Lessons from the Implementation of the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians in Peacekeeping Operations

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“When a mission fails to protect civilians, that calls into question the credibility of the entire peacekeeping undertaking and the credibility of the United Nations,” said Valentine Rugwabiza, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the UN. “We’ve seen that. This is what is at stake.”

Geraldine Byrne Nason, the Permanent Representative of Ireland to the UN, agreed, saying “those of us with experience with conflict or who are peacekeepers know that when protection fails, consequences are absolutely devastating.”

The two ambassadors were speaking about the centrality of Protection of Civilians to effective peacekeeping at a May 29th IPI virtual policy forum on Pledging to Protect Civilians in Peacekeeping Operations: Lessons from the Implementation of the Kigali Principles. The forum took place on the International Day of Peacekeepers, during the UN’s annual Protection of Civilians (POC) Week.

Adopted five years ago at the High-Level International Conference on POC in Kigali, Rwanda, the Kigali Principles are a non-binding set of 18 pledges for more effective and thorough implementation of POC in UN peacekeeping. The principles focus on the training of troops, their performance, and their readiness to identify and address threats, including through the use of force to protect civilians, the provision of adequate resources and capabilities, and the establishment of accountability and oversight mechanisms.

“The Kigali Principles are crystal clear that peacekeepers must be prepared for the tasks set for them,” said Ambassador Byrne Nason. “There are extraordinary challenges with far too many instances where we have seen that the deliberate targeting of vulnerable people and communities is still happening. And let’s be frank, without the proper resources, peacekeeping missions will never be able to fulfill the roles that we set.” She lauded the Kigali Principles for providing a good framework but added, “that framework is of little use if it’s not fully implemented.”

Ms. Rugwabiza said one of the key purposes of implementing the principles was “instilling in our peacekeepers the confidence to act in appropriate and effective ways to protect civilians. We found that most of the time when action towards POC has not been taken, it’s really by lack of will or hesitation, with peacekeepers wondering if they actually have the authority to use force, and the Kigali Principles will help clarify that. We all have an intricate complementary role to play in peacekeeping. When any of us fall short of responsibility, the consequences are tragic.” She reported that the Kigali Principles had become part of Rwanda’s routine “training regimen.”

She sounded the same existential warning as Ambassador Byrne Nason did about the need to provide support for the principles. “The principles demand for mandates to be accurately matched with resources on the ground,” she said. “The principles necessitated impartiality because impartiality means deference to objectives of the mandate rooted in the principles of the UN Charter: place POC at the heart and center of our efforts.”

Bintou Keita, Assistant-Secretary-General, UN Department of Peace Operations and Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, commented, “POC is at the heart of what we do now in the context of peacekeeping. The trust and confidence of the population lies within the fact that no matter what happens, there will be no breakdown in the communication, authority, and the ability to act.” She said the Kigali Principles stress active collaboration and the need for accountability. “When we look at the principles, it’s about partnership, not just about talking and saying the nice thing, it’s also about walking the talk and making sure we have a strong partnership because it’s only with that that we’ll have success. It’s a combination of the policy and the handbook which articulate elements of a strong accountability framework. When I look at key elements to highlight, everyone agrees it makes a difference to have strong political will and partnership. It’s not just about the uniformed people, it’s about the whole of mission encompassing endeavor for peacekeepers and POC.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Raoul Bazatoha, Defense and Military Adviser, Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the UN, focused on the principles’ emphasis on training. “In Rwanda, we only had pre-deployment training, but later we had to develop post-deployment training to collect valuable information to inform our training cycle.” Now, he said, Rwanda has established a peace academy training officers in International Humanitarian Law, armed conflict, and other training related to peace operations. He said that Rwandan contingents had carried out activities like outreach programs, quick impact projects, and built a relationship based on trusting the host population and including constructing school classrooms and markets safe for women, and supply of potable water to internally displaced people and local residents.

“Accountability is a central aspect of good governance in Rwanda,” he added, “and it applies to the armed forces as well as peacekeeping personnel, holding our highest standard of conduct, with a national investigative officer in each unit deployed. The Rwanda defense service also deploys lawyers that provide training on crime prevention and conduct investigations when crimes are committed.”

Eshete Tilahun, Minister Counselor and Political Coordinator, Permanent Mission of Ethiopia to the UN, said, “We all know that the POC mandates are getting more complex as peacekeepers are becoming subject to violent attacks.” Aware that “civilians continue to bear the brunt of consequences of conflict… we have made a lot of progress in training because we found ways of building the capacity of uniformed personnel, all under POC framing.” He noted, though, that as more and more is expected from peacekeepers, “less and less resources” are being provided. Mr. Tilahun shared some of Ethiopia’s practices in implementing the Kigali Principles, such as mandatory POC training for peacekeepers and building the capacity and capabilities of uniformed personnel.

Carlos Amorin, Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the UN, noted that the current moment is a particularly difficult one for peacekeepers. “The challenges that peacekeepers face are greater than ever. They are not only having to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic but also support and protect people in the countries they are based in.” Mr. Amorin noted that Uruguay’s endorsement of the Kigali Principles is just one example of their country’s commitment to POC. As one of the earliest signatories to the principles, Mr. Amorin said that their peacekeepers “must complete many training courses prior to deployment” and that Uruguay “deploy[s] without caveats, with the appropriate means to protect civilians and prepare to perform the tasks at hand.” He also said that Uruguay “places a great deal of importance to accountability in POC, both at our national and multilateral level.”

Alison Giffen, Director, Peacekeeping, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) emphasized the importance of supporting POC so that the mandate is “matched with the resources” needed to do the job. “For more than two decades, civilians have looked to UN peacekeepers for protection, and, I want to remind folks, whether or not the peacekeeper is in uniform or whether or not the words protection of civilians were in a mandate.”

Pointing out that promoting and protecting human rights was “a key purpose and guiding principle of the UN,” she concluded, “There’s no reason to doubt that implementing the Kigali Principles and investing in more protection is worthwhile.”

Sofiane Mimouni, Permanent Representative of Algeria to the UN, listed the various challenges that civilians face on the ground and voiced the urgent need to strengthen POC. In particular, he stressed the need for the UN to be “strengthening cooperation and coordination with regional organizations such as the African Union” asking panelists about the “potential synergies to strengthen the culture of protection amongst peacekeepers and peacekeeping stakeholders.”

Dr. Namie Di Razza, IPI Senior Fellow and Head of IPI’s Protection of Civilians Program, moderated the discussion.