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UN Peacekeeping Report Advises Changes


U.N. peacekeepers from Serbia at a station along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

U.N. peacekeepers from Serbia at a station along the Lebanese-Israeli border.


Peacekeeping operations are often criticized. In September 2014, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked a group to study all of the UN peacekeeping and political missions.

Jair van der Lign is head of peace operations research at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. His organization held meetings in Addis Ababa earlier this month to discuss African peacekeeping problems and ways to solve them. He wrote a report based on such meetings to give the panel more information.

New problems

There are new problems for peacekeeping. One is that criminals and jihadists can easily cross some borders. These are borders that do not have strong security in place.

Another problem has to do with equipment. Mr. van der Lign says bombs killed many peacekeepers in Mali. The bombs are left in the road or carried by people. To be safe, the peacekeepers need vehicles with strong sides that resist bombs.

“If you start to look at all the incidents, you will find most of the fatalities are the result of the IEDs that kill people because the vehicles they were traveling in were not IED-proof. So just making sure that particularly Chadian soldiers travel in Mali with the required armored personnel carriers would already save a lot of lives.”

The use of force

The study found that people in countries where peacekeeping forces are working want them to use force to protect civilians. But the commanders may not always order their troops to use force. They do not want to put their troops in danger.

The report says although the troops have orders, or a mandate, to protect civilians, the politicians in the home country of the UN troops can also give orders to the commanders.

“That’s why you see in some operations that the operations remain passive not necessarily because the mandate is passive, no quite often the mandate of an operation is very robust and says you should intervene and you should protect civilians. [It’s] not because the force commander of the peace operation does not want to do it, but because the troop contributor, in the end, decides that they think it is too dangerous to protect civilians... in practice, there is a second line of command…and that’s their own capitals. That is a problem the UN is aware of and trying to find solutions.”

Clear orders

Mr. Van der Lijn says the UN must be clear about the orders they give to peacekeeping troops. The troops might not have a mandate, or order to protect all civilians. Or, they may not have everything they need to protect all of the civilians in an area. When people expect protection, and the troops cannot provide it, the people get angry. This has happened in Mali, South Sudan, and the Eastern Congo.

Cooperation versus sovereignty

Some who talked with the researchers said the weak borders mean that UN operations should take place in several countries at one time. This creates a question of sovereignty, or the right of a country to control what happens in its borders.

Mr. Van der Lijn thinks most countries will not agree to peacekeeping operations that cross national borders, because they do not want to give up their sovereignty. But, he says the UN should make plans for peace operations based on cooperation between the United Nations and the African Union and sub-regional organizations.

Paying for peacekeeping

The study found that there are also worries about the cost of peacekeeping. The countries that pay for it are mostly Western, industrialized countries. The countries that provide the troops are middle- and low-income states. They often complain about each other.

Mr. Van der Lijn says over the last year payments to low-income countries providing soldiers has increased. This has helped the relationship, but it would also be good if those giving troops contributed money, and those giving money also sent troops. This exchange might help them understand each other better.

There are 16 peace operations with 120,000 UN personnel around the world. Nine of them, with about 81,000 personnel members, are in sub-Saharan Africa.

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly

William Eagle reported an wrote this story for VOA News. Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

peacekeeping - n. the preserving of peace; especially international enforcement and supervision of an agreement to stop fighting

IED - n. an improvised explosive device (a simple bomb made and used by unofficial or unauthorized forces)

mandate - n. an official order to do something

sovereignty - n. a country's independent authority and the right to govern itself

Now it’s your turn. What do you think of the report’s findings? Are there peacekeeping operations in your country? Do you have suggestions for the UN panel?

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