The United Nations and others have led peacekeeping efforts for decades. But in conflict zones, they are often attempting the impossible: preserve peace where none exists.
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Thousands of Bosnian Muslims gathered in Srebrenica on July 11, 2018, to mark the 23rd anniversary of Europe’s worst massacre since World War II and attend the funeral for 35 recently identified victims.
The remains of the men and boys slaughtered at the enclave in July 1995 were laid to rest in the town whose name has become synonymous with the brutality of the 1992-95 Bosnian war. The coffins covered in green cloth were lined up at a memorial center and new burial pits were dug at the massive graveyard that already holds 6,575 victims found previously.
Srebrenica was a UN-protected, Muslim-populated town in eastern Bosnia besieged by Serb forces throughout the war. Serb troops led by General Ratko Mladic overran the enclave, separated men from women and small children and executed about 8,000 men and boys within a few days. Some 30,000 people were violently displaced.
UN peacekeepers, nicknamed blue helmets because of their uniforms, were undermanned, outgunned and failed to intervene.
That was last century. The number of similar conflicts in which it is impossible for mediators—UN or otherwise—to achieve their purpose, or avoid becoming casualties themselves, has increased dramatically since then.
According to the UN: “More lives were lost during the 1990s than in the previous 4 decades combined. In the new millennium, the UN itself became a target: its premises attacked in Baghdad in 2003, Algiers in 2007, and Kabul in 2009. During the past four years (2013-2017) a consistent increase in peacekeeper fatalities due to violent acts resulted in 195 deaths.”
Today, the number of countries involved in “violent conflicts” is the highest in 30 years, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on July 17, 2018. He also stated that the number of people killed in conflicts has risen tenfold since 2005 and that the number of “violent situations” classifiable as wars, based on the number of casualties, has tripled since 2007.
While speaking to reporters in Oslo, Norway, he added that “low-intensity conflicts” rose by 60 percent since 2007.
In an exclusive interview with Vice News, Mr. Guterres explained how complex the world is today versus just a few decades ago.
“We have a multiplication of new conflicts,” he explained. “When I was young, we lived in a bipolar world. We had the Cold War: on one side the United States, on the other the Soviet Union. And when things might risk to be out of control the two superpowers would normally find a way [to deescalate].
“Today we live in a world that is no longer bipolar, and you no longer have wars between countries. You have situations in which in one country there are plenty of different actors. You have government troops, sometimes international troops, ethnic groups, religious groups, political groups, and those conflicts are becoming more and more interlinked.”
Caught in the middle of these conflicts are peacekeeping forces, volunteers and children, three categories of those who should never need to participate in any battle.
The secretary-general summarized the 21st-century peacekeeper conundrum like this: “Peacekeeping was conceived, as the name indicates, to keep the peace…so the idea is, let’s have a force of the UN—blue helmets—that is not supposed to fight. The peacekeepers were supposed to preserve the stability of a country that has reached peace. Now the truth is that most of the peacekeeping operations today are taking place where there is no peace to keep.”
Let those words sink in. No peace to keep.
The nations of the world are banding together in an attempt to bring normalcy to conflict zones so individuals can lead prosperous, happy lives.
Yet, tragically, there is no peace to keep.
Walking the proverbial mile in the shoes of a blue helmet in the African nation of Mali, a volunteer White Helmet working in Syria, or a child growing up in any place ravaged by war demonstrates the incredible complexities—often the impossibility—of peacekeeping missions today.
Extremist groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group are active in Mali, often targeting local security forces and the world’s deadliest active UN peacekeeping mission.
“Here in Timbuktu, people are used to terrorist attacks” said Alassane Ag Idiasse, 30, who works with a private security group used by the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, currently the deadliest in the world.
A branch of al-Qaida set off a car bomb at the headquarters of a new West African counterterror force last June, further destabilizing central Mali as extremist groups expand from remote northern regions where they have had strongholds for years.
A more assertive response by Mali’s security forces has led to accusations of extrajudicial killings, while neighbors turn on each other amid suspicions of joining extremist groups. At least 289 civilians including young children have been killed in communal violence since the beginning of the year, with some burned alive in their homes or killed while hiding in mosques, the United Nations reported.
Extremist attacks in the region have risen over the past year, while tensions grow between ethnic Fulani Muslims and other groups such as the Dogon and Bambara who accuse the Fulani of being recruited by jihadists.
“The Malian army attacks the civilians thinking that they are complicit with the jihadists, and the jihadists attack the civilians thinking that they are complicit with the army. It’s a chaotic situation,” the 32-year-old deputy mayor said. “People are afraid of kamikazes, conflicts in the polling station or even a post-election crisis.”
Five years ago, a French military intervention had pushed al-Qaida-linked fighters from their strongholds in the north and security appeared to be improving. But while the international community has invested millions of dollars in Mali’s government, the situation has deteriorated. French soldiers on patrol in the northeastern city of Gao were targeted just two days after the deadly attack on the G5 Sahel headquarters.
With the absence or weakness of state security in some areas, “some communities have had to make a choice to work with extremists or militias,” Andrew Lebovich, Mali expert and visiting fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations told The Associated Press, adding that Malian forces have made it worse by “targeting [Fulani] in central Mali and by making it clear the state was unwilling to provide security.”
The government has confirmed security forces’ participation in the extrajudicial killings in June of 25 Fulani men in the central Mopti region, and the UN has urged authorities to prevent similar attacks.
“These major crimes threaten communal cohesion in Mali and facilitate jihadist groups’ recruitment efforts. They also undermine the role the international community plays in Mali, including its training programs for the security forces,” Mr. Lebovich wrote in a recent report. “Continuing failure to deal with these issues will only make peace harder to achieve.”
Imagine being a blue helmet deployed to Mali. Amid these conditions, you would soon find yourself asking, “What peace is there to keep?”
White Helmets essentially act as “Syria’s peacekeepers.” The group, which had more than 3,000 volunteers in opposition-held areas, has saved thousands of lives since 2013 and documented government attacks on civilians and other infrastructure. Its volunteers have been repeatedly targeted, and more than 250 have been killed on duty.
White Helmets volunteers trapped in southern Syria after the government seized areas they operated in say they live in fear of being caught in the dragnet of government forces and they are desperately seeking a way out. The peacekeeping volunteers are considered staunch enemies by the Syrian government.
The government and its allies have waged a concerted campaign against the volunteers for years, accusing them of being agents of foreign powers, being terrorists for working in rebel-controlled areas and of staging chemical attacks.
Hundreds of the volunteer rescue workers—who have toiled in conflict-ravaged opposition areas for years—have failed to make it out of southern Syria in a complex international evacuation.
A recent evacuation of more than 400 White Helmets was executed under the cover of darkness across the tightly sealed frontier with the Golan Heights in July as a government offensive unfolded.
In the quickly changing battlefield, the volunteers were unable to access roads to the frontier in time for the first-of-its-kind evacuation that involved international coordination between six countries—Israel, the U.S., Britain, Germany, Jordan and Canada. Advancing government forces and an affiliate of the Islamic State group expanding in the region quickly seized territory as the armed opposition crumbled or surrendered in the face of a month-long government offensive.
Two of the volunteers who could not make it told AP they tried but could not reach the frontier. The two, who have been part of the group for years, had been cleared for evacuation. But they were caught between the ISIS-affiliate militants and government forces.
They were confined to about 3.8 square miles where they could move between several small villages safely.
Such individuals live incognito, using off-roads to avoid government checkpoints, and move in tight circles, often with protection, looking out for any signs of government troop movements. Their villages are besieged by government troops and Russian military police. After living for years under an opposition administration, the Syrian flag now flies in their villages.
One of the two, who oversees a team of 30 volunteers, said he is scrambling to find ways to save them and their families.
“I have four kids and I am wanted. The [government] has declared war on everything that is civil defense,” he said, using the other name for the White Helmets. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being arrested.
The trapped volunteers often meet at night to discuss ways to leave, though they have few options.
“Some show their fear, some hide it. Some try to keep morale high,” said the father of three.
“We are facing an unknown destiny,” he said. “If we knew we face death that would be accepted. But our fate is unknown: torture, detention, maybe death or maybe survival if we are lucky,” he said. “Life without hope or dreams is more difficult than dying.”
Again, if you were one of these White Helmets, what kind of peace would you be able to keep?
More than 10,000 children were killed or maimed amid armed conflicts worldwide in 2017, while others were raped, forced to serve as soldiers or caught in attacks on schools and hospitals, a June United Nations report said.
A total of more than 21,000 violations of children’s rights were reported in 2017—a sharp increase from the previous year, according to the annual “Children and Armed Conflict” report.
Among the casualties tallied in the report were child soldiers as young as 11 fighting in Yemen’s civil war and in other countries, the UN said.
“The point is, these kids should not be treated like children of a lesser God; they deserve the same rights as every kid to live their lives at least meaningfully and to be given a chance at recovery,” said Virginia Gamba, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict.
She said the report left UN Secretary-General Guterres feeling “outraged.”
The 21,000 violations of children’s rights included 10,000 who were slain or maimed, especially in Iraq, Myanmar, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, the report said.
The total was a dramatic increase from 15,500 such cases counted in 2016. “The secretary-general is outraged at this number, a significant increase compared to previous years,” said his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.
Among the report’s findings:
Almost half the 881 verified child casualties in Nigeria resulted from suicide attacks, including the use of children as human bombs. Over 1,900 children were detained because of their or their parents’ alleged association with the Boko Haram militant organization.
At least 1,036 children were held in Iraqi detention facilities on national security-related charges, mostly for their alleged association with the Islamic State group.
1,221 children were recruited and used as soldiers in South Sudan.
The al-Shabab extremist group in Somalia allegedly abducted more than 1,600 children, some recruited and armed and others who became victims of sexual violence.
Children in Myanmar, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen were prevented from receiving life-saving support.
Syrian children were trapped in besieged areas amid deteriorating living conditions.
Ms. Gamba said government forces in various nations were responsible for about 9,000 violations.
If you were a child growing up in such calamitous conditions, you and your entire generation may have never even seen peace—let alone know how to keep it.
These heart-wrenching stories from across the globe speak for themselves. If there was ever anything that could have been called “peace” in these places, it is now long gone and nowhere to be found.
Mr. Guterres made a great point. Peacekeepers are not equipped to operate without peace.
War and peace are opposites. The two cannot coexist. You either have peace, or you have war. Yet both are outcomes, not sources, of different social conditions.
In the case of Mali, for example, religious antagonism is one such social condition. Religious tensions are often a major factor in wars across the globe. It is a sad irony. Most religions claim to be belief systems working to establish peace, order and the wellbeing of individuals. Far too often, the opposite is the case!
The Bible is a religious text used by many to establish their worldview. The book has been misquoted and misinterpreted to justify some of the worst wars mankind has ever witnessed. Yet it also speaks of a solution to today’s crisis.
In Matthew 5:9, Jesus Christ stated: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” Realize what is being said here. What this world’s conflicts lack are not more peacekeepers. What is needed are peacemakers.
There is a big difference: a peacekeeper knows how to keep peace that already exists. A peacemaker knows how to make peace when there is none.
Some people have the natural ability to enter a situation where there is peace and remove it. Sadly, there are plenty of those kinds all over the world. Others can enter the same situation and maintain an existing peace—we call them peacekeepers, and good ones are not easy to find.
Peacemakers are another story. It takes a special kind of individual with unique, specialized training, wisdom, tact and skill, to enter a situation where there is no peace whatsoever, and make it happen regardless of the circumstances. Those are the ones the Bible speaks of. Such people do exist, and they are rare birds. We desperately need more of them now.
Peacekeepers are simply not enough. As the world turns into a more peaceless place, true peacemakers are what is needed. But where are they found?
The Bible also explains why world conflicts will continue to escalate before conditions on Earth take a dramatic turn for the better. That change will involve real peacemakers, with unmatched ability to establish peace, whom God is now actively preparing to intervene as you read these words.
This fascinating, soon-coming worldwide peacemaking effort was foretold millennia ago. If you want to see the atrocities this article described end, you will want to know all about it.
International peacekeeping efforts will only go so far without true peace being made first. Only after that intervention, which the Bible reveals is coming soon, will there finally be peace to keep.
To find out more, read How World Peace Will Come!