In a report entitled ‘Engaging with Communities: The Next Challenges for Peacekeepers,’ the aid group says that the willingness to engage with communities and take robust action to protect them varies from one missions to the next.
The call for better consultation comes as the United Nations debates in the Security Council how best to protect civilians and improve its peacekeeping operations.
Oxfam says that due to a lack of clear guidelines, poor training and preparation of personnel, many battalions on the ground had different interpretations of what “civilian protection” actually meant and the ways to implement it.
“Still in 2010, after years of experience from Kosovo to Congo, the way the international community responds to the major trouble-spots is still inadequate. While the UN Security Council is prioritizing protection of civilians in their mandates, not all missions are doing it in the ground,” said Kirsten Hagon, Oxfam’s Head of Office in New York.
“Communities are telling us that they want to talk and connect with peacekeepers. They feel at a loss as to why UN missions will talk to government officials but often fail to even sit down with them. Local communities are best placed to explain what needs to be done for them to feel safe. Peacekeepers need to listen to them.”
Oxfam’s report is based on field research in the Democratic Republic of Congo and southern Sudan and on Oxfam’s extensive field experience. The aid group also conducted interviews with representatives of local and regional government, local NGOs, police, the military, as well as both representatives of peacekeeping missions, UN humanitarian programmes and agencies.
“The debate at the Security Council on protection of civilians is an opportunity for the UN to give clearer direction to peacekeepers to engage with communities as an essential part of protecting civilians,” said Hagon.
The report calls on simple and effective steps to improve the protection of civilians such as for missions to be results-driven, engage with local groups, boost the number of women in UN missions, improve patrols or to establish hotlines between communities and UN missions.
“For any major emergency, civilians are always the ones that suffer the most," Hagon said. "They bear the brunt of every single crisis. As UN missions aim to protect the families and communities affected by conflicts, engaging with them is the least they can do.”
Note to editors:
There are almost 124,000 personnel serving on 16 peace operations – in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan or Cote d’Ivoire – led by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) on four continents directly.