A recount of diplomatic efforts in acquiring peace missions from the UN
Peacekeeping is one area where Bangladesh Public diplomacy has been at its best. Today Bangladesh is the top among the TCC and PCC countries in the world. Our commitment to peace and our credibility in fulfilling the mandate of the PKOs including protecting the lives of civilians, has raised our profile in the comity of nations to the highest levels. For this we have to pay our tribute to the diplomatists at the policy-making and procedural negotiations and the honesty, integrity and professionalism of the armed forces and civilian police personnel who have put their lives in harm's way, for the cause of global peace, security and stability and earning the acceptance and confidence of the government and common people of the host countries.
The Father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in his speech at the UN General Assembly in September 1974 said, “Peace is an imperative for the survival of mankind; it represents the deepest aspirations of men and women throughout the world. Peace to endure must, however, be peace based upon justice”. These visionary words, remain true and real to this very day to inspire and motivate us to take the lead in global peacekeeping operations.
Bangladesh's commitment to peacekeeping is ingrained in the country's Constitution. It commits us, inter alia to “make our full contribution towards international peace and cooperation” - “ peaceful settlement of international disputes, and respect for international law and the principles enunciated in the United Nations Charter, (and on the basis of those principles shall –(a) strive for the renunciation of the use of force in international relations and for general and complete disarmament;(b) uphold the right of every people freely to determine and build up its own social, economic and political system by ways and means of its own free choice; and(c) support oppressed peoples throughout the world waging a just struggle against imperialism, colonialism or racialism.)”
In addition to maintaining peace in extremely volatile situations, Bangladeshi peacekeepers have earned appreciation for supporting democratic elections, protecting civilians, especially women and children, repatriating refugees, and for their multifarious roles in areas of disarmament, demobilization, reconciliation and reintegration.
Diplomacy and Peacekeeping are intimately interlinked and, to play a proactive role, it calls for astute diplomacy on the part of professionals on the ground and the Foreign Ministry. The linkage between diplomacy and peacekeeping begins from the conceptual stage and continues till the very end, i.e. termination of the Mission and withdrawal of the Peacekeepers. During this entire period, it becomes incumbent on those concerned to remain fully engrossed in monitoring the developments both in the crisis area and elsewhere in international relations
Peacekeeping Operations in my mind has two essential ingredients: Diplomacy in policy formulation and decision-making and the peacekeeping implementation by military and police forces and other stakeholders on the ground. As a TCC and PCC, it is our responsibility that we negotiate the best terms that would meet our objectives before we commit our peacekeepers to any particular Mission.
Our commitment to international peace and security as well as stability, democracy and the protection of basic human rights conforms to the provisions of UNDHR and other HR Instruments. In our own lifetime we are witness to some of the worst human rights violations in history, the withering of basic ingredients of a viable state, resulting in anarchy, and breakdown of the political, administrative and judicial and legislative machinery, degrading countries to a failed state. When a country reaches such a state and a humanitarian situation is created, the international intervention is called for to restore peace and stability and save human lives.
The concept of peacekeeping is drawn from the premise that absence of war is no guarantee of peace. Domestic turmoil, sectarian strife, ethnic and inter-faith hatred , religious extremism as well as the lure of looting of natural resources can result in bloodshed of millions . In situations such as this, the International Community cannot be expected to be a silent spectator, although reluctance, lack of political will to act and procrastination of the international community have contributed to escalation of violence and loss of lives and often genocide. In such situations, diplomacy comes into play in de-escalation of tensions and violence and restoration of peace by seeking out the options. Peace Keeping is one.
Since the beginning of the new millennium, United Nations peacekeeping has not only grown in size but it has also become increasingly complex. Beyond simply monitoring ceasefires, today's multi-dimensional peacekeeping operations are called upon to facilitate the political process through the promotion of national dialogue and reconciliation, protection of civilians, assisting in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of combatants, supporting the organization of elections, protecting and promoting human rights, and assisting in restoring the rule of law.
In order to meet the challenges posed by the unprecedented scale and scope of today's missions, the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the Department of Field Support (DFS) have embarked on a major reform effort aimed at strengthening and professionalizing the planning, management and conduct of United Nations peacekeeping operations.. This aspect calls for astute professional diplomacy, and our diplomats have been able to do their part.
The Spectrum of Diplomacy in Peace and Security Activities include (1) Conflict Prevention, (2) Peacemaking, (3) Peace enforcement and (4) Peacebuilding.
* Conflict Prevention :Involves the application of structural or diplomatic measures to keep intra-state or inter-state tensions and disputes from escalating into violent conflict.
* Peacemaking : Generally includes measures to address conflicts in progress and usually involves diplomatic action to bring hostile parties to a negotiated agreement upon the request of the United Nations' Secretary General.
* Peacekeeping is a technique designed to preserve the peace, however fragile, when fighting has been halted, and to assist in implementing agreements achieved by the peacemakers.
* Peace enforcement involves the application, with the authorization of the Security Council, of a range of coercive measures, including the use of military force.
* Peacebuilding is a complex, long-term process of creating the necessary conditions for sustainable peace. It works by addressing the deep-rooted, structural causes of violent conflict in a comprehensive manner.
Bangladeshi diplomats at the United Nations have demonstrated exceptional professionalism in advancing the importance of peacekeeping within the UN and mobilizing support for peacekeeping missions in general. They keep vigil of emerging trends and developments in UN peacekeeping operations, and coordinate the evolving Bangladesh position on such issues in consultation with UN DPKO and the UNDPA and others concerned, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Armed Forces Division and the Police Headquarters. Our diplomats have actively participated in all Peacekeeping debates both in the GA and at the Security Council, underscoring our position in the various crisis situations and contributing with recommendations and initiating resolutions. Bangladesh diplomats have also been active in the Fifth Committee in relation to the programme and budget for UN peacekeeping operations and played a critical role in the review of the reimbursement and compensation rates for peacekeepers. During Bangladesh's term in the Security Council as a non-permanent member in 2000-2001, our diplomats at the Permanent Mission to the UN in New York played a major role in developing the Kimberly Process as an effective way to address the notorious issue of “Blood Diamonds” that had caused mass killings in Liberia and Sierra Leone, rape and recruitment of child soldiers.
I would be remiss if I do not mention a unique act of our peacekeeping diplomacy . Distinguished Peacekeeping Commanders assembled here will surely recall the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1994, especially in Srebrenica, and the sorry plight of UN peacekeepers as to take action in absence of any effective rules of engagement, to take retaliatory action in preventing the genocide. This, of course, led to the intervention of NATO. You will, of course, recall that 43 British soldiers out of about 450 United Nations peacekeeping troops including some Bangladeshi Peacekeeping soldiers were taken hostage for over 10 days and put in harms way in Bihac. The International London Meeting held at the time to address the crisis, in which Bangladesh was represented by the Foreign Minister, endorsed the use of Air strikes against the Serbs. I remember that under instructions from the Foreign Secretary, the Ambassador of Bangladesh to the USA , late Humayun Kabir ,met with the US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke at the US State Department with a demarche requesting US airstrikes for freeing our captive Peacekeepers. I happened to be present at the meeting. Ambassador Holbrooke who was the Chief Diplomatic negotiator of the NATO, welcomed us at his office in the US State Department and immediately opened the communication channels to arrange a video conference with the top US Generals at the NATO Headquarters and other forward positions and gave the floor to Ambassador Humayun Kabir to state our concerns to the NATO Commanders. The Generals listened very carefully to the Bangladesh Ambassador. They had all praise for the bravery of the Bangladeshi soldiers and assured Ambassador Humayun Kabir of their full support to ensure the release of Bangladesh hostages in Bihac by all appropriate means.
Bangladesh took a proactive role in the establishment of the The Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), to address the lacuna in the UN structure in reducing post-conflict country's risks of relapsing into the quagmire of conflict and crisis. The PBC in its maiden two ventures in Sierra Leone and Burundi have made significant and tangible contributions towards consolidation of peace in these two countries. As regards the work of PBC, Bangladesh, from the very outset has been advocating that post-conflict societies must take charge of their own destiny and that the PBC's work should be based on national ownership. It is gratifying that the PBC has subscribed to an inclusive and nationally-driven process aimed at maximizing the involvement of all relevant actors on the ground.
The invitation extended to Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, to the meeting of the top Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) by US President Obama in New York on 23 September 2009 was an important recognition of the success of Bangladesh's peacekeeping diplomacy.
As the Chair of the UN Peacebuilding Commission in 2012, Bangladesh organized the first ever Summit level meeting of the Commission in New York on the sideline of 67th UNGA session. The meeting Chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina mobilized support of global political leadership towards incorporation of a peacebuilding perspective in the mandates of the peacekeeping operations to ensure longer-term peacebuilding and sustainable development.
The concept of a "Culture of Peace” " mooted by Bangladesh in the United Nations in 1997 at the United Nations was a major initiative to take UN's Multidimensional Peacekeeping forward. On 13 September1999,the United Nations General Assembly adopted, by consensus, its landmark, pioneering and norm-setting resolution 53/243 on the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace. Bangladesh actively participate in Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (popularly known as C-34) focusing on both policy and operational issues and often lead issue-specific negotiations on behalf of Non-Aligned Movements (NAM).
Bangladesh has also contributed towards the adoption of the Security Council resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace and Security” during Bangladesh's membership (2000-2001) to the Council. This resolution reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction.
The women peacekeepers from Bangladesh have played an exemplary role in peace making by providing comfort to the victims of gender-based violence in war-ravaged countries. It is relevant here to mention that in 2015 by breaking the stereotype, a group of 160 women from Bangladesh became the world's first all-woman United Nations peacekeeping contingent. Now many women peacekeepers from Bangladesh are serving in different UN peacekeeping missions.
The UN Charter gives the Security Council the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. In fulfilling this responsibility, the Security Council may adopt a range of measures, including the establishment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation. The legal basis for such action is found in Chapters VI, VII and VIII of the UN Charter. These give the legal cover for the UN Peacekeepers to be deployed in the dangerous aftermath of a violent internal conflict and may employ a mix of military, police and civilian capabilities to support the implementation of a comprehensive peace agreement. As a leader TCC and PCC, our diplomats have to remain engaged in intense diplomacy with the UN DPKO, the delegations of UN Security Council and the member states in general, to take any decision in committing our peacekeepers in any particular Mission.
In the recent decade, some multi-dimensional United Nations peacekeeping operations have been deployed following a request from the national authorities to support the transition to legitimate government, in the absence of a formal peace agreement. In exceptional circumstances, the Security Council has also authorized multi-dimensional United Nations peacekeeping operations to temporarily assume the legislative and administrate functions of the State, in order to support the transfer of authority from one sovereign entity to another, or until sovereignty questions are fully resolved (as in the case of transitional administrations), or to help the State to establish administrative structures that may not have existed previously.
UN Peacekeeping operations went through a bad time in the mid 1990s, making it controversial and allegations of Egregious (outrageous) Failures. Among these were Somalia Tragedy (1993): Rwanda Genocide (1994): Bosnia Massacre (1995): DR Congo aka “Rape Capital of the World”, Increased Prostitution, Sexual & Child Exploitation.
The reasons for this situation: UN Peacekeepers were short of or lax in mandate of the extent of their terms of reference and rules of engagement. Allegations of corruption on the part of peacekeepers of certain countries, lack of discipline and leadership of peacekeeping troops and sexual exploitation and abuse of civilians, lack of unanimity of the member states, in particular of the regional countries, also put the lives of the peacekeepers in harms way. All this led the then UN Secretary General to convene a panel for reform of the UN PKOs. That brought about the landmark 2000 Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (aka The Brahimi Report), to help guide United Nations peacekeepers . The Panel Chaired by the then UN Under-Secretary-General Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi of Algeria for reform of the UN PKO was commissioned in 2000 during the Millennium Summit of the UN, when Bangladesh was a non-Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, Bangladesh delegation to this historic Summit was led by the present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh diplomats were closely involved in the preparations of the report and made valuable contributions towards making Peacekeeping Operations meaningful and designed in a manner to secure peace with minimal collateral damage to the lives of the peacekeepers.
To uphold the legacy of Bangladesh, it is necessary that our professionals develop their skills on key areas of international diplomacy that go hand in hand with PKO. These are :
Human Rights is an integral part of the normative framework for United Nations peacekeeping operations. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which sets the cornerstone of international human rights standards, emphasizes that human rights and fundamental freedoms are universal and guaranteed to everybody. United Nations peacekeeping operations should be conducted in full respect of human rights and should seek to advance human rights through the implementation of their mandates.
International Humanitarian Law: International humanitarian law is also known as “the law of war” or “the law of armed conflict,” and restricts the means and methods of armed conflict. International humanitarian law is contained in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their two Additional Protocols of 1977, as well as in rules regulating the means and methods of combat.
Security Council Mandates :United Nations peacekeeping operations are deployed on the basis of a mandate from the United Nations Security Council. The tasks that a United Nations peacekeeping operation will be required to perform are set out in the Security Council mandate. Security Council mandates differ from situation to situation, depending on the nature of the conflict and the specific challenges it presents. Since United Nations peacekeeping operations are normally deployed to support the implementation of a cease-fire or a more comprehensive peace agreement, Security Council mandates are influenced by the nature and content of the agreement reached by the parties to the conflict.
The lessons learned over the past six decades indicate that a United Nations peacekeeping operation is unlikely to succeed when one or more of the following conditions are not in place:
A peace to keep.
Positive regional engagement.
The full backing of a United Nations Security Council.
What separates Bangladesh from others is the national policy to motivate them to a culture of peace. They are not mercenaries but professionals who go out to strange and foreign lands and in hostile conditions to help in restorations of peace and order and to help build institutions in post-conflict periods. They are trained to respect human rights and saving lives from atrocities and in-fights, to win the locals over and earn their confidence. This is among the many reasons why Bangladeshi peacekeepers are sought by the international community to serve the cause of peace and democracy.
The writer is former Foreign Secretary.