Yesterday, a sweeping number of countries and other troop contributing countries endorsed the Kigali Principles at the side event co-hosted by Rwanda and the Netherlands at the United Nations in New York. As our peacekeeping missions are confronted with larger, seemingly insurmountable challenges, the Kigali Principles shed a light on the way forward for delivering thorough and effective protection to civilians in armed conflict.
As much pride as there is in Africans making up a substantial number of the blue helmets on the ground, serving in places where there is no little or no peace to keep, it is distressing that the majority of UN peacekeeping missions are taking place on our soil. This reality has driven Rwanda, its regional partners and other like-minded countries to seek solutions. This fervor coupled with the desire to strengthen peacekeeping lead to the High-Level International Conference on the Protection of Civilians. There was a deep outcry during this conference for a guiding framework that could assist troop and police contributing countries to properly deliver on the missions tasked with protection of civilian mandates. From these frustrations, shared stories, and lessons learned, the Kigali Principles were born.
The principles comprise of 18 sound benchmarks that prompt troop and police contributing countries, mission commanders, the Security Council, and other stakeholders to take unwavering action to protect the most vulnerable. The Kigali Principles were endorsed shortly after the Conference by nine deeply committed countries to the Protection of Civilians: Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Italy, Netherlands, Rwanda, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Uruguay. Today more than 21 troop and police contributing countries have endorsed the principles. These countries, like the original endorsers, are resolute in seeing peacekeeping truly meet the needs of civilians – the very essence of peacekeeping.
These Principles undoubtedly came at a crucial time, when many stakeholders in the international community have called for immediate and bold changes to our traditional peacekeeping ways so that we can successfully address the ever-evolving threats to civilians’ lives. When history looks back at our actions, we must impress that we took every step necessary to save lives. As President Paul Kagame stated, “without a relationship of trust between the protector and the protected, peacekeeping loses its meaning and relevance. The lesson for us is that earning and keeping that trust, and inspiring confidence, has to be the priority.”
Rwanda’s commitment to the principles and furthermore to the protection of civilians stems from a binary history that has placed us before an international community that failed to respond to our plea for help. Moreover, as a top troop and police contributing country, there is an unrelenting conviction to protect any civilian entangled in armed conflict.
Endorsing those principles, troop and police contributing countries have the opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to saving lives and improving peacekeeping. The UN has a significant role to play in this too, with the ability to institutionalise the principles and embed their values in every peacekeeping initiative from here on out.
Today’s historic number of new signatories is a testament to changing times and shifting mindsets on the way forward. A collective effort to improve the protection of civilians will lead to peacekeeping that is driven by the needs on the field rather than political discourse that undermines the international community’s efforts. Rwanda is committed to seeing these principles endorsed by all troop and police contributing countries, with the hope that in this generation we can witness their full fruition on the field and in the minds and hearts of all those involved in UN peacekeeping.
Amb. Eugene Richard Gasana is the Minister of State in Charge of Cooperation and Rwanda’s Permanent Representative to the UN