In conflict-affected regions around the world, hundreds of thousands of at-risk civilians rely on UN peacekeepers to keep them safe. UN peacekeeping missions take on the daunting task of protecting civilians from violence, creating space for the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance, and supporting peace processes aimed at ending armed conflict. They do all this at a fraction of the cost of a similar intervention from the United States. The complexity of the conflicts – not to mention UN politics – means that UN peacekeeping operations must seek out innovative, adaptable, and cost-effective ways to protect civilians in conflict zones.
Recognizing the critical role that UN peacekeeping missions play in protecting civilians in conflict-affected countries, Stimson’s Protecting Civilians in Conflict Program works with all levels of the UN system to improve these missions’ capacities to protect civilians. We travel to peacekeeping missions around the world – including the Central African Republic, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mali – where we look for good practices that could be strengthened and challenges that must be overcome to make these missions more effective at saving lives.
We use what we learn from our field research to inform policy and practice in the field and at UN headquarters in New York. We facilitate workshops with UN member states who write peacekeeping missions’ mandates to ensure that they’re based on the realities of the conflict on the ground. We make targeted calls for international support that can help missions overcome challenges they’re facing – whether that’s additional troops, specialized assets, diplomatic pressure on bad actors, or a different mandate. We publish reports that highlight challenges and recommend ways to address them, like our Improving UN Situational Awareness report, which mapped all UN situational awareness capacities across the globe, identified gaps, and offered concrete and innovative recommendations to ensure that the UN system can act earlier to prevent violence against civilians before it breaks out. Finally, we work with missions at the field level to design and implement solutions tailored to their context that will help them achieve their mandates to protect civilians.
Stimson stands out in the peacekeeping world for our focus on field research in conflict areas and our emphasis on not just formulating recommendations but actually working with stakeholders to implement ideas to keep civilians safe. As a result, many peacekeeping decision-makers at UN headquarters and in the field draw on Stimson expertise. In 2018, the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations used analysis from our report UN Peacekeeping and Host-State Consent to better protect peacekeepers from hostile governments. The 2017/2018 mandates for peacekeeping missions in South Sudan and the Central African Republic incorporated input from Stimson workshops aimed at making these missions more effective, and the Security Council approved an additional 900 troops for the mission in the Central African Republic to protect civilians from a surge in violence, despite strong political pressure to cut peacekeeping missions’ budgets. Over the past year, Stimson experts have been invited to brief senior decision-makers at the G7 experts group meeting in Canada and many other meetings focused on helping UN peacekeepers protect civilians from violence. Through these opportunities, we do our best to ensure that needs of civilians living with the risk of violence come first in high-level discussions on UN peacekeeping.