With the goal of promoting world peace, and as an expression of gratitude for the support that the United Nations (UN) gave Colombia during its years of conflict, in 2015 the Colombian government pledged to designate a group of men and women from its armed and police forces to serve in peacekeeping missions. To give continuity to this initiative, the Joint Training Center for Peacekeeping Operations (CENCOPAZ, per its Spanish acronym) was established.
“The experience gained during our internal conflict has equipped Colombia with the capacity for effectively tackling problems such as terrorism, organized crime, and other conflict situations,” Colombian Army Colonel Juan Carlos Ortiz, the chief of planning at CENCOPAZ, told Diálogo. “As an army that has been tested on the ground, we have a lot to contribute to peacekeeping around the world.”
The training course for UN peacekeeping instructors was held in Bogotá the fourth week of June, with 54 officers and non-commissioned officers from across the country participating. These future instructors will multiply the UN’s standards, protocols, and values to restore order, with the plan of deploying the first support components to peacekeeping missions in mid-2018. The UN has 15 peacekeeping operations around the world, the majority of them in Africa and the Middle East.
“This is the first time that our country participates in large military components in another country. This involves an operational and logistical challenge because the geographical and cultural conditions are quite different, as well as the manner in which conflict situations are dealt with,” Col. Ortiz said. “It’s a challenge that we take on eagerly, reinforcing these peacekeeping initiatives.”
Studies are being conducted to determine which missions the country can assist. The special assistance provided by the Colombian Armed Forces revolves around disasters, humanitarian demining, special forces, the police force, engineering, and river and air infantry units.
Instructors from Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Pakistan, and Uruguay were in charge of the training process. First, all of the students were brought together to inform them about the UN’s general regulations. Then they took courses according to their specialty: joint staff, special forces, aviation, navy, and police.
“This has been an excellent experience because we’re going to support peacekeeping missions. In Colombia, we’re still transitioning to move beyond our internal conflict, and it’s exciting to have the opportunity to contribute strategies that we’ve already tested and that we know can create solutions,” stated Colombian Army Captain Oliver Rodríguez, the personnel chief for CENCOPAZ and a new instructor for the UN peacekeeping missions.
“The UN is delighted to have us because they know that our conflict happened on complex terrain, in extreme climates with social complexities of all kinds,” Capt. Rodríguez said. “Also, they want to see how they can use our experience in conflict situations outside of Colombia.”
Challenges facing peacekeeping operations
The Colombian Army is regionally recognized for its great operational and logistical capacities. Its tactics and procedures have been tested on the ground over decades, and its personnel are used to taking on precarious situations. Even so, all of that experience was gained solely within the country’s borders.
“The Colombian Army has a lot to learn and consolidate in terms of calmly taking on a conflict in the way that the UN is proposing,” Capt. Rodríguez said. “International human rights and humanitarian law were implemented several years ago, but being party to an internal conflict for so long leads to a different perspective and attitude. That’s why this type of training is so important.”
“Issues such as respect for the uniqueness of the people in conflict, knowledge of their culture and socio-political situation, the origin of the conflicts, an emphasis on more humane treatment of others regardless of which side they’re on, and using force only as a last resort, among other things, is what we need to instill in our troops,” Col. Ortiz added. Another challenge ahead is training women to participate in peacekeeping missions, as the UN requires 10 to 15 percent female participation in these missions. Two women participated in this course, one from the Army and the other from the Air Force. They, in turn, will pass on their knowledge to other female service members at their home duty stations.
UN peacekeeping missions can last several years, even decades. Each service member belongs to a mission for six to 12 months. The training challenge starts with psychological training and includes an understanding of new techniques for humanely dealing with issues, sociocultural knowledge about the new workplace, and the use of English and French.