Posted by Jack @ 9:10 pm on July 7th 2011

U.N. Peacekeepers, the Srebrenica Massacre, and Liability

David Bosco highlights an interesting ruling in a Dutch court holding that the Netherlands government is responsible in the deaths of 8000 civilians during the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. Itís an important decision, though under appeal and likely to have limited immediate impact. I take issue with Boscoís characterization of the decision, suggesting as he does that it will have a chilling effect on international willingness to participate in United Nations Peace Support Operations, ostensibly because this ruling alerts potential troop contributing countries to an additional hazard they face: legal consequences for failure to protect civilians.

The ruling was a remarkable victory for the Bosnian who had doggedly pursued the case, but it could also send shockwaves through the UN peacekeeping system. Ideally, it would stiffen the spine of often passive peacekeepers. States active in peacekeeping might decide that their troops must now be more vigilant about preventing human rights abuses on their watch. The unfortunate reality is that the precedent may simply discourage states from participating. Why send troops into unstable situations and run the risk that your government will be held responsible for atrocities they fail to prevent?

Bosco is not wrong regarding a theoretical cooling effect of an increasingly demanding mission set for peacekeepers, though it is certainly not this ruling that establishes that requirement, but rather an extraordinary increase in international and U.N. emphasis on Protection Of Civilians in international conflict areas, especially by official U.N. PSOs. Along with countering Sexual and Gender Based Violence, POC is the new acronym cum watchword in peacekeeping; this ruling is Johnny Come Lately in terms of forewarning potential mission participants. One merely needs to visit the front page of the U.N. Department of Peace Keeping Office to find this article, number two on the page, just below children in conflict.

Besides, countries donít participate in these missions out of the kindness in their hearts; they do it for international prestige, for multinational cooperative building purposes, and for money. The U.N. handsomely compensates troop contributing nations (and the individual soldiers) based upon a set formula: the more troops and equipment you contribute, the more money you get, and it is of an order of magnitude that many countries finance a significant portion of their defense budget with it. The supposed additional liability burden surrounding protection of civilians is not negligible, but nor is it a surprise sprung upon unsuspecting peacekeeping nations by a Dutch court.

Via ZoŽ Pollock at The Dish.

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