24 October 2023 – Kigali, Rwanda: As peacekeepers face greater challenges than ever, participants at the preparatory conference for the 2023 United Nations Peacekeeping Ministerial in Kigali have pledged to enhance protection of civilians and strategic communication in UN missions.
“Peacekeeping is an important instrument that, within a multilateral context, helps to stabilize societies and assist countries transitioning from conflict to peace. It is at a critical crossroads,” said Ambassador Harold Agyeman, the Permanent Representative of Ghana to the United Nations, to conference goers.
Co-hosted by Rwanda, Indonesia, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, the meeting is one of a series being held in advance of the biennial UN Peacekeeping Ministerial, which will take place in Ghana on 5-6 December. This high-level event is an important opportunity for Member States to make concrete pledges to fill critical gaps in peacekeeping, leverage new technologies and training, and strengthen partnerships.
The Kigali preparatory session brought together government officials from 45 countries, including military and police, as well as international peacekeeping and peacebuilding experts, civil society organizations, think tanks, and senior UN representatives. It focused on strengthening strategic communication, addressing misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech, and protecting civilians in fragile security situations.
“Protection of civilian mandates are a core responsibility for multidimensional peacekeeping missions, and therefore they must be implemented through a comprehensive, whole-of-mission approach,” said Assistant Secretary-General for Africa, Martha Pobee. “This requires leveraging the mission’s full capabilities, including armed and unarmed approaches, by civilians, police, and military.”
“For those we serve, the need for protection is very real. They feel it,” stressed Lieutenant-General Mohan Subramanian, Force Commander at the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). “The most effective tool is conflict prevention, but we must also respond robustly to other threats, like the devastating impact of climate change. Working together with communities and host governments to tackle these issues, we can save and improve lives.”
Conference participant, Bakhita Steven, fled to the UN base in Bentiu, South Sudan, when civil war erupted in 2013. She’s lived in the neighboring protection site since then. But today, instead of seeking refuge, she is driving efforts to empower the displaced community through her work as a National Protection Officer for the non-governmental organization, Nonviolent Peaceforce.
“Protection of civilians that relies on peacekeeping or our own government creates a dependency syndrome where you think you will be vulnerable forever. But that is wrong. We are strong. What we need is the capacity to protect ourselves and to build sustainable peace and development rather than dependency activities that keep us hostage,” she said.
Rwandan Minister of Defense, Juvenal Marizamunda spoke about the challenges of protecting civilians in a context where disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech are being propagated faster than ever through social media.
“We must bridge these gaps through capacity building, digital literacy, and integrating strategic communication in our peace support operations,” he said.
ASG Pobee also stressed the need for missions to have comprehensive communications strategies that are aligned with political and security priorities, anticipate risks, help manage expectations, and establish accurate, clear, and compelling narratives about the mission’s activities and impact.
“The success of peacekeeping missions depends on proactive, interactive, and constructive engagement with local populations and other key stakeholders,” she said. “For that reason, our commitments to improving protection of civilians and strategic communications will strongly impact the trajectory of our missions in the coming years.”
Protecting civilians lies at the heart of UN peacekeeping. Today, civilians have increasingly become the victims of conflicts while 95% of peacekeepers are mandated to protect them. This is a key priority under the Action for Peacekeeping initiative and its implementation strategy A4P+. Patrols, which are conducted independently or jointly with national forces, help deter attacks on communities and protect civilians.
|Strategic communications play a crucial role in implementing United Nations peacekeeping mandates and ensuring the safety and security of both troops and civilians on the ground and they are a key priority under the Action for Peacekeeping initiative and its implementation strategy A4P+. Peacekeeping operations deploy in increasingly hostile environments and digital technology rapidly spread disinformation and hate speech requiring missions to adapt to new realities and engage, not just inform, audiences in support of their vital mission.|