10 June 2020

75 for UN75: A Conversation on Rethinking Peacekeeping

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, and as part of its 75th anniversary initiative (UN75), United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) is hosting the "75 for UN75: 75 Minutes of Conversation" series of online dialogues with academics, educators, researchers and students around the world, to discuss their priorities for the future, obstacles to achieving them, and the role of global cooperation in managing global issues. On 29 May 2020 UNAI hosted a webinar on the theme “Rethinking Peacekeeping", as part of this series.

The webinar is the first in the UNAI “75 for UN75” online dialogue series, and featured reflections of prominent speakers on the evolution of peacekeeping since the founding of the United Nations. In commemoration of the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, the webinar also celebrated the important contribution of women in the peace and security efforts of the United Nations.

Commander Carla Monteiro de Castro Araujo, a Brazilian Naval officer serving as the Military Gender and Protection Adviser in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), received the 2019 United Nations Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award on the same day of the webinar, for her dedication and efforts to promote the principles of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Opening the webinar, Commander Monteiro de Castro Araujo introduced a comprehensive curriculum that she developed for trainers and focal points for gender and protection of children and civilians. Through the curriculum she trained the focal points to deliver basic training on these issues to over 11,000 military personnel in the mission. The engagement with local communities, especially the close collaboration with leaders of camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and women’s groups is also an instrumental part of Commander Monteiro de Castro Araujo’s work in MINUSCA. “We can help them a lot if we learn to hear them,” noted the Commander.

Ms. Susana Malcorra, Dean of the IE School of Global and Public Affairs in Madrid, Spain and former Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, pointed out that peacekeeping operations are “an essential element of what the United Nations does and a key component through which people recognize the UN’s work in many parts of the world.”  She highlighted the evolving nature of the challenges faced by peacekeeping missions and noted that “the contexts in which peacekeeping operations were established are now more complex and multidimensional threats that go beyond boundaries, which require different approaches.” According to Ms. Malcorra, participation of women in peacekeeping as spelled out in UN Security Council Resolution 1325 has been uneven; even though there has been an increase, women still make up a small portion of peacekeepers.  However, their contribution remains essential because of the unique attributes they bring to peace and security work at the community level.

Ambassador Neil Pierre of the Permanent Mission of Guyana to the United Nations talked about the nexus between peacekeeping and development, commenting on the linkages between the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and peace, entrenched in various activities of UN bodies such as the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). “Peacekeeping is seen as a development enabler, and this means peacekeeping efforts are geared towards facilitating tangible development objectives at national and local level,” said the Ambassador.

From an educator’s perspective, Ms. Maria Armoudian, Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland, examined the role of journalism in portraying the work of peacekeeping missions in the digital age where information is unfiltered. Critical journalism, Ms. Armoudian underlined, “can mean the difference between life and death for peacekeepers and the peace kept.” Studies show that traditional media is more inclined to cover crisis, violence and conflict, and this overrides coverage of the achievements of the peacekeepers’ work. “The media does not cover the post-conflict very well, which makes it hard to convey what peacekeeping missions are trying to do and the success they bring,” observed Ms. Armoudian. These disparities can lead to unbalanced coverage, but this can be reduced through research and studies that provide best practices for media professionals. More investments and scholarships are needed to support such studies on critical journalism.

Mr. Franz Baumann, Visiting Research Professor at New York University and former UN Assistant Secretary-General, shared insights from his 30-year career in peacekeeping and the important milestones achieved by several UN peacekeeping missions. The idealism of the world cooperating to end human rights violations is the backbone of the United Nations, according to Mr. Baumann. “This cooperation is needed today, in a world where the challenges are complex, global and integrated,” Mr. Baumann emphasized. “Peacekeeping operations are phenomenally precious instruments because of the role they play in conflict and war situations and their international composition of individuals drawn from the world under the blue helmet to work on the ideals of cooperation.”

The first female UN Civilian Police Adviser, Ms. Kiran Bedi, now Lieutenant Governor of Pondicherry, India, concluded the webinar with a tribute to the UN peacekeeping operations in the world, noting that “Other than the United Nations, there is nobody else to keep the peace.” East Timor, Liberia, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Kosovo are examples of “remarkable end products of UN interventions and peacekeeping operations.” Ms. Bedi pointed out that some countries provide financial aid to peacekeeping missions while some contribute personnel. Therefore, countries where women make up a small percentage of the police force are reluctant to spare their female police personnel, which is already short in numbers. Peacekeeping missions face the challenges of finance, expertise and skillset resources as well as the living conditions and well-being of the peacekeepers. Another challenge for all peacekeepers, is how to align the interests of the donor countries with the long-term interests of the region. The COVID-19 pandemic also poses new challenges for peacekeeping missions, such as additional reductions in personnel and limited rotations, and managing social distancing, sanitation, and wearing proper personal protective equipment while helping vulnerable populations.

Additional resources:


UN75 Rethinking Peacekeeping

On 29 May 2020, United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) hosted a webinar on the theme “Rethinking Peacekeeping”, the first of the UNAI “75 for UN75: 75 Minutes of Conversation” online dialogue series.