In this most difficult of months 20 years after the catastrophe in Rwanda, the world once again faces the prospect of failure in peacekeeping, this time in the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan where mass atrocity crimes — including murder, torture, sexual violence and the use of child soldiers — continue to tear at the fabric of each society.
In South Sudan, the ceasefire between government forces and opposition fighters exists only on paper, as clashes continue, often along ethnic lines, in Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei states. Since the conflict erupted on December 15, 2013, thousands have been killed, over one million have been displaced, including 250,000 refugees, and almost five million are in desperate need of food and humanitarian aid. Further destabilizing the situation, peace talks between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar have gone nowhere. As the UN put it, the country is imploding.
Of course it was never supposed to get this far. In unanimously adopting Resolution 2132 on December 24, the Security Council authorized the immediate addition of 5,500 troops and 423 police to the existing peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. What’s more, in order to get the boots on the ground quickly, the Secretary-General was permitted to facilitate “inter-mission cooperation” including the temporary “transfer of troops, force enablers, and multipliers from other missions,” particularly those in nearby Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia. It was a smart and efficient strategy.
Quietly, however, the implementation has been severely hampered by delays. On January 9, 2014, the UN peacekeeping chief said he expected the surge to be completed within four to eight weeks. Now 12 weeks later, only around 20 percent of the additional authorized personnel have been transferred, and the UN has apparently moved towards a three-phase deployment plan spanning the entirety of 2014.
The problem is nothing new: troop-contributing states must still consent to the transfers, with some requiring national legislative approval before they can do so. And while a handful of countries have come forward, unfortunately the process has begun to resemble that of force-generation for an entirely new mission, itself an onerous task.
Indeed, these are the very politics that must be circumvented. For, as I came to learn in Rwanda and will not for one day forget, some scenarios are so extreme, and degenerate so quickly, that only the swiftest of international action can ensure that we fulfill our responsibility to protect (R2P).
Therefore, what we need is real, institutionalized inter-mission cooperation and rapid reaction capability so that, as a matter of course, the international community can quickly redeploy existing peacekeepers, on a temporary basis, to areas where civilians are under imminent threat. After all, why should UN missions operate in silos when each could benefit from surge capacity as well as cooperation, for instance, in the form of joint contingency planning and the sharing of best practices? For it to work, the Secretary-General or the Security Council would need logistics and command and control capability, and surges would have to be immediate and decisive so as not to threaten stability in the areas from which the forces are transferred.
Consider all of this in relation to the impending catastrophe unfolding in the CAR where genocide looms, as indicated in part by the extreme social breakdown that is the mass recruitment and use of child soldiers. Over a month ago, the Secretary-General urged the Security Council to authorize the deployment of a 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping force after it had become clear that the 8,000 African and French troops currently on the ground would not be able to contain the ghastly interreligious violence plaguing the country. Yet still we wait.
But really the international community need not wait one minute more. While it will reportedly take at least six months before the UN mission can be raised and deployed, why can we not — in the interim — immediately draw from the tens of thousands of peacekeepers already in the region in order to at least reach the 12,000 threshold recommended by the Secretary-General?
Meanwhile, Canada remains nowhere near any of these discussions. In the CAR, civilians are being targeted daily on the basis of their religious identity and not even that — religious freedom, one of its supposed top priorities — can spur the government to re-assume Canada’s leadership in peacekeeping and R2P. And yet this past week at the International Conference on Genocide Prevention, Foreign Minister John Baird stated: “As leaders, this is our time… Let us not look back when it’s too late and wonder if we really did enough.”
On this darkest of occasions 20 years on from Rwanda, I challenge the international community, and Canada in particular, to finally live up to those words.
Throughout the month of April 2014, the Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and OpenCanada.org will be publishing reflections on the lessons learned since the Rwandan Genocide from prominent Canadians who have shown leadership in promoting global humanitarianism as part of the series Canadian Voices on R2P.