Category Archives: Peacekeeping

Rights Up Front and Civilian Protection: An Uneven First Year

This November marks one year since Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the momentous “Rights Up Front” action plan to put the protection of civilians and their human rights at the forefront of the UN agenda.

Born out of the tragedy witnessed in the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war, and the “systemic failure” that characterized the United Nation’s response, the initiative is meant to ensure that the inaction seen in Sri Lanka, Rwanda, and Srebrenica is never repeated.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) meets with Mr. Charles Petrie, Assistant Secretary-General, Independent Review Panel on Sri Lanka.UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

By emphasizing timely reporting and early warning, Rights Up Front seeks to prevent human rights abuses before they rise to the level of mass atrocities.  Where prevention fails, the UN’s main priority will be the protection of civilians. In many ways, this is simply a reiteration of the core purpose of the UN. However, Rights Up Front is unique in that it offers a six-point plan directed at the UN Secretariat, funds, and agencies to institute changes that will lead to tangible improvements in prevention and response.

According to the Secretary-General’s summary of Rights Up Front, the six points are as follows:

1: Integrating human rights into the lifeblood of the UN so all staff understand their own and the Organization’s human rights obligations.

2: Providing Member States with candid information with respect to peoples at risk of, or subject to, serious violations of human rights or humanitarian law.

3: Ensuring coherent strategies of action on the ground and leveraging the UN System’s capacities to respond in a concerted manner.

4: Clarifying and streamlining procedures at Headquarters to enhance communication with the field and facilitate early, coordinated action.

5: Strengthening the UN’s human rights capacity, particularly through better coordination of its human rights entities.

6: Developing a common UN system for information management on serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

Given the focus on the protection of civilians and prevention of mass atrocities, the initiative has clear potential for reinforcing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Indeed, RtoP was directly referenced in the Deputy Secretary-General’s informal remarks on Rights up Front to the General Assembly in December 2013. One year later, there have been some positive signs that Rights Up Front is starting to take hold, including the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)’s unprecedented ‘open-gate’ policy to protect civilians in South Sudan. However, the recently revealed controversies surrounding the United Nations/African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) suggest that the UN could once again be repeating the very mistakes that the initiative was designed to prevent.

 

Rights Up Front in South Sudan: An Imperfect Success Story

The record on Rights Up Front’s implementation has been mixed. While a system-wide plan such as this is bound to take time to run its course, there are some early examples of qualified successes, as well as some unacceptable failures.

The ‘success ledger’ includes the decision of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to open its gates to tens of thousands of civilians fleeing inter-ethnic violence between the Dinka and Nuer after the outbreak of civil war in December 2013.  The former Special Representative to the Secretary General reflected on the decision, confirming its adherence to Rights Up Front and stating “The fact that we opened our gates actually has saved very many thousands of people’s lives… There will be incredible challenges going forward with this decision, but it was the right one. It remains the right one.”

UNMISS provides water to civilians seeking shelter in one of its bases in Juba after outbreak of violence in December 2013. UN Photo/UNMISS.

Likewise, Oxfam’s head of humanitarian policy and campaigns, Maya Mailer, opined on how this development demonstrates progress in the mission’s policy towards the protection of civilians. She reflected on the mission, and its heavy state-building focus, as it was back in 2009, recalling that “…while the UN mission had a mandate from the UN Security Council to protect civilians, that came way down a long list of other priorities.” Mailer mentions both RtoP and Rights Up Front as potential influential factors in this shift.

Although the long-term safety of civilians seeking shelter in what are now being called Protection of Civilian sites is far from assured, this impromptu decision made in the face of an imminent massacre provides hope that the protection of civilians is indeed being prioritized among UN missions.

 

Darfur Controversy Risks Repeating the Mistakes of the Past

Nevertheless, it is easy to have one’s optimism dashed when observing recent events in the Darfur region of Sudan. Back in April, Foreign Policy broke a story alleging that through chronic underreporting, UNAMID had systematically covered up attacks on civilians and UN peacekeepers carried out by forces acting on behalf of the Government of Sudan (GoS).

One example among the many includes a brazen attack by Sudanese troops and pro-government militias on a UN base in Muhajeria in April 2013. Though this particular violation occurred before Rights Up Front was initiated, to date, no one has been held accountable for the attack that left one Nigerian peacekeeper dead, and several more injured. Indeed, UNAMID still refuses to even acknowledge the government’s involvement, instead blaming “unidentified armed assailants.”

More recently, ICRtoP member, The African Centre for Peace and Justice Studies has documented a “brutal campaign of counter-insurgency” led by the pro-government Rapid Support Forces throughout Darfur. The campaign of violence has been marked by aerial bombardments and ground assaults that have targeted civilians with increasing intensity since earlier this year. In spite of this, UNAMID continues to afford minimal priority to reporting on and ensuring accountability for such acts. This is evident in the most recent UNAMID controversy, in which allegations that the mission improperly investigated a mass rape in the town of Tabit has led to further accusations that it is covering-up the government’s transgressions.

Ostensibly, UNAMID has made the decision to omit mention of GoS involvement in attacks due to a lack of concrete first-hand evidence.  However, observers have pointed out that it is more likely that UNAMID’s lack of reporting was done to appease Khartoum, a government that is renowned for its obstruction of international peacekeeping efforts and the quest to achieve accountability for past atrocities committed by its leaders. Most notable among them is President Omar Al Bashir, who is wanted for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.

UNAMID leadership visit victims of ambush

Tanzanian UNAMID soldiers listen solemnly to a debriefing after an ambush by “unidentified assailants” that left 7 peacekeepers dead. UN Photo/ Albert González Farran.

If, as Human Rights Watch has suggested, Darfur represents a test-case for implementation of Rights Up Front, then it exposes some key areas in which it has been lacking. The incomplete reporting of GoS attacks indicates that UNAMID staff might not fully understand their human rights obligations or how to properly uphold them, as demanded in the first action point. Furthermore, it leads to a breakdown in the candid reporting to member states required for proactive and strategic engagement, as specified in point number two.  The fact that the mission has not issued a public report on human rights since 2009 reinforces this narrative. As ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda chided “UN reports are an important and increasingly unique source of public information about the situation in Darfur, and must be held to the highest standard for the sake of the victims…” 

This is especially important as improper reporting can also hamper the ability of the Secretary-General to carry out his ‘Article 99’ responsibilities to accurately pass information to the Security Council to inform their decisions on matters related to international peace and security. This in turn affects the ability of the Council to adjust mandates in a way that reflects the reality on the ground, depriving the mission of necessary resources and additional Chapter VII measures that may be required to protect civilians. Thus, the ability to leverage the UN System’s capacities to respond in a concerted manner, as specified in the third action point, is also compromised.

The Secretary-General has since responded to allegations with an internal investigation, and recently stated that he will take “all necessary steps to ensure full and accurate reporting by [the joint mission],” adding that “keeping silent or under-reporting on incidents involving human rights violations and threats or attacks on UN peacekeepers cannot be condoned under any circumstances.”

These developments are troubling, as they are a repeat of the patterns that led to the UN’s ineffectiveness in Sri Lanka. In spite of the positive progress in South Sudan, the case of Darfur suggests that the UN has yet to “fully learn the lessons of the past”, as instructed by Ban Ki-moon upon his announcement of Rights Up Front.

 

Strengthening Rights Up Front Implementation

For the potential of Rights Up Front to be realized, the UN will have to address the lingering deficiencies that jeopardize efforts to protect civilians. In August 2014, Daniel Bekele of HRW urged that:

“With the surge in Sudanese government-led attacks on civilians, credible public reporting on the situation in Darfur is more important than ever…The UN should not allow this core aspect of its work to be degraded, especially when the Secretary-General has pledged to put ‘Rights up Front’ in the UN’s work.”

Philippe Bolopion bluntly warned that the example of Darfur “should be a wake-up call to other U.N. missions, whether in Mali, CAR [the Central African Republic], Libya, or South Sudan, that proactive and transparent reporting on human rights violations, regardless of the perpetrators, is a core function of the mission…”

However, while it is important to ensure that timely and accurate information is reported, for example, through regular ‘horizon-scanning’ exercises, the political will to act on this information is also essential. In September 2014, the International Peace Institute held its annual Trygve Lie Symposium, this year focusing on Rights Up Front. As was mentioned by Helen Clark, action on the initiative depends on “speaking truth to power to the Security Council,” but also on the willingness of member states to act.

In this sense, it will also be necessary to build, “a broad coalition” involving a “range of regional groups,” so as to catalyze momentum among member states, urge the Security Council to take action, and garner support for funding and logistical contributions to UN missions. Panelists at the IPI symposium lamented such action as becoming increasingly difficult, though it underpins the viability of all UN efforts.

 

The Role of RtoP in Rights Up Front

With their many shared objectives, it is also essential to discuss the role of RtoP in strengthening Rights Up Front implementation. In her assessment of Rights Up Front for Opinio Juris, Kristen Boon made an important point regarding this relationship. While RtoP has indeed been cited as an important precursor, and the two are often mentioned in the same context, there has been little attempt to elaborate on specific measures under the RtoP toolkit that can reinforce the initiative. The same can be said about the ability of Rights Up Front to ensure more consistent application of the norm.

Pillay visits UNMISS

Former High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng give a joint-press conference on South Sudan. UN Photo/Isaac Billy.

The 2014 Secretary-General report on RtoP focused on international assistance to states to uphold RtoP (aka Pillar II), and provides the most direct linkage to Rights Up Front. The report welcomed Rights Up Front as an avenue for improving the UN’s ability to fulfill its second pillar responsibilities by improving early action and emphasizing the collective responsibility of the UN. In a separate section, the report identifies a role for the Human Rights Council (HRC), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other relevant organs in encouraging states to uphold their primary responsibility by addressing human rights concerns.

Still, the report stops short of identifying particular aspects of each initiative that could serve to strengthen implementation of the other, or how relevant UN bodies, such as the HRC and the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG) can complement one another in fulfilling RtoP or Rights Up Front.

A clearer articulation of this relationship could perhaps build on the recommendations for improved coordination made by the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng at the HRC’s High-Level Panel on the Prevention of Genocide in March 2014. For example, Dieng recommended that the HRC adopt the OSAPG’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes to further guide its work. Such changes could help mainstream an atrocities lens throughout the UN system, and ensure that human rights abuses do not rise to the level of atrocity crimes.

 

One Year On, Critical Assessment Needed

While Rights Up Front is a promising initiative, noteworthy for rallying the efforts of the UN behind the human rights cause, implementation has been checkered so far. UNMISS’ open-gate policy in South Sudan is a positive example of a flexible response that prioritized the imminent protection needs of civilians. On the other hand, the debacle in Darfur has exposed weaknesses in human rights reporting, and an overall lack of transparency that runs counter to the noble intentions of Rights Up Front. To truly learn the lessons of the past and maximize civilian protection, an honest and more in-depth assessment of the initiative and its implementation is needed as its one-year anniversary arrives.

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Filed under African Union, Human Rights, Peacekeeping, Prevention, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, UNMISS

UN Peacekeeping: New Trends and Implications for Civilian Protection

UN Peacekeeper day Congo

International UN Peacekeeping Day celebration in DR Congo. MONUSCO/Myriam Asmani

International peacekeeping is a vital tool in the United Nations’ proverbial ‘toolbox’ for upholding its Responsibility to Protect (RtoP).  May 29 was celebrated as International UN Peacekeeping Day to the refrain of “Force for the Future,”  kicking off a six-month initiative to raise political support for the modernization of UN peacekeeping with the hopes of further realizing its value and cost-effectiveness, and meeting the present realities faced by today’s ‘blue helmets’.

In the words of the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edward Mulet, “The world is changing. The threats are changing. The levels of conflict are changing in many places in the world…so we have to adapt and we have to evolve and we have to learn how to deal with these new challenges.”

These new challenges are linked to a number of features of modern conflict. Today’s conflicts tend to be intra-as opposed to inter-state, and disproportionately affect civilians populations who are often targeted by armed groups. Conflicts are becoming more complex and multi-dimensional, as are the threats they produce. Furthermore, it is common for operations to be launched in the midst of a conflict, where there is in fact no peace to keep. These developments are challenging the precepts that characterise what has been called the ‘holy trinity’ of ‘classical peacekeeping,’ namely: host-government consent, impartiality, and minimal use of force.

Protection of Civilians (PoC) and Other Evolving Trends

A recent report by the United Nation’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on the implementation of Protection of Civilian (PoC) mandates in UN peacekeeping operations touches on an important evolutionary characteristic of “modern” operations. The report notes that to date, thirteen UN peacekeeping missions have included a robust PoC mandate – nine of which are current. In addition, several have included an “all means necessary” stipulation under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

The PoC agenda evolved from the same discourse that spawned RtoP and shares much of the underpinning legal and moral justification. Indeed, the two agendas reinforce each other in many ways. However, it is important to note that PoC and RtoP remain separate areas. A crucial distinction is that RtoP is narrowly focused on the four mass atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. RtoP does not extend beyond these crimes, though it does extend to situations outside of armed conflict. On the other hand, PoC is narrowly focused on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, but applies to a larger range of human rights violations than just the four crimes. For more information on the distinctions and similarities between the two agendas, visit ICRtoP’s PoC information page.

Operation unified Response

Brazilian peacekeeper on patrol in Haiti. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class David A. Frech/Released)

Along with the proliferation of PoC mandates and Chapter VII authorizations, developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) may be indicative of another new trend. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2098 established the UN ‘Force Intervention Brigade’ (FIB) in DRC, providing MONUSCO with the capacity and authorization to proactively engage in the protection of civilians through disarmament of Congo’s many armed groups, unambiguously approving the use of force with “targeted offensive operations.” The brigade played a decisive role in the defeat of the M23 movement last year. However, as it stands now, this remains an exceptional case and indeed was only agreed to by Russia and China on this condition.

 

How effective have PoC Mandates Been?

While it is important to continuously adapt to new challenges, it is also important to assess how these are being implemented in actuality.

On the issue of civilian protection, OIOS found several obstacles to the effective implementation of PoC mandates. Strikingly, the report found that, for a number of reasons, force is almost never used to protect civilians – even as a last resort and with legal authorization to do so. Such reasons include the interpretive viewpoint of mission commanders, an aversion to putting troops in harm’s way, a shortage of troops and resources, fear of consequence for the misuse of force, and confusion over how the notion of consent applies in instances where government forces appear to be instigating or perpetrating violence against civilians.

OIOS made a number of recommendations for improving this record, importantly pointing to the necessity of bridging operational understanding at all levels to mend the broken “chain” of activities designed to protect civilians. It also recommended reporting to the Security Council in the event that instructions are not fully carried out in regards to civilian protection, along with improved coordination between peacekeeping and humanitarian entities.

 

Security Council Holds Open Debate on New Trends in UN Peacekeeping

The open debate held on June 11, 2014 brought together troop, police and finance-contributing countries (TCCs, PCCs, and FCCs respectively) to discuss these findings, as well as other recent trends in UN peacekeeping.

12-03-2013Drones_Ladsous

Head of Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous, inspects an Unmanned/Unarmed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) for use in eastern DRC. MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti

A concept note that preceded the debate highlighted technological innovations that have presented the UN with new tools for carrying out their mandates more effectively. This includes the use of Unarmed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UUAVs) and new medical and engineering equipment. Such technological innovation is said to“… contribute to the fuller implementation of mandates by peacekeepers and improved safety and security of personnel, as well as better situational awareness.” 

The note also mentions that missions have become much more multi-dimensional in nature, with military, police and civilian components deployed by various international actors existing simultaneously. This covers the full spectrum of intervention, from the brokering and monitoring of a ceasefire, to disarmament, reconciliation, peacebuilding and statebuilding activities.

Thus far, these have been implemented within a “fragmented policy and legal framework”, making consensus and standard guidance crucial – particularly as the time-honored principles of neutrality, consent and minimal use of force are being challenged.

Different Perspectives on Peacekeeping Developments

While 47 delegates made statements during the debate, a few samples from major TCC, PCC, and FCCs illustrate the scope of concerns.

As the third largest African troop and police contributing country, as well as the current Chair of the Security Council Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations, Rwandan Ambassador Eugene-Richard Gasana touched on some key issues. The Ambassador voiced his support for robust peacekeeping mandates stating:

“Given the nature of current threats to peacekeeping, Rwanda believes that the deployment of robust peacekeepers is essential to not only effectively protect civilians but also to protect themselves in increasingly hostile and volatile environments.”

However, he qualified this statement with the warning that:

“…we cannot expect peacekeepers to engage in robust peacekeeping tasks without necessary preparation and resources. If we do not have the ability to insert forces and to conduct casualty and medical evacuations or airlifts, then we have major problems and should not have deployed in the first place.”

On the question of new technologies, Gasana recognized its value as a key enabler, but simultaneously cautioned that, regarding the use of UUAV’s, “Questions still exist regarding control of information collected, confidentiality, and third party impartiality.” The concern over use and legalities were common themes among many member states.

United Nations peacekeeping operations

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivers his remarks at the open debate on June 11, 2014. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis of the Permanent Mission of the United States spoke for the world’s largest FCC, and mirrored the concerns of other countries that insist the traditional model of peacekeeping is outdated. Like Rwanda, they were supportive of more robust peacekeeping mandates. The focus of their concern was on ensuring mandates are implemented as effectively as possible, particularly given the bleak findings of the OIOS report. Reflecting on this, the Ambassador lamented:

“At its essence, the report reveals a significant gap that has emerged between the commitments we set down on paper – which constitute a responsibility to act – and the way missions perform in practice. The larger this gap grows, the more vulnerable civilians become, and the less credible this organization and the peacekeepers representing it become.” The Ambassador urged consideration of the report’s conclusions.

Ambassador Asoke Kumar Mukerji, the Permanent Representative of India provided a different perspective. A noted skeptic of the expanding role of UN peacekeeping, India was particularly vocal in its opposition to the FIB:

In our view, such a mixing of mandates directly affects the operational effectiveness of the peacekeeping operation, exposing traditional peacekeepers to unnecessary threats from armed internal conflicts which the United Nations has not itself instigated.”  

Furthermore, India bemoaned the lack of funding and resources being volunteered for peacekeeping operations, particularly in complex and multi-dimensional environments:

On the one hand, the new mandates of UNPKOs are ambitiously drafted, running into many pages, as good governance templates. On the other hand, the very same pen-holders drafting these new mandates cavil at having to pay more money for peacekeepers tasked to implement these mandates.”

India’s comments represent a number of states who expressed similar reservations over the use of force and overly-ambitious mandates, seen as threatening classical peacekeeping.

Key Recommendations for Improvement

Though an outcome document has yet to emerge from the debate, it is possible to piece together some of the main recommendations to address concerns of TCCs, PCCs and FCCs alike. These include:

  • Inclusive consultations between the Security Council and the General Assembly to derive consensus on delicate issues, such as use of force, equipment and mission costs.
  • Providing clear mandates with standard operating procedures plainly defined.
  • Better communication at command and tactical levels to bridge the gap between planning and implementation.
  • A standard regulatory framework for the use of new technologies, such as UUAV’s.
  • Improvement of inter-mission cooperation to fill logistical and capacity gaps and leverage synergies.
  • Matching ambitious multi-dimensional mandates with adequate resource and funding commitments.
  • Continuing to recognize and create an enabling environment for activities that lead to sustainable peace and development – including incorporating a Women’s Peace and Security lens, security and justice sector reform, and dialogue and reconciliatory efforts.

Steps such as these could help reconcile the need for innovation and adaptability with the concerns of states that are leery of leading UN peacekeeping too far from its roots. Ultimately, this will ensure peacekeeping operations are better prepared and equipped to protect vulnerable civilians from mass atrocities, securing its status as a key tool in the RtoP toolkit and making it a true “Force for the Future.”

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Filed under DRC, Peacekeeping, Security Council, UN