New Horizons for UN Peacekeeping
Alexander MEZYAEV 27.09.2015 00:00

Prior to the recently opened 70th session of the UN General Assembly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon presented his report on UN peacekeeping operations. Problems of peacekeeping have recently become the subject of active discussions at a variety of levels, including the UN Security Council.

In October 2014, a special High-level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations was commissioned to carry out «a comprehensive assessment of UN peace operations today and how they can be made more effective, efficient and responsive in a changing world». In June 2015, the Group delivered its report, which has also been taken as the basis for the UN Secretary-General’s new initiative. Both reports are of undoubted interest for understanding the current state of peacekeeping issues and, most importantly, a possible way to develop it.

UN peacekeeping operations have already become commonplace in the modern world, although there are few today who will remember that they are not even mentioned in the UN Charter. As the saying goes, they were incorporated on the spur of the moment... At present, the UN is conducting 39 special operations involving 128,000 people – more than ever before in the entire history of the organisation. The need to carry out peacekeeping operations is explained by thegrowing number of armed conflicts. In 2008 alone, the number of armed conflicts in the world increased almost threefold.

Except the conflicts are becoming increasingly less objective and more man-made, and are frequently organised specifically for the introduction of ‘international’ troops (with the commanders invariably being appointed by representatives of a narrow circle of ‘elite’ states). In this regard, incidentally, the UN Secretary-General’s report contains an interesting observation: «Labels assigned to conflict – internal, inter-state, regional, ethnic or sectarian – have become increasingly irrelevant, as transnational forces of violent extremism and organized crime build on and abet local rivalries».

So what is the future direction of UN peacekeeping? Its future prospects can be singled out with a careful reading of the report’s text, although with difficulty (they are not listed separately). Firstly, one should pay attention to the persistent (if not obsessive) repetition of one and the same idea: UN troops should be brought in where there is a violation of human rights. This idea is brought to a climax with the use of the phrase «Human Rights Up Front». In other words, there is an attempt to change the concepts of ‘UN peacekeeping operations’ and ‘humanitarian intervention’ – a long-held dream of Ban Ki-moon and his Secretariat, which have spent many years pushing through the idea of humanitarian intervention as a ‘rule of law’.

There is another noticeable trend in terms of the future geographical range of the UN’s peacekeeping operations. Thus after commending the African Union for its cooperation, the UN Secretary-General also commended... the European Union. Ban Ki-moon welcomed «the EU’s commitment to engage EU Battlegroups, where appropriate, for crisis management» with admiration. In doing so, however, he specified that such management could only be a transition period prior to the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces. The implication is more than clear...

The UN Secretary-General’s plans also include greater control over operations. Thus the report says that the Department of Field Support and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations will finalise, by early 2016, a concept and standard operating procedures for a rapidly-deployable military and police headquarters capacity that can be fully-functional within 8-12 weeks of issuance of a mandate. The issue of headquarters is not as simple as it may seem at first glance. The fact is that to date – 70 years after the signing of the UN Charter – one of the Charter’s chapters on the Military Staff Committee of the United Nations has not been realised. This is no accident, of course, since everyone understands that the issue of commanding troops is crucial. And it is on this subject that the permanent members of the UN Security Council have never managed to agree. It seems that the leaders of the UN intend to make a final decision.

Among the problem areas, the UN Secretary-General mentioned the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN staff members, including peacekeepers, against the local population, including children. He stated that the problem concerned «a small minority of UN personnel», however, and the report does not give a specific figure regarding the number of cases involving such crimes. If we are judging the issue of crimes committed by the personnel of UN operations according to Ban Ki-moon’s report, then it is limited to sexual violence. In truth, however, it is far from it.

There is a fair amount of information proving that the extent of criminality within the UN is much more serious. One cannot forget, for example, the role of the UN Mission in Kosovo, which actively implemented a policy to separate Kosovo and Metohija from Serbia and which has now virtually removed itself from any kind of activity to enforce the provisions of  Resolution 1244 (1999).

The incident regarding the concealment of information on crimes against the civilian population by the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur (Sudan) should also be recalled. It was reported by none other than the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda. The UN Secretary-General gave the impression that an investigation had been carried out and declared that the accusations made by the ICC’s prosecutor were unfounded, although he admitted that information had been concealed, but «only» in five of the sixteen cases investigated.

We should also remember the widespread evidence of criminal activity by the UN mission in former Yugoslavia, especially by the notorious UNPROFOR. In a number of cases at the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, evidence was provided that a significant part of the mission was directly involved in the armed conflict. There is also enough serious evidence for an extremely thorough investigation to be carried out regarding the UN mission in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, about which witnesses at the International Tribunal for Rwanda and the Special Court for Sierra Leone have given evidence time and again. However, this evidence is going unnoticed by the judges of international tribunals, the UN Secretary-General and the media...

So of all the real problems associated with the UN’s peacekeeping operations, the UN Secretary-General only admitted to the issue of sexual violence. And even that problem will be reduced to «a small minority» of people punished. A few days ago, for example, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed his «extreme concern» about reports that a French soldier in Mali allegedly raped an underage girl. As can be seen, it is all being narrowed down to isolated incidents rather than a phenomenon (that has, in truth, been thriving on a massive scale for many years).

And, finally, the omissions.

The role of the UN peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire has also never been the subject of an investigation. On the contrary, the UN Secretary-General referred to the crime committed by the UN peacekeeping forces in this country in April 2011 as nothing other than the use of «firm resolve». Wording like this does not just mean that they have decided to ‘forget’ about the crime. If anything, the crime was included as an example and the kind of model that will be resorted to in the future. You will recall that in 2011, certain members of the UN peacekeeping operation in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire were involved in the overthrow of the legitimate president, Laurent Gbagbo, including carrying out military operations and even the arrest of the head of state. It is the second time that UN peacekeeping forces have been directly involved in the overthrow of a country’s legitimate government following similar events in 1960 in the Congo (the overthrow of Patrice Lumumba).

There was also no room in the UN Secretary-General’s analytical report for a new, but rather remarkable, event that took place last year when UN peacekeeping forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo were involved in a combat operation. Thus what took place was always described as inconceivable, because it violates the principle of neutrality of UN forces. Given that neither the High-level Independent Panel nor the UN Secretary-General made note of this evidence or subjected it to critical analysis, it is possible to assume that the involvement of UN peacekeeping forces both in combat operations alongside one of the opposing forces and in the direct overthrow of a legitimate authority will become commonplace from now on.