The ICRC regional delegation for India, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives, in collaboration with the Centre for UN Peacekeeping (CUNPK) in New Delhi, organised an International Workshop on Contemporary Dilemmas and Challenges to UN Peacekeeping Operations and IHL from 3-5 February 2020. Serving armed forces officers from 19 countries, including India, attended the fifth edition of this annual workshop, along with former force commanders, former senior diplomats and representatives from international organisations.

The deliberations at the workshop aimed to underscore the complex challenges faced by peacekeeping missions across the world and highlight best practices from their experiences in the field to inform policy and operations.

Contemporary armed conflicts are protracted in nature and have a devastating impact on civilians. The presence of a large number of non-State armed groups adds to the volatility of the situation on the ground. As a result, peacekeeping mandates have gained in scope, with missions increasingly involved in stabilisation tasks – which on many occasions involves the use of force. It becomes critical, therefore, that peacekeepers comply with international humanitarian law (IHL) where it is applicable.

Speaking at the inaugural session, Yves Heller, Deputy Head of Regional Delegation, ICRC New Delhi, said, “The ICRC has a dynamic dialogue with UN peacekeeping missions at both the strategic and field levels to ensure a positive contribution to various strategies, IHL compliance and protection of humanitarian space.” Talking about the significance of IHL, Lt Gen BS Raju, Director General Staff Duties, Indian Army, said, “Every peacekeeping mission has its own dilemmas and challenges, and the importance of IHL in overcoming these cannot be overemphasised.”

The themes discussed over the three-day workshop included: clarity of mandate; fragile relationship with host government; effectiveness of FIB model; standardisation of training; gender mainstreaming in UN missions; challenges of intelligence in peacekeeping.

Emphasising the need for greater participation of women, the discussions underscored that inclusion of more women peacekeepers would be of added value to the peacekeeping missions. Illustration from across the world had showed that women peacekeepers played a pivotal role in civilian military interface. Lt Gen Chander Prakash, former force commander of MONUSCO, recalled an anecdote from the field. He said the civilian population, especially the women in his mission area, were more forthcoming in terms of sharing issues related to sexual violence with the women peacekeepers.

Elaborating on the scope and impact of the workshop, Lt Gen Saranjeet Singh, Deputy Chief of Army Staff (IS&T), Indian Army, said, “UN missions have a complex peacekeeping landscape and to create a safe and secure environment for everyone, we need to address the challenges faced by them. We need standardisation of trainings to ensure interoperability of missions. The objective of this workshop is to formulate and share best practices.”

The regional delegation in New Delhi conducts IHL briefings as part of the pre-deployment training for all Indian military peacekeepers as well as peacekeepers from many other countries. Given the significant contribution to UN peacekeeping missions from South Asian countries like India, Nepal and Bangladesh  – which are in the top five troop contributing countries – the regional delegation has been collaborating with CUNPK since 2015 to organise this annual international workshop on IHL and peacekeeping operations for serving officers with UN experiences from India and other countries.