The Primacy of Politics and the Protection of Civilians in UN Peacekeeping

Personnel from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) visit Kouki, is a small town in the sub-prefecture of Nana Bakassa, where agricultural areas are regularly damaged by cattle herders, causing friction between communities, July 22, 2015. (MINUSCA)

Support to political processes and the protection of civilians (POC) are arguably the two most prominent mandated tasks for multidimensional UN peacekeeping operations. Policy guidance and independent reviews have made clear that politics and protection must be linked, yet within missions, POC is often considered in parallel to political work and is not always effectively incorporated into a political vision.

The purpose of this report is to examine how UN peacekeeping missions’ POC and political work are understood in relation to one another in terms of planning and operations and to consider opportunities for better integrating them, both formally and informally. The report begins by outlining the concept of political primacy and the elevation of POC within UN peacekeeping. It then provides an overview of entry points for better connecting missions’ political and POC work, including in mapping and analyses, planning and strategies, negotiated agreements, the creation of enabling environments, and local-level processes. The report then discusses various challenges and offers concluding recommendations.

The paper concludes with the following recommendations for member states, mission leadership, and other mission personnel to better integrate their POC and political work:

  • Mapping and analysis: Mission leaders should ensure that mapping and analyses are conducted jointly by mission personnel working on POC and politics.
  • Planning and strategies: Special representatives of the secretary-general (SRSGs) and headquarters should take ownership of, and clearly and consistently communicate to mission staff, mission concepts, mission plans, POC strategies, and political strategies. To better translate their strategic vision into actionable plans, mission leaders should also establish joint mission planning cells. Heads of POC and political components (or their equivalents) should anchor their individual strategies in the central mission concept, plan, or strategy to ensure all components are working toward a common goal.
  • Negotiated agreements: During the lead-up to a formal negotiation process, SRSGs should advocate for POC. Mediators should also advocate for specific language on POC within negotiated agreements, including language on the protection of specific groups and protection from sexual and gender-based violence.
  • Creating an enabling environment: Mission personnel in charge of planning and implementing POC should look for entry points to enhance the protection-participation nexus.
  • Local-level processes: Senior mission leaders and member states should broaden their focus on the “political” beyond national-level formal processes to include the local level.