UN Peacekeeping: the 75th anniversary of the first peacekeeping mission. Retrospectiveof one of the most celebrated and hated functions of the United Nations

Written by Gonçalo Jorge Guimarães Gonçalves de Mendonça Roncha

Executive Summary:

This article pretends to give a historical overview of the United Nations Peacekeeping mechanism: its conceptualization, characteristics, operations – failures and successes – and a perspective towards the future.

Between the 25th of April and the 26th of June 1945, the United Nations was created in San Francisco as the Second World War was reaching its end: the San Francisco Conference. In said diplomatic event, the organization started and institutionalized the peacekeeping mechanism. However, it is essential to understand that the concept of Peacekeeping was familiar, as it was first implemented in the Leticia Conflict by the then-League of Nations.

The first Peacekeeping mission of the United Nations – UNTSO – was dispatched to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict shortly after the creation of the State of Israel. This dispatch gave way to the creation and conceptualization of the “Holy Trinity” principle of UN Peacekeeping, vital to the guidelines and behavior of the troops on the ground. It is also essential to understand that the doctrine of International Relations – exemplified in its theories – is connected with both the failures and successes of the United Nations regarding its Peacekeeping missions.

There is, hence, a differentiation when categorizing and analyzing the various failures of the United Nations: either from lack of intervention, mainly due to the politicization of the organization or lack of legality to intervene in the internal affairs of states, therefore underlining the importance of the Realist theory of International Relations, enhanced by the humanitarian disasters of the likes of the Great Leap Forward, Nigerian Civil War, Bangladesh Genocide, and the Khmer Rouge Genocide; and failures due to incapacity of the dispatched forces to prevent further genocidal practices, disastrous coordination between the blue helmets and New York (UN Headquarters), or poor supplying of military and strategic equipment, as a form of deterrence.

There were disastrous experiences in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur, which led to efforts from the organization to modernize itself during the 2005 World Summit through the acceptance of several new states (mainly from the breakups of Yugoslavia and the USSR) and the modernization of its Peacekeeping forces, both materially and judicially, as a new concept – parallel to Peacekeeping – was created: the Responsibility to Protect Mechanism.

Successful Peacekeeping operations conducted by the United Nations, such as in Cyprus and East Timor, were both critical actions on what was meant to be a turning point in the perspective of the International Community towards these missions. However, the Responsibility to Protect Mechanism would be contentiously and polemically activated in 2011, as NATO intervened in the beginning of what would be named the Libyan Civil War: a popular rebellion against the then-Libyan dictator Muammar Khadafi.

Finally, focusing on the perspective of International Relations scholars on the ambiguity of Peacekeeping inside the UN legal framework, two current missions in the Central African Republic and Kashmir are a beam of hope for the UN Peacekeeping mechanism, its future and even the future of world politics. An extensive, varied, and comprehensive list of sources was used to produce this academic article.

UN Peacekeeping: the 75th anniversary of the first peacekeeping mission. Retrospective of one of the most celebrated and hated functions of the United Nations

78 years ago, while the Second World War was still consuming the Pacific Theatre – from Burma to the Dutch East Indies, through Manchuria to Okinawa – the representatives of the Allied Powers (including the USSR) met in San Francisco for the inaugural conference of the United Nations (therefore UN). With its first and most basic objective clearly established – preserve peace, avoid a new world war – the UN saw its agencies being created, amongst them the Security Council (therefore UNSC), an agency representing the 5 winning powers of the Second World War: the United States (therefore US), the USSR, the United Kingdom (therefore UK), France and the Republic of China (therefore RoC). The UNSC exerts an extraordinary decision power within the UN, a demonstration of the will to institutionalize International Relations at the service of its major actors’ interests: the States.

The concept of peacekeeping (the maintenance of peace) is not new and didn’t even emerge with the creation of the UN, but in the mid-1930’s, with the end of the Leticia Conflict: a war fought over the sovereignty of the Province of Leticia, between Colombia and Peru, led the Society of Nations (therefore SoN) to dispatch a peacekeeping force, made up of personnel from both countries – here can be found a major difference between the SoN peacekeeping and UN’s, which I will get into. 90 years after, with a large-scale war devastating a part of Eastern Europe, the idea of dispatching peacekeeping troops into Ukraine might sound reasonable, when peace negotiations overlap armed belligerency. However, if such was to happen, would they be successful? It is important, then, to understand what peacekeeping is and how the UN both appeased conflicts and watched genocides first-hand through the usage of such mechanism.

As hard as it may be to understand, the UN Charter does not explicit the usage of the peacekeeping mechanism, which has been put into action shortly after the foundation of the UN itself. With the end of the Second World War, the Jewish population found itself deprived of a state. For that reason, the British Mandate of Palestine was divided, following the approval of Resolution 181 (II) of the United Nations General Assembly (therefore UNGA).  Following the surge of armed fighting in the region, on the 29th of May 1948, the UNSC approved a resolution which enabled the dispatchment of a peacekeeping force – the UNTSO (United Nations Truce Supervision Operation). In practice, the military dispatchment worked as an interposition force – a military force responsible for the enforcement of the established truce and the establishment of a line of division where fighting was not to be conducted, thus avoiding the continuation of the conflict, and laying the ground for further peace negotiations. This type of missions faced, however, a major problem: it had the tendency to prolong itself in time, further raising maintenance costs and enabling the parts inf conflict to feed the rhetoric of “permanent belligerency.”

The experience gained from the UNTSO helped formulate the basic principles of peacekeeping, named “The Holy Trinity”: the consent of the belligerents, the impartiality, and the use of force exclusively in self-defense or the defense of the mandate for which the force was originally created. As the reader will see further in the book, these principles were, at times, ignored or their applicability was doomed unfeasible.

As the reader surely knows, the XXth century was prodigal in brutal violations of the human condition, much do to the spreading of totalitarian ideologies, such as communism and fascism; the proliferation of dictatorial states; and a crescendo of nationalism, separatism and self-determination fueled by the fall of European colonialism. Despite the apparent triumph of liberal institutionalism with the creation of an international organization such as the UN, History proved that Realism was still alive and of good health as a school and praxis of International Relations. Contrary to what is advocated by liberal institutionalists – that the proliferation of international organizations and their regimes would trigger a cooperation very much instinctive due to actions of said international organizations, what happened during the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s proved that Realism was (and will be) dominant.

Once again, the power of the State – a rational actor wishing to maximize its power in an anarchical environment – manifested itself in the inability of the UN to intervene before the desperate humanitarian crisis created by the Maoist policy of the Great Leap Forward, the megalomaniac project of Mao Zedong which sought to transform the People’s Republic of China into a socialist paradise which could rival the USSR and the US. This project consisted of the extensive collectivization of the means of production, alongside the creation of local furnaces in which villagers would be instigated to melt their metal utensils to be transformed into steel, destined for civil construction and industrial production. At the same time, villagers would scare off sparrows – seen as responsible for bad crop outputs – by uninterruptedly hitting on pots and pans until the birds passed out, exhausted by the never-ending noise. Without sparrows to keep the insect and vermin populations under control, communism succumbed to one of the most elemental rules of Biology: without the preservation of the predator, the pray will freely multiply itself.

Due to their rapid reproductive capacity, it did not take long for extensive crop fields to be devastated by plagues of grasshoppers and other insects, known vegetable-eaters. The result: widespread famine and a total of 45 million deaths. Due to it being a Chinese internal affair – pretty much unknown by the international community – the UN was uncapable of assisting millions of starving Chinese. Biafra followed.

The reader certainly remembers the famous “Live Aid” concert in which the English band The Queen participated, live on Wembley in 1985, following the widespread famine plaguing the Horn of Africa region, mainly Ethiopia. Despite capturing the “First World’s” attention to humanitarian causes, the first and real shock surged at the end of the 1960’s, on newly created Nigeria (a former British colony). For 3 years (1967-1970), Western media broadcasted images of stunted children, deformed babies due to malnutrition, a scenery worthy of Dante’s Inferno: the Biafra Genocide.

This was the first documented and almost live broadcasted on the media genocide, provoked by ethnic and religious tensions between two peoples which inhabited Nigeria: the Hausas (Muslims and socially inferior) and the Ibos (considered to be the Nigerian elite). After the taking of power by General Yakubu Gowon, an Ibo, a campaign of mass murders of Hausas began to take place throughout Nigeria, which then fled in mass to the province of Biafra, located on the Nigerian Southeast. With a great deal of refugee population concentrated in Biafra, Gowon’s government proceeded to blockade the region, capturing maritime ports (specifically the important Port of Harcourt) as well as roads connecting Biafra to the rest of the country. Without the entrance of food and supplies to the self-proclaimed Republic of Biafra, its inhabitants quickly saw themselves involved in one of the biggest genocides of the XXth century: approximately 500 thousand to 2 million civilians perished due to starvation, malnutrition, whilst the international community demonstrated a total lack of capacity to act. The division within the UNSC led to the disastrous inoperability of the UN, uncapable to dispatch peacekeeping forces to the region, as well as securing the transportation of humanitarian.

The events in Biafra were, at least, responsible for the creation of the Humanitarian Interference Principle (therefore HIP). This principle established that, when mandated by the UNSC, one or more states were authorized to intervene in a third state’s internal affairs were it to be on the verge of witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe, due to actions of such state or actors acting within its borders. However, with realpolitik at force in the 1970’s, mainly through the US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the UN was, again, uncapable of containing another genocide that was developing in Southern Asia: the Bangladesh Genocide.

After the Partition of India in 1947, the State of Bangladesh was incorporated within the newly created Islamic Republic of Pakistan, as East Pakistan. On the contrary to Western Pakistan – mainly Punjabi and Islamic –, Eastern Pakistan held a Bengal majority, Islamic, but with important Hindu and Christian minorities. The repression of Yahya Khan’s presidential dictatorship led Eastern Pakistan to seek for independence at the beginning of the 1970’s. This started a violent repression over the Bengali population: with the support of the Islamic militia Jamaat-i-Islami, regular Pakistani troops massacred approximately 3 million Bengalis. At the same time, and similar to Biafra, the international community was unable to act, mainly the UNSC. The US, led by Richard Nixon, had important diplomatic ties with Pakistan, an ally against a Soviet-backed India during the Cold War. Therefore, Nixon and Kissinger underplayed the genocide and, with that, the possibility of an UN intervention.

The 1970’s would end with another genocide, this time perpetrated by probably the most sadist and megalomaniac of XXth century dictators: Pol Pot. Similar to the Great Leap Forward, the Biafra and Bangladesh genocides, the UN was powerless against the atrocities being committed in the former French colony.

With the end of World War II, French Indochina saw itself involved in a war of independence against the power of Paris. Commanded by the communist guerrilla fighter Ho Chi Minh, the Vietminh (communist guerrillas) rebelled against the French colonial authorities, triggering a war which would last 9 years (1945-1954). The French fall in Dien Bien Phu consummated the lost of the colony and established the ground for the formation of the 17N Parallel, which divided North (communist) and South (capitalist) Vietnam. Despite the end of the French campaign, a new conflict was looming in the horizon: the Second Indochinese War. The presence of American advisors in South Vietnam triggered, in 1964, a war between the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong, and South Vietnam and the USA.

Four years before, in Cambodia, the former Prince Norodom Sihanouk was installed as Cambodian prime-minister, running on a platform of neutrality during the Cold War, positioning the country between the First and Second Worlds – the Capitalist and Communist Blocs. This allowed the kingdom to receive investment from both sides of the barricade, whilst, at the same time, creating enmities and animosity within the country, namely with the recently created Communist Party of Kampuchea (therefore CPK), led by the former ÉFREI (École Française d’Életronique et d’Informatique) student Saloth Sar, best known for his self-titled epithet Pol Pot.

After Lon Nol’s coup d’état, which removed Sihanouk from power, the US initiated a campaign of massive indiscriminate bombardments of rural Cambodia with the pretext of fighting communist guerrillas making use of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. With the blessing of Nol himself, thousands of Cambodians were killed following the bombings, leading to enormous animosity towards the Lon Nol government and the United States. Subsequently, the ranks of the CPK increased exponentially, whose members were called the Khmer Rouge (Red Khmer). In 1975, after years of civil war, the partisans under Pol Pot took the capital Phnom Penh, formally creating the new Democratic Republic of Kampuchea and a new year: year zero.

In order to carry on with their diabolical plans to transform Cambodian society, the Khmer Rouge falsely alerted Phnom Penh’s inhabitants to the dangers of an imminent American bombardment, in a city at the time crowded with refugees – almost 2 million people. With chaos spreading through the capital, the Khmer Rouge transferred the majority of the population to the countryside, where it would work on an idyllic agrarian society. The genocide rapidly followed: all of Phnom Penh’s intellectuals were executed, people with connections to Lon Nol’s regime or the former colonial administration were tortured and executed. The Tuol Sleng school was transformed in a prison, designated S-21, where thousands were tortured and executed, whilst in the countryside people were being subjected to famine, starvation, and rampant malaria, and subdued to communist self-sufficiency: currency was abolished, all books forbidden, and whoever wore glasses – synonym of intellectualism – would be executed on the spot. Vast complexes of mass graves spread throughout the country while a horrendous practice was becoming more and more common: throwing babies against large tree logs, as well as hanging them on their twigs – the killing trees spread throughout Cambodia in a four-year long inferno.

During all these years, the UN didn’t intervene a single time to try to stop a genocide responsible for the death of 1.5 to 2 million people – approximately 1/3 of the Cambodian population in 1975. Once again, the power of the state seemed to be over everything – as the state is sovereign within its borders, organizations such as the UN don’t have the right to intervene in their internal affairs. Furthermore, the US didn’t seem very bothered in making a blind eye to a bloodthirsty tyrant such as Pol Pot, as long as he remained hostile towards Vietnam. Ultimately, such hostility betrayed Pol Pot himself: after Cambodian militias conducted surprise attacks on the disputed Mekong Delta, the only state capable of defeating the US invaded the Democratic Kampuchea and, after 2 weeks, Phnom Penh had fallen. It took a communist state invading another communist state to end Pol Pot’s reign of terror. However, the conflict was far from being over: the Khmer Rouge retreated to the northeast of the country, near the border with Thailand, where they received military training from the SAS and the CIA to overthrow the new pro-Vietnamese regime led by Hun Sen.

The civil war would last until 1991, when the Paris Peace Accords were signed between the Khmer Rouge and Hun Sen’s government. After the agreement was sealed, the UN dispatched a peacekeeping force to the country which exerted a peacebuilding function, that is, built peace and enforced the Paris Accords. From 1992 to 1993, Cambodia was under an UN protectorate, until power was finally delivered back to Hun Sen and the Khmer Rouge were finally dissolved at the end of the 1990’s. Despite this intervention, the UN stood still before such atrocities being perpetrated in the small Indochinese state.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the USSR two years later, the idea of national identity and ethnopolitical mobilization started to emerge in the ex-soviet republics, the Eastern Bloc and, actually, throughout the world. At the same time, the UN was under obvious changes in its member-states’ composition, whilst it was becoming increasingly obvious that the organization was lacking reform, namely in its peacekeeping forces, because what was to come would catch everyone by surprise and would, effectively, be a true humiliation for the organization.

Since the end of the First World War that most world conflicts – namely regional ones – were becoming less about fighting conventional armies, and more about racial, ethnic, and religious wars, where civilians seemed as legitimate targets as enemy armies. Sadly, the UN did not follow this tendency, leading to the events in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur. Let’s start with Bosnia.

Independent through a referendum in 1992, Bosnia engulfed in a bloody civil war between Bosnian-Muslims, Bosnian-Serbs, and Bosnian-Croats, all of them claiming territorial parcels. On February 1992, UNPROFOR – United Nations Protection Force – was created as a peacekeeping force tasked with protecting civilian populations from the massacres which had been happening – specially in Croatia – through the creation of Safe Areas – pockets of Bosnian-Muslim population within Bosnian-Serb territory. The failure of the UNPROFOR became visible very rapidly, as its military capabilities couldn’t match the Bosnian-Serbs’, boosted by the transferring of nationalist Serbs from the Yugoslav National Army to Colonel Ratko Mladic’s ranks: blue helmets were besieged in Gorazde, taken hostage in Zepa and, Visegrad. The Serb rhetoric on the UN presence in Bosnian territory laid on the premise that it wasn’t fulfilling one of its legitimate principles: impartiality, as it seemed to be giving exclusive protection to the Bosnian-Muslims. Despite being true, such was the case because the Bosnian-Muslims couldn’t match the Bosnian-Serbs in military terms and, therefore, on volume of atrocities.

The UN failure in Bosnia, despite said events, has a name: Srebrenica. In 1995, following Serb successes in the south and east of the country, the UN enclave of Srebrenica, located in the heart of the Serb-controlled territory of Republika Srpska, served as refuge to, at least, 14 thousand people, many of whom were victims of an ethnic cleansing that never seemed to end. The military chief responsible for the administration of the territory under the UN flag was the French general Philippe Morillon, that when arriving to the territory promised (probably of fear of being attacked by civilians) to protect the refugees, stating that they were “under the protection of UN forces”. After a 3-year long siege, Mladic’s troops stormed the city.

Morillon had already left the region, leaving behind a company of Dutch soldiers with the herculean task of holding out the Bosnian-Serb fighters. Logically, that proved unsuccessful, while Mladic entered the city and was being filmed shaking hands with people and giving candy to children. Upon arriving, the Bosnian-Serb general reaffirmed that whoever wanted to leave the city, could. However, when the cameras were turned off, the scenery was beyond different. Before the Dutch inability to dissuade his soldiers, Mladic ordered that all women and children were to be transported to Sarajevo by bus, promising them that their fathers, husbands, and sons would follow. Vain promises: upon leaving, the true horror began. Mladic’s man searched house to house, summarily executing any person, whilst burying people alive, cut off and raped. The practice of cutting off throats and removing the pinky and ring fingers was frequent. Scenes believed to be surpassed centuries ago were perpetrated uninterruptedly by soldiers drunk with sadism and religious hatred, whilst in the forests nearby Bosnian-Serb snipers were strategically positioned and ready to shoot on anyone who tried to escape the horror of Srebrenica. 20 days later, on the 31st of July 1995, Mladic’s troops retreated as the NATO bombings started, leaving behind a trail of 8.000 deaths.

Srebrenica’s episode even provoked a political crisis in the Netherlands and put on display the crippling incapacity of the UN in guaranteeing the fulfillment of its most elemental objective: peace. The failure in Bosnia was “turned up to eleven” in the small African state of Rwanda where, for 100 days, every imaginable crime against humanity was committed and UN’s inoperancy led to the deaths of, at least, 800.000 people.

The small state of Rwanda was a target of European colonization in the post-Berlin Conference of 1890, being incorporated into the German Colonial Empire (Deutscheskolonialreich), more precisely in German East Africa. This incorporation led to the implementation of racial policies on the two largest Rwandese ethnic groups: the Tutsis and the Hutus. The chief, Mwami, was a mere puppet of the German colonial administration, responsible for the implementation of Berlin’s racial policies. The Tutsis, traditionally connected to the possession of cattle, were installed in key positions inside the administration of the “land of a thousand hills”, while the Hutus, used to work the land, were relegated to a condition of quasi-citizens of second class. Darker than the Tutsis, the majority Hutu lived an environment of oppression and racial segregation that suffered a radical transformation in the post-First World War years. With the German defeat in 1918, Rwanda was put under Belgian administration and, together with Burundi, formed the colony of Rwanda-Burundi.

Belgium managed to elevate its racial policy to a level worthy of Nazi Germany: the ethnicity of the natives was printed in their identity cards, very much like the actions of the III Reich in occupied Europe – this led to a constant segregation of Hutus and promotions for Tutsis. Following the end of World War II, Belgium was instructed by the UN to prepare its colonies for independence. Rwanda-Burundi split after independence in the 1960’s under the flag of “majority rule”, which meant, “Hutu rule”. In Burundi, the Hutus were subjected to a genocide by the Tutsi government. In 1973’s Rwanda, a moderate Hutu named Juvenal Habyarimana reached power, determined to foment cooperation between the two ethnicities. However, not all Hutus desired a peaceful coexistence with the Tutsis – now that they had taken power, they thought they deserved revenge after decades of repression.

One such group was called Akasu – Hutu extremists eager to bring the inferno to the Rwandese land. Led by Habyarimana’s wife, Agathe, the Akasu pushed deeper within the state apparatus and the Armed Forces, now under the command of Colonel Théoneste Bagosora. Despite Habyarimana’s attempts to form a more inclusive cabinet, he was eventually pressured by the Akasu to reject Tutsi policies and, in 1990, an invasion of Rwanda took place by Tutsi militias comprised of refugees that had previously fled to Uganda in order to escape ethnic persecutions. Led by Paul Kagame, the Rwandese Patriotic Front (in French Front Patriotique Rwandaise) invaded the north of the country in hope it could face Habyarimana’s troops. After 3 years of fighting, the UN dispatched a peacekeeping mission to Rwanda, UNAMIR – United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda –, following the signing of the Arusha Peace Accords. Under the command of Canadian General Roméo Dallaire, the UN troops established themselves as peacemaking and peace-enforcement forces, in a conflict far from being over.

The poor and fragile Arusha Accords forced Habyarimana to form a coalition cabinet with the Tutsis, which infuriated the radical Hutus, especially the Akasu. During the civil war an Hutu militia had been created – the Interahamwe – which soon would become the biggest ally of both the Akasu and Bagosora during the genocide: everything was laid down for the beginning of one of the biggest atrocities in History. On the evening of April 6, 1994, the plane transporting President Habyarimana was shot down by surface-to-air missiles launched from the Presidential Garden, possibly by members of the Akasu clique. Nevertheless, the President was dead and, with him, peace in Rwanda – the genocide began.

The ill-famed Radio Télévision Libre des Milles Collines (therefore RTLM), responsible for broadcasting anti-Tutsi propaganda during the civil war, broadcasted the taking of power by a National Salvation Junta led by Bagosora and, following that, one of the most famous, chilling, and horrendous commands in History: “Coupez les grands arbres!” (Cut the tall trees!), meaning “kill all Tutsis”, which received a new epithet: cockroaches. During the night, barricades were erected throughout the capital Kigali, whilst Interahamwe militia men armed with Kalashnikovs, pistols or simply machetes and hatchets wandered through the streets. On the next day, the violence quickly escalated: the Interahamwe initiated systematic massacres of Tutsis, identified through their identity cards whose ethnic stamp dated back to the Belgian colonization. Gunshots were being heard throughout Kigali, while hundreds of people armed with machetes and portable radios listened to RTLM’s instructions about the location of other Tutsis and racist songs and insults targeting the Tutsis were being played.

Throughout Rwanda violence was spreading, namely in the village of Nyarubuye, from where the famous survivor Valentina Iribagiza, a 13-year-old girl, hided amongst the dead inside a church for 43 days, where an estimate of 20 thousand people is thought to have been executed.

Before such atrocities, the UN and international community’s inaction was, to say the least, deplorable. The UN dispatchment – UNAMIR – did not have the clearance to use force so, General Dallaire’s troops found themselves completely powerless. In spite of that, Dallaire and a Ghanaian contingent decided, unilaterally, to stay in the country, as they knew that their mere presence – the fact that Interahamwe was aware of those blue helmets – would slow down the violence, even if just a bit. Despite the Vice-president and an UN contingent were executed by the Interahamwe following an ambush conducted after Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane crash, Dallaire knew of his importance on the ground. He proceeded to install his headquarters in the Hotel Les Milles Collines and, with the help of the staff, was able to evacuate hundreds of Rwandese civilians, granting them American or French citizenship.

As for the former colonizers, the Belgians, their actions were despicable, as well as the French’s. Upon arriving, instead of securing the protection of civilians, they preceded to expatriate Belgian and Rwandese nationals, mainly white, before the despair of the Tutsi population. Dallaire himself eventually retreated as Paul Kagame’s FPR sieged the capital. On the 15th of July 1994, Kigali fell to Kagame’s troops, as the Hutus and the Akasu fled on mass to neighboring Zaire.

In the end of such tragedy, at least 800.000 people were massacred before a UN that, as in Srebrenica, didn’t have the clearance to fulfill its most elemental task, neither the means to such incumbency.

Despite New York’s recognition that something needed to be done, it took another genocide for a truly reformist policy to be adopted within the UN: the Darfur Genocide. This genocide, the first of the 21st century, is still going on, despite having had it’s beginning in 2003, due to the historical segregation and isolationism of the Darfuri population, at the time intensified by the dictator Omar Al-Bashir’s government.

Following Sudanese independence from Egyptian-British rule in 1956, a series of coups followed until, in 1989, Colonel Omar Al-Bashir toppled Sadiq Al-Mahdi’s government, implementing the longest military dictatorship in Sudan. As to guarantee his perpetuation in power – only feasible until 2019, the year of his removal by a coup d’état – Bashir strengthened the Sudanese army, surrounding himself of allies.

In 2003 pro-Darfuri rebel groups attacked the troops stationed in the city of Al-Fashir. Being a Muslim, Bashir decided to provide the Arab tribes of the region with weapons, fueling the hatred against the non-Arab rebels. Such action led to the creation of a militia named Janjaweed, responsible for the systematic ethnic cleansing and murder of non-Muslim civilians.

From the 23rd of January 2003 to this day, between 80 thousand to 400 thousand people have been massacred, plus 3 million more directly affected by the genocide. Here, again, the UN failed in its initial intervention, on the readiness that was required. Rather, an African Union peacekeeping force was deployed. Only in 2007 was this force integrated into the UN, under the name of UNAMID – United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur – with the objective of protecting Darfuri refugees. The UNAMID was created following the approval of UNSC Resolution 1769 of July 31st, 2007, more than 4 years after the beginning of the genocide. The African Union force had been created in 2004, with close cooperation with UNMIS – United Nations Mission in Sudan, created following the approval of UNSC Resolution 1564. The genocides in Biafra, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sudan helped create a social awareness about the importance of reforming the UN, namely it’s peacekeeping forces.

In 2005, following the 60th anniversary of the creation of the UN in New York, the World Conference took place with the presence of more than 200 world leaders, where the Millenium Development Goals – related to human development and the well-being of populations, as well as an environmental compromise – where formulated. In addition to this, and as far as peacekeeping is concerned, the HIP was reformed and renamed Responsibility to Protect Principle (therefore R2P). Its creation was motivated by the aforementioned events and essentially consisted on the capacity of a state or international organization of military nature (such as NATO, as the reader will see) to intervene militarily, when mandated by the UNSC, in another state´s internal affairs which show evidence of increasing disrespect for Human Rights and being on the verge of massive violations of such rights – like mass rape, massacres or ethnic cleansing – within the boundaries of it’s territory, either by the State himself or by entities which operate within state boundaries.

It’s important to note the major difference between peacekeeping and the new R2P: whilst the R2P bases itself, essentially, on a state intervention, with the blessing of the UNSC of course, but without the UN flag, with the objective of avoiding humanitarian catastrophes, the peacekeeping consists in the formation of military detachments from third-party countries, whose objective is to protect civilians, construct or make the peace before the starting of a conflict.

Some might say that the reform of the HIP and, subsequently, the creation of R2P, was due to the failure of UN peacekeeping. However, it is best to remember that there were well-succeeding UN peacekeeping missions that prevented the scaling of conflicts. I would highlight, essentially, two: UNFICYP and UNMIT, dispatched to the islands of Cyprus and East Timor, respectively.

The UNFICYP – United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus – was created in 1963 following ethnic confrontations between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots which inhabited the Mediterranean island. Its formation followed the approval of UNSC Resolution 186 which understood that “it should prevent the resumption of combats and, if suitable, contribute to the maintenance and establishment of the public order until the normal situation resumes”. In 1974, Turkiye invaded the Cyprus island, establishing the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. In order to avoid the continuation of the conflict, the UNFICYP established itself as an interposition force between the Turkish Republic and Cypriot Republic. Until this day, the UNFICYP is present in the de-militarized zone – a strip of land entitled “Green Line”, thus avoiding a maintenance of the conflict.

UNMIT – United Nations Mission in East Timor – was a peacebuilding force dispatched in the post-Indonesian occupation of the Portuguese Overseas Province of Portuguese Timor.

Integral part of the Portuguese Overseas Empire, the former overseas province shared with Indonesia the sovereignty of the Island of Timor. Following the 25th of April 1974 coup d’état, the new Portuguese government proceeded to concede independence to all of its overseas provinces, on the exception of Macao and Timor. In the Timorese case, the unilateral declaration of independence from Lisbon’s authority was, as its name indicates “unilateral” and, therefore, it was not effect. Eventually, Suharto’s Indonesia invaded the territory, imposing a regime of terror over the population. At the light of the International Law, Indonesia had invaded a Portuguese Overseas Province and, therefore, had invaded Portugal.

The Indonesian occupation lasted a brutal 24 years, with its highest point in mediatic terms happening in 1991, on the Santa Cruz Cemetery in Dili, where 271 people were slaughtered by the Indonesian occupation forces following an homage march to Sebastião Gomes and pro-independence fighters. Thanks to the Australian journalist Christopher Wenner’s live video, which documented the massacre, the international community was finally alerted to the genocide being perpetrated in East Timor. Despite successive contacts and warnings made by the Portuguese authorities to international institutions and leaders, only in 2002 the independence of East Timor was recognized by Indonesia and Portugal, officially ending the Portuguese Overseas Empire and the Indonesian occupation.

Following the Indonesian retreat, the UNSC approved, in 2006, Resolution 1704, which effected the creation of UNMIT. UNMIT was, essentially, a peacebuilding force: its objective was to build the peace, cement the institutions and State authority, democratic culture and social cohesion. After an extension of its day of departure, the UNMIT left the country on the 31st of December 2012, leaving behind a cohesive country, with revitalized democratic institutions and a progressive economic growth.

The R2P was, famously and, for many, controversially used in 2011’s Libya. Following the emulation of the young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi, pro-democracy protests – that were very often merged with Islamic fundamentalists – erupted throughout the Arab world, especially in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Syria. In Libya, the dictator Muammar Khaddafi, who led the former Italian colony since 1969, was a target of such protests.

In response to the demands of the protesters, Khaddafi ordered that the “rats were to be captured” and that the protesters disarmed immediately, or he would order a “slaughter” aimed at purging Libya “house to house”, “meter by meter”. Before such threats – all of them broadcasted either via radio or television – the international community became alarmed with the potential mass murder that could surge.

Whilst on a Presidential visit to Brazil, the then American President Barack Obama was briefed on the crisis by the former French President Nicolai Sarkozy and former Italian Prime-minister Silvio Berlusconi, who led the efforts within the UNSC to get the R2P activated. So it was: in March 2011, the UNSC approved, with the abstention of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China (two of the five permanent members which, therefore, possess a veto right), allies of Khaddafi, the usage of R2P. This decision was made due to the awareness of the imminent threat that such mass murders could pose and, let’s say, the lack of interest of the Russian Federation and People’s Republic of China in Khaddafi. After its approval, the R2P was felt across the entire line: amateur videos of Libyan militiamen, mounted on their Toyota Hilux trucks equipped with heavy machineguns on their open box, firing at the sky, in ecstasy, whilst French Mirage fighters, dispatched to destroy Khaddafi’s positions, would fly by grazing.

The intervention in Libya was made under the protection of the R2P mechanism and NATO command, at the same time that Khaddafi was seeking refuge in his birth-town, Sirte. However, halfway through, his motorcade was hit by a Mirage missile, forcing the dictator to seek refuge in a sewer, until being captured by pro-democracy rebels. Khaddafi’s fall, prompted by the action of the R2P principle, led Libya to an infernal civil war that persists to this day, in a country that once surpassed the levels of development of the likes of Brazil and the Soviet Union, now harboring Islamic fundamentalists.

Despite the enormous ambiguity regarding the legitimacy of the usage of the R2P principle, and the nefarious effects that surged from it, nowadays the UN peacekeeping is characterized by its vast military-logistic capacity, as well as considerable mechanisms of legal legitimacy. However, for not being transparently consecrated in the Charter, Corneliu Bjola (political scientist of the University of Toronto) underlined that the use of force is characterized as being ambiguous in the case of humanitarian interventions and, therefore, in the case of the invocation of the R2P principle. The Libyan case is paradigmatic on this matter and, therefore, there has been a crescent normativization of peacekeeping interventions and the acting capabilities of the R2P.

Therefore and of course, due to the evermore variety of investment (the PRC is now the biggest contributor to the peacekeeping budget), UN peacekeeping missions are widely considered as a viable tool of enforcement, maintenance, and construction of peace, either in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) or the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir (UNMOGIP).

However, peacekeeping will always suffer from the same problem, which I believe can be found in the Realist school of International Relations: its work on the ground, legitimacy and success depends, entirely, on the acceptance of the parts in conflict. Now, this often does not seem possible, it becomes unviable, on what is one of the grandest demonstrations of the power of realpolitik in the relations between states and international organizations, such as the UN.

If it becomes necessary to destabilize an UN peacekeeping mission in order to maximize the state power then, ultimately, it will be done, without regards to means.


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