Can UN Peace Operations Evolve With the World Around Them? – Blessing Ikpa

The United Nations Peace Operations is comprised of individuals who are experienced in the areas of conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peacebuilding with attempts to highlight places in need of change. With its creation in 1948, the conversation around military force being deployed in peace operations has been evolving. Yet, has it evolved to the standards of the 21st century?  There needs to be a strict boundary in which the usage of UN Peace Operations is properly enforced when need be, with regard being given to the autonomy of sovereignty of its member-states.

The concept of sovereignty is important to any member-state of the United Nations, which makes using military force in peace operations more difficult to navigate. Thomas Weiss et al. (2014) arguably note how the Security Council was largely missing in humanitarian matters during the Cold War. Now, the Security Council has found them in the complicated relationship of employing military force too soon. It is important that UN Peacekeepers fulfill mandates to protect citizens of member-states but the use of force has become more robust with “war-fighting mandates” that could be alleviated.

The United Nations has always stood behind the notion that no member-state will be forced to follow or participate in a specified mandate. Even though the peace operations have been deployed into Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Syria, there is nothing holding countries to uphold peace mandates. With the situation in the Balkans, all eyes were on the great powers for the political environment in the background. China and Russia were debating on even labeling the situation as a “humanitarian bombing”, which leads to how powerful countries can have a stronger say over the UN. Even if the answer to war crimes is through the international courts, this does not mean that a proper answer to positive peace can happen.

In another internal report on the UN Peace Operations, a few bullet points were laid out such as:

  • Engaging with host countries and local communities to ensure mission success
  • Improving speed, capability, and performance of unified personnel
  • The full spectrum of peace operations must be used more flexibly to respond to changing needs on the ground
  • The UN Secretariat must become more field-focused and UN peace operations must be more people-centered.

Though many of these points are valid and should be fully implemented, the possibility of coming to fruition is daunting. Though the UN Peace Operations have evolved since the 1990s in terms of strategy and challenges to the growth of operations, but has not reached the level of being “people-centered” and “field-focused”. Cases of sexual violence from peacekeepers and confusion around the responsibility to protect does not gain traction of being able to keep up with the changing world around us.

The guiding principles of UN Peace Operations are Impartiality, Consent, and Limited Use of Force. None of these principles have been adequately met since the idea of peacekeeping is still relatively new to the United Nations. The lines between peace mandates and the responsibility to protect have been blurred significantly. When fulfilling a peace mandate, the idea of state sovereignty is only “contingent on responsible governmental behavior” as stated from Weiss. How can peace be positively accomplished if sovereignty can only be respected when a country is acting according to vague terms? Nothing can be executed sufficiently if there is not a clear, consistent value in achieving positive peace?

With an internal review conducted of UN Peace Operations, a recommendation was given on creating effective strategies for conflict prevention but does not accurately touch on the topic of military intervention and the use of force. When the United Nations is found with the challenge of intervening, military force should not always be at use. The Secretariat is given the power to apply “best-case planning assumptions” when needed, but if this continues to only use the voices of great powers, peace cannot be achieved. The United Nations as an international organization must work to gain credibility over countries such as Russia, China, and the United States.

The efficiency and credibility of the United Nations, along with various other international institutions, is beginning to reach a turning point. Even if NATO was to become more involved, what would this mean for the fulfillment of peace mandates? Powerful countries and their political adversaries have cluttered the usefulness of the UN Peace Operations. If peace is going to be achieved, the use of military force and the decline of state sovereignty must be fully addressed. Even though the UN Peace Operations have made strides, this could all become futile if credibility and sustainability is lost.



The fate of Refugees and the UNHCR



The UNHCR is a crucial part of the global humanitarian aid structure. In recent years work has been delegated to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international organizations (IOs) due to their specialization in regions and access to more diverse funding. The UNHCR has developed respect across the globe and enjoys a large amount or independence with in the United Nations structure. This delegation of work strengthens humanitarian projects over all however, Secretary General-elect Antonio Guterres, argues that the UNHCR’s influence needs a binding international legal structure to best serve the refugee community.


Delegation is good. In the global humanitarian marketplace the UNHCR is the coordinator among international, state, and local NGOs and IOs. Though it is often argued that further involvement of local leaders and experts is needed, local expertise is invaluable to such a large and overarching organization such as the UNHCR. James Peck highlights this as a strength of the UN and United States approach to humanitarian issues in his novel, Ideal Illusions. As the overseer of coordination and international authority, the UNHCR is also able to call public attention to regional issues, which media may ignore, heightening global awareness and perhaps mobilizing action.


This type of delegation does not aid anyone when a military force is involved. Both Peck and Pierre Krahenbuhl of the Red Cross argue that pairing with a military force in a crisis blurs the lines between humanitarian, political and humanitarian strategies. This blurring creates bias and allows governments and rebel groups to bar the UNHCR and it’s allies from accessing those in need. The cost of perceived bias in humanitarian work is too great for this approach to be useful. Not only does it limit access to those in need, it also puts aid workers in danger. Neutrality and independence are often seen as humanitarian organization’s greatest strength, through which they can build trust with any actor.


Antonio Guterres, the newly elected UN Secretary General, believes that the UNHCR must prepare for an even bigger blur in the lines surrounding refugee and immigrant crisis. As the numbers of these immigrants grow and more factors influence them, he argues that the UNHCR prepare a greater legal framework to handle these populations. With a legal framework, those who flee climate change, war or any other crisis will not be deported back to the nation they have fled. Such infrastructure will also crackdown on human rights abuses committed such as smuggling and trafficking, and lastly “host country fatigue” will not be such a burden to nations in close proximity to crisis nations. Amnesty International has a similar suggestion and suggests eight recommendations to combat these issues. Each of these suggestions would allow quicker reaction to crisis, which cause refugee populations and allow the UNHCR and its allies to expand its scope and address the internally displaced populations, which have been even more neglected. Such approaches would also prevent deals such at the one recently made between the EU and Turkey. This deal, which the UNHCR had no hand in, is leaving refugees in Greek detention centers or returning them to the horrible condition, which they fled, simply so that the Turkish people can participate in Europe’s Schengen area. This expulsion of refugees is cruel, but it is also a result of a lack of coordination between nations to take on the burden of the refugee population and the “ host country fatigue” that EU nations feel in the wake of their own economic recovery.


Currently, the UNHCR has independence and reach that does not require hegemonic backing to be effective. IOs have this as well, in some ways more so because of the autonomy that they enjoy with out ties to nation states. The UNHCR’s only reliance on UN member countries is the need for them to take in refugees and funding for humanitarian missions. Though with the aid of IOs, funding can be found by different means if needed. In order to make the UNHCR more effective in the future a legal infrastructure must be built and agreed to my member states. Not only that but the UNHCR must continue to utilize its strengths of neutrality, publicity, coalition, and independence. These are strengths that NGOs and other arms of the UN do not enjoy. Going forward, especially with increase migration due to climate change, the UNHCR’s ability to adapt for the future will determine the fate of many populations.

The need of coordination with regional organizations to end sexual violence in peace operations – María Camila Alarcón

Allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) within the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations affect not only its credibility but also its ability to carry out its mandate. Numerous reports and recommendations have been issued and implemented in the past decade to address the problem. Despite this, the allegations continue to increase, which means that more needs to be done. Efforts to prevent new cases from occurring must be supported by a strong framework to ensure and increase criminal accountability of perpetrators. The gap between international law and domestic legislations of troop-contributing countries (TCC) needs to be addressed so the UN can play a more determinant role in investigating and prosecuting SEA allegations. Naming and shaming of TCCs that refuse to investigate and prosecute should be part of the UN strategy. The Security Council Resolution 2272, with its limitations, is an important step to review the relationship between the UN and the TCCs, and a key tool to put pressure on states that refuse to investigate. However, in order to be effective, the UN needs to coordinate its measures and mechanisms with other regional organizations that provide peacekeeping missions such as the African Union (AU) or NATO.  Continue reading

Universal Periodic Review: Same practices, another name.

Human rights has been an important global issue since the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in 1945. To list a few, the human rights discourse has helped transform international norms, set basic standards, and shape domestic policies. Other international and Non-governmental organizations have also been incremental in assuring strict human rights standards are met domestically and internationally, but that has been accompanied with a lot of doubt and backlash. Critics are questioning the United Nations contributions in the promotion and protection of human rights standards. Are they still needed to implement and report human rights standards? Can they be trusted to assure fair and monitoring practices for developing and developed nations?

These are questions scholars are still exploring as the UN try to implement new changes in the way they monitor human rights in nation-states. The Universal Periodic Review  (UPR), is a fairly new monitoring and evaluating tool that took the place of the UN Commission on Human Rights. The old system was criticized for being politically focused and not fairly reporting on human rights issues for both developing and developed nations.  UPR is a report “which aims to promote a universal approach  and equal treatment when reviewing each country’s human rights situation” (Cowan & Billaud, pg 1176). As much as this change is needed, one still has to consider if credible reform is actually taking place or is this another tool to label nations as equals while practicing unfair reporting?

UPR allows UN member states, NGOs, and the Secretariat to rate and score human rights standards and offer recommendations to nation-states. They also use reports from other agencies to help with the concluding evaluation. Evidently, this reporting system turns out to be a juvenile scoring system, like Cowan and Billaud put it in their article, “a school with hierarchies, cliques, ruses, and exam anxieties” (pg. 1177). Developing countries will score lower because they are still trying to combat domestic human rights problems, while developed countries will most likely hide or cover up many of their human rights abuses. For example, the United States will not be judged on their human rights abuses towards African Americans because their are legal justifications to cover up those abuses. Countries like China and Russia will be reluctant to allow certain nation-states to investigate their domestic human rights abuses. Those that are chosen will be allies and are unlikely to be objective. It is also important to consider the historical and cultural context of human rights in different regions and states.

Cowan and Billaud makes an important point by mentioning how the historical context of states can be the root causes of human rights situations. Many states are not on a level playing field due to how history has effected them. The global south continues to struggle with human rights abuses such as poverty, lack of social freedom, child labor, and etc…  due to their colonial past. The global north has advanced tremendously as a result of colonial rule. Nations-states can not be held on equal standards because they have not been on equal playing field for decades. The authors also left out how culture and tradition play an important role in shaping human rights.

Many developing created policies and have governed based on cultural and traditional norms. African countries has a long history of tribal values that are of high importance to different tribes. For example, Female Genital Mutilation is considered a human rights issue but north and west African tribes have practiced this for centuries. Domestic governments are working to eradicate these practices but are left with tension between tribal leaders and government officials. How can UPR take this into account when reporting on human rights situations for each country?

It is idealistic to think the Universal Periodic Review will continue as a equal, fair, and non-political evaluation mechanism. Nation-states are not on an equal playing field and Western countries should not be used as a template to strive for human rights. It is time the United Nations step back and allow more objective bodies to monitor human rights situations and recommendations. There should be a more holistic approach to human rights monitoring which include historical, cultural, and traditional considerations. Nation-states should not be involved in evaluating their counter parts. Until their is a holistic approach to human rights reporting, monitoring and evaluation the UN contribution will always be biased.

Human Rights Treaties in the Age of (seeming) Inhumanity…

Whether treaties are signed and/or ratified, or violations of them do/do not occur, human rights treaties demand and affirm the dignified rights of the world’s citizens. Further, on a principled level, they provide a glimmer of hope in what often seems to be a dreary age.

Considering the recent American elections, regardless of what party you belong to, who you voted for, and what you’re protesting now, the popular sentiment in the streets is one of certain groups of American people stripped of their rights, their voice, and their votes. Whether change can be made on this scale or not, when you feel as though your country and your government is not hearing you, it’s important that you have an international body or set of guidelines that you can turn to. As people have begun to divide along the line that is American democracy, it is clear that this is an issue of diversity, of inclusion, of justice, and, ultimately, of human rights.

Human rights are a hope; they are a necessary means for all to know and realise their potential and hold others up to the same ideals. “Human rights achieve their highest expression when understood in the context of human relationships – within the family, the community, the nations and among the community of nations,” the Baha’i International Community writes. To ensure that violation and compliance to human rights treaties were not biased and were held to this global standard, the Universal Periodic Review was created. It provided a universal character and nature for the compliance of treaties and the livelihood of humanity.

As such, when a nation like the United States of America – widely considered to be developed, a world leader, an exemplar – has come under scrutiny for violating the rights, the voice, and the vote of half of its people after an historic election, it becomes gravely important that there is hope; that there is a standard to which we all strive. However, this is not unlike the United States. The state has violated treaties of torture, has not ratified the Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, does not reprimand police brutality, and inhumanely punishes convicted criminals. How do we create a shift in our understanding of human rights and what it means to us as a universal human entity, for the “greater good”, rather than on an individual basis? Law, organization, and limitations are important to our human existence and routine. How do we elevate our understanding of law from national to international in order to rise above the barriers in a positive and holistic way?

I’ve been thinking on it quite a lot: Why did I say, when I was a little girl, that I wanted to fight for human rights when I grew up? I saw my neighbourhood and wanted to share. I looked at my community and wanted to build. I observed my country and wanted to serve. I perceived the world and wanted to change it. It was important to me to begin where I could make an effective difference and influence a person, a small group, a generation, to carry-out the lofty standards and systems we hold as ideals.

That’s what the importance of human rights treaties is: people knowing their rights and compliance happening on a personal and community-level. That’s what “think global, act local” has always meant. We can make the arguments of foreign aid and continuing violations, oppressive governments and powerless international law. However, our duty is to make change in our environments as we think about the advancement of civilization at-large. Roth writes, “[human rights treaties] codify a widely endorsed set of principles from which the conversation can begin.” This is the basis of compliance.

Therefore, I would ask, why do we need incentive? Should it not be a natural instinct and the duty of the government to protect the dignity and integrity of its peoples? The incentive should be simple. Investing in the people and their rights will lead to educational, economic, political, and social prosperity. And, if a state chooses to denounce the treaties and refuses to comply, the global standard is present and understood to, thereby, call guilty parties into question and inform affected peoples of the state that there can be an alternative. Often, it’s as simple as the empowerment an individual may gain in learning that their humanity may be protected by an international conviction of human worth.

Abdu’l-Baha, a prominent figure of the Baha’i Faith, wrote, “The wrong in the world continues to exist just because people talk only of their ideals, and do not strive to put them into practice. If actions took the place of words, the world’s misery would very soon be changed into comfort. My hope for you is that you will ever avoid tyranny and oppression; that you will work without ceasing till justice reigns in every land…”

Local action leads to international compliance.

Considering the ICC and R2P in the Long Run

It’s easy to criticize the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the doctrine of The Responsibility to Protect (R2P). They have each been heralded as a transformation in the international community on behalf of human rights. They have each fallen short of their enormous expectations. It’s important however, that we consider their place in the long run, their utility for gradually changing norms, and the foundation they have set for the distant future.

Despite the ICC being created as the first permanent international criminal court “participating in the global fight to end impunity” it has investigated and prosecuted cases almost exclusively in Africa, accused of ignoring individuals committing crimes against humanity in other regions of the world. David Bosco argues that this is not so much a bias against Africa, but a fear of entering into geopolitical quagmires that may provoke the US, China, or Russia. Regardless, the ICC has been called out as a tool of Western neocolonialism in Africa, and member states have begun the process of pulling out of the ICC. In response, the ICC has attempted to extract itself from trying cases in Africa referred to it by nation states, and has begun to engage with violations of human rights outside of war on behalf of victim groups, such as the land-grabbing in Cambodia that has resulted in forced relocation, illegal imprisonment, and murder.

Many fear that this is a mistake, and will only increasingly antagonize the global south and reduce state membership. David Bosco writes regarding the ICC once again, that the ICC may be “crumbling before our eyes” and worries that the withdrawal of some prominent members such as South Africa will leave the court a shell of its form self. He’s hopeful that the ICC will remain an institution, but that it will have a “much more limited role in international politics than its founder has imagined.” However, should the goal of the court be engaged in international politics? A judicial branch of government is typically expected to be as apolitical as possible, deriving its authority from law, accepting cases from lower courts, not states and politicians.

Kirsten Ainley of the London School of Economics sees this as the best opportunity for the ICC to grow and evolve into an independent institution. If the UN Security Council provided more cases and support for the ICC, it would constantly be dragged into political nightmares and inevitably be used as a tool by those states in power. Instead, it now has the opportunity to refocus its efforts, such as on “building and policing national justice systems” which will have a greater and more lasting impact than targeting politically controversial individuals. By working with national courts through council and support, and acting as an advocate for victims, the ICC will shape international norms and extend the rule of law. These norms have already begun to take hold, as states threatening to exit the ICC have faced massive backlash both domestically and from organizations such as Human Rights Watch lambasting these efforts in South Africa and Burundi.

The R2P is discussed disproportionately in light of its failures rather than its effect on international norms, expectations, and discussions as well. Some claim outright that R2P has completely failed as a result of its reliance on the UNSC for being enacted. Others have gone so far as to call R2P a threat to the international system’s legitimacy predicting its final death after the invasion in Libya. Alex Bellamy, Director of the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, insists that despite past invasions in the Middle East that have only made things worse, efforts to enact R2P in Syria against the Islamic State should be redoubled. He goes onto say later that R2P has not failed, but that the international community itself has failed to commit to “a disarmingly simple principle.”

Kirsten Ainley instead argues that “there are at present no feasible pathways to reform” and efforts to strengthen or clarify will only antagonize states opposed to its interventionist nature and its threats towards national sovereignty. She hopes that the ICC and R2P as complementary systems will be allowed to change slowly and gradually, not forced to fix the world’s problems in their infancy.

Both the ICC and the R2P are completely reshaping the way states, international organizations, transnational corporations, and individual actors are discussing issues of human rights. Even in their failures they have given us a vocabulary with which to wrestle with these ideas, and expectations for the direction the international community is heading towards. Instead of discussing whether the ICC and R2P have failed, we should appreciate their subtle and steady influence, and imagine how they will shape the distant future, when they may have a very different presence in the world.


The plight, human rights, and African Justice; trapped in transit

The term Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has been the subject of continuous debate among scholars, States and International Organizations (AU, UN, NATO…,) and the civil society all over the world. This discussion is not new; it can be pointed back from the 19th Century’s humanitarian intervention of the European Powers in the Ottoman Empire to the current intervention in global human rights crisis.

Ainley argues that the R2P process and the International Criminal Court (ICC) are the most important innovations in human rights protection, developed alongside each other to confront atrocity crimes through prevention, protection, and procession and the two are supposed to work in tandem to temper international politics and to end impunity.

The seeming failure of these institutions to adequately respond and tackle the humanitarian crisis has led to the formulation of the concept that the states have a responsibility to protect fundamental human rights of their people, and that the international community has the responsibility to step in when the states fail to do so.

R2P brings a new label that the international community, collectively or through the action of individual states, may forcibly intervene within the sovereign spheres of other countries, which are unwilling or unable to stop humanitarian catastrophes involving crimes against humanity, including and not limited to; starvation and humanity mass murder.

As an international Community, African Union (AU) established a set of norms and principles that mirror the tenets of R2P (as agreed by the outcome document of the 2005 World Summit). These AU standards and policies, coupled with the AU’s peace and security architecture, makes it proactive in the management of crisis and conflict prevention on the continent. However, is it effective?

A collaborative venture between the AU (at the continental level) and the UN and ICC (at the global scale) has the best options for deepening R2P norms.

The world is experiencing a unique moment of opportunity in the relation between the UN, ICC, and the AU.

The relationship manifests by AU’s responses to current security challenges in Darfur, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Somalia and the  ICC’s application for the issuance of the arrest warrant for President Al-Bashir of Sudan. The call for withdrawal by the AU member states from ICC does not reflect a clear commitment to the R2P by the AU member states.

The AU’s attempt to solve the Africa’s crisis will continue to lag behind due to lack of political will and weakening of its principles and norms by its member states.

The proposal by African leaders to have a “collective withdrawal” from the Rome Statute, the foundational treaty of member states to the International ICC, is a source of real concern.

The objections raised by the leaders about ICC are of significant interest. The issues includes;

  1. The ICC management and the Courts independence
  2. The ICC has not been even-handed in its justice application
  3. Powerful member states which fund the ICC, such as the US, China, and Russia, cannot face trial in the court.
  4. The significant players on the international scene are not signatories to the ICC is problematic and leaves a large proportion of the world population uncovered by the court’s remit.

Even with the above ICC shortcomings, it is an indisputable fact that Africa disproportionately bear the most crimes perpetrated by their leaders, including mass murder and displacements and ICC has played a crucial role in offering justice to victims. What the institution needs are internal reforms to make it more efficient and effective.

The proposed African Court of Justice is still a long way off, and it is by no means clear either that it will be useful in its application of justice or that there is enough funding available from the AU to sustain an institution with such a massive mandate.

Withdrawing from the ICC with no credible mechanism for justice for mass crimes in place would be an error of colossal proportions. It is much better for the African member states to stay in the ICC and advocate for internal reforms rather than bolting and leaving millions of Africans unprotected by an international court which can step in when the national institutions fail.