As Police Roles Grow in UN Peace Operations, Clearer Guidelines Needed

A UN police training officer demonstrates how to subdue a criminal suspect using non-violent methods during a training session with Liberian National Police recruits, Unification Town, Liberia. (UN Photo/Staton Winter)

Sectarian violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) has left at least 2,000 dead and over 700,000 displaced since December last year. The United Nations is now preparing to deploy a major peacekeeping mission to CAR, in which the UN police will play a critical role in deterring further attacks on civilians, restoring order, and rebuilding local police and gendarmerie as part of the effort to re-establish the wider rule of law. How United Nations police will stabilize and help to rebuild CAR and other conflict-torn countries such as Mali and South Sudan will be the subject of a major international meeting in Oslo this week, March 19-21.  

Convened by the Police Division in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, police and government representatives from over 50 UN member states as well as international and regional organizations will discuss how international police can contribute to developing police institutions in the conflict-torn countries where peacekeeping missions are deployed. The meeting will aim to further flesh out specific areas outlined in the first comprehensive Policy on UN Police in Peacekeeping Operations and Special Political Missions, which formally took effect on February 1, 2014, after more than 5 years in development. 

Although peacekeeping operations are still widely perceived as military affairs, the reality is that over time they have become progressively more complex and ambitious. The role of police in peace operations has concurrently undergone a quiet but highly significant shift. Today, international police are essential for stabilization and, along with civilian experts, critical for peacebuilding and statebuilding in conflict-affected states hosting a peacekeeping mission. 

Absence of Syrian Refugee Camps in Lebanon Heats Up Labor Competition and Local Tensions

Syrian children wait with slips of paper entitling them to collect bread for their families, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, September 4, 2013. (H. Murdock/VOA)

Three years into the Syrian conflict, one million Syrians have officially sought refuge in neighboring Lebanon, a country of 4.2 million people. Lebanon's hospitality is steadily being stretched to the limit. Syrian refugees have self-settled all over Lebanon, but mainly in the north and the Bekaa valley. The Lebanese authorities have so far refused to let the United Nations set up separate camps to house the refugees. They fear that the refugee camps could turn into permanent settlements and increase the likelihood that the Syrians may decide to stay. 

The absence of refugee camps means that Syrian families are settling in local communities ill prepared to accommodate the mass influx. After the presence of Syrians in Lebanon has reached one quarter of Lebanon’s population, the pressure on limited resources is felt in every community. How can Lebanon cope with this challenge? Are refugee camps the solution?

More than two thirds (70%) of Lebanese expressed a wish that the UN establish refugee camps for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The finding derives from a 2013 study of a representative sample of 900 Lebanese respondents by the Fafo Foundation, an independent research organization. A case study I conducted in the northern Lebanese village of Bebnine, part of the same Fafo study, indicates that finding shelter is increasingly challenging for refugees. In the beginning, people believed the crisis would be short-lived, and local residents showed generous hospitality towards the refugees. When the first refugees arrived in Bebnine, apartments were available, and some refugees were even provided for by a benefactor who paid the rent. Later, refugees had to accommodate themselves by staying with relatives and friends or rent available shelters. As a result, the monthly rent for an apartment in Bebnine increased from around $200 in 2011 to $450 in 2013. 

Refugees we met expressed anguish about their inability to pay the rent after their savings had been exhausted. Those who cannot afford the open rental market live in makeshift shelters designed for other uses than accommodations, usually without adequate water, electricity, and sanitation. Refugees in Bebnine have turned shops, garages, store rooms, hallways, and even a slaughterhouse into makeshift shelters. The latest arrivals to the village were often only offered improvised tents constructed with wooden poles wrapped in plastic. These shelters had only rudimentary water and sanitation facilities and are not weather-proof. A local charity organization in Bebnine was in the process of renting some land to accommodate 100 more plastic shelters for refugees. Clusters of such informal living arrangements have popped up several places in Bebnine, and more than 400 informal tent camps are registered around Lebanon to accommodate Syrian refugees. 

South Sudan Crisis Brings Questions for UNMISS

Nepalese peacekeepers arrive in Juba from Haiti to reinforce the military component of UNMISS, February 4, 2013. (UN Photo/Isaac Billy)

Only two and a half years after its independence, South Sudan was plunged into crisis when fighting erupted within the presidential guard on the night of December 15th. The violence spread quickly across the capital, Juba, and to the rest of the country, leaving over a thousand people dead; 870,000 people fled their homes, 145,000 to neighboring countries.

The outbreak of violence has renewed focus on the response capability of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Since its deployment in 2011, the mission has been plagued by questions about its effectiveness in carrying out its mandate to protect the civilians of South Sudan while at the same time supporting the government in statebuilding—questions the crisis brought into stark relief. However, the ongoing crisis presents an opportunity for UNMISS to re-examine its mandate to better align its objectives with the needs of the people of South Sudan.

Over 85,000 civilians sought refuge in UN base camps around the country, leaving UNMISS in a predicament: how could it uphold its mandate to protect civilians against the government troops it was supposed to support? As fighting erupted in the capital Juba, UNMISS was unable to deal with the crisis as it quickly spread across South Sudan and its head, Hilde Johnson, later admitted they were taken by surprise. 

Accounts of precisely what triggered the violence vary, but what is clear is that fighting broke out between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing the former Vice President, Riek Machar. The unresolved power struggles and ideological differences within both the SPLM and the Army exacerbated tensions leading up to the crisis that erupted in December. Moreover, within the two and half years since independence, the SPLM failed to transition from a political movement fighting the government in Khartoum into a viable political party seeking to influence policy and represent citizens’ interests. 

Dispatch to Brazil: Give Peace a Chance in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

In a favela in Rio de Janeiro, the artist JR drew attention to the plight of residents by postering giant faces on some of the buildings, 2011. (Thiago Trajano/Flickr)

Brazilian diplomats often like to remind their counterparts that their country hasn't picked a fight in its neighborhood for almost 150 years. Brazil very reluctantly joined the Second World War in 1944, but played an important role in helping reconstruct Europe in its aftermath. They are justifiably proud of their historical commitment to peace; it is a legacy worth preserving. Yet there are signs that Brazil’s forward momentum in promoting safety, security, justice, and governance is lagging. Since hosting the Rio+20 conference in 2012, Brazil has been coy about the place of these issues in the post-2015 development agenda. During recent negotiations in New York over future sustainable development goals (SDGs), Brazil's Ministry of Foreign Affairs appeared to be taking them off the table entirely.

At an open-ended working group meeting on the shape and content of the SDGs last month, Brazil’s ambassador to the United Nations, Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, started out in familiar enough territory. In his statement to the United Nations, he made it clear that his government believes “stability and peace are essential for development.” The veteran civil servant went on to say that sustained peace could only be achieved if governments and civil societies collectively tackled the root causes of conflict. There was nothing especially novel about his opening remarks. The ambassador was echoing a number of his compatriots who, over the past few years, have spoken on the interdependence of security and development.

After One Year of China’s New Leadership, Signs of a Different Approach

China's leader Xi Jinping,
September 19, 2012. (credit: US DoD)

The second session of the new Chinese Parliament begins today, March 5, in Beijing, marking a year since the fifth generation of leaders took power in China. While a year is a short span of time to evaluate its achievements, there are nevertheless some new elements in this leadership’s approach. Here are four of them:

1. A New Paramount Leader?

It is widely acknowledged that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is not a cohesive monolith, and that China is not ruled by one paramount leader, as it was in the eras of Mao and Deng. The decision-making process is more and more based on reaching consensus and a “collective leadership,” especially noticeable during 2002-2012 under Hu Jintao. 

Yet in observing the current administration, there are some doubts that “collective leadership” is still valid. President Xi Jinping seems to be more visible and active than other leaders, especially Prime Minister Li Keiqiang and other Standing Committee members. It seems apparent that he is going to monopolize China’s political scene, highlighting his strength and power of influence. For example, apart from being CCP secretary-general and head of state, he became (contrary to predictions) chief of the Central Military Commission, which commands the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), in the first Central Committee plenum. Other recent examples are found in the two institutions established in the third plenum: the National Security Commission and the Leading Group for Deepening Reforms. Xi was anointed leader of both, despite speculations that the Leading Group would be chaired by Li Keqiang. 

This approach might indicate that Xi has solidified his authority and would like to be seen as a paramount leader. On the other hand, it may suggest that the internal tug-of-war is still underway and Xi is now focused on overcoming conservative resistance and exerting pressure on all party members into conducting reforms. Regardless of this internal situation, both cases elevate Xi to a top position.

2. Be Assertive 

Before the fifth generation took power, some voiced opinions that China would become more assertive in the region due to Xi Jinping’s close relations with the army and the fact that he is a representative of a princeling caucus inside the party. Moreover, it was rather clear that Xi is not entirely convinced of the value of Deng’s “keep a low profile” strategy and might feel that China’s strong economic and military position in the region predestines the PRC to show off its power. 

Key Global Events to Watch in March

At the start of every month, the Global Observatory posts a list of key upcoming meetings and events that have implications for global affairs.



Peace & Security

      • March 5: NATO, Russia Hold Talks over Ukraine
        An extraordinary meeting between NATO and Russia will discuss Russia’s intervention in Crimea. The US-European military alliance has declared Russia’s actions a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and considers the developments in Ukraine a threat to neighboring allied countries, with implications for security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. Russia has defended its actions on humanitarian grounds and says that it reserves the right to protect its citizens in eastern Ukraine. While the US and Europe appear divided over whether to impose sanctions on Russia, and Security Council action remains handicapped by Russia’s permanent seat, some hope the NATO meeting could provide a forum for a joint diplomatic effort with the former Cold War foe.
      • March 15: 3rd Anniversary of Civil War in Syria
        The uprising against the Assad government reaches the third-year mark with over 100,000 dead and more than 2.4 million displaced outside Syria’s borders. A week after this tragic anniversary, around March 22, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon releases the first report on humanitarian access in Syria, following the adoption last month of resolution 2139. The UN Security Council measure, aimed to increase humanitarian assistance, calls on “all parties to immediately cease attacks on civilians and lift the siege of populated areas.”
      • March 17: Iran Nuclear Deal Talks Resume, Vienna
        In February, six world powers and Iran started negotiations towards a final settlement on Tehran’s nuclear program. They outlined an agenda for further talks, hoping to reach an agreement by July 2014. Negotiations will be very complex and will likely take longer than six months. Although the agreed agenda is not public, likely items on the table include: 1) the termination of the construction of the new heavy-water reactor in Arak ; 2) the reduction of the current capacity of other nuclear facilities; 3) the reduction of the number of centrifuges in Iran, in particular the new generation ones, which can enrich uranium from civilian to military-grade faster; and 4) the dilusion or transformation of the existing stockpile already enriched close to military-use level.
      • March 17: UN Considers Report on North Korea, New York
        UN Human Rights Council considers a Commission of Inquiry report on crimes against humanity in North Korea. The report’s findings, released February 16, detail crimes including mass starvation, torture, enslavement, rape, and forced abortion, among other crimes. The report suggests the Security Council refer North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-un to the International Criminal Court. However, it’s widely believed that China, North Korea’s biggest ally, would block any such Security Council action against North Korea.
      • March 24: Nuclear Security Summit, The Hague
        Launched by President Obama in 2010, the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) aims to foster cooperation among its 57 member states to, among other nonproliferation goals, secure all nuclear material by 2014. Chief among the agenda items in the third of this biennial meeting are specific steps to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment programs and how to address the issue of hard-to-reach spent fuel rods at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant. March 11 marks the third anniversary of the Fukushima plant meltdown, triggered by a tsunami.

The New Tunisian Constitution: Triumphs and Potential Pitfalls

The Tunisian Constituent Assembly deputies discuss the place of sharia law in the new constitution, February 28, 2012. (Magharebia/Flickr)

After two years of fractious debates, mass street protests, and political assassinations, Tunisia’s new constitution has been hailed as a model of what consensus politics, dialogue, and compromise between Islamists, secularists, and liberals can achieve. An overwhelming majority of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) voted in favor of the text, which entered into force on February 10. 

However, the give-and-take inherent to compromise also resulted in ambiguous language in key articles. This has led some to characterize the document as schizophrenic and others to express concern about the undue burden placed on new institutions like the Constitutional Court, which will have to ensure these ambiguities are interpreted in a balanced manner by any new government.

Packaged in various shapes and sizes, a constitution can be understood as a roadmap for the acquisition and exercise of power and for the peaceful management of relations between the state and citizens, and among citizens themselves. While these foundational texts are “human creations…shaped by convention, historical context, choice, and political struggle,” thoughtful constitution making involves the judicious combination of two main components: process and substance. 

With this in mind, what are the merits and shortcomings of the newly adopted Tunisian constitution? 

The Process: The Role of the NCA and Civil Society

Key elements in the process of constitution making—particularly for countries transitioning out of authoritarian rule—are inclusivity, participation, transparency, consensus, and national ownership. In Tunisia, following divisive and acrimonious debates and boycotts within and outside the NCA, deputies finally came to the realization that electoral legitimacy and partisan politics were not sufficient to produce a quality constitution. Four main processes and procedures facilitated the painful but successful birth of the new charter. 

African Leaders Speak With One Voice, But On Whose Behalf?

The closing ceremony of the 22nd African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 31, 2014. (AU Commission/Flickr)

Convened under the theme of agriculture and food security in Africa, the 22nd summit of the African Union (AU) took place January 24-31 in Addis Ababa and was largely dominated by discussions about ongoing peace and security concerns across the continent, particularly in the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan. The summit was also the occasion for regional leaders to reaffirm their commitment “to speak with one voice” on issues of interest for the continent. However, based on the topics—from the demand for a necessary reform of the United Nations Security Council, to threats not to attend a European Union-AU summit in Brussels unless President Robert Mugabe from Zimbabwe was invited along with his peers, to a regional response to perceptions about the International Criminal Court’s work in Africa—the call for unity among African leaders raises questions about its actual beneficiaries: those leaders and their political interests, or the African people.

Key Conclusions

  • Recurring calls by the recent AU summit upon its member states to speak with one voice illustrate the continent’s growing assertiveness and the limits, for African countries and institutions, to advance a continental agenda unless they stand together.
  • Regional solidarity has the potential to advance an African agenda in international fora.
  • However, unless the objectives being targeted and the positions being defended are realistic and conform to agreed principles of democracy, respect for human rights, good governance and the rule of law, questions remain about both the effectiveness of the approach and the benefits African populations can derive from their leaders’ mutual solidarity.


In the midst of crises in two neighboring countries–both with potential regional ramifications–which caused the death of thousands of people, the displacement of hundreds of thousands, and severe destruction with dire humanitarian consequences, the recent AU summit in Addis Ababa could hardly focus on agriculture and food security. Security concerns in CAR and South Sudan overshadowed the original summit theme, and calls were made for greater effort by African countries to take the lead in putting an end to conflicts on the continent. 

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