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UNITED NATIONS, Sep 17 2015 (IPS) - As the United Nations commemorates its 70th anniversary, the world body is re-assessing and re-evaluating its 16 peacekeeping missions costing a staggering 8.3 billion dollars in 2015-2016 – even as military conflicts and domestic insurgencies continue to spread, mostly in Africa, including the Central African Republic, Mali, South Sudan, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
But with peacekeepers increasingly caught in crossfires, is the United Nations planning to gradually abandon its objective of keeping the peace and instead transform its peacekeepers into a fighting force?
The United Nations says it’s not true — but civil society organisations are sceptical.
Mel Duncan, founding Director of Advocacy & Outreach Nonviolent Peaceforce, told IPS the High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) headed by Jose Ramos Horta, a former president of Timor Leste, strongly recommended in June the need for unarmed strategies to civilian protection in conflict zones.
But Duncan pointed out that when Secretary General Ban Ki-moon forwarded his report to the General Assembly and Security Council, the recommendations for unarmed approaches were deleted.
“Instead the emphasis is on armed approaches,” he noted.
He said a change in the overall culture of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is required for substantive reform.
This cultural shift, he noted, must be initiated from the top down. Increased accountability like naming and shaming and suspending payments are good steps but more fundamental changes are required.
“Our experience is that U.N. peacekeeping sites are often highly sexually charged. Military environments depend on the threat and use of violent force and domination. And U.N. peacekeepers are less than four percent women.”
He also pointed out that unarmed civilian protection (UCP) is based upon nonviolence and relationship building. UCP groups are over 40 percent women in the field.
Asked for an official response, U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS: “My colleagues who worked on the report don’t share the premise about ‘deleted paragraphs’.”
It is simply the case that the secretary-general’s (SG) report was 28 pages long, while the Panel’s report was 104 pages, he said.
In the case of protection of civilians, this meant that the Panel’s report had 24 paragraphs on that topic and the SG’s report had to boil this down to five paragraphs.
On substance, he said, the SG’s report, includes the following:
— The first paragraph of the section is entirely focused on unarmed protection; it picks up on the HIPPO recommendation to work more closely with communities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
— The next para on the protection of civilians section moves on to the additional unarmed protection actors within the missions (role of civilian components within missions), emphasising the importance of political advocacy and adding that this is a “mission-wide” task, he explained.
James Paul, a former longtime Executive Director of the Global Policy Forum told IPS each UN peace operation has its own Security Council mandate which specifies its purpose and something about what is called by the military “rules of engagement” – that is, when and how use of force comes into play.
Some people in these missions are non-military, including police and civilian experts, but the great majority are soldiers who these days are increasingly well-armed and prepared to use deadly force.
“The soldiers mostly do not speak the language of the country and they are not trained much in the task they have been given. They have difficult and dangerous work, for which they are ill-equipped,” he said.
The 8.3 billion dollar peacekeeping budget is in contrast to the U.N.’s 5.4 billion regular budget, both for the biennium 2015-2016.
Every one of the 193 member states is legally obliged to pay for peacekeeping operations based on a special scale of assessments on each country’s ability to pay.
The three largest contributors are the United States (which pays 28.4 percent of the peacekeeping budget), Japan (10.8 percent) and France 7.2 percent).
The United Nations points out that 8.3 billion is less than one half of one percent of the world’s military spending estimated at 1.7 trillion dollars in 2013.
The largest troop contributing countries are mostly from South Asia, including Bangladesh (9432 troops), Nepal (9346), India (7794) and Pakistan (7533).
According to U.N. figures, there are currently about 124,000 peacekeeping personnel serving in 16 U.N. missions, including 105,000 uniformed military and 13,000 police officers. The rest are civilian staff.
Paul said it would be interesting to know where the opposition to an unarmed peace force is coming from. Do the South Asians want to keep selling their soldiers to the UN? Does the P-5 (the five permanent members of the Security Council, namely the U.S.,UK, France, China and Russia) always prefer the violent “solution”?, he asked.
Does the DPKO prefer force because of the momentum of longstanding practice? And the military culture that is to be found throughout the department.
“The U.N. is marching down the road to war and it needs to turn back,” said Paul, who has monitored the United Nations for nearly 20 years as head of a New York based NGO.
“More effective use of force is not a solution that will work. Cholera, rape, destruction, failure to make peace, deployments lasting years. No reforms of this system will get us where we want to go,” he declared.
At his annual year-end press conference Wednesday, the secretary-general told reporters that today’s crises highlight the failures of long-established peace and security and development responses.
“My concern led me to establish a high-level panel, which reported to me earlier this year. Last Friday I issued my own assessment of the future of United Nations peace operations. My report sets out the actions I believe we must take to maximize our impact today while putting in place the foundations for more long-term transformation.”
Ban said he is calling for three key changes: (a) an urgent emphasis on conflict prevention and mediation; (b) steps to improve the speed and agility of U.N. peacekeeping and political missions; and (c) deeper partnerships with regional organisations, in particular the African Union.
“We do not have many opportunities to reform U.N. peace operations in such a comprehensive way. It is essential that we act urgently and collectively. I am moving ahead with what can be done under my own executive authority. Much depends on the General Assembly and the Security Council, and I urge Member States to give this effort their full support.”
He said the future of UN peace operations also depends on concerted action to rid U.N. peace operations of sexual exploitation and abuse.
“It is shameful when U.N. and other personnel sent to protect people compound the suffering and become part of the problem.”
Ban said he has set out a number of new measures, and doing everything within his authority to stamp out this “unacceptable behaviour.”
“I have stressed to all my special representatives the need for their vigilance and leadership. Member States must also do more to train their personnel and hold them accountable,” he added.
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