Why peacekeepers back Kigali Principles


Gen Nyamvumba addresses participants during the closure of the course. / Jean d'Amour Mbonyinshuti

Imagine a situation where you are deployed in a peacekeeping mission in armed conflict but to protect civilians you needed to seek permission from your superiors. You could see people you are supposed to protect dying.

That’s the situation military, police and civilians who were deployed in peacekeeping missions used to go through whenever they were deployed under the traditional UN peacekeeping guidelines.

Gen Patrick Nyamvumba walks with Maj Gen Jean-Bosco Kazura (R), the commandant of the Musanze-based RDF Command and Staff College, with course participants. / Jean d'Amour MBonyinshuti

However, the situation seems to have changed after some UN member countries adopted the Kigali Principles on Protecting Civilians.

Adopted in May 2015, the Kigali Principles are a set of best practices to enhance implementation of civilian protection mandates.

The 18 recommendations provide a blueprint to strengthen the international community’s commitment to effectively protect civilians.

So far, 40 countries have endorsed the principles.

Officials and participants pose for a group photo after the closure of a one weeklong course. / Jean d'Amour Mbonyinshuti

At an international course this week: Kigali Principles on Protection of Civilians, participants stressed the need to protect civilians from falling victims in armed conflict.

Closed on Wednesday, at Rwanda Peace Academy in Musanze District, the weeklong course drew participants from 14 countries.

It was organised by the government of Rwanda in collaboration with the United States of America and The Kingdom of Netherlands. Participants included military, police and civilian officers.

Very important course

Participants hailed the course as ‘the first step’ towards implementation of the Kigali Principles.

They also committed to using the acquired skills to be more proactive in protecting civilians.

“My take away is that the most important thing in every peace operation is the civilians; we need to concentrate on the civilians in every operation that we embark on. We, through the Kigali Principles are told to do everything, not to hesitate, not to delay in everything that we have to do to protect civilians,” said Major Francisca Aholo from Ghana Air Force.

“Protection of civilians has always been part of peace keeping operations but over the years it looked like peacekeepers were not really involved when it comes to protecting civilians, so the Kigali Principles come in to help us improve on what we used to have, that is the only difference.”

Gen Nyamvumba chats with facilitators of the course on Kigali Principles on Civilians Protection. / Jean d'Amour Mbonyinshuti

She added that once deployed with the new guidelines; they will be able to act faster and take action to help civilians in time of need.

“That is the essence of the Kigali Principles, we have 18 principles and each principle tells us what we should do. The basis is to help the civilians in time of need, we are not to waste time, we are not to delay, we are not to hesitate. The commander is obliged and has a duty and responsibility to make sure that their troops take responsibility to act and save the civilians,” added Aholo.

Lauren Spink from the Washington DC-based Centre for Civilians in Conflict; currently working in DR Congo, said the course would help peacekeepers be more proactive.

“I think the Kigali Principles are the first steps to removing the UN challenges and passivity. We all keep the Kigali Principles in mind which tell us to be more proactive in all actions, which tell us to think about resolving conflicts before it worsens,” she said.

“The Kigali Principles expend on the UN guidelines because as we have seen there are so many challenges facing civilians, military and police in peacekeeping missions, the Kigali Principles recognise what is really needed to protect civilians,” she said.

Gen Patrick Nyamvumba awards certificate to one of course participants on Kigali Principles on Protection of Civilians. / Jean d'Amour Mbonyinshuti

Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba, Chief of Defence Staff of the Rwanda Defence Force, said despite police guidelines in place, plus clarified structures and cluster partnerships among others, inadequate capacity and willingness to actively intervene still expose millions of civilians to deadly risks.

“The Kigali Principles therefore try to address the most relevant aspects of peacekeeping, including assessment and planning, force generation, training and equipping personnel, performance and accountability,” said Gen. Nyamvumba at the closing ceremony.

“There is no doubt that this training that you have just completed will contribute to enhance the protection of civilians in peacekeeping mission, basing on the UN guidelines,” he added.