Tag Archives: Sierra Leone

Goodbye Sierra Leone, Hello CAR: On ‘new’ peacekeeping not being so ‘new’

12 Mar

With Ban Ki Moon overseeing the wrapping up of the UNIPSIL peacebuilding operation, fifteen years of UN involvement in Sierra Leone through peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations has come to an end. This note will not go into much depth about that process, as there are some competent histories of peacekeeping and peacebuilding in Sierra Leone[1]. Nevertheless, it’s aim is to highlight certain of its peacekeeping components (UNAMSIL), while demonstrating the value in reflecting on Sierra Leone operations as opposed to simply forgetting about them. Such reflection is pertinent in light of current proposals on a peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic (CAR), and wider debates on peacekeeping.

More or less at the same time as the UN is wrapping up its Sierra Leone’s commitments, the organization is preparing itself to deploy into the CAR. The descent of the CAR into the grave violence seen today has been well documented[2], as has analysis of the joint French (Operation SANGARIS) and African Union (MISCA) peacekeeping intervention.  The Security Council’s meeting on 6th March looked to directly address the worsening situation in the country through the establishment of a UN peacekeeping presence in the country. Contributions to the meeting came from heads of humanitarian agencies (OCHA and the UNHCR, both of whom appeared to be doing a great deal of work on very little money), the Foreign Minister of the CAR (who gave a considerably emotional and powerful speech), the African Union (who sought to outline MISCA’s achievements, and not have their efforts pushed side by an international presence), as well as a number of member states.

Regarding the probable establishment of a UN operation, the view is very much that the deployment would have to be ‘phased’ – i.e. – robust at first, followed by a larger, more multifunctional force when security was more established. This model of peacekeeping is logical if international peacekeepers are to be deployed. However, the approach was described as being a ‘new approach to peacekeeping’[3]. This description is problematic: the experience of peacekeeping in Sierra Leone demonstrates that phasing operations in this way is anything but ‘new’. The description could become even more problematic if lessons from previous phased operations are not incorporated into new resolutions.

On an organizational front, the Sierra Leone missions incorporated a range of phased actors.  Through the second half of the 1990’s ECOWAS’s military wing, ECOMOG led a robust intervention, largely via the regional hegemon (Nigeria). A considerable number of these forces were ‘re-hatted’ – i.e. forces acting under a regional banner and transitioning over to working under a UN flag[4]. Moreover, the deployment of the UNAMSIL peacekeeping operation was supported by a robust, combat capable deployment from a P5 member – the UK. This allowed for a ‘phased approach’, wherein the UN/UK would push outwards to unsecured zones of operation to create secure conditions for a multifunctional peacekeeping force to undertake core peacebuilding functions.

Conceptually, this demonstrated the first signs of ‘post-Brahimi’ peacekeeping. UNSCR 1270 mandated the operation under Chapter VII to take ‘necessary action to ensure the security and freedom of movement of its personnel and, within its capabilities and areas of deployment, to afford protection to civilians under imminent threat of physical violence’. At the time, Protecting Civilians in peacekeeping mandates was a new phenomenon – UNSCRs 1265 and 1296 being passed in 1999 and 2000 respectively[5].

The use of Chapter VII to authorize ‘necessary action’ allowed peacekeepers to undertake more robust approaches to their duties when faced with belligerent groups.  This linked to the significant doctrinal efforts of the time, in particular the evolution of the ‘Peace Support Operations’ concept[6], which espoused a robust, combat capable military presence to start a mission, which would be phased out by a multifunctional peacebuilding presence.  Indeed, the principle author of PSO doctrine, Phillip Wilkinson, saw Sierra Leone as a conceptual test of that idea[7].

Finally, efforts were put into the transition from peacekeeping – the provision of negative peace – into peacebuilding – the provision of more positive forms of peace. The transition from UNAMSIL to UNIOSIL (later to become UNIPSIL) and the subsequent involvement of the Peacebuilding Commission demonstrated a commitment to longer-term peacebuilding

Sierra Leone demonstrates that ‘new models’ of peacekeeping have been undertaken in the past – but so what? The importance here is that the mission endured a significant range of challenges – some almost bringing the mission down. It is through acknowledging such failures that peacekeeping doctrine and practice develop, particularly useful in the context of establishing new operations.

Levels of enthusiasm towards ‘Robust peacekeeping’ varied considerably as the mission went on. Reports of contingents not willing to undertake offensive operations against rebels beset the operation throughout the first year of its deployment. This was compounded by issues of considerable in-fighting between contingents[8] linked to issues of re-hatting of ECOMOG Peacekeepers into UN ones[9]. The operation was also the ‘poster image’ for the oft-used concept of peacekeepers arriving in theatre with inadequate levels of training and equipment, a dilemma often faced when peackeepers are required to deploy rapidly. Even Secretary General Annan was quoted to have said ‘Anyone who believes, or says they believe, in multilateral affairs must be disappointed.’[10] These dilemmas were to contribute to the low point of the operation in the summer of 2000, when rebel groups took 300 peacekeepers hostage[11].

On a wider scale, issues with the Lomé Peace Agreement offered considerable lessons in the crafting of peace agreements[12], in particular, the awarding of Senior Ministerial Posts to those in the highest echelons of the principal rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front. Critiques over the minimal role of women in crafting peace agreements for Sierra Leone were also made. Moreover, assessments of the PBC engagement noted substantial difficulties with the coordination of peacebuilding, in particular the use of the Peacebuilding Fund without effective political agreement with the government on how the money would be used[13]. UNAMSIL was also one of the active missions to be highlighted in reports of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, at a time when the SEA went from being an issue swept under the carpet to one of the most damaging scandals to beset UN peacekeeping operations.

If history is constantly being reinvented by those who authorize and deploy operations, then there is a legitimate concern that the lessons of that history will not have been learned. This is not to say that the mission in the CAR is a ‘Sierra Leone’ engagement – no two conflicts are the same, neither should the response be. However, if the CAR operation runs into difficulties, suggesting that the difficulties are due to the fact that this is a ‘new’ type of operation will be neither honest nor sufficient. This is a critical matter when it comes to properly addressing and assessing significant security threats to human lives.

This leads one to ask what ‘new’ actually means. States in the C34, and fourth committee have often sought to highlight how peacekeeping today is substantially different from what it used to be. The C34 committee contained statements – both tinged with skepticism and optimism – that peacekeeping just wasn’t like it used to be. Given that peacekeeping in Sierra Leone was being undertaken 15 years ago, this judgment about the relation between ‘new’ and ‘old’ peacekeeping should be interrogated more deeply. Again, peacekeeping operations are deployed into highly violent societies. Consistently claiming to invent the wheel when the wheel has long been present will not help us meet current peacekeeping challenges.

It is not up to this article to proclaim Sierra Leone as a ‘success’ – that is up to the people of Sierra Leone to decide. Nevertheless, its importance in developing peacekeeping doctrine and practice is not to be sniffed at. What the mission did, how it did it, and the challenges it faced should all be kept in mind, particularly as the UN seeks to establish a peacekeeping mission to the CAR.

By all means consign peacekeeping in Sierra Leone to the history book, but do not consign its lessons to the trashcan.

Dr. David Curran, Peacekeeping Fellow

[1] David Keen, Conflict and collusion in Sierra Leone, New York, Palgrave, 2005

[2] Gobal Centre for R2P, ‘Central African Republic’, http://www.globalr2p.org/regions/central_african_republic

[3] French Mission to the United Nations – 6 mars 2014 – République centrafricaine – Remarques à la presse de M. Gérard Araud, représentant permanent de la France auprès des Nations unies – found at http://www.franceonu.org/la-france-a-l-onu/espace-presse/declarations-presse/points-de-presse/article/6-mars-2014-republique

[4] United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations Best Practices Unit – “Re-Hatting” Ecowas Forces As UN Peacekeepers: Lessons Learned http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/sites/coe/referencedocuments/ECOWAS%20Rehatting.pdf

[5] Curran, D. M.; Woodhouse, T., Cosmopolitan Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding in Sierra Leone: What can Africa contribute?, International Affairs. Vol. 83, No. 6, 2007 pp. 1055-1070.

[6] Joint Doctrine Development Centre, Joint Warfare Publication 3-50: Peace Support Operations. London: Permanent Joint Headquarters, 1998, (JDDC is now the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre – DCDC)

[7] Wilkinson, P, ‘Peace support under fire: lessons from Sierra Leone’, International Security Information Service briefing paper, June 2000

[8] Bullion, A, India in Sierra Leone: A case of Muscular Peacekeeping, International Peacekeeping, Vol.8, No.4, Winter 2001, pp.77–91

[9] The Guardian, Sierra Leone peace force accused of sabotage, 8 September 2000, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2000/sep/09/sierraleone.unitednations

[10] See note 8.

[11] United Nations, Lessons learned from United Nations peacekeeping experiences in Sierra Leone, UN Best Practices Unit ‘Lessons learned’ report, New York,  United Nations, Sept. 2003

[12] Bright, D., ‘Crafting the Lomé Peace Agreement, Conciliation Resources Report, 2000, http://www.c-r.org/sites/c-r.org/files/Accord%2009_7Implementing%20the%20Lome%20Peace%20Agreement_2000_ENG.pdf

[13] Actionaid, CAFOD and CARE International, ‘Consolidating the peace? Views from Sierra Leone and Burundi on the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission’, London, CARE International, 2007


Civil Society and RtoP: Prevention and Strong State Capacity

16 Sep

On September 9, 2013 the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR), the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES-NY), the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP), and the Stanley Foundation held the event titled Civil SocietyPerspectives: Building State Capacity to Prevent Atrocity Crimes. This was held as a pre-meeting to the 5th annual General Assembly informal interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect, scheduled for September 11, 2013. Dr. Jennifer Welsh, the newly appointed Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary General on the Responsibility to Protect, as well as Mr. Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, were both present. The event was also attended by many civil society representatives as well as diplomats from numerous Permanent Missions. The event featured civil society representatives who shared their experiences in working towards the prevention of atrocity crimes as well as their recommendations on strengthening domestic capacity. Ms. Valnora Edwin, the Director of the Campaign for Good Governance, provided first-hand experience of RtoP in practice. She explained the post-conflict work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the transitional justice process through the Special Court for Sierra Leone. She also explained how her organization is engaging with the Sierra Leonean government in order to prevent future atrocities.

Both this event and this year’s UN dialogue are focused on Pillar 1 of the Responsibility to Protect, which states, “The state carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing”. This is reflected in the UN Secretary-General’s latest report on RtoP, State Responsibility and Prevention.  In the opening remarks Mr. Keith Porter, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Stanley Foundation, stressed that one of the key aims of the dialogue was to discuss how civil society can contribute to the building of societies where mass atrocities are not an acceptable means of holding power. Although the current situation in Syria was widely acknowledged as a challenge, the debate did not focus on it. Instead, Syria was referred to in order to clarify the norm. Dr. Welsh acknowledged that RtoP has been operationalized in the Syrian conflict through the form of sanctions, the acceptance of refugees by surrounding states, and the work of civil society groups as well as UN bodies such as the Human Rights Council and other humanitarian organizations. Nonetheless, the effect of Syria on the future of RtoP was not fully addressed.

In the keynote speech by Dr. Welsh, emphasis was placed on civil society’s role in advancing RtoP and affirming the need for prevention. Dr. Welsh addressed the next steps that need to be taken in the norm’s development including: the necessity for the development of a clearer framework which would facilitate early warning and response, the fact that regional and sub-regional organizations need to take greater ownership of the agenda, the need to strengthen interaction with the members of the Security Council, and that member states should work together to remind the Security Council of its responsibility to prevent atrocities. Moreover, apart from continuing to advance Pillar 1, Dr. Welsh argued that it is time for the General Assembly to pay greater attention to the Pillar 2, or the idea that the international community needs to support states in carrying out their responsibility to protect their citizens.

The first panel of the meeting was chaired by Ms. Angela Bruce-Raeburn, the Program Officer of the Stanley Foundation. The panelists discussed how their organizations work to influence political actors to cooperate in strengthening institutions. Rev. Cannon Thomas Muyya Godda emphasized the need for a common sense of equality and that key causes of conflict, such as poverty, must be addressed. Mr. Kyle Matthews highlighted some of the internal political obstacles to successful RtoP implementation. Referring to Canada he explained how although once a leader of RtoP, Canada has lost this position due to the fact that the current government views RtoP as the work its predecessors – the opposition. Finally, Mr. Noel Morada explained the ‘bibngka approach’ or the necessity for cooperation between the top and bottom – just like when cooking a rice cake, the cooperation of the pan on top with the fire on the bottom is key.

Although all panelists presented great examples of how civil society encourages national legislatures, Ms. Bruce-Raeburn asked a thought-provoking question of what happens when a government changes? In other words, what happens to atrocity prevention when those supporting it are no longer in power? The panelists generally did not provide an answer to this question; nevertheless Mr. Matthews explained how civil societies in Canada try to overcome this issue. Despite his statement, no substantive answer was given. Another issue discussed by the panelists was the relationship of RtoP and sovereignty. There was a general consensus among the speakers that RtoP needs to be presented as a friend, rather than an enemy of sovereignty. The problem of sovereignty often arises in relation to RtoP discussions primarily regarding Pillar 3 or the use of force if a government is not fulfilling its responsibility to protect its citizens. Panelists and Dr. Welsh agreed that rather than restricting sovereignty, RtoP actually has a sovereignty enhancing purpose. This is where the work of civil societies in aiding the strengthening of states and the implementation of RtoP principles into legislatures remains highly important.

The second panel chaired by Mr. Tibi Galis, the Executive Director of the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, focused on reconciliation and peacebuilding as important factors in atrocity prevention. In many post-conflict situations a relapse into violence is highly likely unless appropriate action is taken to address the key issues that caused violence in the first place. Important peacebuilding efforts such as the inclusion of women in decision-making, the use of judicial processes and the development of good governance were also presented through the cases of Sierra Leone, Guatemala and Kenya. Although the presentations were relevant in content, at points the debate seemed to have gotten too specific and the message of how these case studies can contribute to the future general policy development of the RtoP was a bit lost. The overarching issue remains to be the fact that there are very few cases of when RtoP was successfully used in atrocity prevention. Both Sierra Leone and Guatemala highlight situations of post-conflict violence prevention rather than the initial prevention of the opportunities for mass atrocities. Therefore, the Kenyan case, which is often celebrated as a prime example of effective diplomatic action under the RtoP banner, remains perhaps one of the only real examples of RtoP application. Regrettably, there are still cases where atrocities have happened or are now happening, yet where RtoP has not been invoked.

Overall the event presented a good discussion on issues related to the role of civil society in working with states to strengthen their domestic institutions in order to successfully prevent mass atrocities. As the title of the event suggested, much emphasis was placed on the experiences of civil societies from different parts of the world in working together with national governments in order to strengthen measures for atrocity prevention. The debate reaffirmed the crucial role of civil society groups in pushing governments in strengthening their institutions in order to adopt RtoP principles into their national agendas. With many governments remaining skeptical about RtoP and its effectiveness, the role of civil society in keeping the norm at the forefront of government deliberations is key. RtoP is a noble concept yet it continues to go about unfulfilled due to hesitation by governments based in part on a failure to heed their legitimate concerns.


Tereza Steinhublova, GAPW Junior Associate