Year in Review: Top International Peace Institute Reports of 2021

In September, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres released “Our Common Agenda,” presenting a vision for reinvigorating multilateralism across 12 areas of action. Many of these areas lie at the core of the International Peace Institute’s (IPI) policy research agenda, as reflected in IPI’s 10 most-read reports of 2021. These reports provide in-depth analysis and concrete recommendations on listening to and working with youth to protect our planet from climate change; promoting peace and preventing conflict through the UN, including in Myanmar and Sudan; and placing gender considerations at the center of the UN’s work.

Woman First, Soldier Second: Taboos and Stigmas Facing Military Women in UN Peace Operations

Despite efforts to increase the participation of women uniformed peacekeepers, military women continue to face taboos and stigmas that are barriers to their inclusion and successful deployment. These range from gender stereotypes that cause military women to face more scrutiny than their male counterparts to difficulties speaking up about discriminatory and sexualized behavior, including racism, sexual harassment, and assault. Being confronted with persistent taboos and stigmas can have far-reaching consequences for military women before, during, and after deployment. Based on interviews with 142 military women from 53 countries, this paper assesses the taboos and stigmas facing military women at the individual and community levels, within their national defense structures, and during deployment to UN peace operations.

Walking a Tightrope: The Transition from UNAMID to UNITAMS in Sudan

The UN’s transition in Sudan started out in 2014 as a process to close the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) in the face of waning international support and overwhelming pressure from an autocratic regime. But in 2019, Sudan’s revolution and ongoing political transition radically transformed how the UN engages with Sudan. UNAMID’s closure in December 2020 and the start-up of a new special political mission, the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), constitute one of the most complex reconfigurations the organization has ever attempted. This paper examines the UN transition in Sudan, focusing on the establishment of UNITAMS and UNAMID’s exit from Darfur. It focuses on efforts to create a shared political vision for the transition, engage national actors in the process, comprehensively plan the transition, and coordinate international financial support and partnerships.

Women, Peace, and Security Mandates for UN Peacekeeping Operations: Assessing Influence and Impact

Peacekeeping mission mandates now routinely include language on women, peace, and security (WPS). Despite this progress, negotiations in the Security Council on the inclusion of WPS language in mandates have at times been contested, and it is not always clear that more detailed or “stronger” language on WPS in mandates translates to changes in peacekeeping missions. The language included in mandates can even perpetuate stereotypes, including the assumption that every uniformed woman is responsible for implementing a mission’s WPS mandate. This paper explores the different elements of the WPS agenda that are included in peacekeeping mandates, assesses the factors that influence the inclusion of language on WPS, examines the drivers behind the implementation of the WPS agenda in the field, and assesses the impact that mandate language has on uniformed women peacekeepers.

A UN for All? UN Policy and Programming on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics

Sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) have been on the UN’s agenda for more than 25 years. Many of the earliest developments took place in the UN human rights mechanisms and Human Rights Council. Increasingly, however, UN agencies, funds, and programs are also integrating SOGIESC into their policy and programming. This paper explores what these UN entities have been doing to respect, protect, promote, and fulfill the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people. It looks at how the UN’s work on SOGIESC has intersected with its work on human rights, global public health, development, humanitarian affairs, peace and security, and gender. It also assesses what has been driving forward policy and programming on SOGIESC and the barriers that have held back further progress.

Mental Health in UN Peace Operations: Addressing Stress, Trauma, and PTSD among Field Personnel

The challenging environments where many contemporary UN peace operations are deployed can take a toll on the mental health of both uniformed and civilian personnel. This has led to increased attention to questions around mental health in peace operations, and in 2018, the UN made mental health and well-being a system-wide priority. Yet much remains to be done to improve mental health in UN missions. This paper looks at the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues among the military, police, and civilian personnel of UN peace operations. It analyzes the types of stressors and psychological factors affecting personnel in the field, explores the political and institutional challenges to instilling change, and reviews the UN’s response to the mental healthcare needs of field personnel.

The UN’s Response to the Human Rights Crisis After the Coup in Myanmar: Destined to Fail?

Since seizing power in a coup on February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s military has launched a violent crackdown against anti-coup protesters—a campaign of terror that may amount to crimes against humanity. With violence spreading, there are fears that the country is slipping toward full-scale civil war and state collapse. The international community has appeared almost powerless to respond to this human rights crisis, reflecting a broader weakening of its resolve to prevent and respond to atrocity crimes over the last decade. This policy paper analyzes the human rights crisis created by the coup in Myanmar and assesses the response of the UN, within the context of broader international efforts, when viewed against the many commitments that have been made to protect people from atrocity crimes.

Independent Reviews of UN Peace Operations: A Study of Politics and Practice

Independent reviews of UN peace operations are a relatively new but increasingly popular tool. These reviews have been intended to rigorously assess the strategic orientation of peace operations while providing more political credibility than UN-led review processes. But given the diverse processes and incentives that shape them, these exercises are both analytically complex and highly political. As independent reviews have gained prominence over the past five years, reflecting on the experiences of previous reviews is necessary for improving their quality, impact, and sustainability moving forward. This paper provides a comparative analysis of the independent reviews of UN peace operations conducted between 2017 and 2021 by considering emerging trends, best practices, and lessons observed.

Youth Participation in Global Governance for Sustaining Peace and Climate Action

Youth movements have played an increasingly prominent role in calling for action to address climate change. Many youth-led organizations are also engaged in initiatives to build peace in their communities. In global policymaking fora, however, youth remain sidelined. This issue brief outlines the synergies between the youth, peace, and security and youth climate action agendas. It also examines the factors that contribute to young people’s exclusion from global governance, including negative misperceptions of youth, outdated policy frameworks, lack of funding, and weak links between youth and global governance fora.

United Nations Special Political Missions and Protection: A Principled Approach for Research and Policymaking

UN special political missions (SPMs) regularly operate in conflict and post-conflict settings in which local civilian populations face the ongoing threat of violence from armed actors—a trend that is likely to continue. But despite this trend, understandings of the roles of SPMs in protection have remained vague and ambiguous, leaving a conceptual and operational gap that urgently needs to be filled. This study sets out the parameters for a policy and research agenda on SPMs and protection. It analyzes how the different conceptions and operational modes of protection apply to SPMs, focusing on the protection mandates and roles of the SPMs in Afghanistan, Syria, Colombia, and Sudan.

The Accountability System for the Protection of Civilians in UN Peacekeeping

Over the last two decades, UN peacekeeping operations have striven to protect civilians from physical violence. On a number of occasions, however, UN missions have failed to prevent or respond to threats despite being aware of the risk, receiving adequate warning of an attack, or being in proximity when abuses were committed. Despite these failures, there is still limited accountability for the actors involved in protecting civilians. To help address this challenge, this paper maps how existing accountability mechanisms in the UN could be applied to peacekeeping missions with protection mandates. The paper is accompanied by a set of detailed factsheets and case studies that can help guide the UN and its member states in building a robust, multi-actor, multilayer “system of accountability” for the protection of civilians.