Special mention for Wagner Group in SIPRI conflict report

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Last year saw more multilateral peace operations conducted than in any year during the previous decade research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) found.

As in previous years, the United Nations (UN) led the largest number of multilateral peace operations at 20, SIPRI Peace Operations and Conflict Management Programme Dr Claudia Pfeifer writes. A further 38 operations were conducted by different regional organisations and alliances with the remaining six conducted by ad hoc coalitions of states.

Of the 64 operations, 24 were in sub-Saharan Africa, 18 in Europe, 14 in the Middle East and North Africa, five in Asia and three in the Americas.

The number of international personnel deployed to multilateral peace operations around the world increased by just under three percent in 2022, reaching 114 984 by 31 December. The biggest year-on-year changes in personnel numbers were an increase of 3771 (4.2%) in sub-Saharan Africa and a decrease of 541 (–6.7%) in Europe.

New operations were launched in Kazakhstan, Somalia, Guinea-Bissau, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Ethiopia. The Kazakhstan operation terminated less than two weeks after deployment, with the Somali operation essentially a reconfiguration of an existing operation with a new name and mandate. Operations also closed in Ukraine and the Philippines.

Pfeifer writes of three inter-connected developments in the year she reviews as “likely to influence” multilateral peace operations in future. They are an intensification of geopolitical rivalries between Russia and the West; a deterioration in relations between some operations and their host countries; and a trend of peace operations being mounted by regional organisations.

“These are continuations of trends identified earlier, but during 2022 they were intensified by a combination of events, including geopolitical tensions heightened by the war in Ukraine,” according to her.

On Somalia she posits the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was “officially reconfigured” as the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS). Its mandate includes supporting the national government in the fight against al-Shabaab, developing national capacity and supporting the peace process.

“Both the mandate and authorised deployments of ATMIS changed little from its predecessor; the key difference is the inclusion of a transition plan envisaging a four-phased transfer of security responsibilities to the Somali government. Many issues that challenged AMISOM remain a concern under ATMIS, including the ongoing al-Shabaab insurgency, power struggles among Somali political elites and funding shortfalls.”

Also in Africa she makes mention of the Stabilisation Support Mission in Guinea Bissau (SSMGB) established by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in February 2022, following a coup attempt and the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) to DRC, established last June.

“This came in response to the deteriorating situation in the east of the country, where Congolese armed forces were fighting a resurgence of March 23 Movement (M23) rebels. M23, dormant for almost a decade, reappeared well-armed and equipped in November 2021 and made significant territorial gains in 2022.”

Pfeifer maintains the EACRF draft concept of operations is “brief and vague”. It states the joint force should conduct operations to defeat non-state armed groups and support “maintenance of order” in DRC, delivery of humanitarian relief to affected populations and demobilisation.

Another African peacekeeping operation attracting SIPRI attention is the African Union (AU) Monitoring, Verification and Compliance Mission (AU-MVCM) in Mekelle, in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

The establishment of the operation was agreed between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in a Permanent Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. Political tensions in Tigray spilled into armed conflict in November 2020 and escalated into a civil war in the following months. The monitoring and verification team aims to ensure the peace agreement is implemented and prevent ceasefire violations.

Pfeifer makes specific mention of the Wagner Group stating its activities were “a major source of difficulty”. This is a result of the group’s ties to the Russian Federation government and its “implication in human rights abuse”.

In 2022 Wagner was operating in Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali, where UN peacekeeping operations were also deployed. In CAR there were disagreements over references in the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in CAR (MINUSCA) to ‘all parties to the conflict’, which in theory includes the Central African Armed Forces and the Wagner Group, in addition to local armed groups, among perpetrators of human rights abuses.

“Russia resisted the inclusion of language condemning ‘the use of mercenaries and violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses perpetrated by them’—an implicit, but clear, reference to the Wagner Group—in resolutions renewing the mandates of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and MINUSCA in 2022. Despite this, and Russia’s abstention in the votes, the language was retained and the resolutions adopted. The same language was in the UN Security Council resolution renewing MINUSCA’s mandate in 2021.”

In conclusion the SIPRI researcher notes: “The notion that peace operations have not properly addressed protracted conflict related crises permeated discussions between operations and host governments and will probably continue to do so. Popular discontent with UN peace operations was used by both the CAR and Malian governments as part of justification for deploying Wagner Group forces”.