The Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, moderated on Tuesday a first debate devoted to the strategic communication of peacekeeping missions, before the Security Council. In particular, he pointed out that disinformation proliferates in conflict zones and sometimes turns against UN peacekeeping missions.
Many peacekeepers consider false information to be a threat to their security. And strategic communication about peacekeeping operations is a key point, according to the UN Secretary-General, for whom the landscape in which peacekeepers operate has become more dangerous, with global geopolitical tensions rippling the local level.
Peacekeepers face terrorists, criminals, armed groups and their allies, many of whom have access to powerful modern weapons and have a vested interest in perpetuating the chaos in which they thrive, the head of the UN.
To highlight that “the weapons brandished are not only guns and explosives: disinformation and hate speech are increasingly used as weapons of war” underlined.
According to Guterres, the goal is clear: To dehumanize a so-called “other”, to threaten vulnerable communities – as well as peacekeepers themselves – and to openly give the green light to commit atrocities.
MONUSCO target of hate speech
General Marcos De Sá Affonso Da Costa, Force Commander of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), conceded that the Force was not necessarily well perceived by part of the population and that she was sometimes targeted by hate speech compromising her safety, including by armed groups.
“False information on social networks is difficult to detect,” he added before the Security Council.
A recent survey revealed that almost half of peacekeepers considered that false information and misinformation seriously affected the execution of their mandate and threatened their safety.
Peacekeepers in Mali victims of misinformation on WhatsApp
The Secretary-General cited, as an example, Mali, where a fake letter alleging peacekeepers were collaborating with armed groups was posted on Facebook. It went viral on WhatsApp and was picked up by national media. This forged letter has fueled hostility and resentment against peacekeepers, making their vital task of protecting civilians even more difficult.
When he was sworn in in 2016, António Guterres stressed the need for substantial reform of the UN’s “communications strategy”, through the modernization of tools and platforms to reach people around the world. .
“Strategic communication – credible, precise and people-centered – is one of our best and most cost-effective tools to counter the threat,” the Secretary-General argued.
More than simply defending against harmful lies, appropriate communication builds trust and garners political and public support.
“It allows the local population to better understand our missions and mandates and, in turn, it allows our peacekeepers to better understand the concerns, grievances, expectations and hopes of the local population. It can create a safe space for reconciliation and peacebuilding to work and provide women, youth and civil society with better access to peace processes,” the UN chief said.
Many peace operations affected
Many peacekeeping operations are affected by these problems, said General da Costa. He called for adaptation by “communicating directly with the stakeholders”, by listening and explaining well the contours of a mandate.
“Within MONUSCO, we have learned to communicate better about our mandate. However, much remains to be done: improving pre-deployment training, countering misinformation, staying one step ahead of critics,” he said.
Guterres presented concrete actions taken to improve strategic communication in peacekeeping, including mission advice and training, and collaboration with different partners, “including technology and media companies”, as well as States. members, in order to identify and better counter misinformation and hate speech.
He concludes by observing that “access to information is a human right, and in the places where our peacekeepers operate, this right can be a matter of life and death, the difference between peace and war”.