Need for protection should not get lost in ideological debates – Kagame

Security forms the basis of the inclusive dialogue and consensus building essential for any post-conflict transition to be sustainable, President Paul Kagame has said.
President Kagame in a group photo with participants of the International Conference on Civilian Protection in Kigali yesterday. (Village Urugwiro)
President Kagame in a group photo with participants of the International Conference on Civilian Protection in Kigali yesterday. (Village Urugwiro)

Security forms the basis of the inclusive dialogue and consensus building essential for any post-conflict transition to be sustainable, President Paul Kagame has said.

While opening a two-day conference on peacekeeping, dubbed “International Conference on Civilian Protection,” in Kigali, yesterday, the Head of State called on leaders to ensure that the need to provide security for civilians does not become a euphemism for wishful thinking or procrastination in addressing root causes of conflicts.

UNHCR representative to Rwanda, Saber Azam, makes an intervention during the international conference on protection of civilians in Kigali yesterday.

“What we can do as the international community is work to create a secure enabling environment, while ensuring that the necessity to protect civilians does not get lost in ideological debates. If we don’t, there will never be a good moment for the peacekeepers to return home, and the burdens on the international system will definitely continue to grow,” the President said.

The President also underscored the need for the international community to take action to protect citizens by prioritising prevention.

“Sovereignty is fundamentally about responsibility for the security and well-being of citizens. The best way to protect them is to prevent conflict in the first place. That responsibility lies first and foremost with the state concerned, but it does not stop there,” Kagame said.

Delegates at the international conference on protection of civilians in conflict zones in Kigali yesterday.

At the forum, delegates from more than 30 countries that contribute most to global peacekeeping operations are taking stock of the impact of peacekeepers in conflict-torn areas and how best to ensure protection of civilians.

The meeting is a follow-up to another high-level summit on peacekeeping operations, held in September 2014, on the margins of the 69th UN General Assembly in New York, US.

President Kagame noted the significance of holding a meeting about the protection of civilians in Africa, and particularly in Rwanda, where the United Nations withdrew its peacekeepers in the lead up and during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, that left more than a million civilians dead.

CEO of Rwanda Governance Board Prof. Anastase Shyaka poses a question at the conference.

“As for Rwanda, the international community’s decision to walk away from genocide in progress in 1994 was not only a disgrace but a disaster that had to be reckoned with. The new norm of a ‘responsibility to protect’ is the outcome of this soul-searching, putting civilians at the top of the agenda where they belong,” he said.

The Genocide, which spanned 100 days, from April 7 through July 3, was brought to a halt by the then Rwanda Patriotic Army rebels led by Kagame.

Early intervention crucial

President Kagame emphasised that, while the primary responsibility to protect civilians lies with the State where they live, the international community should endeavour to intervene early enough when the State fails to protect its citizens.

Panelists (L-R) Paul D. Williams, Associate Prof. in the Elliote School of International Affairs George Washington US; Alison Giffen, Co-Director Future of Peace Operations Program, Stimson Center; and Hilde Johnson, former special representative of the UN Secretary General for South Sudan;  and moderator Kristoffer Nilaus Tarp at the meeting yesterday.

Citing challenges such as slow deployment, vague mandates and unclear rules of engagement, President Kagame urged the summit to look beyond, to other strategic objectives, keeping in mind that “keeping people safe from harm is the minimum standard to expect.”

About 200 delegates are attending the meeting, including representatives of top financial contributors to United Nations peacekeeping missions.

On Day One, participants shared views and experiences about peacekeeping and the protection of civilians in Africa and other parts of the world.

Rwanda Defence Forces officers follow proceedings at the conference.

Topics of discussion on the agenda include how to make the right analysis of conflicts and respond early and effectively to protect civilians, the responsibility of host states vis-à-vis other stakeholders in peacekeeping, how to handle mandates to protect civilians, as well as enhancing capabilities, training and commitments of peacekeepers for the protection of civilians.

Hilde Johnson, a former special representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan, said a solid analysis of conflicts followed with rapid deployment of capable forces is critical for success in peacekeeping.
“You need to have the right information at the right time; that’s precondition. Without timely and accurate information there is no way we’ll succeed; we’ll fail,” she warned.

Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba, the RDF Chief of Defence Staff (L), chats with MONUSCO commander Lieutenant General Alberto Dos Santa Cruz during the conference yesterday. T. Kisambira.

Paul Williams, an associate professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University in the US, said it is likely that the United Nations will continue to deploy forces with peacekeeping mandates and that remains the expectation of citizens all over the world.

“The protection of civilians mandates are here to stay,” he said.

Defence minister James Kabarebe( L) chats with IGP Emmanuel Gasana at the conference. (All photos by Timothy Kisambira)

Today, participants are expected to issue the “Kigali Protection Principles”, which will highlight values that would guide peacekeepers on the mission to protect civilians anywhere in the world.

Rwanda, which maintains over 5000 peacekeepers in different UN missions around the world, including in flashpoint regions like Central African Republic, Darfur and South Sudan, is the fifth largest contributor of peacekeepers worldwide.



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