Friday, 27 August 2010

Peacekeeping, failure and hope

Undeniably international peacekeeping missions receive more attention when they go wrong. Though most people have heard of the UN's failings in states such as Rwanda and Bosnia where thousands were massacred as the blue helmets floundered (sometimes because of politicians, sometimes because of those on the ground), far fewer can recall the relatively successful missions in conflict zones such as Macedonia, Cyprus and post-occupation East Timor.

However, disproportionate coverage aside, it is clear that after hundreds of interventions around the world, the disappointment and sense of failure is, at least in part, justified. The horrifying mass-rape in Eastern Congo this week took place just miles from United Nations Peacekeepers. Hundreds of women and baby boys were brutalised by militias - yet armed the armed force whose sole purpose is to protect the Democratic Republic of Congo's population did nothing to intervene. An emergency meeting has been called and officials have produced heated rhetoric about bringing the perpetrators to justice; but this will mean little to those whose lives have been torn apart by the barbaric act and does nothing to rectify the fact that the peacekeepers did not help them in their hour of need.

Unfortunately this is just the latest is a long line of failings that have befallen the UN's Congo mission. A lack of resources and troops (exacerbated by the state's enormous size), impotence in the face of what reports are now suggesting amounts to genocide, and sexual abuse by peacekeepers against the very people they are meant to be protecting, have all left the force understandably unpopular with the local population and have raised questions over whether their presence has really improved the situation. Of course there have been successes - many militias have been disarmed, the armies of neighbouring states have largely departed and significant areas are now at relative peace. However, given the potential might of the UN and the force's presence in the DRC for over a decade, it is hard to view it as anything other than a failure.

In stark contrast, proposals over the last couple of weeks for an OSCE deployment to Kyrgyzstan, have raised hopes of a far more successful kind of peacekeeping operation. In response the horrendous ethnic clashes that killed over 2000 people in June, the OSCE intends to send 52 well trained police officers to assist fledging constabularies in specific regions. Small and tokenistic as this may sound, it could have a remarkable effect.

If they have a clear mandate (something that was never established for the Congo peacekeepers) the officers will be in a better position to draft in extra resources and exercise their powers in response to the situation on the ground. By working in an advisory/training capacity they are more likely to been seen as friends rather than enemies or occupiers by the local population. And by focusing on policing rather than military peacekeeping they can potentially prevent conflict in its early stages- rather than exacerbating it or attempting to placate it once it is already out of control.

Of course, it's hard to compare such a specifically targeted operation to the Congo mission, which involved entering a state the size of Western Europe engaged in full scale civil war with multiple domestic militias and foreign armies. But if the OSCE mission is a success it will demonstrate once again that, though we're still far from getting it right, international peacekeeping missions can and do work; and that as intergovernmental organisations explore and expand ways in which they can halt conflict and human rights abuses, be it through policing, training, monitoring or some other means - we can eventually prevent failures such as those in Rwanda, Bosnia and the Democratic Republic of Congo from ever happening again.

No comments:

Post a Comment