Challenges for Human Rights Sections of UN Peace Operations

Alexis Guidotti
Content Type
Working Paper
Global Peace Operations Review
When António Guterres succeeds Ban Ki-moon as UN Secretary-General, many problems will be waiting for him, including challenges to the fundamental values underpinning UN peacekeeping. Uncooperative host governments and shifting conflict environments, including asymmetrical threats and violent extremism, are testing blue helmets on the ground. Recent adaptations of peacekeeping practice are also bringing into question the role of civilian components in UN peace operations, notably the human rights sections. The growing use of offensive mandates to quash negative forces and ensure protection of civilians has sometimes made the UN a party to the conflict and has cast doubt on the civilian staff’s protection under international humanitarian law. Recommendations by the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) on the primacy of politics also bring into question the principles of impartiality and transparency that lie at the core of credible human rights monitoring. How can UN peace operations ensure robust protection of civilians and broker political solutions while maintaining a transparent and impartial human rights agenda? At its conception, peacekeeping was formed around three core tenets, often referred to as the ‘principles of peacekeeping’. These included the requirement of consent from the parties, impartiality and non-use of force, except in self-defense. For the most part, they have stood the test of time since Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld defined them while devising the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) in Suez in 1956. However, in recent years UN peacekeeping has departed from these principles as operational environments have become less permissive and in key theaters there has been less or little peace to keep. Consent has proven less reliable in conflict areas where governments or non-state armed groups deny access to peacekeepers, like in Sudan, South Sudan or Mali. Impartiality has become questionable for missions specifically deployed to support a host state Government, sometimes against non-state armed groups opposing national authorities. Since exceptions to the non-use of force principle include the defense of the mandate, as outlined by the Capstone Doctrine, and as mandates now prioritize the protection of civilians by all necessary means for most UN missions, peacekeepers are increasingly called upon to use force against potential perpetrators of violence. Current concepts of operations and rules of engagement have made it clear that blue helmets are authorized to use force to protect civilians from imminent threat of physical violence by any party. More generally, the posture of modern peace operations has adapted by the adoption of robust mandates. In some theatres, special military units with offensive directives were authorized, such as the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) initially deployed in 2013 in eastern DRC to neutralize armed groups, or the soon-to-be-deployed Regional Protection Force in South Sudan, mandated to engage any actor preparing attacks.
Human Rights, International Cooperation, United Nations, Peacekeeping, Peace
Political Geography
Africa, Mali, South Sudan