Joint USI-ICWA UN Webinars, UN Peace Operations: Hostage-taking of Peacekeepers on 29 June 2021

Joint USI-ICWA UN Webinars, UN Peace Operations: Hostage-taking of Peacekeepers on 29 June 2021

Report 

The United Services Institution of India (USI) in collaboration with the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) has planned to conduct a series of theme-based webinars/ seminars on UN Peacekeeping Operations. Conceptualization of the themes and sub-themes were planned and executed by USI with support from ICWA. In this series, the theme of the second webinar was UN Peace Operations: Hostage-taking of Peacekeepers. It was held from 2 PM to 4 PM (IST) on 29 June 2021. The following sub-themes were deliberated in the webinar:

  • Overview of the hostage crisis, its implications and tenets of rescue strategy.
  • Emerging trends in hostage-taking of peacekeepers.
  • Strategy & challenges of hostage rescue when peacekeepers from larger TCCs are taken hostage (UNAMSIL).
  • Strategy when peacekeepers from smaller TCCs are taken hostage (UNDOF)

The following speakers participated in the webinar:

  • Chair – Ambassador Dinkar Srivastava (Retd), Former JS (UNP), MEA.
  • Speakers:
  • Col (Dr) KK Sharma (Retd), Former Military Observer UNTAC.
  • Lieutenant General V K Jetley, PVSM, UYSM (Retd) – Former Force Commander of UNAMSIL.
  • Lieutenant General I S Singha, AVSM, VSM (Retd) – Former Head of Mission and Force Commander of UNDOF (Golan Heights).
  • Major General PK Goswami, VSM (Retd) – Former UN Military Observer in UNAVEM and presently Deputy Director (A&C) USI.

Webinar proceedings were initiated by Major General Goswami, followed by Opening Remarks by Dr TCA Raghavan, DG, ICWA. Dr Raghavan highlighted that the Hostage Taking of UN Peacekeepers, which is topical and how it would impact the effectiveness of the peace operations when the peacekeepers themselves are not safe, has become a bigger challenge. It was brought out that the challenges of the intra-state conflicts have made the peacekeepers more vulnerable to the growing asymmetric threat in complex peace operations.

Ambassador Dinkar Srivastava (Retd) chaired the session and he deliberated on the overview of the hostage crisis, its implications and tenets of rescue strategy and set the stage for other speakers. He pointed out that the gap between mandate and allocation of resources is a significant problem for peacekeeping missions. In a hostage situation, there exists the dilemma to negotiate or not, since it gives legitimacy to the rebel groups.

Col (Dr) KK Sharma (Retd) highlighted the emerging trends in hostage-taking of peacekeepers. He highlighted that UN peacekeeping is adapting to a new environment that not only includes just the host states but also armed rebels, terrorists, organised crime cartels, street gangs, political exploitation and other threats. Due to this, the UN Flag no longer offers protection and violence against UN peacekeepers. The aim of hostage-taking is primarily to make political gains. Coordination among multiple UN agencies and components is a significant challenge in a hostage situation. To deal with the issue of the hostage crisis in peacekeeping missions; post-induction training on safety for Peacekeepers, cooperation between UN, TCC/PCC and civil components, and training of special negotiators; needs special attention.

Lieutenant General V K Jetley (Retd) spoke on the strategy & challenges of hostage rescue when peacekeepers from larger TCCs are taken hostage (UNAMSIL). He highlighted that though UNAMSIL was initially mandated under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, it ended up fighting a war as rebel forces attacked UNAMSIL peacekeepers after the peace accord broke down. What was supposed to be a peacekeeping mission turned into a peace enforcement mission. The lesson learned from Sierra Leone is that mismatch between mandate and resources allotted results in avoidable criticalities, and hence it needs very fine coordination between various UN agencies involved in the peacekeeping mission.

Lieutenant General I S Singha shared his experience on the strategy and the challenges of hostage rescue when peacekeepers from smaller TCCs are taken hostage (UNDOF). He highlighted that it was a simple peacekeeping observer mission and lacked the resources for self-protection. Though the mission leadership should have control over the prevailing security environment, it is more important to have a multi-pronged approach to mitigate such threats. What emerged after studying several case studies on the previous hostage crisis in UN Missions that there is no better alternative other than negotiation and mediation as a strategy for hostage rescue.

During closing remarks, Maj Gen PK Goswami (Retd), Dy Director, USI; highlighted that the increasingly volatile environment into which UN peace operations are deployed today and the demanding tasks being mandated require immediate and serious consideration. He apprised that it has come out in today’s discussion that to counter this growing threat to the peacekeepers, there is now better awareness and emphasis on force protection measures and robust rules of engagement. Even the mandates have become stronger, allowing the peacekeepers to use force and any other means as necessary to ensure their safety.

 

Webinar 29 June 2021 from 2 PM to 4.15 PM.

UN Peace Keeping Operations:
Hostage taking of UN Peacekeepers

Concept

Earlier, UN peacekeeping was generally associated with traditional peace operations inter-state conflicts. Peacekeepers were deployed inside a neutral and mutually agreed zone with the expectation of supervising an agreed ceasefire and prevent the recurrence of the violation until the cessation of hostilities. Since the armies of the states who were at war were separated by the peacekeepers deployed in the temporary security zone, they generally did not encounter the civilian population or the military of the states except in peculiar situations like deployment of UNIFIL in Lebanon. However, with the increasing number of intra-state conflicts and growing intensity of the violence, the peacekeepers often themselves become the target of violence. The threat to the life of peacekeepers can come in varying forms like getting caught in the crossfire of intra-armed group rivalry, direct attack by the armed elements or even at times being taken as hostages. Hostage taking of the peacekeepers by the armed groups in the conflict zone is often politically motivated. To counter the growing physical threat to the peacekeepers, there is now more emphasis on force protection measures
and robust rules of engagement. Even the mandates have become stronger allowing the peacekeepers to use force and any other means as necessary to ensure their safety. But to free the hostages from their captors has multiple challenges. The use of force is generally retaliated and in the case of missions, where only unarmed observers are deployed, it will need a different approach to secure the release of hostages. The challenges can be more complicated when there is a presence of armed terrorist groups in the conflict zone. Eventually, response strategy to hostage-taking cannot be uniform and would vary as per the prevailing crisis. Analysis of the past hostage taking incidents, however, is important to draw lessons for prevention and resolution of such crisis in future. This webinar will deliberate on the nuances of challenges of hostage and response from the UN and the TCCs. The webinar seeks to address the following issues:-
1. An overview of threat of hostage-taking of peacekeepers, implications, and tenets of macro rescue strategy.
2. Strategies, planning and execution of a hostage rescue in the context of two field missions (traditional and non-traditional peacekeeping operations):
a) Strategy and challenges of hostage rescue when peacekeepers from larger TCCA are taken hostages (UNAMSIL).
b) Strategy when peacekeepers from smaller TCCs are taken hostages (UNDOF).

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