After months of lobbying for additional forces to serve in peacekeeping missions, the United Nations, on Monday, got its wish with nations pledging additional 40,000 troops.
The pledges were made at a high-profile leaders’ summit on international peace operations on the sidelines of the 70th United Nations General Assembly in New York, US.
The additional support aims at enabling the United Nations to rapidly deploy forces in the event of a mission and cope with unprecedented strains.
Rwanda contributed two additional infantry battalions totaling 1,600 troops, two helicopters as well as a women’s police unit and a level two hospital.
A contingent of police force is made up of 140 officers, according to Rwanda National Police spokesperson Celestin Twahirwa.
Announcing Rwanda’s pledge, President Paul Kagame said all nations, including those with what might seem as limited resources, had meaningful contributions to make toward peacekeeping missions.
Apart from troops in various missions, Rwanda currently has an aviation unit of six helicopters deployed in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, the Defence and Military spokesperson, Brig Gen Joseph Nzabamwita, said.
Sources at the Ministry of Defence say a Level Two hospital must have at least 70 medical personnel staff, including specialists. It caters for general surgical, internal medicine, anaesthesia, radiology among others.
The hospital’s capabilities include treating ambulatory outpatients, providing three intensive care beds, evacuating casualty to the next level of medical care, performing surgical operations with anaesthesia, and hospitalisation for up to 20 patients.
It also includes performing basic radiological examinations, treating dental cases as well as performing essential diagnostic and laboratory tests.
A total of 40 helicopters, 15 military engineering companies and 10 field hospitals were pledged at Monday’s summit.
However, as peace and security experts welcome the development, they have urged the UN to consider mechanisms to deal with emerging issues in peacekeeping as well as find long-term solutions.
Among the emerging issues and concerns the experts would like to see addressed include sexual abuses by a section of peacekeeping troops, response time as well as geopolitics that tend to influence the relation between peacekeepers and civilians.
Growing conflicts and complexities
Dr Charles Kabwete Mulinda, the head of Department of Political Science at the University of Rwanda’s College of Arts and Social Sciences, told The New Times, yesterday, that more troops were a welcome addition considering the increasing complexities of peacekeeping missions.
He said conflicts that required UN intervention, as well as their complexity, are growing by the day requiring additional troops to manage the situation.
“It is a positive move by Rwanda and other countries to increase the capacity of the UN in peacekeeping missions,” Kabwete said.
He said, even with the addition of forces and equipment, it was time to review how the peacekeeping mandates were being effected.
“It is time to address issues of conduct among some forces given the reported cases of abuses in Central Africa Republic to ensure that we not only increase size but also quality of output,” he said.
The scholar also took concern in the commitment of some of the forces deployed in some missions as well as their understanding of the areas where they worked, which could affect their interactions with locals.
This is not the first time concerns of geopolitics have been raised in peacekeeping.
In April, Lt Gen (rtd) Romeo Dallaire, the former Force Commander of the UN Mission in Rwanda in the 1990s, suggested revisiting the issue.
During a lecture to officers at Rwanda Defence Forces Command and Staff College, Dallaire said deploying officers from far-flung nations to peacekeeping missions ends up having no impact because the peacekeepers are either disinterested in solving the problem or lack understanding of context.
Kabwete added that going by case study of a number of countries that had experienced conflict, deployment of peacekeepers alone was not enough to present sustainable solutions.
“Beyond the deployment of troops on the ground, the United Nations should consider long-term peacebuilding that would continue after departure of the troops,” Kabwete said.
Civilian abuse by peacekeepers
The UN has previously been badly dented by a string of sexual abuse claims targeting its peacekeepers, in particular in the Central African Republic, where many of the 17 allegations involve victims as young as 11.
But, last month, UN chief Ban Ki-moon outlined seven measures that he said would help stamp out sex abuse such as suspending pay to troops involved in abuses.
At a meeting with the 124 countries that contribute troops and police to UN peacekeeping missions worldwide, Ban said he was ready to throw out entire peacekeeping units if their country failed to take action against soldiers accused of sexual abuse.
US President Barack Obama helped lobby for additional troops.
The UN pays peacekeeping countries a stipend of about $1,000 per month per soldier who serves in their missions.
According to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jeanine Kambanda, the process involves UN making requests after which individual countries make considerations on their position to make contributions.
The US, which foots the bill for nearly 30 per cent of the UN’s $8 billion peacekeeping budget, also sought to draw European nations back to the blue helmets.
With more than 5,000 military and police peacekeepers serving in different parts of the world, Rwanda is among the top five largest troop-contributing nations to UN peacekeeping missions globally.
Speaking at the peacekeeping summit on Monday, President Kagame called for adherence to clear mandates and shared norms as detailed in the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians adopted in May at the end of a two-day International Conference on the Protection of Civilians.
The adopted principles included a pledge by troop contributing countries to contribute the enabling capabilities such as helicopters to peacekeeping operations and avoid undue delay in protecting civilians.
The principles further called for member countries to be vigilant, monitor and report any human rights abuses or signs of impending violence in the areas in which personnel serve and take disciplinary action against their personnel if and when they fail to act to protect civilians.
There are at least 105,000 military and police peacekeepers in UN’s 16 peacekeeping missions worldwide.
Rwanda maintains peacekeepers in CAR, South Sudan, Darfur in Sudan and Haiti.
A leaf from Rwanda’s model?
Dr John Musemakweri, a Kigali-based independent peace and security consultant, said it was probably time the UN adopted Rwanda’s model of putting up a peacekeeping academy to improve capacity of the troops to deal with increasing complexities of peace keeping missions.
The Rwanda Peace Academy (RPA) in Musanze District in Northern Province enhances capacities of local and regional personnel for conflict prevention, management, resolution, post-conflict recovery and peace building.
Dr Musemakweri said, with the additional troops, it is necessary to increase their capacities in peacekeeping activities through such programmes.
He called for increased accountability by the United Nations and troop contributing countries.
“It is time to assume responsibility and ensure accountability among peacekeepers to see to it that they serve as per their mandates and do not engage in misconduct,” Musemakweri said.