With or Against the State? Reconciling the Protection of Civilians and Host-State Support in UN Peacekeeping

Elements of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (MONUSCO) Force Intervention Brigade and the Congolese armed forces undertake a joint operation near Kamango, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, March 20, 2014. UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti.

Contemporary UN peace operations are expected to implement ambitious protection of civilians (POC) mandates while supporting host states through conflict prevention, peacemaking, and peacebuilding strategies. Reconciling these people-oriented POC mandates and the state-centric logic of UN-mandated interventions ranks among the greatest challenges facing peace operations today.

This report explores how peace operations implement POC mandates when working with, despite, or against the host state. It analyzes the opportunities, challenges, and risks that arise when peacekeepers work with host states and identifies best practices for leveraging UN support to national authorities. The paper concludes that peacekeeping personnel in each mission need to decide how to make the most of the UN’s strengths, mitigate risks to civilians, and maintain the support of government partners for mutually desirable POC goals.

The paper offers seven recommendations for managing POC and host-state support going forward:

  • Persuade through dialogue: Peace operations should work to keep open channels of communication and better prepare personnel for interacting with state officials.
  • Leverage leadership: The UN should better prepare prospective mission leaders for the complex POC challenges they will face.
  • Make capacity building people-centered and holistic: The UN should partner with a wider group of actors to establish a protective environment while reconceptualizing mandates to restore and extend state authority around people-centered development initiatives.
  • Induce best practices: Missions should leverage capacity building and other forms of support to promote national ownership and foster best practices for POC.
  • Coordinate pressure tactics: Peace operations should make use of the full spectrum of bargaining tools at their disposal, including pressure tactics and compulsion.
  • Deliver coherent, mission-specific messaging on the use of force: The UN should improve training, political guidance, and legal advice on the use of force, including against state agents.
  • Reconceptualizing engagement with states on POC as a “whole-of-mission” task: The UN Secretariat should articulate a vision and mission-specific guidelines for partnerships with host governments on POC.