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How Canadian Military Values Guided Humanitarian Activities in UN Peacemaking Missions



This paper will show how Canadian values guided humanitarian efforts so they were properly coordinated. Thus needy people were looked after. I was deployed on UN duty in Croatia as the Senior Operations Officer in two separate but very dangerous Sectors in Croatia. I must say my position was UN-delegated, not a Canadian one. Therefore, I reported to UNHQ in Zagreb. The mandate in the Sectors was for peacekeeping. However, the warring parties seldom adhered to the peace agreements and many situations resulted in death and injuries. Civilian casualties rose as hostilities continued.  The idea of UN peacekeeping suffered accordingly.

In September 1993, I was moved from Sector West to Sector South. It was the largest of the four UN sectors in Croatia with three battalions, including one Canadian. Besides the usual military tasks, Canadians were always mindful of humanitarian needs, based on our values.

On my arrival in Sector South HQ, I discovered the magnitude of the staff problem there, with their inability to manage much, as they were barely capable of conducting their military functions, let alone give any thought to humanitarian aspects. From what I heard about the Sector before my move, I was very concerned and quickly learned the HQ was in worse shape than I thought.

Despite the many humanitarian agencies in the Sector, there was no coordination of activities, no sharing of information or managing requests etc. After discussions with several UN staff, it was clear guidance was needed. This was not a military task, however, one I was prepared to help develop. I suggested a weekly humanitarian conference be held with all stake holders to discuss and coordinate activities so everyone was fully aware of just what support was needed.

I provided a room for the meeting. However, its management was the responsibility of the Sector UNHCR Rep. She needed coaching on how to run such meetings but was willing to learn. We drafted an initial agenda and discussed how to cover each item. I briefed them on security issues and coordinated requests for military support to help them in their humanitarian tasks. Each agency briefed about what they provided, plus about what they could do and were not allowed to do. After the first few meetings, humanitarian agencies began to properly provide coordinated support to the Sector.

As an example how things now operated: in November to December 1993, the Sector was hit by several very heavy snowstorms that blocked access into the Sector. Despite a lack of snow clearing capabilities, the system now in effect worked because all the agencies provided support, with the result that no civilian casualties happened due to cold weather injuries. Military medical staff visited medical facilities to help ensure supplies were available. It worked in Sector South because we managed to get all agencies to work together, unlike the situation that was in place prior to September 1993.

Thanks to our principles and values, the Canadian military showed that it is ready to assist humanitarian agencies plan and execute operations to care for people. It is a vital task, freely done, because the need is always there. It is important to remember that the military is just one agency that can assist but does not have the mandate to coordinate or run such activities. It worked in Sector South because we managed to get all agencies to work together.


By: John Davidson (retired LCol Canadian Army 1959-1966)

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