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Protecting Civilians from Violence: A Paradigm Shift for Peacekeeping?

The following blog has been contributed by our special guest blogger – Aaron Bazin – who is a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army and NATO strategist.

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A peacekeeper of MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade on foot patrol in the town of Pinga, North Kivu province, stops to interact with the local children. Pinga is located 148 km northwest of Goma, the provincial capital at the Rwandan border

In 1948, the United Nations used military forces for the first time for peacekeeping. Subsequently, the United Nations used peacekeeping throughout the Cold War period to maintain cease-fires and provide stability so that the parties in conflict could resolve their issues. In this period, the common tasks assigned to peacekeepers included observation, verification of cease-fire agreements, and acting as a buffer between the parties in conflict. Since the end of the Cold War, the scope of UN peacekeeping expanded, became more multi-dimensional, and grew to become part of a wider international framework (UN Peacekeeping Operations, 2008). Over time, the UN’s emphasis on peacekeeping increased and became what we know it as today.

Peacekeeping Today
In the contemporary context, multi-dimensional peacekeeping operations are underpinned by three core functions. The first core function is to foster a secure and stable environment and to help strengthen the states involved. The second core function is to encourage communication, reconciliation, and helping to improve governance. The final core function is to encourage nations and other international actors to act in a coordinated fashion. Traditionally, peacekeepers act with three basic principles in mind:
(1) Consent of the parties involved
(2) Impartiality
(3) Non-use of force except in self-defence or defence of the mandate (UN Peacekeeping Operations, 2008)
The challenges in the security environment have grown in complexity over the past decade. As evidenced in Syria, it has become commonplace for civilian populations to become the targets of violence. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable in a society become the ones most affected. As such, protection of civilian populations from violence is an issue of great importance for any peacekeeping intervention.

A New Paradigm?
Protection of civilians is a priority task for peacekeepers, but is often difficult to implement in the ground. Kjeksrud, Beadle, and Lindqvist (2016) have offered practical recommendations that fill in the conceptual and doctrinal gaps that exist today. In their report, published by the Norwegian Defence International Centre, the authors describe a usable framework that both peacekeepers can rely on to address a wide variety of scenarios where it may become necessary to protect civilians from violence. In brief, the scenarios they describe are as follows:
• Mob Violence – When rioting individuals and/or loosely organized groups destroy property or cause harm.
• Post-conflict Revenge – When former victims take revenge against previous violent perpetrators.
• Insurgency – When Civilians are targeted as a means to control the population or to undermine government legitimacy
• Predatory Violence – When armed groups use violence for their own survival or profit.
• Communal Conflict – When whole communities engage in a cycle of violence.
• Government Repression – When a government resorts to violence to secure its own survival.
• Ethnic Cleansing – When and actor seeks to expel a certain group from a territory.
• Genocide – When an actor aims to exterminate a specific group.
Kjeksrud, Beadle, and Lindqvist (2016) also describe a framework that can help planners analyse the threat that these scenarios pose and develop specific responses. They discuss in detail prudent questions to ask, early warning identifiers, and how to plan for each specific scenario. Peacekeeping operations could commence before, during, or after violence is used against civilians. As such, the authors describe four phases (prevention, pre-emption, response, consolidation) and outline specific actions for intervention across these horizons.

Protection of civilians has always been and will likely always be an essential part of any peacekeeping intervention. Kjeksrud, Beadle, and Lindqvist (2016) provide a detailed and nuanced expansion of the subject that makes practical recommendations for peacekeepers. Unfortunately, concepts and doctrine are often easier to develop than they are to implement. However, the potential is there for some of these new ideas to change the way peacekeepers intervene in the future and improve their ability to protect civilian populations.
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Aaron Bazin is career Army officer with over 20 years of leadership and management experience operating at the highest levels of the Department of Defense (DoD), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), U.S. Central Command, and within the institutional Army. Operational experience includes deployments to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Qatar, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan, and Kuwait. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not reflect the official policy or position of NATO, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.