Largely funded by developed nations but mostly manned by personnel from developing countries, U.N. peacekeeping operations today reflect the altered dynamics that are challenging the burden-sharing that the United Nations itself touts as a strength of such missions.
Reports about peacekeepers’ sexual abuse of civilians, especially young children, have already led ordinary citizens to have misgivings about the ability, let alone the right, of troops to carry out the responsibility of stemming global conflict. But the reasons that some peacekeepers may be unfit for such an important task, in many cases, are even more immediate: The imbalance in the division of labor in peacekeeping raises questions on whether troops assigned to conflict zones can protect the civilians they’re supposed to shield from danger in the first place.
Impartiality is one of the three basic principles that guide U.N. peacekeeping. And yet, “all peace operations are political.” Ian Martin, former special representative of the U.N. secretary-general in Nepal, wrote that in 2010; Jim Della-Giacoma, deputy director and head of the crisis diplomacy and peace operations program at the Center on International Cooperation, repeated it in an essay published last June.
Earlier this year, attacks by the al-Qaida’s North African arm against the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization’s convoy in Mali, which killed six peacekeepers and wounded five others — all from Burkina Faso — only drove home that point. They also highlighted the volatile contexts that peacekeepers find themselves in, whether or not they’re equipped or trained to handle them. It is a reality that, Della-Giacoma acknowledged, has become even more apparent since the 2003 bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, by the militant jihadist group known as Jama'at al-Tawhid wa'l Jihad, some of whose members are now part of the Islamic State group.
Anna Patricia Valerio is a Manila-based development analyst focusing on writing innovative, in-the-know content for senior executives in the international development community. Before joining Devex, Patricia wrote and edited business, technology and health stories for BusinessWorld, a Manila-based business newspaper.
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