FAQ for the field
Frequently Asked Questions on practical peacekeeping contexts.
Which kinds of Human Rights Violations are commonly encountered by peacekeepers in the mission area?
Uniformed peacekeepers are usually tasked to act most of the time in the field, for instance accomplishing land, sea and air patrols, settling field military bases to protect local population, and participating together with civilian sections to assessment or investigation missions. This strong presence of military peacekeepers in the field means that peacekeepers can daily face situation of detected, reported or encountered human rights violations against civilian population. Depending on the kind and magnitude of the conflict, several human rights violations are often encountered: grave violations against children (recruitment as soldiers, attacks against schools and hospitals), conflict-related sexual violence (included massive rapes, sexual abductions, forced marriage), denial of humanitarian access, killing and maiming, among others.
Military peacekeepers need to be prepared to detect such incidents, know who to refer to for adequate assistance, and, most importantly, detect risks in order to ensure protection and prevention. The joint work with civilian peacekeepers, humanitarian actors, hosting government and local population is essential to develop effective analyses that can prevent attacks and incidents, and protect civilians. In addition, military peacekeepers are a crucial element to detect risks if they conduct activities of patrols and comprehensive analyses that include a gender perception. For instance, knowing the habits and role of women in a community can increase the opportunity to protect them from potential attacks in their daily lives.
Where can military peacekeepers find indications on how to detect, react to and report human rights violations?
While military peacekeepers are tasked and expected to directly intervene to prevent and protect local population from human rights violations, they are not the best actors to directly respond and assist victims. This role is indeed covered by specialised civilian staff, such as human rights officers, sexual violence officers or DDR personnel, and humanitarian and local services of assistance. Seeing as most of the time military peacekeepers are not accompanied by specialised civilian staff in their daily tasks, they need to be prepared to face any kind of situations, in order to avoid trespassing their role and maximise the potentialities of their presence in the field. In cases of human rights violations, military peacekeepers need to be prepare to:
- detect incidents (human rights violations, crime, etc), or situations of potential risk and the most vulnerable subjects;
- know to whom and how to report the information, so that specialised actors can quickly intervene to assist;
- and know how to deal with potential victims of human rights violations or sources of information.
Each situation requires an attentive study of the context (hostile or friendly reactions of local population, for instance), the kind of alleged violations occurred (conflict-related sexual violence, torture, grave violations against children etc), and the knowledge of specialised actors that can quickly provide adequate assistance. In order to deal with such situations, peacekeepers need to have a comprehensive knowledge of the context, an understanding of the principles of confidentiality and protection in reporting information, and an effective network of cooperation with other peacekeeping and humanitarian actors.
The cooperation with civilian components of the peacekeeping mission is extremely important: civilian components can indeed be very useful, for instance, in providing military staff with the list of public health structures where peacekeepers can refer victims of human rights violations that were encountered in the field.
In addition to their standard training, military contingents should receive guidelines on how to deal with human rights violations prior the deployment in the mission area. The issue may be, however, that the field contexts differ from the situations presented in the training guidelines. In order to be as close as possible to the local reality, a joint work with civilian components is essential to enrich the capacities of both military and civilian sides.
Why military peacekeepers are a critical actor in peacekeeping contexts?
In addition to their effective role as main protectors of civilians, military peacekeepers represent often ‘the eyes and ears’ of civilian peacekeeper components in the field. For they are much more present in the field than their civilian colleagues, military peacekeepers can really make the difference in knowing the habits of a specific community, its vulnerable subjects and the main risks they face, contributing to development joint analyses of prevention and protection. Moreover, their interventions can be very visible, and sometimes with immediate impacts, in comparison with those conducted by civilian peacekeepers. This visibility is particularly important to create credibility and a feeling of trust in the local population. This is particular important seeing as the results of peacekeeping missions are usually mid tolong-term, and as such bear the risk of losing the confidence and support of the population. For this very reason, the behaviour and impact of military peacekeepers in the field can be extremely sensitive.
What can peacekeepers teach us and learn from the mission’s contexts?
In peacekeeping missions there exist two-way exchanges: international peacekeepers can teach and learn from the local population, and the local population can learn from and teach international peacekeepers.
Peacekeepers can firstly represent, for local population, a different model to inspire to. This can be true particularly in the case of women peacekeepers, which are often seen as inspiring models for women, girls, and sometimes men, in often male-dominated societies. The fact that peacekeepers left their own countries and families to support the construction of peace in a foreign country, can be seen as a positive element by the local population. However, in many contexts peacekeepers are not very welcomed by the local population, especially in very long and complex missions, in which the population can be used and influenced against the mission. In such cases, peacekeepers need to be aware of the feeling of the local population, doubling the efforts to improve the impact of the mission, to raise awareness on the possibilities and limits of the mission, and to behave according to an impeccable conduct. Positive or negative reactions of the local population can help peacekeepers understand the environment in which they are working. It may also become a means of stimulating their initiatives to find new ways of communicating and creating a feeling of trust that will help the mission as a whole.
Occasionally peacekeepers can be confronted with attitudes and beliefs which are unacceptable to them. In opposition to their own values and principles, it is difficult to remain unemotional. Open-mindedness is necessary for peacekeepers to perceive the possible occasions when it is possible to raise awareness about human rights and gender.