The Multilateralist

Gettleman’s despair on UN peacekeeping

New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman has penned another in what has become a series of searing accounts on African turmoil. He focuses on recent sexual violence in eastern Congo and all but accuses the UN of impotence: But many critics contend that nowhere else in the world has the United Nations invested so much ...

New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman has penned another in what has become a series of searing accounts on African turmoil. He focuses on recent sexual violence in eastern Congo and all but accuses the UN of impotence:

But many critics contend that nowhere else in the world has the United Nations invested so much and accomplished so little. What happened in Luvungi, with nearby peacekeepers failing to respond to a village under siege, is similar to a massacre in Kiwanja in 2008, when rebels killed 150 people within earshot of a United Nations base.

“Congo is the U.N.’s crowning failure,” said Eve Ensler, author of “The Vagina Monologues,” whose advocacy group, V-Day, has been working with Congolese women for years.

It’s a harrowing story and a good reminder of how understaffed and underresourced even the larger UN peacekeeping missions are. For the most part, peacekeepers are operating blind when it comes to intelligence on rebel movements. What’s missing from the piece is any sense of historical or comparative perspective. Reading the article, the reader has no sense that Congo was the epicenter of a huge regional conflict that claimed millions of lives a little over a decade ago or that the country has passed through periods of much more sustained and widespread violence than it experiences today. The peackeeping force of course doesn’t get all the credit for the improved situation, but neither was it irrrelevant to it. I argued a couple of weeks ago that part of peacekeeping’s image problem is that it’s asked to handle some of the world’s worst conflicts and then given very little credit for moving situations from awful to merely bad. At the very least, Gettleman should have included some voices that could offer that perspective. 

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