Caught?

Still caught in the crossfire? UN peace operations and their information capacities

  by Ingrid A. Lehmann

(Editor’s Note: This article is a version of a chapter in the book, Communication and Peace: Managing an emerging field, Eds. Hoffmann and Hawkins, Routledge, London, 2015)

Introduction

When the United Nations launched its first peacekeeping operations in the 1950s, the concept of using third party military units to create conditions for peace was in its infancy. Inevitably, media reporting of those first peace operations was scanty. Public impressions of these efforts at conflict resolution were covered by relatively few print media and only some television news programs.

However, conflicts in the 1990s in the Balkans, in Somalia and in Rwanda occurred nearly simultaneously and attracted 24/7 instant news coverage around the world. UN peace operations which were enmeshed in these new wars were thus propelled into the limelight. The media was systematically used by parties to the conflict to propagate hatred and violence, putting international peacekeepers increasingly on the defensive. Consequently, UN operations deployed in these conflicts received much unfavorable publicity and were, in more ways than one, caught in the crossfire (Lehmann 1999, 2009; Alleyne 2003; Loewenberg 2006; Lindley 2007; Abusaad 2008; Egleder 2012).

Finally, the United Nations itself had to recognize the power of communication as a critical support for its peacekeeping operations. Beginning in 2000 a new peacekeeping doctrine evolved following the issue of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations – the so-called “Brahimi Report” – which also addressed the question of public information capacity. Simultaneously, substantial reforms of the UN’s own Information Department (DPI) were undertaken by senior management under Secretary-General Kofi Annan. These reforms resulted in a series of policy papers and guidance notes which established a strategic approach to managing information during peacekeeping and post-conflict peacebuilding. Throughout this process, which lasted several years, strategic communication was the declared goal of the UN in which the concept of peace communication  was implicit rather than explicit.

In order to analyze the effectiveness of the new communication policy this chapter will look at three peacekeeping operations where the UN’s ability to build public support and respond to criticism was tested:

1.   The UN operation in Kosovo: “Peace Journalism” at work?

2. The UN’s role in the cholera crisis in Haiti (2010–2013): failed scandal- 
management; and

3.  Sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers in the Congo.

The comparative brevity of this article will not allow a comprehensive analysis of the public dimensions of those peacekeeping operations. By selecting critical incidents or crises for the missions concerned we will look at how these challenging situations were handled, and to what effect.

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CAN CONGO BE SAVED FROM ITSELF?

Panel 3 of a Triptych for Peacehawks, by Jamie Arbuckle

Introduction

On 6 November, the Army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with support from UN, Tanzanian and South African forces, defeated the rebel group M23. On 5 December, Nelson Mandela died.  In one month, then, we have been confronted with the worst and the best of sub-Saharan Africa.  Which is the true picture? Which represents the future of Africa? Are conflicts to be peacefully resolved, which we might call the Nelson Mandela Future Model, or are conflicts to be endlessly and brutally protracted, which we might call the Central African Future Model?  Is there hope, or do we face merely a grim preparation for more of the same, in Africa south of the Sahara?

Is the Congo still at the heart of darkness, or is it the birthplace of the first great international human rights movement of the 20th Century?[1]

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WHAT AND HOW WE LEARN FROM HISTORY – OR ELSE

Panel 1 of a Triptych for Peacehawks, by Jamie Arbuckle 

The knowledge-toolkit of a historically and politically aware citizen of this century will have several essential compartments – you won’t leave home without them. These may differ widely among us, depending on many personal and collective factors of our respective cultures and origins. In my tool kit, for example, there are five essential compartments, and they are: the American Revolution; the Napoleonic Wars; the American Civil War; World War I and the Russian Revolution; and the Holocaust – how it started, and what it took to stop it. So my world, perhaps like yours, has been largely shaped by wars. That is perhaps less true of those younger than I, unless you found the Cold War a lot hotter than I – many Europeans certainly did.  But there is for me a sixth compartment which I suspect we nearly all share, and that one contains the creation and the workings of the United Nations, and the revolutionary effect the Organization has had on the conduct of international affairs.
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UNO: WHAT TRIBE IS THAT?

Panel 2 of a triptych: A book review for Peacehawks of Hammarskjoeld: a Life, by Roger Lipsey, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2013. 738 pp; illus, footnotes, indexed, bibliography.

by Jamie Arbuckle

Introduction

There have of course been several books about Dag Hammarskjoeld, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations. The most authoritative was Sir Brian Urquhart’s Hammarskjoeld[1] first published in 1972; Urquhart combined immediacy – he was there – with scholarship. More recently (2011), there has been the extremely useful and readable work by Manuel Froehlich. [2]

Do we need another biography of Dag Hammarskjoeld? As we wrote in the first panel of this triptych[3], we believe that there are some stories that are so important to us that they need to be retold afresh in each generation, and there is no redundancy in the retelling. Each generation needs to hear, in its own voice and in its own time, the vital stories of the times. The past is not necessarily fate, but it is often prologue. And living in history is like map reading: if you know where you were and how you have gone, you should know where you are, and you can have a good idea where you are going. Updating the map from time to time can never be of no use.

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