Saviours and villains: time to re-think our view of the UN?

31 July 2015 | Marijn van de Geer

Marijn van de Geer is the director at Resolution:Possible. Although our emphasis lies on sharing points of view by others, sometimes we like to share our own thoughts or experiences when they are especially relevant to the work of ResPoss.

UN; The Rescuers; Disney; Congo; rape; Russia; aviation;

Innocent interpretations – A UN-like organisation as portrayed by Disney’s The Rescuers. To many people in countries at peace and relative economic stability the United Nations is there to ‘do good’: protect the innocent, bring peace, and uphold human rights.

Anyone who watched The Whistle Blower will not be surprised at today’s press release about the United Nations’ continuing to hire a Russian aviation company which was known to have at least one crew member guilty of drugging and raping a teenage girl in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The aviation company, called UTair, was contracted as part of the UN’s stabilisation mission in the east of the country. The mission known as MONUSCO (short for Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo – United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) has been a topic of conversation for Resolution:Possible for several years now, and sadly this kind of news comes as no great surprise.

For us at ResPoss, the most urgent aspect of stories like this coming to the foreground is the question: Who is the UN for? In ‘western’ media (from our news outlets to Hollywood blockbusters) the UN is seen as ‘the good guys’. They are the ones who are there to keep the peace, protect the innocent. However, we have often wondered how much of that is true in the eyes of those who are victims of endless war atrocities.

Bosnia; United Nations; The whistle blower; Rachel Weisz;

Rachel Weisz in The Whistleblower (2010) which is set in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1999. It tells the story of a sex trafficking ring serving and facilitated by staff at DynCorp, a private military contractor (which started out as an aviation company) hired by the UN. The UN’s SFOR peacekeeping force turning a blind eye while all this was going on. Image – a still via aceshowbiz.com.

The film The Whistle Blower is of course the story of a completely different situation, however it touches on an issue that rings true in the case of the UTair in DR Congo as well: these are men who in our eyes are there to protect women, children, civilians, and enable peace. But at the end of the day, even the men and women sent out by the UN are just that: men and women. Capable of good. But also: capable of things we often can’t even imagine.

Although we are not at all in favour of having an outright view on issues, but rather open up conversation where all views can be heard on an equal level, Resolution:Possible has often argued that sending in more ‘men with guns’ is not necessarily going to help the people they were sent out to help in the first place. Whatever progress the UN has made in DRC, and there surely is some, to the people living there trying to gather their lives back together, the troops sent in by the UN are just more men with guns. And men with guns are bad news. Regardless of who sent them.

As your typical western white middle class girl, I grew up believing the UN was the one body that would always look after the innocent (forgive the reference, but I did grow up with The Rescuers (Disney, 1977) as my first concept of what the UN stands for). And although I firmly believe that the majority of people working in this institution are there for the right reasons, there are clearly mistakes being made which urgently need to be looked at. Who is the the UN there for? Are they really there to protect the local people of the country they have been sent to? Or are they there protecting the interests of the countries that sent them? If the latter, what does that mean in terms of the troops’ views on the local population they are there to protect? Is the drugging and raping of a teenage Congolese girl the way we would expect someone to treat a girl they respect and see as their equal? The truth is, just because we are ‘sending in UN troops’ does not mean we have resolved anything. In many cases we can argue that the situation deteriorates when more troops with guns are sent in.

As always, we unfortunately don’t have the answer. But I do hope that we can start talking about this. I hope it won’t always take a report leaked to a major UK newspaper to start conversations about these kinds of occurrences. It is no good believing that the UN is somehow above ordinary men and women and will therefore not make horrific human mistakes. Instead we need to really think about what it means when we send foreign troops into these kinds of fragile situations like that of eastern DRC where people have frankly gone through more than anyone should ever have to go through.

The question is: how can we provide peace and safety and not cause any further suffering? Is military intervention equipped to do this? If it isn’t, then what is? I would love to know what you think. We really need to start talking about this.

Resolution:Possible’s research will help you learn more.

Find out more about: the Democratic Republic of Congo

Find our more about: the UN mission MONUSCO

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