Local Knowledge and Peacebuilding

This article was part of the Briefing Book prepared for the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations by IPI and CIC.   Following is a list of suggested reforms to improve inclusivity in peacebuilding. Reform 1: Increase UN Support to Local Conflict Resolution For details and evidence, see my book The Trouble with the Congo. Local conflicts over land, resources, and political power sustain violence in many war and post-war environments. In the rare cases where there have been comprehensive bottom-up peacebuilding efforts, these initiatives have been successful in helping make peace sustainable. However, the dominant peacekeeping culture usually precludes action on local conflicts. Most international actors interpret violence as the consequence of national and regional causes alone, and UN staff view intervention at the macro levels as their only legitimate responsibility. The resulting neglect of local peacebuilding regularly dooms the international efforts. In addition to any top-down intervention, conflicts must be resolved from the bottom up. Whenever possible, local actors (subnational authorities, grassroots non-governmental organizations) should be in control of the bottom-up peacebuilding process. UN peacekeepers should increase financial, logistical, and technical support to these local actors. Reform 2: Value More Local and Country-Specific Knowledge For details and evidence, see my book Peaceland, part I. Peacekeeping missions value thematic and technical knowledge over local and country-specific expertise. This has many unintended consequences that decrease the effectiveness of international efforts. Although the UN should continue to hire individuals with thematic expertise, they should also recruit foreign staff with an in-depth understanding of local contexts and knowledge of local languages. They would do well to include these latter criteria in...

Peacemaking and Inclusive Politics

This article was part of the Briefing Book prepared for the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations by IPI and CIC.   At the current juncture, the main challenge for UN peace operations is to reconnect mission activities to the crucial role of peacemaking. The complexity of contemporary violent conflicts necessitates a heightened focus on mediation and political facilitation aimed at helping the parties solve their fundamental differences in a non-violent manner. Providing such assistance in a timely and appropriate manner should be the primary objective of UN peace operations and serve as a guiding principle for the fulfillment of other more specific tasks in the mandate. The importance of inclusive political processes has long been recognized as a fundamental prerequisite for lasting peace. In the context of asymmetrical conflicts in fragile states, this presents hard dilemmas of engaging constituencies that are represented by non-state armed actors. Especially when being tasked to assist in the extension of state authority, missions tend to work primarily with the host government. This reflects mandates as much as mindsets. Recent experience, however, show that this is not a viable approach in situations where fundamental political problems remain unsolved and/or the government lacks popular legitimacy. The necessity—and difficulty—of getting the local politics right is directly associated with the complexity and danger of the environments. A key factor for future success will thus be to strengthen missions’ ability to adapt to the evolving political dynamics of the host society. At the every-day level this hinges on two fairly mundane requirements: Competent leadership in the field. In addition to his/her personal capacity to maneuver on the...

Strengthening Human Rights in Peacekeeping

This article was part of the Briefing Book prepared for the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations by IPI and CIC.   1. Make human rights a more prominent focus of policy, operations, and advocacy. Since most conflicts arise from severe and systematic human rights violations, preventing further violations while supporting efforts to rectify past violations is central to the work undertaken by the UN. This has several ramifications. 2. Senior mission leadership must be highly familiar and comfortable with human rights issues. Leadership must not shy away from raising these issues in the right way at the right time. Public vs. private interventions, proposing solutions while simultaneously not backing down from raising negative assessments should be part of peace operations’ strategy. 3. Mission leaders should not identify “human rights” only with civil and political freedoms or only with adversarial  confrontations – so-called “naming and shaming.” Rather, human rights analyses, programs, and public statements should include economic, social, and cultural rights and programs addressing the state’s performance. 4. The rights to food, shelter, education, health care, and clean water are frequently violated in most countries where the UN sends peace operations. These violations often target ethnic, religious, racial or other minorities. These excluded groups unsurprisingly resent this discrimination and the resulting marginalization. 5. UN peace operations, working closely with UN Country Team agencies, should focus on development projects that will respond to these violations. UN agencies have the budget and the country knowledge but often lack the political clout to implement such programming which must include state accountability for achieving measurable improvements. 6. So Mission leaders should support efforts...

Capacity to Protect Civilians: Rhetoric or Reality?

After the experiences of Rwanda and Srebrenica in the 1990’s, and the United Nations (UN) failure to act, the protection of civilians (POC) has taken an increasingly prominent role in international peace operations. The first mission to be mandated with an explicit POC-mandate was the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNASIL) in 1999. While the emphasis on POC may initially have been met with reluctance, both from traditional Troop and Police Contributing Countries (T/PCCs) and from within the system, the concept has increasingly taken a central role in UN peace operations after the presentation of the milestone Brahimi Report in 2000. More than 98 percent of military and police personnel currently deployed in peace operations have a mandate to protect civilians, as part of integrated missionwide efforts. This policy brief focuses on the UN’s protection capacities, asking what this implies for civilians in the countries where the organization operates. This is related to capacity- and institution-building in host nations, in particular in the security sector. The policy brief provides a short overview of the implementation of POC-mandates in UN peace operations drawing upon the author’s experience from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) between 2011-2014 first, with a particular focus on the capacity to protect through non-military means, and second, on the capacity to provide physical protection. Third, the responsibility of the host government is elaborated upon, ending with some concluding remarks on what the next steps should be in order to further enhance the UN’s capacity to protect civilians. Download the policy brief here. The policy brief was originally written as a background paper for the Challenges Annual Forum 2015 on...
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