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US Congress Urged to Support Permanent UN Force

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS - The U.S. Congress is under increasing pressure to support the creation of a new UN peacekeeping force that would help stop armed conflicts in the world before they turn into a Darfur-like humanitarian catastrophe.

A wide array of civil society groups sent a letter to federal legislators today urging them to support the proposed House Resolution 213 calling for the formation of the new force, named the UN Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS).

Signed by as many as 37 humanitarian and peace organizations, the letter noted with concern that, in recent years, despite repeated calls for rapid and effective action, the world community has failed to tackle emerging crises.

The groups blamed the failure to respond effectively to emergency situations on the lack of appropriate tools, adding: "We believe the time has come to [create] a permanent emergency response service, designed to complement the UN capacity to provide stability, peace, and relief in deadly emergencies."

The resolution in support of UNEPS was sponsored by Rep. Albert Wynn (D-MD) and Rep. James Walsh (R-NY). As envisioned by the two Congressmen, UNEPS would recruit, train, and employ 10,000 to 18,000 professionals with a wide range of skills, including police, military, judiciary, and relief workers.

Supporters of the proposed legislation say because such a force would be permanent, with mobile field headquarters, it could easily move to quell an emergency within 48 hours of UN Security Council authorization.

Currently, in order to prevent genocide and other forms of crimes against humanity, the UN has no reliable capacity to move quickly to save civilian lives. Experts cite massive killings in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia,
East Timor, Sierra Leone, Congo, Liberia, and Sudan as clear examples of UN failure.

Signers of the letter said the permanent UN force would be useful for the international community to fulfill its "responsibility to protect" civilians, adding that it would also help create a climate of stability so that confidence-building measures can take place to sustain peace in volatile regions.

To make their point, they say it will take months for the UN to deploy the 3,000 peacekeepers the Sudanese government has agreed to allow into the Darfur region. The groups argued that, if UNEPS were currently in existence, the peacekeepers could be on their way in days rather than months.

"The job of building support and raising funds for each new UN mission has been compared to that of a volunteer fire chief who is forced to raise funds, find volunteers, and secure a fire truck for each new fire," they said.

Under the given UN system, it takes 30 days for a rapid deployment and 90 days for a complex mission to be sent for peacekeeping tasks.

Signers said they hoped the new UN force would not only save millions of lives but also billions of dollars, prevent small conflicts from growing into full-scale wars, and keep fragile countries from becoming failed states.

In 1993, former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali proposed a similar idea, but the United States delegation shot it down.

"This is important legislation and Representatives Wynn and Walsh should be commended for their bipartisan leadership on this global effort," said Don Kraus, executive vice president for government relations at the Washington, DC-based advocacy group Citizens for Global Solutions.

Noting that the United States has voted for each of the 18 UN peacekeeping missions currently deployed around the world, Kraus reasoned that the proposal put before Congress would be beneficial to the United States.

"The American people recognize that the whole world is our backyard," he told OneWorld. "That's why this resolution has the support of so many diverse organizations. Helping people keep peace and start to rebuild in war-torn regions makes us safer and is the right thing to do."

Other than Kraus' group, signatories to the letter included international advocacy groups such as the Genocide Intervention Network, the International Crisis Group, National Peace Corps Association, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Refugees International, Union of Concerned Scientists, and the United Methodist Church.

Copyright © 2007

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