Should Peacekeepers be Peacemakers?

Should Peacekeepers be Peacemakers?

By Kimo Gandall


Photo credits: European Pressphoto Agency

Bosnia, April, 1992. Within the span of three years, 39,684 civilians were killed, primarily ethnic Bosnian Muslims by Serbian forces. Dutch soldiers, deployed by the United Nations,  “[Stood by] as the Serbs began… to take girls and young women out of the group of refugees. They were raped. The rapes often took place under the eyes of others and sometimes even under the eyes of the children of the mother. A Dutch soldier stood by and he simply looked around with a Walkman on his head. He did not react at all to what was happening.” In another incident, with the full witness of UN peacekeepers, “there was a girl, she must have been about nine years old. At a certain moment some [Serbians] recommended to her brother that he rape the girl. He did not do it and I also think that he could not have done it for he was still just a child. Then they murdered that young boy” – Zumra Šehomerovic, survivor of the Bosnian genocide.

Rwanda, April 6, 1994. Within a matter of weeks 800,000 men and women were brutally murdered, estimated at representing nearly three quarters of the ethnic Tutsi population. Hutu extremists systematically raped between 250,000 to 500,000 women, and according to the NGO Survivors Fund, over 67% of these women contracted AIDS as a result, and over 20,000 children were born. And the 2,000 UN peacekeepers nearby? They couldn’t do anything.

Darfur, Sudan, 2003. The Arab, pro-government militia Janjaweed or ‘Devils on Horseback’ raid the Darfur region, murdering over 480,000 people, and displacing 4.8 million. Aicha el-Basri, former spokeswoman for the United Nations Mission in Darfur stated that in 2014 UN peacekeepers “watched on” as Janjaweed soldiers assaulted civilians, even taking pictures of the incident. She claimed that Ban-Ki Moon and the Security Council were in a ‘conspiracy of silence’ refusing to share the actual reports of the mission with the public in an effort to maintain to the ‘peacekeeping’ mandate of neutrality.

(Above): UN peacekeepers “watch on” as militia march on towards local villages


Photo credits: Dr. Eric Reeves

Incidents like this happen almost daily, and more recently, attacks from organizations such as ISIS have targeted minority Christians in the Middle East and Africa, brutally murdering over 24,000 innocent people. In February, ISIS kidnapped 262 Assyrian Christians, while simultaneously releasing a video portraying the beheading of over dozen Coptic Christians calling them ‘hostile crusaders.’


(Above): Soldiers walk past a dead man killed in recent attacks in Darfur.

Photo Credits: Lynsey Addario

(Below): ISIS beheads a dozen Coptic Christians in Libya as part of a propaganda video.

Photo Credits: Reuters


The problem in ethnic cleansing and genocide is the inherit sectarianism of the entire issue; every single incident varies in nature, but has a single, terrifying consequence- the murder of millions of civilians. However, these atrocities are not all the result of ‘savage terrorists’ in the Middle East or Africa. Many of these organizations, in fact, stem from and the deep ethnic tensions created by European Imperialists, and most sectarian strife can be traced back to these roots. To further complicate the problem, current UN forces deployed are prevented from directly intervening in their peacekeeping mandates; these units are ‘observers’ rather than police units directed to keep the peace.

Rwanda is an example of this perfect storm. In 1918, Rwanda, previously a German colony, is given to Belgium under a provision in the Treaty of Versailles. The Belgians split the ethnic Hutu and Tutsi into two classes: the Hutu, who represented 85% of the population, and the Tutsi, who represented about 14% of the population. The Belgians heavily favored the Tutsi population, allowing the minority class to enforce Belgiam rule upon the populace. These two classes began to develop tensions as a result of decades of oppression, and when the Belgians left in 1962 the government of Rwanda was sent into chaos; even after the UN deployed 2,500 peacekeepers under a ‘monitoring’ mandate in 1993 to oversee a ‘power sharing’ government between the two ethnic groups, violence continued to escalate. Finally, in 1994, when President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down over Rwanda, decades of ethnic tensions spilled over into direct violence against Tutsi minorities, sparking the Rwandan genocide. UN peacekeepers, stuck in their ‘observer’ mandates, were unable to take action to prevent the murders.

Many apologists in developed Western countries continue to point out these faults, claiming that Western intervention is the catalyst of extremism, particularly in the Middle East, where the deposition of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein permitted the development of organizations such as ISIS. Many of these intellectuals, however, have failed to address the root of ISIS. While ISIS has gained power from the weakness of the Iraqi government, ISIS wasn’t conceived in Iraq; instead, the organization emerged as a result of oppression from the Syrian government. In fact, ISIS has existed since 2011, hiding in the shadows of the Syrian civil war; a war that the United States actually supported rebel groups. ISIS, in reality, is simply a Sunni rebel group that, much like a disease thriving in the polluted, filthy refugee camps of Africa and the DRC, has grown out of control because the International Community decided not to act or simply didn’t care until it was too late.

Other scholars attempt to equivalent interventionism to imperialism, but fail to understand the fundamental differences between the two. While imperialism is, by definition, “a policy of extending a country’s power and influence through diplomacy or military force,” Interventionism is an “activity undertaken by a nation-state, or other geo-political jurisdiction of a lesser or greater nature, to manipulate an economy or society.” While intervention can be linked to imperialism, it is not necessarily imperialism. In order for an interventionary activity to be considered “imperialist” the final goal of the interventionary action must be to extend the power or influence of a nation. American interventionism has not, especially in cases such as Bosnia, always been created with the single goal to generate a profit; Bosnia is not a major trade partner with the United States, and in fact imports the majority of their goods to Germany, and export the majority of their goods to Croatia (World Integrated Trade Solution). In essence, NATO intervention, supported in large by the United States, was fueled by preserving peace, not benefiting from economic manipulation. While the peace may have alternative motives, the underlying goal “preserving peace” distinguishes imperialism from interventionism.

International academics have attempted to distinguish imperialism from interventionism since the 1990s. In response to the UN ‘conspiracy of silence,’ an informal policy known as ‘responsibility to protect’ has been created by intellectuals inspiring to tackle the costly inaction of previous United Missions, and has been recognized by the UN in resolution A/RES/63/308. Essentially, responsibility to protect is the legal concept that individual states have the duty to protect their citizens from mass atrocity crimes, and if these said states fail to do so, the International Community has the active duty to do so for them. If the situation meets the criteria of the definition of responsibility to protect, than nations have a moral obligation to intervene; such a policy permits nations to support peace, while remaining detached from imperialist tendencies, as interventionism is only used in the direst of situations. Better yet, missions by the United Nations are likely to be impartial; for instance, MONUSCO the United Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo whom employs offensive methods, makes up of over 21,000 troops from Algeria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, France, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States, Uruguay, Yemen and many others. Unlike individual states taking action, the United Nations represents a group of member states from around the world to cooperatively work towards a solution.

Numerous parliamentarian hygienists have also begun to question the actual legality of peacemaking, claiming that the concept of the United Nations initiating offensive operations violates the United Nations purpose, as the UN peacekeeping purpose is defined as “… operations that facilitate the political process, protect civilians, assist in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants; support the organization of elections, protect and promote human rights and assist in restoring the rule of law.” In addition, the United Nations specifically states “[the] Non-use of force except in self-defense and defense of the mandate is a vital principle to peacekeeping”.

Many experts however, disagree. For instance, Fiona Blyth from the IPI Global University, stated “[The UN peacekeeping charter]… permits the use of force beyond self-defense to ensure the freedom of movement of the mission, protect civilians, and for the protection of UN personnel and property. Previous field commanders have interpreted their mandates as such to allow UN forces to actively pursue rebel groups and to preempt and disrupt rebel movement ahead of time”; in which, she talks about case studies such as the DRC, in which the Security Council passed resolution 2098 deploying an “offensive brigade”, and the United Nations Mission in Somalia all of which have offensive mandates. Essentially, the United Nations uses offensive peacekeeping to protect ‘citizens’ from future potential attacks, which “assists in restoring law”. Even though the UN holds a principal of only sanctioning force in situations regarding self-defense, they have evidently given up “self defense” for “defense of the mandate” whose central goal is always to protect citizens.

Interventionism has worked in reducing the direct violence of many situations. In Bosnia 1995, NATO began to fly enforcement missions over the region. Operation Deliberate Force, as coined by NATO, initiated a full bombing campaign against Serbian targets, involving attacks of over 388 individual targets. The offensive lasted only a month, until Serbian forces agreed to meet in Dayton, Ohio to sign the Dayton Accords in November of 1995, officially ending the genocide. Such a large political change, many scholars argue, was only possible because of the forceful intervention of NATO; without such action, the genocide may have continued.

The problem stands as is: all intervention is launched on public opinion, and public opinion, especially in the United States with 56% of the citizens strongly opposed to interventionist policies, and only 19% strongly supporting them, is very weak. Many Americans, 26% to be exact, simply did not know, or more realistically, care.

That’s where we bring this all back. We bring it back to you; many of us simply do not care, and carry very little reason to. The apathy that accompanies this situation has become such a burden that you, dear reader, likely sitting in class, will simply put down this article and retreat into your isolated world of school lectures. Before you do so, please ask yourself this: do we, as a people of morals and good nature, allow such atrocities to be committed simply because it doesn’t affect us, when we could have prevented such suffering?


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