Cooperating with evil? Accountability in peace operations and the evolution of the United Nations Human Rights Due Diligence Policy

Published date01 March 2020
Date01 March 2020
Cooperation and Conflict
2020, Vol. 55(1) 22 –40
© The Author(s) 2019
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DOI: 10.1177/0010836719828406
Cooperating with evil?
Accountability in peace
operations and the evolution
of the United Nations Human
Rights Due Diligence Policy
Gisela Hirschmann
International organizations (IOs) usually cooperate with national actors in order to implement global
decisions and policies. This cooperation has become problematic as implementing partners have
increasingly been accused of serious human rights violations. This article analyzes how implementing
partners from the host state of a United Nations (UN) peace operation are held accountable.
I argue that the complexity of contemporary peacekeeping limits the availability of traditional
accountability mechanisms. I develop a conceptual model to demonstrate how, instead, different
accountability forms interact and complement each other. I illustrate this interplay of accountability
with a case study on the emergence of the UN Human Rights Due Diligence Policy (HRDDP). The
accountability framework enacted by the Joint Human Rights Unit, the Special Procedures of the
UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court in the context of the UN peace
operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo threatened the legitimacy of UN peacekeeping.
As a consequence, the UN adopted the HRDDP as a new, UN-based accountability mechanism to
hold implementing partners from the host state of peace operations accountable.
accountability, human rights, legitimacy, peacekeeping, United Nations
International organizations (IOs) have always been dependent upon national state and
non-state actors to implement their policies. Peacekeeping is one of the core fields where
this dependency is most obvious: to implement an operation, the United Nations relies on
a close cooperation with states and private actors (Bellamy and Williams, 2013). This
cooperation, however, has become increasingly problematic as national implementing
Corresponding author:
Gisela Hirschmann, Institute for Political Science, Leiden University, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden,
The Netherlands.
828406CAC0010.1177/0010836719828406Cooperation and ConflictHirschmann
Hirschmann 23
partners have been accused of grave human rights violations (Amnesty International,
2007; Human Rights Watch, 2004, 2013). Most attention has been given to human rights
abuses committed by national contingents deployed in the context of a peace operation
(Hirschmann, 2017; Verdirame, 2011). However, human rights violations committed by
the implementing partners of the host state of a peace operation have raised similar con-
cerns. One of the most prominent examples is the UN mission in the Democratic Republic
of Congo, MONUC or MONUSCO as it is named since July 2010, which has been
strongly criticized for supporting the “Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du
Congo” (FARDC), a former Congolese militia whose members have notoriously been
involved in human rights abuses such as deliberate killings, sexual abuse and summary
executions (Human Rights Watch, 2005). These human rights violations committed by the
UN’s cooperating partners stand in stark contrast to the mandate of the peace operation
adopted by the UN Security Council, which in 2008 established the protection of civilians
as the highest priority for MONUC (Kjeksrud and Aasland Ravndal, 2012). This created
a dilemma for the UN: while the Security Council emphasized the protection of civilians
and never justified or authorized the actions that ultimately violated human rights, the
implementation of the operation required that the UN through MONUC/MONUSCO pro-
vided support to human rights violators.
To address this dilemma, the UN is expected to hold its implementing partners
accountable, but often fails to do so (Amnesty International, 2004; Aoi et al., 2007;
Human Rights Watch, 2009a). This is partly due to the increased complexity in peace
operations: often, there is no formal delegation relationship between the UN and the
host state implementing partners, which implies that the host state is legally responsible
for the conduct of its military contingents supported by the UN (Gill et al., 2017: ch.
19). This blurs the lines of responsibility between the different actors and thus severely
limits the possibility of traditional, principal-agent-based accountability relationships
(Hirschmann, 2018). At the same time, however, alternative forms of accountability
have evolved, whereby other actors that are not part of the peacekeeping relationship
between the UN and the host state hold the implementing partners accountable for
human rights violations. Accountability is hereby enacted by regional or international
courts, other international organizations, non-state actors or other sub-units of the IO
(Verdirame, 2011; Wouters et al., 2010). These alternative forms of accountability have
been regarded as second-best only (Rubenstein, 2007). So far, however, we know little
about how different accountability forms interact, and whether they compensate, rein-
force or constrain each other.
In this article, I analyze how implementing partners from the host state of a UN peace
operation are held accountable given that the UN strongly depends on them for an effec-
tive implementation of the operation. I propose a conceptual model of how different
accountability forms complement each other. I hereby distinguish between vertical
accountability exercised by the principal(s) and pluralist accountability exercised by
third parties independent of the original delegation relationship (Hirschmann, 2018). I
argue that while vertical accountability might not be available at the outset, the exercise
of pluralist accountability can stimulate the development of new vertical accountability
mechanisms. I demonstrate that pluralist accountability can have de-legitimizing effects
for the IO as it associates the organization with human rights violators and exposes its

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