Rwanda and the Netherlands, two countries embroiled in the UN’s worst peacekeeping failures, on Wednesday launched a push at the United Nations for blue helmets to more readily use force to defend civilians in conflicts.
The initiative seeks to persuade countries that contribute troops to UN peacekeeping to agree to more robust action and more readily intervene instead of staying behind the high walls of their UN compounds.
“The blue flag needs to stand for protection and it doesn’t always,” Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told the gathering at UN headquarters in New York.
The failure of Dutch peacekeepers to defend Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in July 1995 has been a source of shame for the Netherlands, which has recently returned to UN peacekeeping by sending troops to Mali.
At the UN meeting, countries were urged to endorse the so-called Kigali principles, a pledge that troops in UN missions will take military action against “armed actors with clear hostile intent to harm civilians.”
“We are starting a movement today,” said Rwanda’s Ambassador Eugene-Richard Gasana, who stressed the aim was to “save lives”.
“The failures of our past should not dictate our future,” he added.
Rwanda, which was abandoned by UN peacekeepers during the 1994 genocide, has become of the largest contributors to UN peacekeeping with some 6,000 troops and police serving under the UN flag.
Only 29 countries have so far agreed to endorse the principles including key troop-contributors Bangladesh and Ethiopia.
Two other major peacekeeping nations, India and Pakistan, are not among the signatories and three permanent Security Council members — Britain, France and Russia — have yet to come on board.
US Ambassador Samantha Power cited a 2014 UN report that showed peacekeepers had failed to use force in response to some 500 attacks against civilians from 2010 and 2013.
“We continue to see units retreat instead of standing their ground,” said Power.
The United States endorses the principles and is urging the United Nations to give preference to countries that back them to serve in peacekeeping missions, she said.
Some 106,000 troops from 123 countries are deployed in peacekeeping missions worldwide, most of which include the protection of civilians in their mandates agreed by the Security Council.
The 29 countries backing the Kigali principles represent about one third of all uniformed personnel serving in UN peacekeeping.