Peacekeeping: Fiction vs. Reality

The word peacekeeping is like the word terrorism: it is meaningless on its own and able to be molded to serve the interests of a political clique. Like Alex P. Schmidt’s description of terrorism in The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research, peacekeeping “is usually an instrument for the attempted realization of a political…project that perpetrators lacking mass support are seeking.”1

Peacekeepers have never kept the peace in any conflict. On the contrary, peacekeepers themselves have been linked to an increase in violence and human rights abuses, particularly of a sexual nature. In Bosnia, Somalia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Mozambique, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, peacekeepers have been “associated with criminal misconduct, including sexual violence. Crimes against women and children have followed UN peacekeeping operations in several locations, and the UN reported that the entrance of peacekeeping troops into a conflict situation has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution”. Allegations of sexual violence against peacekeepers dates back to the 1990s. During the 1995-2002 UN mission in Bosnia, Kathryn Bolkovac, a human rights investigator, found that young “girls from Romania, Ukraine, Moldova and other Eastern European countries [were] being brought in to service the UN and military bases as sex-slaves. The cases involved the officers from many foreign countries, including the USA, Pakistan, Germany, Romania, Ukraine, government contractors, and local organized criminals”. Bolkovac was subsequently fired for her investigation. As of 2015 more than 200 women and girls have been sexually exploited by UN peacekeepers in Haiti in exchange for food, clothing, medicine, and other basic necessities. In the Central African Republic, French peacekeepers have forced young girls to have sex with dogs, starving and homeless boys as young as nine have been sodomized by peacekeepers, and an entire UN contingent was expelled from the country due to sex crimes.

Extrajudicial murder, torture, and mass murder – all war crimes under international law – have also been committed by peacekeepers. A 14-year-old Somali boy was beaten, tortured, and murdered by Canadian peacekeepers in Somalia; the peacekeepers having posed in photos with the boy’s bloody corpse. Not to be outdone, Belgian peacekeepers were photographed roasting a Somali over a fire.

In some countries UN peacekeepers have behaved more like heavily armed, rampaging militias than ‘peacekeepers’. Since the start of the UN mission, peacekeepers have committed numerous human rights violations and massacres in Haiti. Peacekeepers were deployed in Haiti to support the brutal regime after the country’s first democratically elected government was overthrown by the U.S., France, and Canada in February, 2004. On July 6th, 2005, 350 heavily armed UN peacekeepers massacred 20 to 50 unarmed civilians in one of the vast ghettos of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. An eyewitness told a U.S. labour delegation that “[t]here was systematic firing on civilians.”

All exits were cut off. The community was choked off, surrounded …facing tanks coming from different angles, and overhead, helicopters with machine guns fired down on the people. The citizens were under attack from all sides and from the air. It was war on a community.

Seth Donnelly, a member of the delegation, who visited the scene within 24 hours, described what the delegation found:

What we found actually when we went into the community the day after the operation was widespread evidence that the troops had carried out a massacre. We found homes, which when we say homes, we are talking basically shacks of wood and tin, in many cases, riddled with machine gun blasts as well as tank fire. The holes in a lot of these homes were too large just to be bullets. They must have been tank-type shells penetrating the homes. We saw a church and a school completely riddled with machine gun blasts. And then the community came out.

Once we had passed through, and we were — the community understood who we were, women, children, old and young, came out en masse and started to give us their testimony. They clearly were not being coerced by (quote/unquote) “gang leaders” or “gang elements.” They took us into their homes. They showed us bodies that still remained. They gave us very emotional testimony. People were hysterical still. And they all claimed that the U.N. forces had fired into their homes, had fired into their community, and people were saying at a minimum 20, if not more, people were killed.

The target of the attack was Emmanuel “Dread” Wilme, a prominent community member and supporter of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the ousted Haitian president who was kidnapped by the U.S. At least 30 more were killed in a second massacre committed by UN peacekeepers in December 2006. “They killed women, children and old people,” Samuel Leconte, a community activist, said, “They shot them like animals.” Then again, in December 2014, UN peacekeepers fired live ammunition and chemical agents on protesters demanding a new government.

Haiti is not alone in massacres committed by UN peacekeepers. Mass graves of those murdered by UN peacekeepers have been uncovered in the Central African Republic as well. The remains of 12 people detained by peacekeepers from the Republic of the Congo, including two children, one less than a year old, and a pregnant woman were exhumed near Boali. Other crimes committed by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic include “the death by torture of two anti-Balaka leaders in December 2013; the public execution of two suspected members of the Christian militia in February 2014; and the beating to death of two civilians in June 2015.”

Underlying the abject failure of peacekeeping is the contradiction between the maintenance of peace and a socio-economic system where the pursuit of surplus value at the expense of humanity and the planet reigns supreme. Peace is anathema to the ruling class. There is no “peacekeeping tradition,” as Canadian Foreign Minister Stephane Dion claims, to be found in the history of Canada, or in any other U.S.-NATO alliance member state. From the slave societies of Athens and the Roman Empire to European colonialism, the Transatlantic slave trade, the genocide of Aboriginal people, the forcible expropriation of peasant land, and the rise of industrial capitalism, where the living standards of the masses are continuously under attack, there has only been exploitation and violence. The Canadian state itself was founded on the violent and brutal exploitation of Aboriginal people and their land; the enslavement of Chinese and other Asian immigrants for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, in which conditions were so bad that two Chinese labourers died for every mile of railroad built; the exploitation of the world’s natural resources and people by Canadian finance capital and by the murderous suppression of the working class within Canada.

Peace cannot be maintained if powerful Western interests – arms manufacturers, oil and energy companies, big agribusiness, mining companies, etc. – stand to profit from violence and exploitation. At the root of many of the world’s conflicts is “the role of interventionary core capitalism in perpetuating poverty through discriminatory policies that structure the global economy.”2 In Africa, writes Yash Tandon, “rich natural resources are taken away from the continent at a fraction of their value.”

The terms of exchange between Africa’s natural resources and the West’s capital-and-knowledge intensive technologies continue to remain the basis for vast seepage of net value out of Africa and into Europe, the USA and Japan … Africa’s poverty does not just ‘exist’, it is systematically created. It is created not by any conspiracy. It is created by the simple operation of the so-called ‘law of the market’3

U.S.-NATO alliance foreign and international economic policy is conducted with the aim of maintaining these unequal terms of exchange. In Somalia, IMF and World Bank imposed structural adjustment policies decimated the country’s pastoralist economy, leading to the collapse of the state and a brutal civil war; in East Timor, the U.S., Britain, Canada, and Australia funded the genocide of 200, 000 people to secure the rich oil and gas deposits beneath the Timor Sea; the democratically elected governments of Iran and Guatemala were overthrown in 1953 and 1954 respectively to prevent the nationalization of natural resources; in Haiti, the democratically elected Aristide government was overthrown shortly after it nearly doubled the minimum wage; in the Central African Republic, the government was overthrown for accepting Chinese investments; in Libya, once the wealthiest African nation, U.S.-NATO alliance death squads brutally murdered Gaddafi to prevent his gold-backed African currency from competing with the euro and the dollar; in Afghanistan and Iraq, hundreds of thousands have been killed to control oil, strategic pipeline routes, and, in the case of Afghanistan, the drug trade. In many countries – from Greece to the Democratic Republic of the Congo – Western-backed paramilitaries and right-wing dictators have murdered tens of thousands of people, displaced millions more, and caused untold devastation and human suffering.

Western corporations have themselves been complicit in extrajudicial murder, torture, and other human rights abuses. Thousands of trade unionists in Colombia have been murdered since 1986. A human rights lawsuit in 2001 charged that Coca-Cola “contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that utilized extreme violence and murdered, tortured, unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders.” In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Luis Adolfo Cardona, a worker at a Coca-Cola bottling plant, recounted how in December 1996, armed paramilitaries came into the plant and murdered a union leader. Two days later workers in the plant were rounded up by armed paramilitaries and told if they didn’t quit the union by a specific time, they, too, would be killed. Royal Dutch Shell, in another lawsuit, was charged with complicity in the torture and murder of protesters in Nigeria. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, Shell has “frequently called upon the Nigerian police for ‘security operations’ that often amounted to raids and terror campaigns against the Ogoni” people. Deforestation, oil spills, and pollution in the Niger Delta have caused massive environmental destruction, destroying the subsistence farming and fishing the Ogoni people depend on.

The U.S.-NATO alliance, however, notwithstanding any claims to peacekeeping, is reluctant to hold corporations accountable for human rights abuses. Montreal-based Anvil Mining, for example, transported Congolese troops who killed 100 people, mostly civilians, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Anvil also provided the trucks used to dump the corpses of the victims into mass graves. In Tanzania, Toronto-based Acacia, formerly Barrick Gold and former Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird’s current employer, has killed dozens of impoverished villagers searching for bits of gold near its mine. Yet, in response to a UN inquiry into human rights abuses committed by Canadian mining companies, the federal government retorted that it is under no obligation to regulate the activities of Canadian companies overseas. Canada’s unwillingness to hold Canadian companies accountable for human rights abuses “merely confirms a clear tendency to shirk its human rights obligations in favour of promoting and protecting private investments, with serious consequences for local communities.”

The Trudeau Government’s recent commitment of $450 million and 600 troops to UN peacekeeping operations should be understood for what it is: the will and need to intervene to protect Western corporate interests and the hegemonic power of the U.S.-NATO alliance, “by identifying with, and using the language of, the interests of the international community.”4

  1. Schmidt, Alex P., p 39, The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research, 2011.
  2. Michael Pugh, “The political economy of peacebuilding: a critical theory perspective,” International Journal of Peace Studies, 10(2), 2005, p 9.
  3. Yash Tandon, “Root causes of peacelessness and approaches to peace in Africa,” Peace & Change, 25(2), 2000, p 178–179.
  4. Pugh, Peacekeeping and critical theory, p 48.
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