UN peacekeepers frequently operate in highly volatile areas with conflict. While peacekeepers work to protect civilians, stabilize conflict zones and strengthen rule of law, they also strengthen social and civic conditions necessary for peace. Peacekeepers help strengthen national and sub-national institution to address the root causes of conflict such as discrimination, inequalities and marginalization.
Our civil affairs officers are a key civilian component that helps facilitate interactions between peacekeeping missions, partners and local communities to prevent conflict. Civil affairs work depends on a mission’s mandate and the evolving situation on the ground. Three constant key activities that civil affairs officers undertake are engaging local stakeholders, participating in local conflict management and supporting the extension of state authority. To date, Civil Affairs is one of the largest civilian components in peacekeeping operations. In 2020, 565 Civil Affairs officers in eight UN Field Missions, of which hundreds were national Community Liaison Assistants (CLAs), played a key role in early warning and situational awareness of conflict dynamics on the ground.
Engaging local stakeholders and communities
Civil Affairs officers engage extensively with local communities by working on social cohesion, extension of state authority and mitigation of local conflicts. Interactions at the local level are crucial to implement mission-mandated tasks and to enhance a mission’s credibility. Community engagement is a mean to an end and not an objective in itself. It is a critical element in the effective implementation of many mandated tasks, whether these are to protect civilians from physical threats, to improve situational awareness, promote inclusive political processes or address local conflict drivers, just to name a few. Missions like UNMISS in South Sudan and MINUSCA, in the Central African Republic, use a whole-of-mission approach with community engagement that help to have a consistent and coherent method when assisting local communities. MONUSCO, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was the first to deploy Community Liaison Assistants to reach further and deeper to local communities to better understand their protection needs and concerns, a lead followed by MINUSMA in Mali and MINUSCA.
Local conflict management
Local conflicts dynamics are complex. They are deeply rooted in the societal grievances of a host-country and as such are both vulnerable to national political power struggles and a destabilizing factor for fragile peace processes. These disruptions can be triggered by political and resource-based factors including land disputes, cattle migration patterns and much more. Peacekeepers work to prevent and mitigate these disruptions by supporting communities and actors at the sub-national level generating opportunities for community dialogue, mediation efforts and localized peace agreements and reconciliation processes that can reduce the toll of civilian casualties and livelihood disruption.
Support to the extension of state authority
The extension of state authority is a key peacekeeping task that focuses on activities to ensure that the state’s institutions are present throughout the territory of the country providing goods and services and that its authority is perceived as legitimate in the eyes of the population. This is an area of work in which peacekeeping operations in Mali, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, among others, provide technical support and capacity development to state institutions, especially in the area of security and rule of law, and promote good governance practices at the sub-national level by working closely with local authorities, civil society actors and local communities to foster dialogue and accountability.