United Nations

Blue Helmets: Endeavoring for Peace and Trust in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Being deployed as a Military Public Information Officer, MPIO (PAKRDB-6), under HQ Southern Sector in the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) since February 2021, I take this as an opportunity to highlight the relentless efforts of the Pakistani peacekeepers working under the ambit of HQ Southern Sector. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), continuous conflict coupled with COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the vulnerability of the affected population. In the backdrop of the pandemic, the task of upholding MONUSCO’s mandate has become ever more challenging for the peacekeepers. I would like to highlight the brief history of the mission; MONUSCO’s mandate and efforts made by PAKRDB-6 in this regard. The activities include operational aspects, cooperation with local stakeholders, law enforcement elements, training cadres, medical support, Winning Hearts and Minds (WHAM) and Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) activities, Female Engagement Teams’ (FETs) contributions, Quick Impact Projects (QIPs), and contributions of Pakistan Army Aviation Unit towards peace and stability in the area of responsibility (AOR).

Serving Humanity
There exist far more dangerous weapons than guns and weapons, such as poverty, hunger, lack of education, poor healthcare, injustice and unemployment that are clawing deeper and deeper into the societies, thus adding to human suffering. Unfortunately, those sufferings do not just end here. These utter miseries are augmented by a few challenges, that are bigger in volume and gravity. Time has shown that disputes, conflicts and power struggles emanating at the local level spread out like wildfire. Power hungry barons are nurturing armed groups trying to safeguard their interests, thereby threatening the existence. The fact remains that the ultimate sufferer is humanity. 
The principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence are fundamental to any humanitarian action. Any humanitarian action shall be beyond color, caste, creed, discrimination and autonomy of humanitarian objectives such as political, economic, military or other objectives. These principles crystalize what humanitarian aid is and distinguish it from other activities i.e., to deliver life-saving support to those in need without any adverse distinction. Observance of these principles ensures access and acceptance, and helps humanitarian workers and peacekeepers to carry out their work.
A Brief History of MONUSCO
The UN peacekeeping mission in Congo is one of the oldest missions, which started in 1960 as Opération des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC). It then transformed to Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo (MONUC), and on May 28, 2010, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), as per Resolution 1925, extended the mandate of MONUC to MONUSCO, Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation au Congo. On December 18, 2020, UNSC adopted Resolution 2556 thereby renewing MONUSCO's mandate for a year and including, on an exceptional basis, its Intervention Brigade and approved its gradual exit strategy. As per the new mandate, MONUSCO will keep a maximum authorized strength of 14,000 military personnel, 660 military observers and staff officers, 591 police officers and 1,050 members of the formed police units.

DRC was the first mission in which Pakistani peacekeepers participated in 1960 and it continues to host the largest contingent of Pakistani Blue Helmets. Pakistan – one of the largest contributors of peacekeepers in UN peacekeeping operations – is given the responsibility of largest sector out of three i.e., the Southern Sector in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The under command units belong to Pakistan, Indonesia, China, Uruguay and Bangladesh. 
The colossal and unique challenges at DRC remain surmountable due to the unflinching will of the troops and indomitable pledge of allegiance to the UN Charter. The renewed mission mandate emphasizes on the protection of civilians as its top priority, use of force by peacekeepers only under the imminent threat of physical violence and to support the DRC government for stabilization, strengthening of public institutions, and the major governance and security reforms.
During a year-long deployment, each Pakistani battalion makes all endeavors to keep up with the mandate given by MONUSCO. Pakistani peacekeepers work conscientiously to not only ensure the protection of civilians but to also contribute towards capacity-building of the local community and law enforcement elements side by side. Their unwavering commitment to peace is also acknowledged by the senior command from time to time. 

Review of the Activities
A brief review of the activities undertaken by Pakistani peacekeepers in the DRC for enabling the locals while upholding the UN mandate is given below: 

Operational Aspects
▪ Patrolling. 

Community based outreach along with extensive day and night patrolling is regularly carried out to various villages and towns to ascertain the security situation and to acquire first-hand information vis-à-vis difficulties that befall the locals. Besides this, Tactical Aerial Reconnaissance is also carried out to enhance situational awareness and achieve better area familiarization, deter armed groups and dominate the area through force projection. 
▪ Protection of UN Personnel, Installations and Equipment

▪ Provision of Armed Escorts to MONUSCO’s Unarmed Civil Staff

▪ Enhanced Interaction with Civilians to Raise Awareness

▪ Deter Armed Groups

▪ FARDC Capacity-building by Conducting Joint Patrol/Training. Training and strengthening the capacity of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) is an essential element of the post-conflict security sector reform in the DRC. Improving the efficiency of the Congolese military is an essential precondition for increasing FARDC and PNC’s discipline and operational efficiency, therefore, training programs and frequent interactions are held to enable them to fulfill their constitutionally mandated mission to protect the DRC and its people, acting in accordance with national and international laws. 

▪ Regular meetings are conducted with FARDC and PNC Chiefs of different areas in the Southern Sector to assure them of all out support from the contingents of the Southern Sector and discuss training programs and modules for better protection of the community.
▪ For training purpose different cadres related to Rules of Engagement, riot control and psychological counselling sessions are also held regularly. 

Medical Support 

▪ Blue Berets of PAKRDB-6 established free medical camps at various places including COB Sange, at IDPs Camp Kahololo and Bijombo, and COB Kamanyola to address the general health issues of the local community and distribution of medicines. IDPs Chiefs and notables expressed gratitude and appreciated the efforts made by the MONUSCO Force for the well-being of the IDPs through action for peacekeeping.

▪ COVID-19 awareness campaigns were organized by Pakistani peacekeepers where the locals were sensitized about the pandemic and necessary precautions.
▪ A series of lectures were delivered pertaining to common health problems, diseases in the community and their prevention including anti-malaria campaign.
▪ Lectures on diabetes prevention, basic life support, personal hygiene, water purification and patient safety care were also conducted. Moreover, stress counsellors delivered lectures and interacted with communities to raise awareness of mental health issues, how to address them and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health.

WHAM/CIMIC Activities and Contribution of Female Engagement Teams. The idea of Female Engagement Teams (FETs) is another vivid example of creating trust amongst the locals. As a policy mandate, the number of female members in the mission areas is now increasing with the sole purpose of extending a supportive hand to the womenfolk of troubled regions to augment a trust factor between the local populace and female segment of the society. Apropos FETs of PAKRDB-6 frequently interacted with Gender Focal Point at Sange Administration Office to assess HRVs and other issues related to women. FETs also interacted with PNC Chief and lady Police officers to assess women peace and security situation in the AOR and offered optimum support for effective PoC. The ladies warmly welcomed FETs and appreciated the contributions made by the MONUSCO Force for Women Peace and Security (WPS) and pledged to work in synergy for making the life of women better. FETs also visited local schools at Sange and interacted with the school teachers and students.

Celebrations of International Days

▪ On March 8, 2021, women peacekeepers of PAKRDB-6 celebrated the International Women’s Day with gender leaders alongwith lady members of Local Protection Committees (LPCs), civil society and PNC to appreciate their role as “women in leadership” and efforts for WPS.
▪ On June 4, 2021, International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression was solemnized by the FETs of PAKRDB-6 to educate mothers about the various types of violence faced by children in the society and to create an environment of happiness and freedom for children/teenagers. Activities included informative lectures, laughter therapies and singing.

▪ To recognize efforts of the youth in enhancing global society, International Youth Day was celebrated on August 12 at Secondary High School Sange. The theme of the day was ‘Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health’. Students were actively engaged in a discussion related to food transformation and food system challenges.
▪ Pakistani Blue Berets proved their mettle in the provision of emergency medical evacuation and care to the injured. In one such incident, on August 29, 2021, PAKRDB-6 facilitated medical evacuation of 3 injured FARDC soldiers for further treatment at Bukavu. 
▪ The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the greatest intention. On September 5, 2021, in connection with International Charity Day, the FETs made an endeavor to educate the locals of Kijombo Village regarding the purpose of Charity Day. Souvenirs were distributed to instill a sense of charity and welfare amongst them. The village chief and locals acknowledged the efforts of the MONUSCO Force.
▪ On September 21, 2021, International Day of Peace with the theme, ‘Recovering better for an equitable and sustainable world’ was commemorated by the Blue Berets of PAKRDB-6 along with notables including Sange Town Chief, Gender Focal Point, FARDC and PNC Comds, Chief Doctor of Sange Hospital and other representatives of the civil society. While singing songs of peace, all participants vowed to work in collaboration for peace and stability of the region. At the end, City Township Chief appreciated the efforts of the MONUSCO Force for bringing peace in the region. 
▪ During patrolling, Pakistani Blue Helmets helped the local communities by providing them guidance about preventive measures for health issues like diarrhea and vomiting and gave them practical demonstration about making ORS at home to treat electrolyte imbalance caused by it.
▪ Due to the prevailing security environment, about 100 IDPs reached Kahololo to take refuge. Blue Berets of Pakistan rescued IDPs, provided them shelter, food and medical aid.

Quick Impact Projects

▪ Community Welfare Projects
Pakistani peacekeepers planned and undertook multiple community welfare projects within a short timeframe aimed to build trust amongst the locals, upholding the UN mandate. These projects are mostly in line with the needs articulated by the community and include:
▪ Provision of safe water access points.
▪ Reconstruction of bridges and schools.
▪ Installation of street lights
▪ Uplifting of football ground, Sange.
This project was identified by PAKRDB-6 as locals are very enthusiastic about football. The existing football ground was undulated and rough, causing injuries to the players. Administrative facilities for the players and spectators were lacking. However, the project required heavy machinery, and expertise and the timeline was also compressed due to an ongoing Football tournament. Deputy Special Representative for Protection and Operations, Khassim Diagne, did the inauguration. Friendly sports competitions are also held regularly to inculcate the spirit of positivity, team spirit, discipline, building self-esteem and mutual respect. Distribution of stationary items is also carried out among the students as a part of education endeavors. Frequent interactions with the community are also held by Pakistan peacekeepers to address the concerns.

Contribution of Pakistan Army Aviation Unit
Pakistan Army Aviation Unit plays a pivotal role as it provides a highly skilled and professional support to heli missions for the UN peacekeeping operations. They are increasingly mandated to take on a range of multifaceted tasks within a short time span and under tough weather conditions. Their missions require a high level of flexibility, mobility and rapid response. Pakistan Army Aviation Unit has played a vital, multifaceted role: inserting and extracting troops; providing armed escorts; allowing for immediate reaction to situations; facilitating shows of force; monitoring and surveillance; search and rescue; medical and casualty evacuation; and logistics support and communications. 
Peacekeeping is too risky a job, effectively undertaken by UN peacekeepers by risking their lives on foreign lands, where the sole purpose remains world peace. Pakistani peacekeepers have always set the highest standards in upholding the UN mandate, and by ensuring protection of susceptible sections of the population, especially women and children from violence. Pakistani female peacekeepers have also shown exemplary competence, dedication and professionalism and, like their male counterparts, have distinguished themselves in promoting global peace and security. With all those sufferings in mind, UN mandates Blue Helmets to land in troubled areas, address human sufferings, win the trust of the affected people thus ensuring peace. The journey of trust will continue to benefit humanity, like always, when and wherever the Blue Helmets are called to ensure peace.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

–Martin Luther King Jr.

E-mail: [email protected]

Read 248 times