which the mission is known, now has about 16,000 troops, and costs more than $1bn a year.  Since 2016, the UN has failed to prevent violence that has forced over 1m people to flee their homes. Troops get away with defining their operating boundaries conservatively. Perversely, they are rewarded for not using their kit, as they are reimbursed for equipment returned in good condition. Meanwhile MONUSCO cannot easily get rid of underperforming civilian staff, partly because of pressure from trade unions but also because of the complex way in which UN headquarters imposes its choice of recruits on the mission.

Another $1bn-per-year mission, UNMISS, has done almost nothing to prevent the descent into civil war and famine since South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011. The 12,500 peacekeepers have a mandate to protect civilians, but have failed to do so. In August 2016 aid workers were raped, beaten and robbed by South Sudanese government troops just minutes away from the main UN compound in Juba, the capital. Despite desperate phone and text messages from the victims, the 2,000 or so troops never stirred. “[The blue helmets] are supposed to protect civilians,” admits a UN official in South Sudan. “But they don’t. Something is upside down. It’s not working.”  One reason for the failure is that the mission asks permission from the government before it sends out troops…But since it is often the government carrying out the massacres, permission is often refused or delayed…

Excerpt from The UN in Conflict Areas: Looking the Other Way, Economist, Oct. 28, 2017

The Use of Drones in Peacekeeping Operations: South Sudan

Jamam refugee camp from the air. image from wikipedia

The U.N. Security Council is urging the use of unarmed drones in the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, but the government there says that could cause “disagreement and hostility” as a peace deal tries to take hold.  The council on October 9, 2015 adopted a U.S.-drafted resolution requesting the U.N. secretary-general to “prioritize” the deployment of remaining troops, plus military helicopters and drones. The U.N. is exploring the use of drones in a growing number of peacekeeping missions after first using them in Congo in 2013.  But deploying the drones — even getting them into South Sudan — needs government consent. “The mission requires the collaboration and cooperation from the host authorities for its operations, including air and aviation ones,” a U.N. official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.  Ambassador Francis Deng told the council that requesting drones without consulting his government is “to invite controversy.”

South Sudan’s rival sides signed a peace deal in August 2015, but numerous cease-fire violations have been reported. Each side blames the other for the violations. Meanwhile, more than 100,000 civilians remain sheltered in U.N. bases throughout the country. Thousands have been killed in the conflict fueled by the rivalry between President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar.  The council resolution also extends the peacekeeping mission’s mandate until Dec. 15 while supporting the implementation of the peace deal. The mission has more than 12,500 uniformed personnel on the ground.

Excerpts from UN Wants Peacekeeping Drones in South Sudan, Which Objects, Associated Press, Oct. 10, 2015

Where Peacekeepers Kill Demonstrators: Central African Republic

Refugees of Central African Republic Conflict

One person died and a dozen people were wounded when hundreds of protesters clashed with U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic on April  10, 2015 local authorities said.  The demonstrators in the town of Kaga-Bandoro,[Christians]  about 350 km (220 miles) north of the capital Bangui, were angry that the U.N. MINUSCA mission had failed to stop raids by ethnic Peuhl pastoralists [Muslims]…”The protesters attacked the town’s aerodrome. To beat them back, the Pakistani blue helmets used tear gas and guns,” the town prefect Gaston Yendemo said, adding that the injured had been taken to hospital. Among those hurt was a Pakistani peacekeeper.

A statement from MINUSCA said up to 400 people, some armed with weapons, attacked the camp. They threw stones at peacekeepers and tried to force their way through the camp barrier, which they set on fire.  “Given the scale of the attack, the blue helmets needed to react by firing in the air. We deplore the death of one person and several injuries among the attackers,” it said, adding that it was the second attack in a week against the base.

Thousands have been killed and around a million displaced from their homes in violence that has gripped the impoverished landlocked country since the mainly-Muslim Seleka took power in March 2013.  The group gave up power last year in the face of diplomatic pressure and violence by the “anti-balaka” militia, who are mainly Christian or animist, and an interim government was installed.

One dead in protest against peacekeepers in Central African Republic, Reuters,  Apr. 10, 2015

United Nations Drones and Robots

explosive ordnance disposal robot

The United Nations will move more into the use of high technology including UAVs and EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) robots in peacekeeping operations to confront new challenges and offer the best value for funding in future.  UAVs have been deployed by MONUSCO in the DRC since late last year (2013) to provide added eyes to UN forces there in an ongoing quest to protect civilians.  There are currently over 116 000 UN military, police and civilian personnel from more than 120 countries serving in 16 peacekeeping missions worldwide.

One example of new technology being utilised beneficially came last month (May 2014) during a ferry accident on Lake Kivu. A UN Falco UAV spotted the craft in distress and UN personnel in the DRC were able to immediately despatch speedboats and a helicopter, rescuing 15 people.  “From the second it spotted the sinking ship, the UAV stayed at the scene searching for survivors and providing situational awareness,” said Ameerah Haq, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support.  “This illustrates the flexibility and the ability of UAVs to greatly enhance situational awareness and aid life-saving operations by the provision of real-time imagery to support reaction to incidents.”

The UN has also enhanced its use of thermal imaging, closed-circuit television, night vision abilities and GIS (geographic information systems) data to improve situational awareness to provide better for the safety and security for its peacekeepers.  As part of the ongoing effort by the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and of Field Support (DFS) to take advantage of emerging technologies and innovations, a group of five experts is being tasked with advising on how best to use these capabilities.

Excerpts, New challenges spur UN peacekeeping to become a force for the future, DefenceWeb,  June 3, 2014

The UN Intervention Brigade and Drones in Congo

falco drone. Image wikipedia

The recent approval by the UN Security Council of two extraordinary measures to deal with the situation in that country—the use of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to provide reconnaissance (pdf)of militia activity, and the deployment of an intervention brigade to take offensive measures against the militia groups—is being hailed by most observers as a potential turning point in the country’s recent unhappy history. Though the UN has been careful to present the measures as purely temporary and confined to the DRC, they do indeed constitute a turning point in UN peace missions. Their success—if they do succeed—will undoubtedly lead to their being hailed as “best practice,” and radically change the hopeless trajectory of the Congo.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the measures as a “comprehensive approach aimed at addressing the root causes of instability in the eastern DRC and the Great Lakes region.” But optimism has necessarily to be tempered, analysts believe.   The 24 February 2013 “Framework for Peace, Security and Cooperation for the DRC and the Region,” which provides the basis for the intervention brigade, does indeed offer a comprehensive approach to the problem. The framework, which the African Union assisted to put together, was signed in Ethiopia by leaders from the DRC, Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, in the presence of Mr. Ban, who acted as one of the guarantors. The framework speaks of the suffering in the country engendered by “recurring cycles of conflict and persistent violence by armed groups, both Congolese and foreign.”

The current path, the framework says, is untenable. It sets out an agenda for the consolidation of state authority and the prevention of outside support to armed groups. It also contains a pledge by the DRC to respect “the legitimate concerns and interests” of neighbouring countries, an implicit reference to Rwanda’s long-held security concerns about the operation of anti-government Hutu militants based in eastern Congo.

Mr. Ban raised the issue of the intervention brigade in the Security Council shortly after his return from Ethiopia last March. He told Security Council members that the envisaged brigade would operate under the command of the UN mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, and would cost $140 million (in addition to the $1.4 billion it costs MONUSCO to maintain 19,815 troops annually). On 27 December, Mr. Ban also wrote to the Security Council requesting approval for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, by MONUSCO for “advanced information collation, analysis and dissemination to enhance situational awareness and to permit timely decision-making.”

On January 22, 2013, the Security Council approved the request to use UAVs in the Congo  [selected vendor is the Italian company SELEX ES. The UAV is known as the “FALCO”] “without prejudice to the ongoing consideration by relevant United Nations bodies of legal, financial and technical implications of the use of unmanned aerial systems.”   The trigger for these measures was the brutal occupation of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in eastern DRC, by the M23 in November of last year. The event was a serious setback to both the Congolese and the UN.  Two days after the fall of Goma, the government suspended its commander of ground forces, Gen. Gabriel Amisi Kumba, who had been accused several times of atrocities by human rights groups—in addition to being accused by the UN Panel of Experts a few months before of selling weapons and ammunitions to illegal armed groups.  The occupation of Goma underlined two perennial problems: the weakness of the DRC to exist as a nation and the readiness of armed rebel groups to exploit this weakness.

The intervention brigade was approved by UN resolution 2098 of 18 March, 2013, which states that the intervention brigade will be a rapid reaction force that will conduct “targeted offensive operations” against rebel groups in the country.  The brigade, consisting of 3,069 troops, is led by a Tanzanian general, and is organised into three infantry battalions, one artillery unit, one Special Forces unit and a reconnaissance company. Crack troops from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi have already been contributed to it, and its mission is to “prevent the expansion of all armed groups, neutralize these groups, and disarm them.”

Excerpt, Lansana Gberie, UN peacekeeping task enters a new phase, Africa Renewal, Aug. 2013

Why UN is Failing Congo? the purpose of Rwanda covert action

monusco

The United Nations said it had launched a comprehensive review of its Congo peacekeeping mission, which suffered a severe blow to its image last month after it stood aside and let rebels seize control of a major eastern city.  But U.N. Security Council diplomats and officials said any changes in the U.N.’s largest peacekeeping force would matter little if authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo did not improve their own army, and neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda continued to finance, equip and train rebel groups in mineral-rich eastern Congo.  U.N. officials have defended the U.N. Congo force, MONUSCO, for not preventing the well-equipped M23 rebels from taking the eastern city of Goma last month.  They said any attempt to have done so would have put Goma’s civilian population at risk. But they are painfully aware of the damage to the image of the mission, which U.N. officials say has been quite effective over the years, in Congo and across Africa.  “MONUSCO’s reputation has been severely damaged in the DRC and the region,” a U.N. diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “The U.N. is looking closely at MONUSCO now to consider whether there can be changes.

U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Kieran Dwyer said the United Nations was launching a comprehensive assessment of MONUSCO, and diplomats said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would present the results to the Security Council early next year…

One idea U.N. officials are considering is the creation of an “enforcement wing” of MONUSCO, that would take a more robust approach to dealing with insurgents in eastern Congo, U.N. diplomats and officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity.  “The idea would be to create a wing of MONUSCO that would do more than simply support the FARDC (Congolese army) but could take on more difficult battlefield tasks,” an envoy said.   Details are sketchy, since the review has just begun. But the idea is that the enforcement wing and the international neutral force could deploy along the Rwandan border, possibly with a separate, beefed-up mandate from the rest of MONUSCO, though they would all be part of the same overall mission.  Diplomats said the idea would have to be approved by troop-contributing countries and the Security Council.

A U.N. panel of experts has said M23 rebels are getting money, sophisticated equipment, training and reinforcements from Rwanda, as well as some additional support from Uganda. Analysts, diplomats and U.N. officials say Rwanda and Uganda have been interfering in eastern Congo for many years.  Rwanda and Uganda deny the charges….

It is not the first time Goma residents have felt let down by blue-helmeted U.N. troops. In 2008, the Security Council increased the size the peacekeeping force by 3,000 troops to help Congo’s weak army confront Tutsi rebels in eastern Congo.  At that time, angry displaced people and residents rioted and hurled stones at the peacekeepers, accusing them of failing to protect them from raping and pillaging Tutsi rebels led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda.  Despite recent setbacks sparked by the M23 rebellion and political instability in Congo, U.N. officials and diplomats say MONUSCO has done much good in Congo, which has seen five different peacekeeping forces over the last five decades…One problem in eastern Congo is that the army itself is in shambles. Not only is it widely seen as incapable of providing security in the region, it routinely faces accusations of rape and other atrocities.  Another problem is the weakness of President Joseph Kabila’s government, which has virtually no control over eastern Congo, an area the size of France. U.N. officials have spoken of Rwanda’s de facto annexation of Congo’s eastern provinces.

By Louis Charbonneau, U.N. launches review of Congo force with battered reputation, Reuters, Dec 13 2012

The UN Peacekeeping in Haiti: blind leading the blind

Today’s foreign do-gooders in Haiti are the 9,000 members of Minustah, the UN’s peacekeeping force. They are surely better-meaning than the interlopers of the past. But the Haitian government has little more influence over them than it did over America’s marines. And in recent years the force has inflicted great damage. Its troops have been blamed for starting a cholera epidemic that has claimed 7,000 lives, and have been accused in numerous cases of rape and sexual assault. Its missteps are leading to ever more strident calls for greater accountability for peacekeepers.

The latest public-relations volley was launched on April 21st at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. “Baseball in the Time of Cholera”, directed by two foreign-aid workers living in Haiti, weaves together the stories of a teenage athlete who loses his mother to cholera and lawyers suing the UN for negligent sanitation at a Nepali peacekeeping base. The film features plenty of news footage of the base, including sewage pipes flowing into a tributary of Haiti’s largest river. The first cholera cases appeared near the base, and the bacteria—a South Asian strain—quickly spread along the river and its network of canals, which Haitians use for bathing, drinking, irrigating crops and washing clothes.

Since the outbreak began the UN has tried to dodge accusations of responsibility, saying that the source of the disease is unknowable or unimportant. But a series of epidemiological and genome studies have all but established Minustah’s role as fact.   Citing scientific evidence, in November the lawyers featured in the film filed 5,000 complaints to Minustah’s claims office on behalf of cholera victims, seeking at least $250m in damages. The UN’s peacekeeping department says it is studying them. Until now, the claims office has dealt with smaller matters, such as property damage.

Minustah’s reputation has been further tarnished by charges of sexual abuse. Two Pakistani soldiers were accused of raping a 14-year-old boy, and a group of Uruguayan peacekeepers allegedly sexually assaulted an 18-year-old boy and videoed the incident. The justice system has worked somewhat better in these cases—a Pakistani military tribunal convened in Haiti convicted its soldiers last month, and the Uruguayans seem likely to face trial in their home country. But the Pakistanis were sentenced to just one year in prison. A popular song at this year’s Haitian Carnival included a line cautioning young men nearby the peacekeepers to watch their rears.

Excerpts from,UN in Haiti: First, do no harm, Economist, April 28, 2012, at 41