London/Nairobi (Alshahid) – UN peacekeepers could improve their protection of civilians if roles and priorities were clarified, political support were increased, resources boosted and a comprehensive protection strategy developed, say analysts.
“UN missions often lack leadership and political will to implement their protection mandate, can’t get host nations to cooperate, lack good intelligence-gathering and the willingness of troop-contributing countries to use force to protect civilians,” Henri Boshoff, head of the peace missions programme at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, told IRIN.
A study published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in January 2010, Protecting Civilians in the Context of UN Peacekeeping Operations – Successes, Setbacks and Remaining Challenges, highlighted that UN peacekeeping missions lacked a clear definition and conceptual understanding of civilian protection, as well as comprehensive protection strategies for implementing their mandates.
Analysts also see greater coordination between UN peacekeepers and humanitarian agencies, so far mainly in information sharing and logistics, as another means to ensure success in civilian protection.
“Coordination at the field level is not always clear, and at headquarters there is a big gap in policy and guidance to provide direction for what has arguably become a vital relationship… which at the moment is mainly of co-existence rather than a meaningful desire to coordinate better,” said Damian Lilly of OCHA’s protection and displacement section.
One example of successful cooperation is the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) and UN agencies collaborating in training a police force in protecting civilians with refugees and IDPs, patrolling towns and encouraging the reporting of sexual- and gender-based violence.
“Peacekeepers’ contribution to the protection of civilians in Chad has been valuable and we commend them for their support to deliver humanitarian aid,” Delphine Marie, spokeswoman for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Chad, told IRIN.
But the association of humanitarian actors with peacekeepers seems to be often avoided as not in line with the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and humanity.
“In the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC], peacekeepers are perceived as having become a party to the conflict and many agencies believe that any association with them could undermine their neutrality in the eyes of armed groups, compromise the safety and security of their staff and reduce their ability to act independently to access populations in need of aid,” Lilly stated in an article.
Hit and miss
In a new report, Engaging with Communities: the Next Challenge for Peacekeeping, the UK NGO Oxfam examines missions in Chad, Sudan, the Republic of Congo and DRC.
The report evaluates specific risk-reducing initiatives such as telephone hotlines, market and firewood-gathering patrols, joint operations with civilian agencies, local police and armed forces and the use of community liaison interpreters introduced by UN peacekeeping operations in the past years.
Oxfam noted that emergency hotlines introduced in Chad and DRC had had a mixed reception and proved not to be a reliable early warning system. While generally welcomed, analysts found that peacekeepers’ confidence that “everyone has the number” was misplaced. The numbers that were distributed through community leaders were not shared; most risky areas often have poor mobile-phone coverage; many women do not have phones of their own; and when a village is attacked, phones are the first things to be looted.
“We realized that for the size of the country and inaccessibility of some areas, more often than not, by the time we got somewhere things had already happened,” George Ola-Davies, chief of public information at the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), told IRIN.
“In response to that we are now trying to implement different early warning measures that would allow us to better protect civilians,” Ola-Davies added.
Another aspect highlighted in the Oxfam report is that systematic monitoring and reporting on the impact of UN efforts to improve the protection of civilians was essential.
“We need to assess and report on the extent to which our actions are making civilians safer… we plan to develop indicators for systematic monitoring and reporting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict,” said Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, on 22 November 2010 in her statement to the Security Council.
“Peacekeeping missions have developed a number of protection measures such as the deployment of temporary bases, patrols, early warning cells and joint protection teams that have increased their role to protect civilians. However, there is the need for the spread of good practices across different missions to ensure a more consistent approach,” Lilly told IRIN.