The Problems of Peacekeepers

To pick up on an interesting discussion that was happening earlier on this blog, I'd like to point out an interview with Alan Doss, the head of MONUC, the peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in TIME Magazine. Here are some excerpts:

What implications does the success or failure of MONUC have for other peacekeeping operations?
Every case is different. Darfur is very different. Every time a U.N. peacekeeping force deploys, it raises lots of questions. But yes, there are issues raised by our experience that will have a long-term effect. There is a very fine line between peacekeeping and peace enforcement. Our mission was equipped for peacekeeping. And as one of my officers says, you don't go to war in blue helmets and white tanks. When we shift from a monitoring group to one that takes on military elements, we have to change the way we operate...But I think that one should not forget that there have been a lot of achievements. Three to four years ago, the country was dividing into three parts. That was overcome. Most of the country now has peace. This is a country that is literally back from the dead. There is progress...

One important point to take from this statement is the fact that peacekeeping has to be adapted to every scenario. There are distinctions to be made between peacekeeping - the monitoring of a peace agreement; peace enforcement - the enforcing of a peace agreement through force; and peace making - the imposition of peace through the use of force. It is generally agreed that the UN is only capable of peacekeeping because of its lack of resources, confused command structure, inability to make quick decisions, and other challenges. Peacekeeping, however, in its traditional form is meant to be a symbolic protection force more than anything else - a way to overcome the security dilemma whereby neither side will disarm for fear that the other side will not disarm. They deployed to countries that have recently had a peace agreement and allow the rival factions to disarm without losing face while also holding them to their agreements. A more recent version of traditional peacekeepers, like those in Congo or Darfur, are able to use violence to protect civilians or themselves but are still not meant to be actual "peace enforcers". The fact that peacekeeping works in certain scenarios is evident in the progress that has been made in other parts of the Congo.

But what happens when a peace agreement doesn't hold and complex violence breaks out as in Darfur or Congo? There is still no real agreement on what is to be done when the situation is not amenable to peacekeeping. The peacekeepers surely can't start attacking government troops who are committing atrocities because they will be attacked or kicked out of the country. Furthermore, as we've all heard in both Darfur and Congo, they don't have enough troops or resources to effectively "wage war" against violent elements that may be targeting or attacking civilians.

Unfortunately, I don't know how to make peacekeepers better. When it comes down to it, people need to start discussing the practicalities of these scenarios. How do you adapt different mandates to different environments? Is peace enforcement by the UN possible or even desirable? What is clear is that peacekeepers on their own are not able to be the "solution" to a civil war, whether in Darfur or Congo.

I'll end this post with Mr. Doss's quote about R2P, which I think supports this discussion nicely.

The Responsibility to Protect [or R2P, a concept of humanitarian intervention] was only adopted by the U.N. in 2005. How much is MONUC feeling its way here? Is MONUC an experiment?
R2P is a huge step forward ... But the question remains: How do we actually do it? We have come up against the sharp end of R2P. We can claim that responsibility, but actually doing that in North Kivu, with a collapsing army, a resurgence of ethnic groups — well, that raises fundamental questions. When we make these statements, we have to be careful that we have the means to match our mandate. Continue reading this article...

Hand in Hand for Peace

Here's an encouraging new initiative just sent to me by an enterprising Stand'er:

Please take a moment to join this effort to ask the Canadian government to take action in Congo. If you don't know what is going on and want to learn more go here:r or search news sites. This petition was designed by a great group called Hand in Hand for Peace and what they are asking from our government is reasonable and necessary to stop the current crisis. It only takes a minute to add your name to the list and tell your friends and family about this!

Once again, the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one that we at Stand are clearly interested in. Over 5 million deaths in the past 10 years. People are still dying at the rate of....wait for it....45,000 a month (mostly from disease and malnutrition)! (according to a study by the International Rescue Committee). While it's important to remember that some parts of the country have made great strides, including a landmark election a few years ago, the situation in the eastern province of North Kivu is a disaster and threatens to pull surrounding nations into a large conflict.

I, for one, strongly encourage advocacy on this issue. Even a little bit of attention is a big step for one of the most under-reported places on the planet. Continue reading this article...


Reports are already coming in of government attacks following the ceasefire. Now is the time when international outrage should be loudest. Continue reading this article...

What does it all mean?

The comments below do not reflect the official position of Stand, but are intended to start a discussion:

While governments, groups and individuals are issuing statements left, right and center about the announcement of a ceasefire by the Government of Sudan, it is sometimes difficult for us concerned to really have any idea what it means. Let's try to look at this move with a little perspective.

First off, the number of ceasefires that the government of Sudan has violated in the past is uncomfortably large. No one is denying this. A ceasefire is very tentative measure that can be overturned on a dime, and is often no more than an excuse to regroup, rearm, and redeploy. As Alex de Waal points out, the Government and government-supported militias have undoubtedly broken more ceasefires than the rebels over the past year. So you can't blame the rebels for being skeptical.

There are reasons to be positive about this effort, however. Partly, because there has been no real peace process for a year or so now, and partly because the ceasefire comes after a "peace conference" with no rebels but a few opposition voices, including the Southern SPLM and the Umma Party. In fact, the recommendations of the conference offer some really interesting criticisms of the government, including calling on them to release Darfuris who may be arbitrarily detained, establish a fund to help internally displaced persons and refugees return home safely (and voluntarily!), and create a new Vice-President position in the government for someone from Darfur. Those are some solid, good ideas that, if truthful, could lead to good negotiations.

Finally, from our point of view, I'm glad the UN and Canadian Government are issuing statements of encouragement, but seriously, is that all that's going to happen? If this ceasefire is really to be turned into an opportunity, a few things need to happen on our end.

1. UN mediators (or a Canadian Envoy....hint hint...) need to sit down with the rebels and discover what sort of monitoring methods would convince them of the government's commitment to this initiative, and then set up those mechanisms. It is not implausible to me that the Canadian government would set up some sort of benchmarks that the government of Sudan would need to meet step-by-step to prove their commitment. The US did precisely that during the negotiations for the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement, responding to the attainment of a benchmark with rewards and the failure with punishment. Such benchmarks could include allowing UN troops access to places they have otherwise had trouble monitoring, disarming the Janjaweed militias, setting up real trials for crimes and providing compensation to victims, or allowing unfettered humanitarian access to the entire region. Halting bombing campaigns is assumed also....

2. UNAMID (the joint African Union-UN peacekeeping force) needs to focus on verifying the implementation of the ceasefire and needs to yell really loudly if it is broken.

3. As already mentioned, the rebels need to be brought on board. Discussions about a Qatar-backed peace conference are already circulating. The UN and/or Canada et al. need to meet with Qataris, government and rebels and reach a compromise about how such a conference would take place and where. While I'm glad to see that the peace process is slowly getting started, it won't be a peace process for long if the rebels don't jump on board at some point.

As de Waal mentions, we should all encourage and support a "homegrown" Sudanese solution to Sudanese problems; that said, the international community now needs to help make sure those solutions are actually carried out. Luckily for us, this is something we CAN do (unlike so many of the prescriptions that have been passed around over the past five years), through monitoring and verification, trust-building exercises, mediation, diplomacy and public statements, neutral locations for peace conferences, providing peacekeepers as a way to break the security dilemma, and more such "soft-power" actions of referee-ing. So let's get on it.

A whole other question arises should it prove that the ceasefire is merely dead air...

As always, I welcome thoughts and comments. Continue reading this article...

Canada's Reaction to the Ceasefire

Ceasefire called by government accused of genocide in Darfur: what does this mean for Canada?

Sudanese President Omar-al-Bashir recently announced a unilateral government ceasefire in Darfur. This release provides contacts to help make sense of what this means for Canada.

On Tuesday, November 12th Sudanese President Omar-al-Bashir announced a unilateral ceasefire in Darfur. He stated that his government would start disarming militias and restrict the use of weapons among armed groups. Darfuri rebel groups did not take part in talks, and have not agreed to reciprocate.

This move follows the International Criminal Court's application to indict Bashir for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.

The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, issued the following statement:

"Canada is encouraged by the Government of Sudan's announcement of its unilateral ceasefire in the Darfur region. The Sudanese government must now fully implement this ceasefire and resist all provocation. Canada urges rebel and other armed groups to cease hostilities as well, in the interest of the security of Darfuri civilians.

"A comprehensive ceasefire is the first step toward creating favourable conditions for the resumption of peace talks and ensuring the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers in the region. Therefore, Canada calls on all parties to the conflict, which has devastated the lives of so many Sudanese people, to resume the negotiation process led by the United Nations and the African Union." Continue reading this article...

Darfur in the Canadian News: Weekly Round-Up

With the news that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has declared a ceasefire in Darfur as part of the government's peace initiative, the Canadian media is suddenly swamped with stories about Darfur. Personally, I believe this presents a very real opportunity for the international community.

Everyone should therefore take a minute to either write a letter to the editor (200-300 words, one message) or post a comment on a website. I've listed some below as well as a sample letter.

Sudan president offers Darfur ceasefire - CTV

Sudanese president announces Darfur ceasefire - CBC

Sudan declares ceasefire in Darfur - Globe and Mail

Sample Letter

The announcement of a ceasefire by the Government of Sudan presents a very real opportunity for the international community to push for a just and lasting peace in Darfur. Canada and its international partners should support the move by the Government of Sudan, hold it to its word, and work to bring the rebels to the negotiating table.

I understand cynics and detractors who point to broken ceasefires in the past as reason that this one too will not work; however, it is precisely for that reason that we need to help this move build momentum. There has been far too little progress on peace talks for the past year. It is time that changed.

A few ways that the Canadian government could take the lead on this issue would be to appoint a Special Envoy, create benchmarks testing the Sudanese government's commitment, and setting up a contact group of like-minded nations willing to support the process. It is time that this "genocide in slow-motion" is brought to end. Continue reading this article...

Standing up to John Bolton

Stand's Scott Fenwick recently sent around an article that has been generating some discussion on email so I thought I would transfer it to the blog where everyone can pipe in. The article is written by a Mr. John Bolton, who if you haven't yet heard of him, is famous for being the only US Ambassador to the UN who wanted to get rid of the UN entirely. He is a notoriously polarizing figure in the neo-conservative vein whose period as the Ambassador to the UN was never approved by the rest of the government and was marked by an intimidation-heavy approach to diplomacy.

That said, his article in the Globe and Mail does have some interesting points. It's about "humanitarian intervention," that nebulous concept that is firmly embedded in our work and appears often in the world of international politics. Below I relate the main "points" in the discussion:

Scott Fenwick: "Although the topic is on "humanitarian intervention," it wrongly suggests that the only way to end war/rights abuses is to send in the troops. Bolton's article doesn't even suggest using diplomatic action as an alternative."

Josh Scheinert: "I don't think there's anything wrong with this article. In fact, I think it's very well done and presents real challenges for the human rights/ngo/r2p community that we need to be able to meet. His goal wasn't to talk about tough diplomacy, sanctions or anything else. Merely to give a defence of realpolitik in the face of a subject largely premised on idealism...

"at the end of the day, Americans, Canadians, and the citizens of other signatories to R2P (Responsibility to Protect), aren't convinced "why the should put their sons and daughters.... where there are no vital interests (humanitarian aside - because I'll put myself in the category that does feel situations like these affect the national interest). So then the second challenge, is making people understand that this is part of the vital interest. But as of now, it's not and people don't consider it to be. So with that void looming and crippling our ability to act, like Bolton says, "we have to be able to explain.....".

Evan Cinq-Mars: "While I do agree that Bolton's article articulates very well the challenges on intervention posed by domestic opposition and realpolitik, there is a portion of his article that I find must be addressed:

"And as tragic as the situation is in Darfur, in a democracy we have to be able to explain to American citizens why they should put their sons and daughters at risk, in an area of undoubted humanitarian tragedy, but where there are no vital US interests."

During conscience-shocking situations - like we are experiencing in Darfur - it is this ideology that has allowed atrocity to continue... The pursuit of national self-interest has already crippled the attempts at collective action to protect the people of Darfur (As Bolton points out with China, Russia and the veto). How will responding to genocide become "easy" if the 'vital interests' of a nation condemn it from acting, whether it be the US, Canada, Indonesia, Fiji, etc...

There must be a shift towards an ideology where the responsibility to protect ciitizens from genocide is synthesized with the 'vital interests' of a nation.

While aspirations don't make foreign policy, aspirations are all these people have. Aspirations empower us to make responding to genocide a cornerstone of Canadian policy."

These guys are smart. Those are some really well-articulated arguments and questions: what is "intervention," merely military or military, diplomacy and other? what defines our national interests? What does the responsibility to protect doctrine refer to? How do you reconcile idealism with reality? What is the future of sovereignty? I feel that everyone should weigh in on these questions.

As for myself, I tend to believe that the phrase "humanitarian intervention" is a bit of fallacy, or maybe just poorly defined. Am I an "interventionist," as Bolton claims, because I want my government to take action on Darfur? What if the actions I'm calling on my government to take are diplomatic, not military? Basically, as Scott mentions, there are a whole range of "intervening" tools in a government's handbook and any one of them may work better or worse at different times.

That said, (though I hate to say it) Bolton is absolutely right that there is much confusion right now over the "responsibility to protect." Josh and Evan are absolutely right that we no longer know exactly what state interests are. In a globalized world, how is averting a humanitarian disaster that could destabilize the global system (eg Afghanistan, Rwanda) not in our national interests? And then even more importantly, how the heck do we go about that? Someone else smarter than me recently argued with me that the evoking of R2P too often by advocacy groups is delegitimizing the concept for when it is really needed....either way you look at, the modalities are poorly defined, to say the least.

As I have previously on this blog, I would argue that averting humanitarian crises requires forceful, consistent and coherent multilateral actions in a range of areas, diplomatically, economically, and possibly as a last resort militarily. In the case of military action, there is still the most work needed, as Bolton rightly points out, as the road is unclear, the commitments tend to be half-hearted, and the mandates weak (I recommend people interested read Lakhdar Brahimi's review of the UN Peacekeeping functions....among its proposals are a UN rapid response army, clear mandates, and more preventive actions).

Those are some thoughts to get people going...Please let me know what you are thinking in the comments. Or send me an email to be posted if you have particularly strong opinions...

Continue reading this article...

Letter of Congratulations from Save Darfur Canada

To everyone in the STAND Canada team,

I just wanted to commend you all for your Darfur advocacy activities during the recent election campaign, and the impact you have had so far.

Your national team's analysis of party positions going into the election, your chapter-led local engagement of candidates, and your participation in Save Darfur Canada's online elections campaign helped ensure that Darfur is now on the minds of newly elected decision-makers across the country.

You should be incredibly proud of your contributions - but this is only the beginning! In a few short weeks, Canada's 40th Parliamentary Session opens, and there is so much for us to do to help bring an end to the Darfur crisis. We must move forward with the same enthusiasm as we did during the elections period, and work just as hard to ensure that Canadians and decision-makers make Darfur their issue.

There are several upcoming dates of importance that you should be marking on your calendars, including the 60th anniversary of the Genocide Convention (December 9th), International Human Rights Day (December 10th), the first anniversary of the UNAMID mission (December 31st) and the International Criminal Court's announcement on whether they will indict Omar al-Bashir for 10 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity (likely in December or January). I encourage you to remind members of your community, your local media and your MPs of these important dates, and of the need for Canada to make peace and long term stability in Darfur and all of Sudan a foreign affairs priority.

On behalf of everyone at Save Darfur Canada, we look forward to working with STAND Canada in upcoming months, and to seeing more results from the larger and ever growing national Darfur advocacy movement.

Keep up the good work - and don't forget that your efforts are making a difference!


Tara Tavender
Executive Director
Save Darfur Canada

Continue reading this article...

Darfur Digest - November 2008

Stand's Darfur Digest is a monthly report analyzing developments related to Darfur in four key areas: Canadian politics, security, negotiations and engagement, and the humanitarian situation.

I. Executive Summary

Canadian Politics and Darfur: The federal election dominated Canadian politics this month, but Liberal candidates Irwin Cotler and Bob Rae spoke out about the crisis in Darfur during their campaigns. John McNee, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, highlighted Canada’s contributions to Darfur in addressing the General Assembly.

Security in Darfur: The security situation in Darfur has deteriorated dramatically over the past two months. In September, North Darfur saw heavy fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and three of the largest rebel groups following a series of offensives by the Government of Sudan (GoS). In early October, the SAF and government-sponsored “Janjaweed” militias attacked numerous villages throughout South Darfur killing civilians and causing large-scale destruction. Meanwhile, the number of people displaced by the fighting continues to rise even as the camps they inhabit grow more unstable and violent.

Negotiations and Engagement in Darfur: The first meeting of the AU, UN and GoS Tripartite Committee on the deployment of UNAMID met on October 7. The meeting emphasized the need for cooperation between the three bodies for the success of the mission. President al-Bashir announced that attempts by the ICC and the international community to indict him for charges of war crimes would derail Darfur peace negotiations and increase regional instability. Major General Emmanuel Karake Karenzi, the second-highest UN commander in Darfur, has been accused of overseeing Tutsi troops which committed war crimes in Rwanda.

The Humanitarian Situation in Darfur: Peace talks led by the Government of Sudan may signal a step forward, but the victims of Darfur are far from safe. Tribal infighting and attacks by government forces continue to claim lives. Recent violence has displaced thousands of Darfuris. A bleak UN report said that security in Darfur is so bad that the UN-African mission cannot be effective. The environment within internally displaced persons camps remains tense after a fatal attack in Kalma IDP camp in August left many civilians dead. According to UN officials, aid organizations are evaluating whether they can continue their work. This comes as the number of attacks against aid workers in 2008 surpassed the number of attacks in all of 2007.

II. Policy Recommendations

1. Build on Canada's recent commitments to Darfur by appointing a Special Envoy to the region. A Special Envoy could strengthen Canadian policymaking on Darfur in three key ways: 1) providing the world with a public face for Canada's efforts on Darfur, 2) providing a presence on the ground in Sudan, and 3) coordinating an integrated “all of Sudan” approach to Canadian peacebuilding. Specifically, a Special Envoy could play a key role in assisting efforts of the Darfuri rebel groups to form a unified and coherent bargaining position, a critical success factor for renewed negotiations.

The Canadian government should pursue targeted divestment from Sudan conditioned on the Sudanese government's cessation of atrocities in Darfur and active engagement in the peace process.

3. Canada’s mission to the UN should engage on more actively in multilateral diplomacy at the UN to bring renewed prominence to the Darfur issue internationally and rally greater international support for conflict resolution efforts.

Please forward this to other people interested in making a difference for the people in Darfur.

Sign up here to receive the Digest: Continue reading this article...