Peacekeeping at a critical crossroads Kigali conference hears

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Delegates to the October United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping Ministerial preparatory conference heard peacekeeping “is at a critical crossroads” as peacekeepers face ever greater challenges.

This is according to Ambassador Harold Agyeman, Ghana’s permanent representative to the UN. Agyeman was speaking during the conference in Kigali, Rwanda, one of a series ahead of the 5/6 December Ministerial in Accra, Ghana.

The Kigali preparatory conference brought government officials from 45 countries together, including military and police, as well as international peacekeeping and peacebuilding experts, civil society organisations, think tanks and senior UN representatives. It focused on strengthening strategic communication, addressing misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, as well as protecting civilians in fragile security situations.

“Civilian protection mandates are a core responsibility for multi-dimensional peacekeeping missions and must be implemented through a comprehensive, whole-of-mission approach. This requires leveraging full mission capabilities, including armed and unarmed approaches by civilians, police and military,” Martha Pobee, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa, said.

“For those we serve, the need for protection is real. They feel it. The most effective tool is conflict prevention, but we must also respond robustly to other threats, like climate change. Working together with communities and host governments to tackle these issues we can save and improve lives,” UNMISS Force Commander Lieutenant General Mohan Subramanian said during his presentation.

Conference participant Bakhita Steven fled to the UN base in Bentiu, South Sudan, when civil war broke out in 2013. She’s lived in the neighbouring protection site since. Now, instead of seeking refuge, she drives efforts to empower the displaced community through her work as a national protection officer for the non-government organisation (NGO), Nonviolent Peaceforce.

“Protection of civilians that relies on peacekeeping or our own government creates a dependency syndrome where you think you will be vulnerable forever. That is wrong. We are strong. What we need is the capacity to protect ourselves and to build sustainable peace and development rather than dependency activities that keep us hostage,” she said.

Rwandan Minister of Defence, Juvenal Marizamunda, spoke about the challenges of protecting civilians in a context where disinformation, misinformation and hate speech are propagated faster than ever through social media.

“We must bridge these gaps through capacity building, digital literacy and integrate strategic communication in our peace support operations,” he said.

Pobee called for UN peacekeeping missions to have comprehensive communications strategies aligned with political and security priorities, anticipate risks, help manage expectations and establish accurate, clear and compelling narratives about mission activities and impact.

“The success of peacekeeping missions depends on proactive, interactive and constructive engagement with local populations and key stakeholders,” she said, adding the world body’s commitments to improving civilian protection and strategic communications “will strongly impact the trajectory of our missions in the coming years.”