Bigio Makes Big Impact on SPECPOL

EMILY C. SCHEPPEGRELL, THE ECONOMIST (opinion)

The Special Political and Decolonization Committee (SPECPOL) welcomed Jamille Bigio as their guest speaker Friday afternoon. Bigio served under the Obama administration as a director for human rights and gender on the White House National Security Council, and worked with the United Nations in Africa and the Middle East on disaster management. She concisely laid out all the issues facing UN Peacekeeping and then answered delegate questions without hesitation.

She suggested options to reform operations, such as the potential creation of a two-stage process regarding mandates, involving reviewing mandates to learn and adapt.

Mandates instruct peacekeepers on how much force to use and what situations they can act in. However, strictly following the mandate can hold peacekeepers back from achieving sustainable peace. Reviewing mandates and adapting them to be adjust to the present situation will authorize peacekeepers to take action rather than standing by.

An influential element Bigio highlighted to the committee was involvement of female peacekeepers and police personnel. She mentioned the commitment governments of UN Peacekeeping participant nations made in September 2016 to double the number of women in peacekeeping by 2020. Bigio emphasized the importance of female peacekeepers by describing a situation in Liberia. The first all-female peacekeeping unit in history was deployed into Liberia. Observers attributed an increase in local female participation in security to this, from six percent to 17 percent by the time the peacekeepers left. In addition, more women reported gender-based violence and assault to female officers. This results in a cycle. After the unit in Liberia left, their inspiration for countless women to take leadership roles, would inspire even more.

Next, Bigio stressed the importance of better training and leadership to enact peacekeepers. She discussed past historical examples in which peacekeepers failed to respond in a timely and effective manner. Peacekeeping forces are too “risk-averse,” and protecting citizens requires peacekeepers to behave proactively out in the field.

Bigio noted the gravity of accountability concerning sexual exploitation cases with peacekeepers. Again, more and better training will ensure peacekeepers follow their mandate and improve relationships in the communities. The people they protect must be able to turn to peacekeepers for support. “These kinds of trainings have proved effective,” Bigio says, “but they aren’t mandatory… Not all peacekeepers that are deployed in contexts where we know sexual violence is an issue have been trained to respond.”

Next, Bigio presented another option to improve operations to the delegates. Peace operations need more global leaders to expand priorities of communities when shaping and designing mandates. Responding to the needs of communities and partnering with them will create a link, allowing peacekeepers to better fulfill their mission. She mentioned involving religious leaders, or others with invested interests to create a more people-centered approach.

Bigio concluded by mentioning how several missions are based in situations with active conflict, where “there is no peace to keep”. Peacekeeping operations must be reformed in order to fulfill their purpose of creating sustainable peace. SPECPOL listened avidly to her speech and ideas, which would benefit any discussion or working paper.

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Jamille Bigio, photo from Harvard Kennedy School website

https://www.hks.harvard.edu/index.php/centers/wappp/for-students/summer-fellowship-program/fellowship-alumni/cultural-bridge-alumni/2008

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