Iguacu Blog

From peacekeeper to peacemaker? Understanding the role of the United Nations in CAR

Aug 14, 2017
From peacekeeper to peacemaker? Understanding the role of the United Nations in CAR
Blandine Sixdenier
Lead Researcher, Central Africa, Due Diligence Coordinator

Blandine holds a Masters in Conflict Studies from the LSE and a BA in Political Science from Université Laval. She formerly worked at the French Ministry of Defense and at Advention Business Partners. She speaks French and English.

The United Nations (UN) launched its first peacekeeping mission in Africa in 1960. Since then, over 20 operations have been authorized throughout the African continent. The UN operation in the Central African Republic (CAR) represents one of the last threads of security for many Central Africans as officials warn of genocide. Blandine Sixdenier, in a 3 part series, takes a closer look at the UN’s role in keeping the peace in one of Africa’s most dangerous countries.

On August 7, Stephen O’Brien, the Under-Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs, warned the international community of early signs of genocide in the Central African Republic. This is the second time in four years.

“I am extremely alarmed by the increased scale and atrocity of needless and brutal violence in the country since the beginning of 2017” Stephen O’Brien

Over the past two decades, the United Nations (UN) has launched three peacekeeping operations in CAR. The latest, called MINUSCA, was established in 2014. This three part series will explore the changing role of the UN, the challenges & successes in the Central African mission, and what lies ahead for the people of CAR.


With the end of the Cold War, the UN redefined its peacekeeping framework. Based on three guiding principles — consent of local parties, impartiality, and non-use of force except in self-defense — traditional UN peacekeeping missions were charged with keeping the peace. UN operations dealt with the aftermath of conflict, once ceasefires or peace agreements had been signed.

Helmet and Flack Jackets of Peacekeepers | Photo Credit: UN Photo/Marie Frechon

In reaction to the failures to protect civilians in 1994 in Rwanda, and in 1995 in Bosnia, the then UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, appointed a review panel that produced the 2000 Brahimi report. The report acknowledged the necessity to balance the principle of non-use of force, with the need to halt violence against civilians.

In 2008, pursuing its effort to reform its peacekeeping department, the UN adopted the Capstone Doctrine. Providing clear guidelines to its operations, the Capstone Doctrine confirmed the three principles — consent of the parties, impartiality, and non-use of force except in the self-defense — and extended the power to use force to protect civilians.

Throughout its efforts to improve its peacekeeping missions, the UN has maintained a neutral third party status — to highlight the fact the organisation only implements peace processes. Though the doctrine of peacekeeping has not evolved significantly, the UN has approved missions with robust mandates amounting to peace enforcement rather than conflict management.


Launched in the midst of conflict in 2014, the goal of MINUSCA was to contribute to the stabilization of the Central African Republic by supporting the transitional political process, whilst protecting civilians from armed groups.

A MINUSCA peacekeeper | Photo Credit: UN Photo/Catianne Tijerina

MINUSCA’s mandate was then revised in July 2016 to adapt to the changing situation on the ground. A new president had been elected in March, and the French military operation, which had played a key role in preventing violence against civilians, was scheduled to withdraw.

“We are now deeply inside a critical phase of mandate implementation and MINUSCA must stay the course to consolidate progress towards peace, even as we must recognize the magnitude of the adversity we face today” — Parfait Onanga-Anyanga (Head of MINUSCA)

In order to maintain an adequate security level, the UN strengthened the MINUSCA mandate, authorizing the use of robust actions to protect civilians, and promote and protect human rights. MINUSCA was tasked to “maintaining a proactive deployment” with “active patrolling”, and charged to help the government restore its authority throughout the country.

By allowing the mission to reduce threats posed by armed groups, MINUSCA had acquired a peace enforcement dimension.


While the fundamental framework of the UN doctrine underpins the principle that the UN does not wage war, MINUSCA, on paper, has been granted offensive powers to deal with violent armed groups that threaten the safety of civilians.

President of CAR, Faustin-Archange Touadéra | Photo credit: UN Photo/Nektarios Markogiannis

Despite the strong mandate, MINUSCA has brought mixed results. On the one hand, the people of CAR were able to peacefully and democratically elect a president in March 2016, and a Special Criminal Court is in the process of being established to investigate and prosecute human rights violations.

On the other, the number of displaced people has risen to over 530,000 due to spiraling violence, and roughly half the population are in need of humanitarian assistance to survive.

Blandine’s next blog will discuss the challenges the UN mission faces while trying to keep, and instill, peace in CAR. Since September 2016, violence has escalated throughout the East and Southeast of the country, killing hundreds and raising the number of displaced civilians to 1 in 5.

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