Ethiopia: When Peace Wreckers Become Peacekeepers



By Alem Mamo

Why Do Authoritarian Regimes Make Their Armies Readily Available to Participate in International Peacekeeping?

“Peace is not merely the absence of war but the presence of justice, of law, of order – in general of government.” —Albert Einstein

When the first United Nations Peacekeeping force was proposed by the Canadian Foreign Minister Lester B. PearsonEthiopia: When Peace Wreckers Become Peacekeepers in 1956 in response to the Suez Crisis the idea was received with a mixed reaction in the international diplomatic and policy circles. Some welcomed it as a ground breaking and watershed moment for global peace and security while others viewed it as a strange and impossible idea to build consensus from all member states. Whatever the initial reaction, establishing an international peacekeeping force eventually won the support of the majority, and Lester B. Pearson who subsequently became the Prime Minister of Canada won a Noble Peace Prize for his contribution in proposing and designing and building consensus to the establishment of UN peacekeeping force.

Since its founding UN Peacekeeping has come a long way in scope, mandate, mission and size. The traditional peacekeeping force contributors, such as Canada, have significantly reduced their participation to peacekeeping and moved into combat and combat related missions, creating a gap in troop contribution. As a result, nations from the global south are filling this void. This shift, in return, has raised the question of the human rights record of regimes, their armies and policies participating in peacekeeping missions in different parts of the world.

Over the last six decades UN peacekeeping operations led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) have played an irreplaceable role in maintaining peace and stabilization in countries facing inter-state and intra-state conflict. This general achievement record, however, is not without a history of spectacular failure resulting in a tragic consequences. The slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis in1994 by Hutu extremists and the failure of the UN to prevent the genocide remains one of the darkest chapters of the UN and international diplomacy and multilateral response to crisis.

In the recent years UN peacekeeping operations ushered in new guidelines, frameworks and mandates to respond to each conflict dynamic effectively. Alluding to this point the United States Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers was quoted as saying “This is not your mother’s, or your grandmother’s, peacekeeping.”1 Indeed, most of the changes that have taken place over the last decade or so are commendable and they could significantly strengthen the capacity of the UN peacekeeping missions and their effectiveness. However, some of the changes, particularly the expansion of the pool where the uniformed and civilian peacekeepers comes from, is a case for concern both for the reputation and prestige of UN peacekeeping missions and for upholding the principles of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

In this regard, one particular case among many others stands out. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)-led authoritarian regime in Addis Ababa has significantly accelerated its contribution to international peacekeeping, and currently there are 37 police, 113 military experts, and 7712 troops volunteered by the TPLF regime serving in peacekeeping missions in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, the Sudan regions of Darfur and Abeyi, and South Sudan.2 The basic question to be asked here is why would the TPLF regime in Addis Ababa be interested in participating in international peacekeeping? Is it driven and motivated by world peace? World peace as a motivation certainly is a noble cause, however, the fact is world peace and regional stability are not TPLF’s primary concerns. Peace is the least defining characteristics of the regime. In fact, since its inception the TPLF has exploited conflict and directly and indirectly manufactured national and regional conflicts to advance its political and economic agenda.

So, why get involved in international peacekeeping? There are four key motivations for the regime to jump on the bandwagon of international peacekeeping. Money, international prestige, creating an illusion of peace at home, projecting military capacity and preparedness. Let’s review each one of these rationales separately.

First, TPLF sees international peacekeeping as lucrative business/money making opportunity. According to the UN’s publicly available information “countries volunteering uniformed personnel to peacekeeping operations are reimbursed by the UN at a standard rate, approved by the General Assembly, of a little over US$1,028 per soldier per month.”3 Which means based on the current troop contribution TPLF pockets close to a million US dollar a year (7862 x $1028= $80,811.36 x 12 =$969856.32). How much of this fund is allocated to the participating troops or police officers is not disclosed and there is no system of accountability or audit.

Second, the regime’s eagerness to dispatch troops to international peacekeeping is motivated by gaining some level of international prestige/recognition, which it often propagates for a local audience, as well as the outside observer. This allows it to project an image of internationally responsible regime. In doing so the regime believes it can harvest legitimacy to govern, which it has lost from the citizens of the country it rules with an iron fist.

Third, participating in international peacekeeping helps the regime create an illusion of ‘peace’ and ‘stability’ at home. Although, there is no full scale inter or intra-state conflict at the moment, sporadic and low-level conflict in different parts of the country continues. Most importantly, the undemocratic and authoritarian nature of the regime has led some groups to consider challenging the regime through armed resistance.

While the primary objective of this article is to highlight the deceptive nature of the TPLF regime and its selfish motivation for participating in international peacekeeping, it is also worth noting that other authoritarian undemocratic regimes marred in internal conflict and violated the rights of citizens are participating in international peacekeeping. It is an open secret that TPLF treats the army and police as its own private force instead of a national force that protects its citizens from any harm. In fact the biggest harm inflicted upon the people of Ethiopia comes from the police, Special Forces, and the army that the regime dispatches to squash any peaceful dissent or opposition to the regime. Structurally, the army and police senior ranking positions are reserved for members of a particular group instead of merit based representation of the all members.

Authoritarian regimes such as the TPLF use their military and police to silence dissent, torture citizens, and murder peaceful protesters, as has been the case in Ethiopia over the last two decades. How it is morally and ethically acceptable that members of the same police and army are welcomed the fold of international peacekeeping? Doesn’t this contradict the very values and principles of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)? The UN must uphold its own values and principles and hold those who violate the rights of citizens accountable instead of allowing them to participate in international peacekeeping. It is also worth noting that regimes known for violating citizen’s rights, such as Burundi, D.R. Congo, Central African Republic (CAR), and Yemen among others are participating in the UN peacekeeping missions. More significantly, these are regimes year after year failed to provide political, social and economic leadership that are vital for building sustainable peace in the countries they rule and yet they are part of the UN peace keeping missions.

‘Positive peace’ is not the absence of war, it is rather the presence of economic, political, social and cultural structures that promote, enhance and strengthen justice, inclusive economic growth free and fair political participation and promotion and protection of human rights. In the absence of these, one cannot claim sustainable peace in its complete form.

The author can be reached at alem6711@gmail.com

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