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Protection Through Presence: UN Peacekeeping and the Costs of Targeting Civilians

  • Hanne Fjelde, Lisa Hultman and Desirée Nilsson


Are UN peacekeepers effective in protecting civilians from violence? Existing studies examine this issue at the country level, thereby making it difficult to isolate the effect of peacekeepers and to assess the actual mechanism at work. We provide the first comprehensive evaluation of UN peacekeeping success in protecting civilians at the subnational level. We argue that peacekeepers through their sizable local presence can increase the political and military costs for warring actors to engage in civilian targeting. Since peacekeepers’ access to civilian populations rests on government consent, peacekeepers will primarily be effective in imposing these costs on rebel groups, but less so for government actors. To test these conjectures we combine new monthly data on the location of peacekeepers with data on the location and timing of civilian killings in Africa. Our findings suggest that local peacekeeping presence enhances the effectiveness of civilian protection against rebel abuse, but that UN peacekeeping struggles to protect civilians from government forces.



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We thank Jonas Baumann and Mihai Croicu for excellent assistance with data collection and data management. We are grateful to a number of people who have provided valuable feedback and critique at ISA, Peace Science Society, ENCoRe: Uppsala Workshop on Geography and Armed Conflict, Folke Bernadotte Academy Workshop on Peacekeeping, Columbia University, Oxford University, and University College London. Special thanks to Stefano Costalli, Han Dorussen, David Lake, Pat Regan, Andrea Ruggeri, Ralph Sundberg, Kajsa Tidblad-Lundholm, and Julian Wucherphennig. We also thank the editors of IO and two anonymous reviewers for excellent comments and suggestions. We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Folke Bernadotte Academy to enable data collection on the location of peacekeepers. The research was funded by grant P12-0787:1 from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, Sweden, European Research Council grant no. ERC ADG 694640, and the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities. Author names are listed alphabetically and equal authorship applies.



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Protection Through Presence: UN Peacekeeping and the Costs of Targeting Civilians

  • Hanne Fjelde, Lisa Hultman and Desirée Nilsson


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