Conflict Trends: Issue 2, 2012 - Protection of Civilians in Peacekeeping in Africa
The international community is increasingly engaged in complex tasks aimed at providing wider support to societies emerging from conflict. An issue that has become central in such contexts is the protection of civilians under threat. this is not a recent approach. It has evolved over time based on the development of several mechanisms of practice and policy frameworks. More recently, civilian protection has gained momentum within the context of complex peacekeeping mandates. these include the emerging view that the protection of civilians has a central role in building sustained credibility and the legitimacy of such interventions.
An increased understanding of the importance of incorporating a larger approach to protecting civilians in conflict areas became apparent in the late 1990s. the failure of the international community to prevent violence against civilians in countries like Rwanda and Somalia strengthened the debate around increasing the effectiveness and relevance of international interventions. this played a role in widening the mandates and scope of peacekeeping operations, particularly in relation to their multidimensional levels. As a result, in 1999 the united Nations (uN) Mission in Sierra Leone was the first mission to be mandated with the specific task of protecting civilians. Since then, several other missions with protection of civilians mandates have been deployed. however, the general political language used in these peacekeeping mandates created confusion amongst peacekeepers about the implementation of such protection in the field. this led to challenges in the actual implementation of protection tasks. In recent years, however, there has been a global initiative to increase clarity on the protection of civilians. this includes how it is designed and implemented in peacekeeping operations at the levels of both the uN and regional organisations. those in Africa are pivotal.
the establishment of the African union (Au) in 2002 was seen as enabling Africans to actively respond to the challenges posed by conflicts on the continent. the Au recently engaged in the larger debate focused on understanding types of guidelines, operational approaches and responsibilities as a means of strengthening African capacity to prevent violence against civilians. this process is not without challenges. the Au Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) faces many issues in seeking to improve peace and security in the country, including severe threats posed to civilians by the conflict. At the request of African member States, the Au Commission is currently working to mainstream the protection of civilians within AMISOM’s work. this will have a central role in the planning and deployment of African peacekeeping operations. It must of necessity be linked to the repository of policies, lessons and operational guidance being created to enhance the way in which the Au responds to the dangers faced by civilians in conflict situations.
As studies of the protection of civilians in Africa are still in the initial stages, the need exists for further reflection on the central role of such protection within peacekeeping operations in Africa. this training for peace (tfp) Special Issue of Conflict Trends further contributes to this discussion. the articles it contains approach this theme from diverse perspectives and through a variety of topics. they are all relevant for the further understanding of civilian protection in Africa. Some of the articles present timely analyses of the challenges presented by the protection of civilians mandates in uN missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Côte d’Ivoire. Others focus on the emerging role of the Au in developing civilian protection strategies in its peacekeeping operations. Finally, while this Issue does not directly focus on the topic of ‘Responsibility to protect’, it provides a space for reflection on how the Libyan intervention yields further points of comparison and analysis for peacekeeping operations in Africa.