Tag Archives: Protection of Civilians

Peacekeeping in South Sudan: Offering full-spectrum protection for civilians

13 Jan

The UN Security Council’s decision of the 24th December 2013 to reinforce the UNMISS[1] Peacekeeping operation in South Sudan represents a serious attempt to assist in the prevention of attacks on the civilian population within the country. On a wider level, the reinforcement of UNMISS indicates the role that peacekeeping is now expected to play in civilian protection, but it may also provide a warning to how much a peacekeeping operation can achieve without a comprehensive political process to back this up.

Resolution 2132, which reinforced UNMISS, is also representative of the UN’s stronger stance on what to do when violence breaks out in an area where an operation is already being deployed – a journey which began with the calamitous decision in 1994 not to reinforce the UNAMIR operation in Rwanda when it became clear that a systematic campaign of genocide was being planned, and ultimately undertaken. Therefore in many ways, the UN’s reinforcement of UNMISS is the ‘right thing’ to do, a product of a 20 year reflection and development on how to respond in situations where a mission is deployed and civilians are threatened. Moreover, the UN’s decision to reinforce has saved lives in South Sudan, in part as a result of the simple fact that there are now more peacekeepers deployed in the conflict zone to protect the civilian population. This is to be valued.

However, civilian protection at this tactical level could pose future difficulties for UNMISS.

The very presence of UN peacekeepers can sometimes offer enough of a deterrence to would be ‘spoilers’ to a peace process, including those considering attacking civilians. However, deterrence alone will not last forever, and this presents considerable difficulties where civilian protection mandates are concerned. If violence continues after reinforcements have been deployed, with peacekeepers being unable to effectively deter further attacks, then the UN will have difficulties, both logistical and in terms of legitimacy. Richard Gowan’s article for World Politics Review speaks to these challenges, where he outlines three possible scenarios for the UMISS peacekeeping mission in the near future[2]:

In the first and best scenario, the mission will manage to hold together militarily long enough for more-or-less sincere political talks to end the violence. In the second, it might muddle through in the face of half-hearted negotiations and spasmodic but serious violence, trying to save as many lives as possible. The third, worst-case scenario would involve the fragmentation and rout of UNMISS after repeated attacks on its bases, personnel and convoys.

This challenge in cases such as South Sudan, is partly the result of the undefined relationship between the original design of peacekeeping – deploying missions where there is actually peace to keep – and what operations are now being asked to do regarding protection of civilians. Ever since the first armed peacekeeping operation (UNEF I) was closed on the eve of the 1967 war in the Middle East, there has been an implicit admission that peacekeeping is only effective if the parties to the conflict actually wish for peace. Peacekeeping where there is no peace to keep is dangerous territory for the United Nations, and peacekeeping failures have often gone hand in hand with deployments into areas where UN peacekeepers are no more than bystanders in conflicts where combatants have no real interest in pursuing peace. In the case of South Sudan, it could well be that additional peacekeepers are to be deployed into an area where there is little peace to keep. This dynamic has not gone un-noticed by troop contributors[3].

There seems to be no getting around it:  a comprehensive approach to the protection of civilians requires considerable political activity above and beyond the creation of short-term ceasefires and consolidation of battle-lines.

The necessity of a holistic political process is critical for full civilian protection. Importantly, this will require reflection on the evolution of structures and power dynamics wherein ethnic tensions are allowed to fester, civil society groups had little access to power-making structures, and allegations of corruption have been pointed at political elites[4]. It would be hugely beneficial if such reflection were to also examine the planning and execution of international statebuilding practices which no doubt influenced the actions at a national level. No conflict is contained purely within the borders of the state, safe from external influence. South Sudan is no different.

A more sustained, pre-deployment, process of reflection could lead to more attuned strategies for peace. The New York Times warns of the difficulties of devising a peace process without a significant understanding of the conflict, arguing that

Any push toward a tribally defined solution to the conflict — like a Bosnia-style ethnic power sharing deal — would be disastrous, for it would entrench and validate ethnic fissures, rather than give political power sharing a chance to smooth them over.[5]

An editorial in the Washington Post shares this sentiment, noting that power-sharing ‘could become just another division of the spoils, and elections could become another exercise in ethnic division’[6]. Thus in understanding international peacebuilding, a much broader constituency of stakeholders must be engaged at earlier phases. This – in the words of civil society actors from the region – will require political sacrifices from the conflicting parties[7].  Elsewhere, the role of religious leaders, civic leaders and former combatants in creating a durable peace have been highlighted as being critical in establishing a durable peace[8]. A United States Institute of Peace report from 8 January further elucidates this[9]

Strategies for protecting civilians in South Sudan are ultimately being undertaken too late in the political process and in a bit of a policy vacuum. International peacekeeping operations have limitations, particularly when their deterrent effect falters. In looking towards establishing a political solution to the conflict, a suitable testament to the civilians who have been killed, injured, or forcibly removed (and to those peacekeepers who have been killed and injured trying to protecting them) would be to do more (and earlier) to encourage a political system which has the ‘peaceful coexistence, progress, development and happiness[10]’ of the South Sudanese population at its heart. It is in these processes where effective, sustainable civilian protection lies.

 Dr. David Curran, Peacekeeping Fellow

[1] UN Department of Public Information, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2132 (2013), Security Council Increases United Nations Mission’s Military Presence In South Sudan, http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2013/sc11230.doc.htm

[2] Gowan, Richard, Diplomatic Fallout: Can the U.N. Rebuild its Force in South Sudan? http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/13460/diplomatic-fallout-can-the-u-n-rebuild-its-force-in-south-sudan

[3] Republica, Your war, our soldiers!, 07 January 2014, http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=67502

[5] New York Times, South Sudan’s Tangled Crisis, 05 January 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/06/opinion/south-sudans-tangled-crisis.html?_r=0

[7] Alliance for Peacebuilding, Statement of Sudanese and South Sudanese Civil Society on the Conflict in South Sudan, 30 December 2013, http://www.allianceforpeacebuilding.org/2013/12/statement-of-sudanese-and-south-sudanese-civil-society-on-the-conflict-in-south-sudan/

[9] Princeton N. Lyman, Jon Temin, Susan Stigant, Crisis and Opportunity in South Sudan, US Institute of Peace, 08 January 2014, http://www.usip.org/publications/crisis-and-opportunity-in-south-sudan?utm_content=buffer2b45c&utm_

[10] Alliance for Peacebuilding, Statement of Sudanese and South Sudanese Civil Society on the Conflict in South Sudan, 30 December 2013, http://www.allianceforpeacebuilding.org/2013/12/statement-of-sudanese-and-south-sudanese-civil-society-on-the-conflict-in-south-sudan/

Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention

12 Mar

On Tuesday, February 26, 2013, the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, in conjunction with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Program in Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Studies, presented a conference entitled Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy, and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention.

The agenda of the conference was situated around atrocity, conflict, and genocide prevention, protection of civilians, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), transitional justice and the application of crisis mapping and technology to the field and agenda of prevention. In addition, another objective of the conference was to theorize and examine the assumptions and aims of the field of prevention, while also defining and rationalizing the parameters and the relationship that prevention has with other disciplines and agendas.

The topics discussed in this conference remain relevant in finding a means to prevent genocide and mass atrocity around the world. Specifically, the thematics and ideology behind Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy, and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention runs parallel to the mission of Global Action to Prevent War.

This conference has reinforced the need for furthering the discussion on genocide prevention, as it is clear that while the technology is evolving within the field, there is still need for structural and cultural changes, among the major and most powerful players. While it seems that the academic and civil society actors are most active in the push towards improving the use of technology in early warning indicators and the development of groundbreaking mechanisms, it would be in the best interest of the entire global community to work towards strengthening this evolving and pertinent leg of the prevention field.

The event began with an address from the keynote speaker, retired Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire, followed by the first panel discussion entitled, “The United Nations Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect: An Evolving Institution.” The panelists included Ambassador Francis Deng, Edward Luck and Juan Mendez.

In keeping with the agenda of the conference, the session started with exploring the link between R2P and state sovereignty, the three-pillar approach, developing mechanisms and early warning indicators both regionally and sub-regionally, and the role of institutions in indicating to governments when it is time to act.

Ambassador Deng, former Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, defined genocide as an extreme form of identity conflict, where some are marginalized and others are given the sense of belonging. This may be characterized through regional identities or religious differences. Ambassador Deng also made reference to the Armenian genocide as the first genocide of the 20th century.

It was noted that sub-regional actors are very important in preventing mass atrocities and genocide, as they are usually able to assist in identifying early warning signs. It was noted that with an emphasis on regional engagement, the involvement of civil society actors, and other institutions, the prevention of mass atrocities is possible. However, this regional engagement would need to involve structural and cultural change across the international community, civil society, member states, the private sector, media outlets and academia.  It was also stated that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed that prevention is an ongoing responsibility, before, during and after a mass atrocity.

The crisis-mapping portion of the conference served as the most modern and applicable tool of genocide prevention. The three speakers outlined the different means by which GIS technology, mapping and other applications may be used in the field both as a means of prevention as well as a system for tracking progress. Professor Colette Mazzucelli, Adjunct Professor from New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, demonstrated the use of the Ushahidi application in monitoring the election in Kenya. Zach Romanow of Palantir Technologies demonstrated the use of time series mapping in some of the most remote regions in the world, while Professor Jennifer Leaning from Harvard University presented some of her own findings from the application of technology to crisis mapping and early warning in humanitarian settings.

Professor Colette Mazzucelli had the following to say about crisis mapping as it pertains to the prevention of mass atrocities, specific to the application of Ushahidi technology:

“Those among us engaged in crisis mapping must be consistently vigilant as we assess how to translate innovations in technology to prevent mass atrocities while accepting the ethical responsibility to protect those mapping for peace. The focus of our communitarian efforts in the early 21st century is on the urgency to reject the experience of the complicit bystander. The evolution is one of a transnational commitment to map for human security on platforms such as Ushahidi to monitor recent historic elections in Kenya, for example, http://blog.ushahidi.com/ Our community is an emerging “transnational advocacy network,” in the usage defined by Keck and Sikkink. The experiences in network over time with each mapping deployment underscore that our shared humanity is at risk in those areas where “predisposing factors,” in Hamburg’s words, leading to genocide exist. Crisis mapping is a technique as well as a methodology to develop in the prevention toolbox, which places the accent on sovereignty as responsibility. Its contributions over time may highlight the view expressed by the Canadian Senator, General  Roméo Dallaire, that early prevention is preferable to late intervention. Mapping is a way to enhance the awareness of those outside areas in need where local community leaders are taking destiny in hand. These leaders are the linchpin of a pioneering crisis mapping system in which locals are responsible to rewrite grassroots narratives from the ground up. Their story is one of a break with history, a staccato narrative, to cite Zerubavel’s term, after decades of top down impunity in the face of injustices committed by states against their own peoples. Our vocation in crisis mapping is one in which we look beyond the killing fields to the social reality we construct on behalf of a prevention culture, which serves to recall Lemkin’s more expansive definition of genocide.”

Additional resources:






–Shari Smith

Shari is an intern with Global Action this semester.