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(Hopefully not) Eternal Questions…

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(Hopefully not) Eternal Questions…

Posted by Maggie Fick on April 6, 2009

(Hopefully not) Eternal Questions...

How can the international community protect civilians in conflict zones? When are United Nations peacekeepers useful in protecting civilians? And what are the key components of a U.N. peacekeeping mandate if such protection is to be achieved?

These challenging questions have enormous bearing on conflict resolution efforts all over the world, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Sri Lanka. Entire institutions — think the esteemed Stimson Center and its Future of Peace Operations program — are devoted to wrestling with them. Other groups, such as the Ford Institute for Human Security, also work to address these core questions about civilian protection and peacekeeping through data collection and analysis. (See their recent findings in this report).
In the case of MONUC, the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission in Congo, which has a yearly budget of $1 billion and over 17,000 peacekeepers on the ground, grappling with the challenges of civilian protection in conflict zones has proved to be an ongoing (and often overwhelming) challenge.

In Darfur, the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, or UNAMID, faces different challenges in its mission to protect civilians. Last summer, the Darfur Consortium released a sharp critique of UNAMID’s performance during its six months on the ground in Darfur. While the report admitted that a protection force like UNAMID “will not solve the situation in Darfur,” it argued that “it must do what it can” to protect civilians from further violence until the conflict ends. Figuring out exactly how to provide adequate protection for Darfur’s more than 2.5 million displaced people given the limited nature of UNAMID’S resources, flexibility, and mandate continues to stymie this mission.

Given the myriad variables at play in each conflict zone, it is difficult to provide a formula for successful operations to protect civilians. However, it is encouraging to see that research institutes are dedicating resources to building a body of literature and analysis that could enable U.N. peacekeeping missions to better achieve the crucial imperative of civilian protection.
Rebecca Brocato contributed to this post.