Hidden layers: ulterior motives for contributing to UN peacekeeping missions

Memorial for the killed Belgian UNAMIR soldiers, Kigali (Rwanda) - by JA ALT, via Wikimedia Commons
Memorial for the killed Belgian UNAMIR soldiers, Kigali (Rwanda) - by JA ALT, via Wikimedia Commons

Memorial for the killed Belgian UNAMIR soldiers, Kigali (Rwanda) – by JA ALT, via Wikimedia Commons

 

By Iona Mulder – 

 

While UN peacekeeping missions have the intention and mandate to bring peace and stability, they come with a cost. Since the first mission in 1948, 3.599 UN-soldiers have died. Certain countries share the biggest losses in peacekeeping soldiers under UN flag: 137 soldiers from Ghana lost their life during a mission, 163 Indian nationals, 122 Canadian, 150 soldiers from Nigeria, 142 from Pakistan, 114 Ethiopian soldiers of which 29 in a relatively recent mission in Darfur, and this list is extensive. What motivates states to send their troops to foreign places to solve conflicts that are not their own? After the members of the Security Council decided to establish a peace mission, the challenge begins to bring together sufficient troops to enable the mission. As the UN does not have its own army, this responsibility falls on the shoulders of its member states. The question whether or not to contribute troops will lead its own political life in every member state country. A good example is the debate in the Netherlands in 2013 on the contribution to the UN mission in Mali. Some parties were against the mission; the SP and PvdSD were of the opinion that the aim of the mission was too ambitious, the PVV stated that it was the responsibility of ‘the Muslim countries’ to control the extremists in the north of Mali.

 

It seems to be expected that those states that are motivated to contribute troops are states that pioneer in the protection of human rights and who are not preoccupied with conflict within their own borders. However, over the last two decades, the opposite seems to be the case, as countries in Africa and Asia were the largest contributors of troops (more specifically Nigeria, Rwanda, and Ethiopia; Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan). These countries are not particularly known for their internal stability, now and in the past, or for their good human rights records. Why, then, do these nations make such effort to bring peace and stability elsewhere?

 

What these countries have in common is that they have little political power within the UN, which is mainly in the hands of the permanent members. Moreover, they share an ambition to expand their political influence in the UN and international politics in general. They believe that delivering troops to the peace keeping mission will develop their political network, creating a political credit that will result in more inclusive politics within the UN. Another motivation for these states to participate is that the UN provides a sum of money to cover the expenses of the missions, which will help to upgrade their army through the received training, the materials and salary. Besides these shared motivations, every government has its own incentive to contribute troops based on the political situation at national level.

 

Rwanda is one of the countries which in recent years contributed a relative amount of troops to UN missions. I will use Rwanda as an example to show how political situations at the national level can motivate the state to contribute to international peacekeeping missions. In 1994, Rwanda itself was subject of a peacekeeping mission to avoid escalation of violence between Hutu and Tutsi: the mission became one of the biggest failures in the history of UN peacekeeping operations. After the killing of ten Belgium blue helmets by Hutu militia, most of the contributing countries decided to withdraw their troops, leaving the Rwandan people to their fate. Between April and July 1994 an estimated of 800.000 people, mainly Tutsi, were killed. Finally, an army composed of Tutsi refugees, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), invaded Rwanda from Uganda, took over power and put a stop to the mass killing.

 

Since 2004 Rwanda has become one of biggest providers of troops to the UN and the AU (African Union). On their first mission, the 150 Rwandese soldiers received much respect as they were well trained, disciplined, and there is a broad inclusion of woman within their army. Within Rwanda, they are presented as national pride. During my research on how the current Rwandan government is legitimatizing its power, I found that the contribution of troops to the UN is an essential element of the government’s policy. The current government mainly consist of those associated with the RPF, its power in the country is legitimized by the effort to stop the genocide and create a climate of stability and security. At the international level, this legitimization is strengthened by the guilt of international failure to stop the genocide, which puts the RPF on a higher moral level than the international community. Many scholars have called this type of power legitimization “genocide credit”.

 

This “genocide credit” is essential for the Rwandan government for two reasons. First of all, it has made Rwanda a “donor darling”. The relatively rapid recovery of the country after the genocide and continuing economic growth has been made possible due to vast sums of donor money that were pumped in the reconstruction of the country. Now, twenty-two years after the genocide, around half of Rwanda’s national budget is still generated by donors. Much of Rwanda’s national stability is therefore dependent on the continuity of this flow of donor money. Secondly, another effect of this genocide credit is that for many years after the genocide, it was seen as politically incorrect to critically examine the Rwandan government’s policy. As a result, the international community has overlooked or ignored the fact that the Rwandan government’s policy is not as pretty as it seems at first sight.

 

A decade after the genocide the “genocide credit” started to crumble, making space for international criticism on the Rwandan government. More and more foreign countries were criticizing Rwanda for not respecting democratic values and human rights. Moreover, as many countries point out, is that the government’s reconciliation program is resulting in censorship and social inequality. It is here that the peacekeeping missions come into the picture. The Rwandan government needed to revitalize the “genocide credit” by reconfirming its high morale. The peace keeping missions provide the perfect opportunity to do so; contributing to peace and security in the rest of the world, stop genocide from happening in other countries, and help Africa to solve its own in problems. The contribution to the UN peacekeeping missions is thus a way to repaint a positive picture to the world and distract the international community from the negative elements of its national policy. It can be stated that the Rwandan government is abusing the peacekeeping mission to restore its power.

 

The question that remains: is practicing politics by means of UN peacekeeping missions by definition a bad thing? I am of the opinion it is not, only if the motivations of the contributing countries contradict the aims of the peacekeeping missions itself. More importantly, the contribution to peacekeeping missions by relatively smaller and less influential countries can provide a tool for nations to develop political power to oppose the power of the permanent member of the UN – making the UN more inclusive and democratic. The positive contribution of these countries should not be uncritically accepted as a reflection of their national politics, as there is more to it than good intentions. The case of Rwanda is the perfect example.

 

Different Shades of Denial: are the White House and the German far right relativizing the Holocaust?

Auschwitz II-Birkenau, November 2016. Picture by Marieke Zoodsma
Auschwitz II-Birkenau, November 2016. Picture by Marieke Zoodsma

Auschwitz II-Birkenau, November 2016. Picture by Marieke Zoodsma

By Marieke Zoodsma

 

January is an important month for those involved in Holocaust remembrance; the 27th of January, the day that Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated by the Red Army, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a month in which events are organised that involve Holocaust remembrance or topics related to the crimes of the Nazi regime, such as the Nooit Meer Auschwitz lecture in Amsterdam. It is also a month in which politicians engage in public statements regarding (the commemoration of) the Holocaust and the Second World War. However, it is also in the realm of politics where genocide, be it the Holocaust or any other, can become a dangerously fluid, unclear and undefined concept. Lobbyists, activists, and politicians from all different sides of the political spectrum use the term for their own agenda, thereby often (wilfully?) misinterpreting the facts. I will point out two examples.


At a speech in Dresden
on the 17th of January, Björn Höcke, a politician from the German right-wing Alternative for Germany party (AfD), labelled the Berlin Holocaust memorial a ‘monument of shame’. Höcke, a former history teacher, said; “Until now, our mental state continues to be that of a totally defeated people. We Germans are the only people in the world that have planted a monument of shame in the heart of their capital.”. General outrage from within as well as outside Germany followed as Höcke was being condemned for his statement as being anti-Semitic and a demagogue. One way or another, it is highly questionable if a political figure should engage in such inflammatory comments on (the remembrance of) a not-so-long-ago history. Perhaps his political agenda guided him otherwise.


The United States White House commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day with a statement. The statement reads: “It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.”. Here too the statement was followed by astonishment since it did not include Jews, Judaism or antisemitism. Jonathan Freedlander commented in The Guardian: “The Nazis were broad in their hatred, targeting Roma, gay people and disabled people, as well as socialists, communists and many others. But any full account of that period begins with the recognition that Jews were singled out for total eradication.”. According to professor Deborah Lipstadt, whose story on Holocaust denial is intriguingly depicted in the film Denial, it is a form of classic “softcore denial” of the Holocaust. According to Lipstadt, the statement is not necessarily denying the facts but it minimizes them; arguing that the Jews as a group were not particularly targeted for destruction. This way, the Holocaust is de-Judaized.


Denial comes in many shapes and forms. The deaths in a genocide can for instance be rationalized as a result of an ‘age old conflict’ (as the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić did during the Bosnian war), or the statistics can be questioned or minimized. A common form of denial, especially among lawyers and politicians, is the claim that what is going on is not genocide. It is a definitional argument of which the United States State Department employees were fully aware when they drafted a memo in May 1994 (during the Rwandan genocide) saying; “Be careful … Genocide finding could commit U.S.G. to actually ‘do something’”. Different actors can deny certain things from having happened, from individual politicians to states – such as Turkey denying the Armenian genocide.


In the described statements, Holocaust denial or not, politicians are venturing out onto a slippery slope. Where the German politician Höcke can be said to trivialize the remembrance of the Holocaust, the United States government is minimizing the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust. As with many historical events – and perhaps especially commemorations – the Holocaust is being used for political agendas. Höcke, in the face of the refugee crisis and the recent terrorist attack in Berlin, might want to construct the image of a unified glorious German people to build on a better and brighter future instead of a defeated people with a shameful past. The motives for the United States might be focussed on combating the Jews “special pleading” over the Holocaust.


The sociologist Stanley Cohen offers an interesting perspective in his influential work States of Denial (2001). Trying to answer the question “how could people simultaneously know and not know about certain matters?”, Cohen argues that there seem to be “states of mind, or even whole cultures, in which we know and we don’t know at the same time”. The language that was being used during the extermination process is hereby an important aspect. The euphemisms, or language rules, that were deployed in the extermination process made it possible to deny what was actually happening; “the victims of Nazi atrocities were ‘deported’ to ‘work camps’ for ‘special actions’”. The meaning of the Holocaust is hereby simultaneously literally denied and one can thus claim it did not happen – during but also afterwards the genocide itself.


These language rules that are being used to literally deny and thereby reject the actual meaning of the Holocaust sound awkwardly reminiscent to the “alternative facts” (“falsehoods”, or in other words: denying the truth) of the new Trump administration. And we venture out further on that slippery slope…

 

The Power of the UN to protect Humanity – Part I The Security Council

sc-vote-on-syria
sc-foto-2

UN Security Council meeting on Syria, on December 18, 2015. Take a good look at who raised their hands and who did not (State Department photo/ Public Domain)

 

By Iona Mulder -

 

The UN was founded after the Second World War with the primary goal of protecting peace and security in the world. One of the most important elements of this goal is the protection of people all around the world against similar atrocities that were committed by the Nazi regime; these atrocities are now framed as crimes against humanities and genocide. But who decides and how is decided within this unique and powerful international organization, that currently includes 193 states, that action is necessary to confront issues of crimes against humanity? I will provide insight into this question in a series of several articles. The intention is not to be exhaustive, but to provide a top-down overview of the decision-making process of this powerful organization, to show its competence and its weaknesses. This first article begins with the top of the chain were political decisions for action are taken: the Security Council.

Although the UN as a whole can be seen as leading the politics of the international community, its power is bound by the obligation to respect the sovereignty of states. The right to sovereignty means that the UN cannot interfere within national affairs without the permission of the state itself. This rule is the number one principle of international law. However, the Security Council forms the exception; it is the only organ that can in specific situations interfere with this fundamental principle of sovereignty – even with the use of force, often described as “use of all necessary means”. It can do so in the name of the protection of international peace and security, as described in Chapter VII of the founding charter of the UN. Whether a situation is a threat to peace and security and what measures should be taken, will be determined by a vote of the fifteen states that are a member of the council. There are five permanent members, US, UK, Russia, China, France, those countries that were considered as superpowers after The Second World War, and ten non-permanent that change every two years. These world-changing decisions on peace and security issues are made by the representative of the members states simply raising their hand, as if they were in a classroom. Live-streams of the voting meetings can be viewed at the website UN television. A decision, called a resolution, will be accepted when nine of the members vote in favor, and none of the permanent member uses their right to veto a decision.

Since the end of the eighties, the Security Council has often considered widespread international crimes against humanity as a threat to security of the international community. Examples of such situations are Former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, The Democratic Republic of the Congo. The more recent case of South-Sudan shows how the decision-making at the Security Council ideally works. Last November 11th, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, made a visit to the young state of South-Sudan. His role as a Special Advisor is to collect information and advice and warn the Secretary-General and the Security Council of the UN on grave human rights violations of ethnic and racial origin that genocide that might escalate into genocide. The reason for his visit was continuing reports of ethnic violence in South-Sudan. In a speech before the Security Council he stated: “Last week, I saw all the signs that ethnic hatred and targeting of civilians could evolve into genocide if something is not done now to stop it. I urge the Security Council and Members States of the region to be united, and to take action.”

Already since 2011 there is a UN mission stationed within South-Sudan named UNMISS with the mandate to protect civilians, monitor, investigate human rights, and to give assistance to build up the new state. Over the years the mission was already expanded. However, as Adama Dieng has specified within his speech before the Security Council, neither the UNMISS nor strong calls upon the South Sudanese government, not even a ceasefire that was established in 2015, have led to a positive progress of the stability and security of the country. On the contrary, the violence has increased and spread over a larger area; the government army is overall feared by the population, and the current South Sudanese President Kirr made statements that incite even more violence among the different political/ethnic groups within the country.

Following Adama Dieng’s advice and call to take action before the Security Council, the Security Council decided last December 16th to expand the UNMISS even more with 4500 soldiers and broaden its mandate. This mandate now includes among other things the unlimited access for the Special Advisor to monitor, investigate and report on incidents of hate speech and incitement to violence and actively participate in the mission in the implementation of the ceasefire, including the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of different armed groups in South Sudan. In this case, the Security Council took the words of the Special Advisor into account and took action to protect the population of South Sudan. There are, however, two loopholes. First of all, the Security Council is not obligated to council the Special Advisor if the member states are not interested in doing so. Secondly, the member states might not vote for any action or one the permanent members can use its right to veto to uphold any action. This often happens when political interest come into play.

The most compelling example nowadays is the case of Syria. Special Advisor Adama Dieng has made fifteen public statements on the desperate situation of the civil population in Syria. He has not once been invited by the Security Council to speak about this subject. Moreover, Russia has used its veto right six times since the beginning of the conflict to uphold a UN Mission with a mandate regarding the protection of civilians or the persecution of those responsible for violence against civilians and the use of chemical weapons. China has taken the same position five times. The reason for Russia and China to do so is their political alliance with the Syrian government. If they would allow such a UN mission to be implemented, this would minimize the power of the Syrian government and thereby damage their political interested. Henceforth, the Security Council is completely paralyzed to take any action. It is undeniable that the Security Council is failing to fulfill its responsibility to protect the population of Syria.

The situation in Syria is the ultimate display that the UN system to prevent any large-scale human right violations is dependent on the political will of the members of the Security Council and primarily the permanent members. The five permanent member states can stand in the way of the protection of many innocent civilians, merely because it is against their own political interest to so, even when all the other members are of the opinion that measures are imperative to secure the safety of certain populations. It is clear that if the Security Council wants to function as is intended by its founders, the voting powers must be distributed more equitably among the UN member states. This very critical note aside, the Security Council intervenes in some situations to protect civil population when a state is unable or unwilling to protect them, as is shown in the case of South-Sudan. The following question is, of course, will this action minimize or halt the violence. The UN human right protection systems involve many other organs than the Security Council and the Special Advisor. Their role, work and the success of their actions on the ground will be discussed in the following articles of this series.