Peacekeepers As Soldiers And Humanitarians: The Impact Of Contradictory Roles And Responsibilities On The Protection Mandate Of Peacekeepers

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Government and International Affairs


The project conducts research on the currently two largest African peace operation, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Both missions have complex mandates and combine military (combat), political (stabilisation/statebuilding) and humanitarian goals. The protection of civilians became a cornerstone of both missions.
Military peacekeepers are often required to straddle combat and pacific responsibilities, combining military, diplomatic and humanitarian roles. They fight violent actors who are often not easily distinguishable from civilians, patrol roads and convoy humanitarian deliveries, while they are simultaneously requested to develop relations with communities affected by violence, to mediate conflicts and often also to provide humanitarian goods.
The project explores how UN and AU peacekeepers in the DRC and in Somalia fulfil their protection mandate from the perspective of protection providers and protection recipients: military peacekeepers (provider), civilians (recipients) and humanitarian worker (recipients and ideally partners of peacekeepers). It will provide an in-depth and differentiated account on how military peacekeepers navigate their increasingly complex roles, swap between combat and pacific responsibilities and how their protection efforts are experienced at the recipients' end. This knowledge is crucial in improving protection efforts.
The findings of the research will be shared in round tables with all three actor groups. The round tables aim at receiving feed-back on the research. More importantly, they also aim at providing a platform for communication and at stimulating dialogue between military peacekeepers, civil humanitarian actors and civilians. Round tables will be organised by local civil society organisations who partner in the research project, and it is expected that they will uphold communication links even after the research ended.
The findings, i.e. the experiences of the providers and recipients of protection, will feed into a peacekeeping training module. The module will be developed in cooperation with the International Peace Support Training Centre (IPSTC) in Nairobi. The training will be piloted during a workshop with AU and UN trainers and representatives of military headquarters and military trainers of troop contributing countries. The evaluation of the participants will help to fine-tune the training and to finalize a training handbook that will be made publically available and shared with peacekeeping training centres and military headquarters of troop contributing countries.

Planned Impact

The main impact of the research project is identified within four areas: First, the parallel comparison of experiences of three actor groups - peacekeepers, humanitarians, and civilians - will highlight the extent to which the experiences and perceptions of protection providers (military and non-military) match civilians' realities and civilians' (spatial) experiences of safety. Based on these findings, protection practices and outcomes will be improved by enhancing protection provider's understanding of needs of their activities' recipients. This will be done by discussing the projects' findings in the context of two roundtables bringing together A) all three actor groups and enhance their communication with each other, and B) military headquarters of troop contributing countries and peacekeeping practitioners. In addition, a training component will be developed to improve the training on civilian protection based on the research's findings.

Second, the project will increase the research capacity of the local partner organisations: the South West Livestock Professional Association (Sowelpa) in Somalia and Cercle National de Réflexion sur la Jeunesse (CNRJ) in the DRC. Members of both organisations will receive training in research design, research practice, and research ethics and gain in-depth research experience. They will learn how to organise and conduct qualitative research (sampling, conducting interviews and mapping-voice) and how to analyse different types of information (interviews, maps and voices captured during the mapping exercise). Such research capacity is highly valued in both countries as international partners often rely on local organisations to conduct research.

Third, a training component will be developed based on the research findings. This will be done cooperatively with the International Peace Support Training Centre (IPSTC) in Kenya and piloted in their facilities. A training handbook, Training of Trainers' handbook, and an evaluation tool will jointly be designed. These training publications will be disemminated among all peacekeeping training partners as well as the wider peacekeeping training community and will be made publicly available on the DGSi website.

Fourth, another research output will be a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) module on Peacekeeping and Protection which will be directed to master-level students and practitioners (army and civilian) at the Durham Global Security Institute and at Kenyatta University. This will contribute to the institutionalisation of training pertaining to the 'military-humanitarian realm'.


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Description Military peacekeepers in Somalia (AMISOM/ATMIS) and the DRC (MONUSCO) demonstrated their in-depth awareness of the protection mandate. AMISOM/ATMIS peacekeepers prioritize counter insurgency and regime protection. Peacekeepers have attended intensive pre-deployment training and described one focus of the training on the protection of civilians' mandate. They showed awareness of humanitarian law, their mandate and duty to protect civilians.
Peacekeepers described ambiguity of protection 'in practice'. Protection practice mainly included patrolling, which was felt as limited with respect to preventing violence and protecting civilians. Here, the view of the soldiers matched with civilians who also felt that the peacekeepers should execute a more active role in combatting non-state armed groups.
A central protection challenges are understanding the local conflict dynamics and language barriers, the latter enforcing reliance on 'local' interpreters, either civilians or members of the national security forces. Overall, suspicion against 'locals' - civilians and soldiers - prevailed. This suspicion also structured the protection of civilians. Some peacekeepers articulated that civilians 'do not want' to be protected and others that they cannot be trusted as they may lure soldiers in a difficult situation.
In the DRC, riots against peacekeepers further complicated the role and self-understanding of peacekeepers. Most peacekeepers identified strongly with the protection role. Violence directed against them by people they were supposed to protect left them in stress and the whole mission, as one peacekeeper expressed, 'in a dilemma'.
Peacekeepers also explained equipment challenges, having to rely on dated products. They outlined difficulties and moral dilemmas of protection of civilians when working from a highly securitized army barrack and not being able to interact with or directly support civilians. In the DRC, the female engagement teams emphasized their contact with women in outreach programmes as important in fulfilling the mandate (as in gaining understanding and building trust).
As of everyday routines, the Covid-pandemic, the extension of peacekeepers' duty due to travel restrictions, the unexpected time of separation from families and lack of recreational options were emphasized by many.
Civilians in both host countries considered not peacekeepers but government security forces as main protection providers. In Somalia, civilians felt better protected by the national army, which was also seen as being at the forefront of the fight against al Shabaab. The mandate of AMISOM (now ATMIS) was mainly understood as protecting the government and its installations s. In Somalia, many civilians nonetheless acknowledged the important stabilization role of AMISOM/ATMIS.
Civilians in the DRC regularly described MONUSCO as part of the conflict rather than as a means to its solution. Several interviewees felt that the presence of MONUSCO places them at greater risk. Many acknowledged the difficult task of peacekeeping, but were, generally speaking, nonetheless convinced that peacekeepers are stationed in the DRC for their own/their country's economic benefit. Some interviewees also admitted that they have been engaged in demonstrations against MONUSCO or participated in riots in the past.
In both countries, civilians expressed rather ambiguous, in DRC outright negative feelings towards peacekeeping. Interviewees looked forward to a speedy withdrawal of troops. Civilians, generally, seemed to trust the national security forces more with respect to their capacities (not necessarily willingness) to end violence and provide protection.
Overall, civilians had a quite limited understanding of the role of peacekeeping forces and had not much direct contact or interaction with them.
Interviews with humanitarian actors further illustrated the difficulties of cooperation and even communication with the military actors. The important role of the intervention forces in providing and securing 'humanitarian space' was acknowledged, but the lack of communication, interest in cooperation, and at times opposed understanding of procedures of operations were emphasized.
Humanitarian actors increasingly reinterpreted their main tasks from providing humanitarian support to supporting protection on multiple levels. Protection mainstreaming across sectors and aid clusters was emphasized and many interviewees provided examples for the success of their renewed focus on protection.
Exploitation Route Too early, still analysing and writing up data. Start of impact activities is scheduled for end May and ongoing the next months.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

Description Writing Workshop: Amplifying African Voices in Peacekeeping and State-building Research
Amount £19,654 (GBP)
Funding ID WW202 1100206 
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2021 
End 03/2022