The Chilean Congress's recent approval of the deployment of Armed Forces Officers to the United Nations (UN) Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) is not only a confirmation of the promises the President of the Republic made to the United Nations last September, it is also one more manifestation of Chile’s commitment to the international principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).
The R2P's goal is to protect civilians in dangerous situations, in violent circumstances, and/or during a conflict within a nation-state where the domestic authorities and institutions are incapable of protecting civilians, or where they represent the main threat. In his speeches before the General Assembly in 1999 and 2000, then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan challenged the Member States to resolve the conflict between the rights and duties of a sovereign state, and the international community’s responsibility to respond to the occurrence of ethnic cleansings and massive crimes in the context of domestic situations.
This challenge was accepted in 2001 by a group of international experts that formed the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty under the auspices of the Canadian government. In a published report defining the scope and implications of the R2P concept, they issued a call to the international community to take action in cases like those in Bosnia and Rwanda. The responsibility to protect consists of three main elements: prevention, response, and reconstruction. It is the response phase in which measures are considered that include, as a last resort, a Military intervention authorized by the Security Council.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's intervention in Libya is the example of applying this principle. In this case, the international community agreed to protect Libyan civilians who were being threatened by Muammar Gaddafi's forces. However, the crisis in Syria revealed that the principle cannot be applied contrary to the interests of a country with a vote on the Security Council. Russia’s support for the government of Bashar al-Assad and China’s policy of non-interference in countries’ internal affairs combined to make it infeasible to have a resolution approved that was aimed at protecting the Syrian people.
The Central African Republic has been the stage for several domestic crises since it became independent in 1960. The situation that led to the current UN mission dates to 2013 and the confrontations between the Muslim and Christian communities in that African country. The Seleka (Muslim) rebel group’s conquest of the capital city, Bangui, its overthrow of the sitting president, and the violent reaction of the Anti-Balaka (Christian) movements unleashed chaos across the country. It resulted in massive violations of human rights and a humanitarian crisis that to date has left 25,000 refugees in neighboring countries and has displaced 300,000 civilians, according to the UN.
Chile’s experience with peacekeeping operations in Africa began in 2003, when the Chilean government approved a six-month deployment of a medical team to support the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Meanwhile, another dozen years passed before a Chilean president would again commit to the international community by sending troops to Africa.
UN organizes leader summit
In September, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and nine Member States organized a leader summit to expand and diversify the base of military and police resources, thereby optimizing future UN peacekeeping missions. At that time, Chile promised to increase its contributions to the Blue Helmets, especially in critical areas, such as air transport vehicles, engineering units, and field hospitals.
Chile’s contributions will be made in three stages. Beginning this year, four Armed Forces Staff officers will be deployed to the MINUSCA mission headquarters. Next, the Andean nation will provide an engineering company for horizontal construction and a group of mid-sized helicopters to support humanitarian operations. Finally, Chile will increase the nation’s involvement with a Military Medical Unit.
R2P's premises are present in the majority of mandates for peacekeeping operations, and MINUSCA is no exception. Therefore, the first group of service members to join this mission and the units that will participate in the medium term will represent Chile’s contribution to achieving the UN’s most fundamental goal in this African country: protect civilians in the Central African Republic in light of the absence of basic government institutions and services that would otherwise be able to provide civilians at least minimal conditions of security and well-being.
Lieutenant Colonel Alejandro Amigo is a researcher at the War Academy Center for Studies and a Senior Fellow at the Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect at Toronto University.