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United States urges UN peacekeepers to use force to protect civilians

The United States has called on countries to authorize their United Nations peacekeeping troops to use force to protect civilians. The initiative has been backed by Rwanda and the Netherlands.

The United States on Wednesday threw its weight behind an initiative to give UN peacekeepers authority to use military force against armed groups to protect civilians in danger.

Twenty-nine countries, representing about a third of UN peacekeepers, have signed on to the so-called Kigali Principles, which US Ambassador Samantha Power told a high-level UN meeting would "make peacekeeping missions more effective, improve security and save lives."

"The Kigali Principles are designed to make sure that civilians are not abandoned by the international community again," Power said, recounting the failure of UN peacekeeping missions in Rwanda and Bosnia to prevent genocide in the 1990s.

The principles call for troop-contributing countries to give UN peacekeeping commanders authority to use force against "armed actors with clear hostile intent to harm civilians," without waiting for approval.

"If a commander has to wait hours and hours for guidance from capital, it may mean not being able to react in time to repel a fast-approaching attack on a nearby village," Power said.

The initiative was started by Rwanda, the Netherlands and United States last year.

"The blue flag needs to stand for protection and it doesn't always," Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told the meeting in New York.

Dutch peacekeepers stood by as Serbs massacred Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995. The failure to intervene has been a stain on the Dutch conscience ever since.

In 1994, Rwanda was abandoned by UN peacekeepers during the genocide that left 800,000 ethnic Hutus dead. Some 6,000 Rwandan troops now participate in UN peacekeeping missions.

The United States has a limited UN peacekeeping role but is the largest financial contributor to missions.

Only 29 countries accounting for about 40,000 troops have agreed to the principles, including large contributors like Bangladesh and Ethiopia.

India and Pakistan, two other major contributors, as well as three permanent Security Council members - Britain, France and Russia - have not signed on.

Power urged the UN to prioritize deploying peacekeeping forces from countries that have signed on to the Kigali Principles to missions with mandates to protect civilians in volatile environments.

Ninety-eight percent of all UN missions have a mandate to protect civilians, compared to zero some two decades ago.

Watch video 01:46

The cost of UN peacekeeping

cw/cmk (AP, AFP)

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