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Promoting Accountability for War Crimes: Should UN Peacekeepers be involved?

Tom Buitelaar is an Assistant Professor in the War, Peace & Justice programme of the Institute of Security and Global Affairs. This paper discusses four important challenges to the involvement of UN peace operations in international criminal justice: its effects on host state relations, peace and justice dilemmas, its effects on impartiality, and the problems with capacity and training.

Tom Buitelaar
21 January 2022
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For some, this may raise the question of to which degree it is a good idea for the UN to be involved in criminal accountability efforts. History suggests that the UN has taken a cautious approach in its field missions. In previous research, I found that UN actors have tended to prioritize other goals (peace, stability, host state relations) over criminal justice when these goals came into conflict. However, when it could do so with limited negative repercussions, the UN has usually assisted efforts to enhance criminal accountability for perpetrators of war crimes. This has tended to work well, but it has also contributed to the kind of criminal justice we have seen so far, one that is selective and limited, and is largely doled out against those who have lost wars or are unable to defend themselves with sufficient force. As such, I would argue that the UN should reconsider its role in international criminal justice, and rethink the positive and negative consequences of its involvement in order to secure a more equitable stance when confronted with these challenges.

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