Peacekeeping Does Not Have to Wait

Roméo Dallaire on how the international community can guarantee swift international action where civilians are under imminent threat.
By: /
April 9, 2014

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.

Also in the series


Protecting the Responsiblity to Protect

The “responsibility to protect” be made real through “the capacity to deploy,” says Hugh Segal. Without that, the doctrine will lose salience.

New Tools to Prevent Mass Atrocities

Technology can be used to gather, analyze, and communicate information for the sake of predicting, preventing, and mitigating atrocities in an unprecedented way, argues Christopher Tuckwood.

How Much "Law" Is There in "International Law"?

Bob Rae on our collective failure to properly enforce the rule of law.

The Role of the Churches in the Rwandan Genocide

Churches are uniquely positioned to address conflict before it gets out of hand, says Lois M Wilson. Yet they failed to act 20 years ago in Rwanda.

Renewing R2P

There is still much work to be done on how to define and apply R2P, but there is hope for the concept, says Lloyd Axworthy.

Today's Digital Witnesses Can Prevent Tomorrow's War Crimes

A growing cadre of scholars, practitioners, and hobbyists are leveraging new tools to help prevent gross violations of human rights and holding perpetrators to account after heinous crimes are committed, says Robert Muggah.

Returning to the Responsiblity to Protect

If we want to make R2P's hope of "never again" a reality, we need to turn away from the critique of sovereignty and the example of Libya, argues John Duncan.

Protecting R2P From Misuse

Acting on R2P inappropriately or invoking it as a pretext for other objectives like regime change can be as damaging as inaction to R2P’s long-run effectiveness, argues Maria L. Banda.

Time For Canada to Recommit to R2P

In the 20 years since the Rwandan genocide, Canada has gone from being the most vocal supporter of the norm to one of its meekest.

Learning Something, Not Everything

Two decades ago, the global media virtually ignored the killing in Rwanda. Has it learned from its mistake since, asks Michael Valpy.

The Eight Lessons of Rwanda

Irwin Cotler on what we have learned in the 20 years since the Rwandan genocide.