With or Against the State? Reconciling the Protection of Civilians and Host-State Support in UN Peacekeeping

International Peace Institute, May 2020

52 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2024

See all articles by Patryk I. Labuda

Patryk I. Labuda

Polish Academy of Sciences - Institute of Legal Studies

Date Written: 2020


Contemporary UN peace operations are expected to implement ambitious protection of civilians (POC) mandates while helping host states prevent conflict and build peace. Reconciling these people- oriented POC mandates with the state-centric logic of UN-mandated interventions ranks among the greatest challenges facing peace operations today.

The increasingly close association between peace operations and host states has profound implica- tions for POC. On the one hand, peace operations and host states can work together to enhance POC by conducting joint patrols or carrying out joint operations. The UN can also improve POC by engaging in dialogue with government actors, building the capacity of state institutions, training state security forces, and supporting the rule of law. On the other hand, extending state authority risks exposing civilians to corruption, mismanagement, abuse, and even violence. It can also threaten perceptions of the impartiality of peacekeepers. Peace operations rely on tools such as the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy to mitigate these risks.

However, such tools may be insufficient when peace operations are working with unreliable host- state partners. When the intentions of government actors are unclear, misunderstandings and disagreements can undermine cooperation, weakening the UN’s ability to deliver on POC mandates in the long run. These problems are exacerbated when host states systematically obstruct peace operations or are themselves complicit in, or responsible for, violence against civilians. Such hostile relationships often require peace operations to balance between competing priorities: using stronger measures to protect civilians — including using force against the host state — or self-censoring and compromising to avoid losing host-state consent and being forced to withdraw.

Ultimately, peacekeeping personnel in each mission need to decide how to make the most of the UN’s strengths, mitigate risks to civilians, and maintain the support of government partners for mutually desirable POC goals. The following are seven recommendations for managing POC and host-state support going forward:

• Persuade through dialogue: Peace operations should work to keep open channels of communication and better prepare personnel for interacting with state officials.

• Leverage leadership: The UN should better prepare prospective mission leaders for the complex POC challenges they will face.

• Make capacity building people-centered and holistic: The UN should partner with a wider group of actors to establish a protective environment while reconceptualizing man- dates to restore and extend state authority around people-centered development initiatives.

• Induce best practices: Missions should leverage capacity building and other forms of support to promote national ownership and foster best practices for POC.

• Coordinate pressure tactics: Peace operations should make use of the full spectrum of bargaining tools at their disposal, including pressure tactics and compulsion.

• Deliver coherent, mission-specific messaging on the use of force: The UN should improve training, political guidance, and legal advice on the use of force, including against state agents.

• Reconceptualizing engagement with states on POC as a “whole-of-mission” task: The UN Secretariat should articulate a vision and mission-specific guidelines for partnerships with host governments on POC.

Suggested Citation

Labuda, Patryk I., With or Against the State? Reconciling the Protection of Civilians and Host-State Support in UN Peacekeeping ( 2020). International Peace Institute, May 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4617354

Patryk I. Labuda (Contact Author)

Polish Academy of Sciences - Institute of Legal Studies ( email )

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