6 September 2017

Rwanda: Peacekeepers Want Use of Force to Protect Civilians

Countries contributing troops to the United Nations peacekeeping operations want the protection of civilians embedded in their mandate within a broader political strategy of UN missions, as risks to civilians in conflict-areas increase.

In a two-day preparatory meetings to the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial meeting due to take place in Vancouver, Canada from November 14 to 15, countries gathering in Kigali brainstormed on how to overcome logistical and capability challenges that impede current missions.

"In Vancouver, we expect countries to make smart pledges, which are specific pledges to fill the gaps in the current UN peacekeeping missions, more importantly on what concerns capabilities like helicopters and other technologies that allows peacekeepers to be more efficient," said Michael Grant, Canadian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN.

Besides the logistical challenge, some trends, such as the rise of asymmetric threats posed by Jihadist groups in places like Mali, and the increase call for peacekeepers to address threats in urban areas was highlighted in the Kigali meeting as having created a more challenging operational environment for peacekeepers.

"Do the rules of engagement need revisiting for peacekeeping settings involving asymmetric threats or when the perpetrators are living within civilian population?" The discussion paper for the Kigali meeting reads.

The question, the meeting resolved, would have to be answered in the Vancouver meeting.

According to Rwandan officials, however, the success of peacekeeping missions and protection of civilians depends on commitment of peacekeepers, their commanders and their own governments.

"There is a need to review the specific challenges in the whole early warning process and rapid deployment as well as the challenges associated with protecting those at risk," said Gen James Kabarebe, Minister of Defence for Rwanda.

Good peacekeeper, good soldier

He said the challenges can be addressed through institutional reforms, change of mindset as well as drawing lessons from past mistakes and inactions.

In the past and current peacekeeping missions, some troops contributing countries have manifested unwillingness to engage in robust protection activities, through caveats preventing their troops to use forces even when it is for the purpose of protecting civilians.

"While equipping and training are essential for the successful peacekeeping missions, they are rendered irrelevant by the absence of the will to use force to protect civilians," said Gen Patrick Nyamvumba, the Chief of Defence Staff of the Rwanda.

"For those of us in uniform, we do understand that to be a good peacekeeper, you have to be a good soldier," he added.

Drawing from his experience as force commander of the AU-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur, General Nyamvumba regretted that various contingents hold varying beliefs about what their mandate is as far as protection of civilians is concerned.

According to him, some contingents interpret their mandate as consisting merely presence in areas where there are civilians. Rwanda and other 42 countries that have endorsed the Kigali Principles on Protection of Civilians hopes to persuade all troops contributing countries to adopt an active approach to protect civilians.

The 18 values adopted in Kigali in 2015, include some asking peacekeepers not to hesitate to take action or use force to protect civilians when necessary.

According to a report by the US advocacy group The Sentry, South Sudan's leaders and their families have amassed great wealth during the conflict issuing caveats preventing peacekeepers from fulfilling their responsibility to protect civilians.

Rwanda gave its own example of what happened in 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, when peacekeepers withdrew, leaving civilian population to the mercy of killers and emphasises that "If peacekeeping forces do not fulfill the noble mission of protecting civilians, they have no other reason for existence."

The Kigali meeting took place few days after South Sudan government ordered the UN's Regional Protection troops out of the Juba International Airport.

Information Minister Michael Makuei said Rwanda Patriotice Front attempted to illegally occupy the Juba airport without any agreement with the administration

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