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Published: Fri, 02 Feb 2018

Selected United Nations Peacekeeping Missions.

Rwanda is a country whose long history of ethnic tensions dates as far back as colonial times. However for the purposes of evaluating the UN peacekeeping mission in that country, this paper shall cover the period from 1973 when Major General Juvénal Habyarimana took power in a coup d’état which saw the institutionalisation of hitherto informal if pervasive ethnic discrimination under a policy called “establishing ethnic and regional balance” [1] . The ethnic tensions came to a head in 1990 when the mostly Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) launched an attack from Uganda thus leading to a witch hunt and name calling by the Habyarimana government of Tutsi Rwandese and Hutu sympathisers who were lumped as supporters and accomplices of the RPF.

The fighting that originated from this attack was followed by a number of cease fire agreements including one reached in Arusha, Tanzania establishing a 50-member Neutral Military Observer Group (NMOG1) put together by the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU). However, intermittent fighting in the northern part of the country interrupted the OAU supported negotiations between the government and the RPF.

The United Nations involvement was first as a goodwill mission dispatched by the then Secretary General, Boutros Boutros Gali after requests by the disputing Uganda and Rwanda governments over Uganda’s alleged support of the RPF. This lead to the establishment of the UN Observer Mission to Uganda and Rwanda (UNAMUR) whose mandate basically involved monitoring the Uganda/Rwanda border to ensure that no military assistance would pass through it to the RPF.

While all this was going on, the Arusha talks finally led to the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement which spelt out the establishment of a democratically elected government and the institution of “a broad-based transitional government until the elections” [2] . Among other things. Following these events, NMOG1 graduated into NMOG11 which was to function in the period leading up to the deployment of a neutral international force.

The United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda was finally established on 5 October 1993 by Security council Resulution 872 upon the recommendation by the Secretary General. UNAMIR had an authorised strength of 2500 personnel but it took five months to reach this number due to the piecemeal contributions of member states. It had the following mandate [3] :

“To monitor the cease fire agreement;

To ensure the security of Kigali

To establish an expanded demilitarised zone and demobilisation procedures;

Monitoring the security situation during the final period of the government’s mandate leading up to the elections;

Assisting with mine clearance;

Coordination of humanitarian assistance activities in conjunction with relief operations.” Wikipedia webpage on UNAMIR.

One of the most notable aspects of this peacekeeping mission is its absolute failure through the worst of the Rwandan genocide. Several criticisms have been made of the mission among which is the composition of even the initial peace keeping force deployed to the country. Despite the UN ban on the participation of a former colonial power in peacekeeping, Belgium had approximately 400 soldiers in Rwanda at the onset of the mission although they were to abdicate later when the situation took a turn for the worse and some of their personnel were among the first victims after surrendering their weapons due to the uncertainty of their commander over the legalities of defending themselves [4] . The fate of this 2nd commando battalion is indicative of the quagmire that UNAMIR found itself in when the situation in Rwanda changed suddenly and rendered their original mandate irrelevant and thus left the mission in the middle of a crisis with no clear or legal mandate.

From an initial strength of 2500 personnel, the genocide saw the Security Council approving a drastic downsizing of the Mission to a skeletal staff of less than 270 personnel who only remained on the initiative of Force Commander, Lt Alain Dellaire who refused to abandon the mission despite orders to the contrary. It is interesting to note that at about the same time the UN Security Council was approving additions of another peacekeeping mission in Kuwait which was further supported by US/UK coalition forces. When the Security Council finally decided to shake itself out of its lethargy it approved a boost of the meagre UNAMIR mission but to its further discredit this was slow in coming due to procrastination by member states. This additional contingent only arrived after the worst of the genocide had passed. [5] It was only the victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front led by Paul Kagame, now President of the country, which finally stopped the killing.

Evaluation of Mission

Throughout this mission the United Nations and in particular, the Security council was notable for its procrastination and entanglement in legalities such as whether to call the genocide a genocide or not as well as a general lack of political will to act by the more powerful members. America in particular actively discouraged any noteworthy engagement of the UN in Rwanda due to fears of a repeat of the embarrassment it had been subject to in Somalia when its soldiers had been killed brutally [6] . This highlights one of the biggest weaknesses of UN peacekeeping in the opinion of this writer as it has on countless occasions besides the UNAMIR case shown itself to be gravely captured by interests particularly of the more influential member states such as the United States. This is one of the reasons why UNAMIR was bogged down by bureaucratic processes and dragging of feet while other missions such as UNIKOM, which shall be discussed in detail later, were smooth flowing to the extent that they were acclaimed as examples of the UN’s post-cold war success and redemption of its image and purpose as set out in the United Nations charter [7] .

While UNIKOM had its mandate extended and its personnel increased due to constant violations of the DMZ and not just by Iraqi and Kuwaiti forces but also by the US/UK coalition forces, UNAMIR only had its mandate extended long enough to evacuate the foreign nationals and beyond that it was not given any leeway to protect Rwandans. In fact the French are said to have even enabled the evacuation of some high powered Hutu Power movement extremists who after all were responsible for inciting the killing [8] . Another weakness of the UN system in general highlighted by the failures of UNAMIR was the continued recognition and acceptance of the Rwandan representative into the Security Council deliberations and without being questioned as to the actions of his government at any point [9] . Interestingly, UNAMIR only got expanded in time to perform humanitarian functions in the aftermath of the genocide. Incidentally, the mission did a sterling job in this regard [10] .

While others may view UNIMAR as not having failed in light of its set mandate in this mission, it is imperative to note that the mission failed to uphold the basic tenets of International Humanitarian Law, which after forms an integral basis of UN peacekeeping (cite 2008 DPKO Guidelines). According to the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations-authored peacekeeping guidelines in 2008, one of the aspects of International Humanitarian Law that serve as a guideline to the UN peacekeeping operations is the protection of civilian victims of conflict. In light of this, it is this writer’s opinion that UNAMIR failed in its responsibility of protecting the victims of conflict and minimising casualties as the latter escalated while the mission was deployed. UNAMIR also failed to execute the fundamental reason for the very existence of UN Peacekeeping missions as set out in the 2008 DPKO Guidelines on Peacekeeping which defines it thus:

“Peacekeeping is a technique designed to preserve the peace, however fragile, where fighting has been halted, and to assist in implementing agreements achieved by the peacemakers.” 2008 DPKO Guidelines.

With the exception of the overwhelming deployment of Belgian troops, on impartiality, UNAMIR was unlike UNIKOM in that the parties had no obvious vested interest. However this might possibly have contributed to its failure in practice

United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission (1991-2003)

Background [11] 

The history of the United Nations involvement in Kuwait and Iraq in the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission (UNIKOM) was part of a chain of events that began with the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait on 2 August 1990. This invasion was subsequently condemned by the United Nations in its resolution 660 which was a precursor to twelve others which were coupled with a package of sanctions against Iraq, which was the aggressor. In its swift and decisive actions, the UN also authorised member states to use “all necessary means” to compel Iraq to cooperate with Kuwait in restoring international order and peace. Indeed, upon Iraq’s failure to meet the set deadline for complying with resolution 678, coalition countries launched a campaign –authorised by the UN – to liberate Kuwait.

The initially 300-strong UNIKOM was brought into effect by Security Council resolution 689 of 1991 and had a mandate to monitor the newly created Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). It was also mandated to repel any violations and monitor any incidences of violence between the warring states. Unlike the inflexible mandate of UNAMIR, UNIKOM’s mandate was given latitude to be reviewed every six months without requiring Security Council approval. The Security Council would only be required to take a formal decision on the termination of the mission. In another direct contrast with Rwanda 2 years later, UNIKOM was fully deployed within month of its creation. From having no recourse to armed prevention and exclusive reliance on lightly armed police posts of both governments for security, by February 3, UNIKOM’s mandate had been expanded in response to several violations by Iraq.

This extension allowed UNIKOM to prevent or redress small-scale violations of the DMZ and of the boundary between Iraq and Kuwait, as well as problems that may have arisen from the presence of Iraqi installations and citizens and their assets in the DMZ on the Kuwaiti side among other things [12] . This also presents a direct contrast to the failure of the Council to specify a clear legal mandate for UNAMIR in Uganda. Finally at this time the Council also increased the peacekeeping force to 3645 which included three mechanised infantry battalions and support elements [13] . When these battalions arrived, the mission had an impressive operation that had patrol and observation bases and points as well as ground and air patrols among other amenities. It was tasked with additional tasks of reinforcement patrols in tense areas and had a reserve which could be deployed anywhere within the DMZ if the situation so required. In effect UNIKOM was so superbly executed and managed as to be counted as one of the successful peacekeeping missions undertaken by the United Nations in the post-cold war era.

UNIKOM’S operations were fully suspended on March 17 in 2003 just before the US-led offensive against Iraq citing safety concerns. All personnel were released save for a token staff of twelve military officers and 20 civilians who were to remain in Kuwait until July 6 2003. However, in his report to the Security Council in the same year, the Secretary General said the suspension was only temporary and staff would be reassigned on a date to be decided in consultation with the Council. He also reported that until its suspension, the mission had been a model peacekeeping mission. The Mission continued until 6 October 2003 whereupon its end coincided with the dissolution of the DMZ [14] .


Throughout its existence, UNIKOM was hailed as having reassured the world that the principles set in the charter of the United Nations were still being upheld and that the UN could conduct a responsible and well-coordinated peacekeeping effort [15] . However some scholars also pointed out that the mission also inadvertently highlighted the persistently extensive role played by national self interest in International Relations Schachter (1991). This was most evident in the swift and strong involvement of the US/UK coalition in a counteroffensive on Kuwait’s behalf prior to the official conception of UNIKOM. While this may have been viewed as somewhat of a triumph of the principle of collective security, it also represented a stark testimony of realist politics at play as there is no doubt that Kuwaiti oil and the extensive interests of western firms in the country were a powerful incentive for the coalition’s involvement in repelling the Iraqi invasion.

Indeed the extensive attention paid by the Security Council on the issue, highlighted through the numerous debates and resolutions passed on the war and the subsequent peacekeeping mission, were commendable. However one cannot help but wonder to what extent this attention was due to the Council’s capture by interests of particularly the more powerful countries who, as mentioned earlier, had vested interests in the issue. This attention by the Security Council on UNIKOM provides a contrast to the pervasive and chronic inattention and relative inertia demonstrated by the Security Council during the genocide in Rwanda. One may hazard to say that this stark difference was in large part influenced by the fact that the US and other big powers had vested national interest in one and not in the other. Indeed one author writes that during UNAMIR, the US was notable for its lethargy and aversion to the UN peacekeeping in general [16] .

While hailed for its smooth running nature, UNIKOM’s neutrality and ethical considerations were high on academic discussions of the day due to the nature of its funding that saw Kuwait bearing the cost of more than half of the budget of the mission [17] . According to one scholar, the general opinion among the UN peacekeepers was that “…the mission had become like a low cost Kuwaiti border guard…” [18] It is my opinion that this highlights one of the general weaknesses of the UN peacekeeping as well as the UN in general where the majority contributors to any mission manage to sway the mission’s impartiality.

This loss of impartiality can also be seen through the numerous airspace violations of the DMZ by the coalition forces during their 1998 operation Desert Fox which went unreported and to all intents and purposes unpunished by the UN despite constant complaints from the Iraqi government [19] . It is likely that this conduct by UNIKOM contributed to the increased distrust of the mission and the UN in general by the Iraqi authorities who perceived them as biased. Indeed the evidence would seem to lend credence to the Iraqi beliefs.

Comments and Conclusion

Close scrutiny of the peacekeeping operations of the United Nations seems to reveal some consistencies on the conditions leading to either success or failure of missions. One of the major hampers in the operations of the UN peacekeeping missions in my opinion is the issue of mandate. As seen in Rwanda case the absence of a clearly defined mandate with legal value can be fatal to the mission thus costing many lives. Not only must the mandates of missions be specified, but it must be procedurally possible to institute flexibility of the same when the situation so requires. In order to protect peacekeepers review of mandates must be especially speedy particularly in cases where they are at risk with no means to protect themselves. The UNIKOM case presents a jarring inconsistency however, in that that mission was able to secure not only a flexible mandate but also speedy reaction from the Secretary General when violations began occurring. This highlights a fundamental problem of inconsistency and possibly impartiality by the UN in administering the two missions. (mention issue of human rights abuses by UN forces in unosom as downside of too much leeway in mandate as well as too much leeway given to contributing states in directing operations. This was an essentially American operation so … note that while the US may have used the violence against their soldiers as a reason to withdraw from further involvement in peacekeeping, the actions of their troops may have ultimately contributed to hostilility of locals and of course we don’t condone that kind of action still cite or quote that article on the Africa Rights report)

The United Nations peacekeeping missions as well other operations have been affected by what I shall term the diplomatic curse. In the case of Rwanda, this affliction was manifested when the Rwandese delegate to the Security Council was allowed to participate in deliberations without anyone quizzing him on the unsavoury happenings in his country. The Security Council by virtue of the power vested in it must be able to differentiate between business as usual and cases where rapid action is required. In such cases, rather than use diplomacy bury heads in the sand perhaps this diplomacy could have been used to exert pressure on the government to refrain from the systematic murder of its people.

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