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Refugees International was back on Capitol Hill yesterday, as Peacekeeping Advocate Erin Weir testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The purpose of the hearing was to discuss the challenges currently facing peacekeeping and possible improvements to the operations, said committee chairman Rep. Howard Berman. A distinguished group of witnesses gathered for the hearing, including Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Susan Rice, who explained why peacekeeping is in America’s national interest and stated that, “Increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of peacekeeping is one of the Obama Administration’s highest priorities at the United Nations.”
The hearing was a big draw for an audience. The line to get in the hearing room stretched down the corridor and around the corner. This popularity is probably credited to the desire to see Rice in her first congressional testimony since her appointment. Or maybe, and this is a big maybe, peacekeeping has become a hot topic for non-lawmakers. But there was even a good showing of committee members beyond that of the chairman and the ranking Republican member, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
The hearing opened with Rep. Berman asking what he called a key question: “Is the international peacekeeping system, as it is conceived today, capable of preventing genocide, ethnic cleansing and other mass atrocities?”
In her testimony, Erin discussed the challenges faced by peacekeepers when charged with this daunting task. “Peacekeeping mandates have steadily become more complex and difficult to achieve,” she said, “but the ability of the UN system and the political will of member states to adequately staff and equip those missions, have not evolved with expectations.” The changing nature of conflict, she noted, is contributing to the difficulty of maintaining peacekeeping mandates given that many modern conflicts involve multiple armed groups.
Additionally, peacekeepers are being asked to take on the very difficult and dangerous task of physically protecting civilians from violence. However, Erin pointed out that “there is no clear definition or doctrine to tell military peacekeepers what protection is or how to make a protection mandate work.” Erin used the example of DR Congo to illustrate her point. When she visited the eastern part of the country last October, she found that civilians were victim to rebel attacks, looting and banditry. MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission there, was ill-prepared to protect civilians from these types of violence. She recommended that mandates need to be more clearly outlined and that missions need the appropriate resources to achieve those mandates.
During the question and answer session following the panel testimony, Rep. Berman asked Erin why these unclear mandates are produced. She noted that the political priorities of the UN Security Council members often cloud the process of creating mandates. Individual members have their own opinions of what should be done to maintain the peace in the crisis area and consensus is needed to produce any sort of mandate at all. Thus a complex mandate that includes multiple tasks is produced. “Complex mandates cannot be accomplished,” Erin replied. “Politics must be discussed but the Security Council must have priorities.”
Erin echoed some of the same points in her newly launched report, Greater Expectations, and advocated that the United States be a leader in focusing the Security Council’s priorities. “As a member of the Security Council, the U.S. should ensure that UN peacekeeping missions are only deployed where mandates are achievable, and that missions are resourced to meet the demands of the respective mandates.”July 31, 2009 | Tagged as: Chad, Congress, DR Congo, Sudan, U.S. Administration, United Nations, Protection & Security