UN Peacekeepers and Cultures of Violence

Author

The psycho-social impact of persistent and widespread violence on people living in warzones has far-reaching consequences for both indigenous and outside attempts to facilitate peace. Today, more than ever, it is women and children who bear the greatest burden of violence, through brutality, rape, torture, and murder, and who suffer the greatest percentage of death due to war. The vulnerability of women and children, particularly to brutal sexual abuse, has been documented throughout the world-from the sexual enslavement of women to provide "comfort" for Japanese soldiers in WWII to decades of terrible abuses in Mozambique to the more recent systematic rape of women in Bosnia. Although ample proof exists that these practices are commonplace in many violent conflicts, the international community has shown a reluctance to deal directly with the long term consequences of pervasive violence and depravation on the recovery of communities once peace accords have been signed. Before turning to a discussion of the impact of peacekeeping on the lives of people living in warzones, this article will address three interrelated issues: conflict management as understood and practiced by the international community, peacekeeping as part of that conflict management system, and cultures of violence in warzones.

If one measures successful conflict transformation using such indicators as psychological, social, economic, as well as political, rehabilitation, the international community has not, over all, been very effective in its attempts to reduce the prevalence of violent conflicts. The usual method employed by the international community is one of diplomatic compromise. In this formula "give and take" amongst the elite leads to a peace agreement followed, with increasing frequency, by a UN peacekeeping missing to implement those accords through "free and fair" elections. Such an approach is based on attempts to "control," "manage" or "contain" conflict within the territorial limits of a state. As the UN charter itself says, the role of the UN Security Council is first and foremost to ensure the maintenance of international peace and security. What goes on within a state with a "recognized" government is of far less concern.

In such a top-down oriented system, peacekeeping and other diplomatic attempts to manage conflict, then, focus on establishing "political order" within a sovereign and internationally recognized state. The result is that negotiated settlement packages focus almost exclusively on democratic elections which re-establish political authority. It is then up to that political authority to contend with the deep social, cultural, economic, and political consequences of the conflict. There are serious problems with emphasizing political stability without recognizing cultures of violence. Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi writes, "With so close a relationship between fear and corruption it is little wonder that in any society where fear is rife corruption in all forms becomes deeply entrenched." These consequences are deemed outside of the preview of the international community even though they are more often than not the cause of recurring violence. This shortsighted approach does not account for cultures of violence which are created through long term exposure to depravation, violence and fear.

Peacekeeping and Conflict Transformation

As recently as three years ago the UN deployed a largely anonymous force of 10,000 "blue helmets" (military peacekeepers in their own country uniforms but with light blue, UN helmets or berets); today peacekeepers in the field number over 70,000. A great deal has been written about these "peace" armies, where and when they should be deployed, how they should be organized and overseen, what they should and should not be doing and so on. Even with all of this increased attention, however, little thought has been given to understanding the complexities of the warzone environment (psychological, social, cultural, political) within which peacekeepers work. As a result little is known about the impact peacekeepers have on the people they are sent to "help." This is especially apparent when one reviews the content of training programs which have been set up recently for prospective peacekeepers. On these courses far more time (up to 90-95%) is spent learning how to fill in UN forms, handle four-wheel drive vehicles, recognize mines, and dealing with all the administrative matters involved in sending troops overseas than on inter-cultural relations, human rights, consequences of violence, issues of power, sensitivity to gender issues or mediation and negotiation skills. Given the long term abuse of people living in warzones at the hands of military and paramilitary groups, it is important to consider carefully the impact of sending yet more military personnel to an already highly militarized environment. If military peacekeepers use the demonstration of force by carrying guns, threats or actual use of force as means of control, what message does this send if troops are meant to represent peaceful means? What damage is done if some of those peacekeeprs continue the abuse of those people?

Peacekeepers are just one, but often the most visible, aspect of international community efforts to manage valiant conflict. These missions are particularly important because they are at once the practical outcome of top-down, narrowly focused attempts to manage conflict and because they symbolize the extent of the international community's willingness to tackle the complex and long term causes of violent conflict. If the international community is unwilling to take account off issues other than the "vote," how likely is it that a society so damaged by violent conflict will be able to do it on its own? Two questions are immediately obvious: through their behavior, what do peacekeepers tell us about the international community's standards for viable societies, particularly in view of the suffering of people in warzones; and how realistic is a one-to-two year "big bang" investment in establishing "political authority" for achieving long term rehabilitation?

Peacekeeping continues to be a high-use, high profile option for the UN Security Council, and efforts to facilitate transformations must go beyond such unsophisticated and ineffective thinking. Especially disturbing, in light of the experiences of people in warzones, are reports of sexual abuse and involvement in prostitution by UN peacekeeping personnel. Issues such as the use of military personnel to act as agents of peace, the ethics of intervention and the appropriateness of the threat or use of force all have important implications for the long term recovery of war-torn societies. That force should never be used is not at issue since UN peacekeeping is based on and should continue to be guided by the principles of consent, impartiality and the on the use of force. At issue is the very apparent militarization of peacekeeping over the last several years and the propensity of the international community and peacekeepers to fall back on the use of force as a means of settling conflicts. Left out of the endless analyses on peacekeeping and enforcement are issues of transformation which go far beyond short-sighted arrangements for re-establishing political authority and look to base activity in warzones on the needs of the people who live there.

Warzones: Accounting for Lived Experience

At the site of violent conflict more than 90% of fatalities are civilian and upwards to 70% of those are women and children. This statistic is even more alarming when one considers that in 1950 civilians accounted for 50% of a deaths in war. Conflict is no longer focused on the "battlefield" where two opposing militaries fight conventional war. Instead, "dirty" warfare, which specifically targets civilians by using torture, rape, and murder to create fear and, therefore, control, is widely practiced. With civilians as the principle targets of war, battlefields are no longer (if they ever were) distant and confined; they are, rather, set in the center of civilian society. As violence generates internally displaced people and refugees, the warzone expands not just physically but mentally, socially and culturally.. This warzone is not the actual place of bullets and explosions but is in the instability of people lives that only begins where the traditional notion of "battlefield" ends. This traditional notion can be seen clearly running through the thinking of much of the international community. The focus on conìned and delimited battlefìelds lends to emphasis on ceasefire agreements, peace accords and the reinstitution of political stability when the fighting ends. But understanding the cost of war goes far beyond counting "battle-related deaths"; the cost in life expands to include those who disappeared, were murdered or massacred, as well as the impact of violent conflict on the living. The Bosnian, Mozambiquan, and Cambodian women who experienced and witnessed repeated rape, beatings and torture carry the warzone with them beyond the ceasefire, beyond the implementation of peace agreements and beyond the "vote."

Rape was used systematically in Bosnia as a means of demoralizing in Bosnia as a means of demoralizing Muslim forces and as a means of ethnic cleansing through impregnation of Muslim women by Serb men. Malia Kreitmayer, a Muslim doctor and member of a ethnically-mixed medical team working with rape survivors in Bosnia, argued that "these women were raped not because it was the male instinct. These women were raped because it was the male instinct. There women were raped because it was the goal of war." Recent UN findings support Kreitmayer's claim and as a result rape has been classified a war crime. Much of the data that was, and is, being collected in Bosnia that has added to the pressure to make rape a war crime only came to light because of the strength and determination of women who had suffered through these experiences to do something to prevent it happening to others. When asked to tell of her experience of being raped repeatedly by Serb soldiers, one 17-year-old Muslim woman said, "I wouldn't want anyone else to have the same experience. It is worse than any other punishment in the world."

The suffering of Cambodia in the "killing fields" is well known. Under the Khmer Rouge, murder, torture and massacres were part of everyday life. What is less well-known is that rape and sexual violence were "commonly practiced under the Khmer Rouge." Attempts to escape did not often improve living conditions and refugee camps themselves became places of abuse presenting, according to one report written by two psychologists for the United Nations Border Relief Operation (UNBRO), "every kind of human vice that can be imagined." There was, in many cases, literally no safe place to go. The same report found signs of severe psychological and social dysfunction among refugees living in these camps. One coping mechanism identified by the researchers was a state of psychological withdrawal, which, they noted, had often been mistaken by Western aid providers as "Khmer `toughness,' `stoicism,' `callousness,' `dishonesty,' or `corruptness.'"

Psycho-social scars last long beyond the physical fact of rape. This is true not just for each individual but for society when sexual assault and rape have been a part of everyday experience. It is this that makes rape such an effective tactic of dirty war. And, it is this that accounts for cultures of violence whcih make recovery a long term and difficult process. Anthropologist Carolyn Nordstrom, who has spent years studying and writing about the impact of violent conflict on societies, recounts one Mozambiquan woman's response when asked to speak of her experiences of repeated rape and brutality: "I do nt have anything of importance to say, you do not want to hear my words. I have no value, no worth. I am nobody, less than nothing." Some research indicates that such experiences can "take 15-20 years to manifest themselves." The effect of such practices on survivors has serious long term implications for recovery at individual, communal and societal levels. Further complicating these issues is the fact that perpetrators as well as survivors will be expected to co-exist in a post-peace agreement society.

It is this part of conflict, more complex perhaps than the vast array of problems of physical reconstruction, that is not accounted for in most understandings of conflict and conflict management. Violence becomes part of the everyday and the sense of reality becomes guided by a new set of limits of what is socially acceptable behavior. The significance of the existence of cultures of violence for peacekeepers who often carry weapons and wear uniforms into these conflict areas should become the central problematique of a re-evaluation of intervention and long term consequences of these practices.

Peacekeepers in Warzones

What impact does the influx of UN military personnel have on local populations who have experienced years of violence and terror most often at the hands of uniformed military or paramilitary groups? Six out of every seven peacekeeper is a soldier. Over seventy countries have contributed troops to UN peacekeeping operations. Some of those troops have been trained specifically in counter-insurgency tactics. An elite Indonesian battalion, for example, which had been involved in the suppression of East Timor were sent to Cambodia as UN peacekeepers. There is no switch inside a blue helmet that automatically turns a soldier trained for war-fighting into an individual prepared to work non-violently and with cultural sensitivity in a highly militarised environment. Peacekeepers enter the complex and already militarised conflict environment with their own sets of dispositions learned from within a military milieu, for handlling conflict. Moreover, they come physically equipped with uniforms and, usually, guns. From a military perspective solving problems comes down to greater (or perhaps better strategically applied) force. The message that force is effective in achieving ends is reinforced in a context where peacekeepers, paradoxically, are supposed to represent "peaceful means."

One direct outcome of the influx of military personnel under the UN flag in Cambodia was a rapid increase in prostitution and an alarming growth in the sex industry. One estimate suggests tht in Phnom Penh alone the number of prostitutes increased from 6,000 in 1991 to 20,000 by 1992 with similar increases observed in provincial towns. Child prostitution was particuarly popular because of the better chance that younger prostitutes would not yet have contracted the HIV virus. Child "virgins" were sold to UN peacekeepers for as much as £500 after which these children were "worth" considerably less, getting paid on average £10 per soldier.

According to a recent article in Ms. Magazine, Yasushi Akashi, head of the UN mission in Cambodia when confronted with questions about this problem responded by saying he was "not a `puritan,' [and] that `18-year-old, hot-blooded soldiers' had a right to drink a few beers and chase after `young beautiful beings of the opposite sex.'" In response to Akashi's comments, an open letter of protest accusing UN personnel of intimidation and sexual harassment was sent to Akashi and UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The letter was signed by 170 individuals including Cambodians, nongovernmental organizations and UN staff. Among other things, the strongly worded letter maintained that "sexual harassment occur[ed] regularly in public restaurants, hotels and bars, banks, markets and shops to the point where many women [felt] highly intimidated." The letter went on to point out that, "inappropriate behavior by male United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) personnel often leaves women with a feeling of powerlessness. These men hold positions of authority on behalf of the international community and should be setting an example for others." The letter also noted the there were "very few women represented in high level positions in UNTAC" and few included overall in the mission. This was in stark contrast to the fact that women make up 60-5% of the Cambodian population. What kind of example, the letter asked, does this set for a future Cambodia? In response to this letter a liaison officer was appointed to deal with complaints, but this was a full year after UNTAC had been in Cambodia. Such issues led Yeshua Moser, an NGO observer in Cambodia during the UNTAC operation, to ask: "Is it possible to use the institutions that have coordinated our wars to build a world that has less violence? In particular, are personnel of thsoe institutions, trained in the systematic use of violence, the most appropriate agents of peace?"

Akashi now heads the peacekeeping mission in former Yugoslavia were there have been a range of similar problems. Reports detailing black marketeering, drug-running, theft and prostitution by UN troops surfaced in mid-1993 and centered around abuses by Kenyan, Ukrainian and French troops. The allegations forced the UN to investigate, yet instead of opting for an independent unbiased assessment, they sent a Austrian Major-General and former UN peacekeeper to head the inquiry. One of the most serious allegations made contended that UN troops regularly visited a Serb-run brothel which forced captive Croation and Muslim women into prostitution. The full UN report on these allegations was never made public, although three months following its completion, the UN appointed another ex-UN peacekeeper as its first force inspector in former Yugoslavia.

In Mozambique UN troops have been accused of involvement in child prostitution and their presence has led to an overall increase in prostitution in the country. Residents of Nampula, Mozambique sent a letter of protest to newspapers and the UN head of mission, Aldo Ajello, accusing Portuguese UN soldiers stationed in their town of racism, violence and sexual abuse. Residents who signed the letter said that while "they did not want to go as far as Somalis have gone against UN forces," they added that, "we will not allow Portuguese blue helmets to beat us up and humiliate our girlfriends as if they were tramps. If they continue, we will take action ourselves at our own risk." While an investigation of these allegations led to the expulsion of some UN troops from Mozambique, the soldiers sent home were not prosecuted.

In Somalia a UN Canadian battalion was sent home after a series of incidents. One company, in particular, had been involved in the torture and murder of 16-year old Somali, Shidane Arone. A Canadian tribunal handling the inquiry was told that Arone was beaten with a wooden baton, a metal pipe, fists and boots and the soles of his feet were burned with cigarettes. One of the soldiers involved was court martialled and sentenced to a five year jail term for his part in the torture and death of Arone. Last month a second Canadian soldier was sentenced to 90 days in a military jail and demoted to Corporal for his part in the fatal beating. Two more paratroopers face court martial proceedings. This disciplinary action (which given the seriousness of the offense seems very lenient) is rare amongst troops-contributing countries and is very much the exception rather than the rule.

No UN soldier has yet to be prosecuted or sentenced to a jail term for child prostitution or rape. Neither the UN nor the country within which the peacekeeping operation takes place have jurisdiction over UN peacekeeping personnel. This power remains solely in the hands of national governments of troop-contributing countries. They have distinguished themselves by their unwillingness to punish those responsible or to take steps to ensure such behavior is not repeated. The lack of action suggests collective head-nodding of male-dominated upper echelons of diplomatic and military corps when statements like Akashi's are reported. An attitude seems to prevail that peacekeeping operations, like war, involve a unique set of circumstances that excuse a certain amount of "wild" behavior.

Beyond the physical fact the uniforms and guns, soldiers bring with them particular ways of interacting in the social world. Military organizations inculcate ways of behaving that may be appropriate for situations of war (this too could be questioned) but which are inappropriate for societies under-going the delicate and complex process of transformation from violence to peace(s). Learning how to fight, kill, and win establishes particular ways of seeing the world in terms of us/them, friend/enemy, human/non-human. Underlying all military training is the connection between the use of force and gaining power and control over the "enemy," i.e. winning. This is illustrated most clearly in the contemptuous "anything goes" frontier behavior of soldiers who act like the conquering armies their training has taught them to be.

That soldiers behave in accordance with their training should come as no surprise. What is surprising is how little importance is attributed to RE-training soldiers from war-fighting to peacekeeping. This is starkly obvious when one considers that the basic principles of peacekeeping-consent, impartiality and the non-use of force-are inimical to the assumptions which underlie military activity. It is not that military personnel are incapable of behaving appropriately within a peacekeeping milieu; in fact, many behave admirably in often extremely testing circumstances. But socialization does tend to limit the range of alternative actions in and reactions to circumstances and the number of abuses by peacekeepers clearly demonstrates that many soldiers are not able to adjust. If, however, soldiers have been created through rigorous training and adherence to particular assumptions and codes, so, too, can peacekeepers.

Transforming Cultures of Violence

Ironically, much of the impetus to use military personnel for peacekeeping is the undeniable fact that world military organisations are comparatively very wealthy both in terms of cash and in terms of resources such as person-power and equipment. The likelihood is, that if peacekeeping continues at its current level, this fact alone will require the use of military personnel. For the future the international community should begin exploring institutional alternatives to military organizations which o have the resource capacity to take on peacekeeping roles. Given the present situation, though, it is vital that potential negative consequences of using military personnel as peacekeepers are recognized and reduced as far as possible. Training could go a long way towards reducing some problems, but troop-contributing countries (as well as the UN) argue that basic military training is still the most appropriate preparation for peacekeeping. In the contexts just outlined this is not the most appropriate preparation for peacekeeping. Rather than basing training on fighting and winning wars, programs need to be developed within a broader context of the needs of people in warzones. At a minimum training should ensure that peacekeeping does not add to cultures of violence or undermine existing and emergent indigenous activities towards overcoming cultures of violence. In the best case peacekeeping facilitates these activities. Perhaps, as a recent article in the Canadian-based Peace Magazine suggests, in rethinking the role of militaries in peacekeeping missions, we may begin to address issues of violence and militarization in our own societies:

The appropriateness of military action as a contribution to peace and security should be judged in terms of its relation to conversion. Does the contemplated action contribute to redefining the role of the armed forces, that is, to the awareness of war as a moribund institution like chattel slavery, duelling, blood vengeance, or human sacrifice? Or does the contemplated action add to the prestige of the armed forces in their traditional role by adding `peace-making' to `war-making' or even by blurring the distinction between the two?

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

CSQ Issue: