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  • Writer's pictureThe Gender Security Project

The Security Council and Peacekeeping: Part 1 – An Introspection

By Kirthi Jayakumar

The United Nations came into existence at a time when the world was vulnerable, fresh out of two devastating wars and colonization. The need of the hour was peace – an international order that would serve as a foundation for a renewed shot at peaceful international relations. At the time, with the Allies emerging successful, and the United States being one of the bigger support systems for the directional change in the Second World War, the UN was created with the Security Council as its core body which comprised, for the most part, the Allies, and the Republic of China. This body was vested with the supreme responsibility of maintaining international peace and security per Article 26 of the UN Charter, and considering the horrors of the Second World War, its duties were confined to regulating interstate conflict.[1]Besides this, the United Nations, in its later adopted General Assembly Resolution titled Uniting for Peace, allowed the General Assembly to adopt a course of action befitting the needs of a situation characterized by aggression, should the Security Council fail to do the needful owing to a lack of unanimity of the permanent members.[2]

Whether one would call it a good job on the Security Council’s part, or a sense of discipline on each state in the international arena – there were no longer international conflicts of the scales and proportions of the World Wars. But neither had war ended altogether. The new era witnessed equally, if not more devastating instances of war, genocide, terrorism, and humanitarian intervention. Consequently, the scope of activity for the Security Council was understood to include interstate conflicts of a smaller scale and magnitude when compared to the World Wars.[3]Violent conflict did not cease to exist, but only changed its sphere of occurrence – causing for the birth of failed states and movements that endeavoured to topple governments.[4]With the changed face of conflict, UN peacekeeping endeavours pivoted around assisting failed states, and internal and inter-state armed conflicts. The process of intervention by a state or a few states in the domestic affairs of another state side-step the rule mandated under Article 2(7) of the UN Charter.[5]

The Security Council was established as an organ to handle international peace and security, to prevent and conflict of every kind. The measures best found necessary to handle this responsibility were vested in the Security Council. But, the scope and ambit of peacekeeping involves much more, and the Security Council does not have the means necessary to do the needful.

Besides being a political body that analyses global policy issues, the Security Council does not have the infrastructural backing that is necessary for operations like peacekeeping. The reliance on troop contributing countries and funding support from nations makes these troops fall beyond the control of the Security Council. The structure of the Security Council is the first spoke in the wheel. For a peacekeeping mission to be authorized in the way things work presently there is only a necessity for 9 out of 15 members of the Security Council to approve of the mission, with the nine necessarily including all the five permanent members’ positive votes – in other words, the Great Power Unanimity. Even at its best, only a maximum of fifteen UN Members approve of peacekeeping operations and actions taken against other member-states of the UN. The limited membership of the Security Council is oftentimes the reason for its being drubbed as an agent of its most powerful permanent members.[6]The proceedings are closed, and there are often plenty of meetings and consultations behind closed doors among the five permanent members, which compromise on the transparency of the Security Council, and impact the credibility of its decisions.[7]In addition to this is the fact that the Security Council is the sole organ of the UN without a system of receiving information and proposals from independent entities across the world on issues of contentious and contemporaneous value.[8]

The United Nations officially began its involvement with peacekeeping win 1948, dealing with the Middle East Conflict. In the journey since, there were several milestones, but also several pitfalls in their involvement with missions where peacekeeping was their core responsibility. The United Nations by itself documented two of its “stumbles” in peacekeeping – one, in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, where UN peacekeepers in Rwanda just stood by as the Hutu continued to slaughter the Tutsi population, killing over 8,00,000 of them; and the other, in Bosnia, when the UN declared “safe areas” for the Muslim population without doing anything to secure the Muslims, which ultimately led to the massacre in Srebrenica, at the hands of the Serbs. 

Among its frugal successes, there was the Cambodian mission in 1993, where elections were held under the auspices of the peacekeeping mission there. However, it was only a matter of time before Hun Sen usurped power.

A large part of these slip-ups in peacekeeping operations stems from the state of affairs in the Security Council – given that the permanent members can even go so far as to block the expansion of peacekeeping missions and even hamper their deployment using their veto power.[9]UN peacekeeping failures in the 1990s largely related to the genocides that took place – Rwanda and Bosnia being two cases in point.[10]In Somalia, the UN had deployed a peacekeeping mission between 1992 and 1994, working to secure ceasefire agreements and to bring the many political factions together for peace. But they did not meet any success, as many of the troops deployed were injured and killed, and the US withdrew its troops as a response, immediately forming a rather restrictive policy when it came to participating in UN peacekeeping missions.[11]In 1994, the Rwandan Genocide took place – another egregious failing on part of the UN in its peacekeeping duties. The UN opted to give Rwanda the non-permanent seat at the Security Council (from January 1, 1994 onwards), following the 1993 Arusha Peace Agreement which ended the civil war. While this may have otherwise been a good move, it wasn’t, because Rwanda hadn’t even formed a new government and the nation had yet to stabilize itself. Moreover, the UN forced a political solution without taking into account all the different tense undercurrents that prevented cooperation and unity. Records also show that the UN peacekeepers themselves abandoned many Rwandan civilians who reached out to them for safety, leaving them vulnerable to attacks. The Brahimi Report mentions that the UN’s failure in identifying the events in Rwanda as a Genocide,[12]was a major drawback in its peacekeeping operation in Rwanda. 

Later, in 1995, the UN peacekeeping forces that were deployed at many different posts around Srebrenica were obliged to protect what were known as “community safe areas”, with a mandate to “deter attacks”.[13]Two years before that, citizens of the nation surrendered all their weapons in pursuit of a demilitarization agreement. But, when the Bosnian Serb Army attacked Srebrenica in July 1995, the UN’s Dutch peacekeepers refused to return the guns to the civilians for self-defense, and did not protect them, either. The Dutch Commander claimed that he “believed that the Bosniacs could not defend Srebrenica by themselves and that his own forces could not be effective,” and that was why they did not do anything to keep the Serb soldiers at bay, and even left their posts when the Serbs attacked Srebrenica and disarmed them.[14]

In 1999, the UN deployed a peacekeeping mission in the DR Congo, but over fifteen years have passed and the nation still remains torn by conflict, the wrongful mining and sale of conflict minerals and unchecked sexual violence against women and men. As the armed militia continues to keep conflict alive, reports have revealed that the UN peacekeepers do not protect the vulnerable.[15]

There is also the very disturbing reality that there is also rampant sexual violence, exploitation, rape and abuse of women and girls in most host countries, and many UN peacekeepers have been involved as well. For instance, in 2004, the UN investigated as many as 150 allegations of sexual misconduct by members of the peacekeeping troops in Burundi and the DR Congo.[16]These included, among other things, rape, paedophilia and even prostitution.[17]Especially in the DR Congo, there have been tremendous numbers where instances of sexual violation are concerned. The Office of the Internal Oversight Services took up a four-week investigation study in early 2006 in the DRC.[18]They documented 217 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation that were committed specifically by 75 UN peacekeepers.[19]The victims aged between fifteen and eighteen, and many of these girls consented to the sexual mistreatment because they were promised money, food, clothing and other aid requirements.[20]Many of the girls were found pregnant with babies fathered by erring peacekeeping staff.[21]The OIOS’ report revealed that only one girl was open to being quoted on record, so that her case could be actionable.[22]



[1] Olara A. Otunnu, ‘Conclusion: The Peace-and-Security Agenda of the United Nations: From a Crossroads into the New Century’, in Above n.1 at 297, 311

[2] See UNGA Res 377 (V) of November 3, 1950. “…if the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the

permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and

security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression, the

General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately with a view to making appropriate recommendations to

Members for collective measures, including in the case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression, the use of

armed force when necessary, to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

[3] Ibid

[4] Supplement to An Agenda for Peace: Position Paper of the Secretary-General on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations, ¶¶ 12–13, U.N. Doc. A/50/60–S/1995/1 (1995)

[5] Article 2(7), UN Charter: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll.”

[6] David D. Caron, The Legitimacy R of the Collective Authority of the Security Council, 87 American Journal of International Law 552, 562–65 (1993)

[7] Jarat Chopra, The Space of Peace-Maintenance, 15 Political Geography (1996) 335, 341

[8] Above n. 26, p. 314

[9] “Paving the Road to Hell: The Failure of UN Peacekeeping” Foreign Affairs

[10] The Brahimi Report,

[11] 2-3)

[12] “Report of the Independent Inquiry into the actions of the United Nations during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda,” 15 December 1999 [UN doc S/1999/1257]

[13] Report of the Secretary -­‐ General pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 53/35. “The fall of Srebrenica,” 15 November 1999, paragraphs 2‐3, 239–390, 470‐471 [UN doc A/54/549].

[14] Report of the Secretary -­‐ General pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 53/35. “The fall of Srebrenica,” 15 November 1999, [UN doc A/54/549].

[15] “UN Peacekeepers Failed DR Congo Rape Victims,” story published by Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 8 September 2010. justice/print/177178

[16] “The UN has Suspended Two Peacekeepers Serving in Burundi following Allegations of S exual Misconduct,” by Susannah Price, BBC News, United Nations , 27 December 2004.

[17] “UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Calls Peacekeepers’ Prostitute Use Sexual Exploitation,” Agence France-Presse , Helsinki, 2 December 2004;

[18] “Report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on its investigation into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse,” 5 April 2007, Paragraphs 26b & 26c [UN doc. A/61/841].

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid


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