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UN Military Observer Reflects on His Experiences in Sudan


By Kate Hull, Rapoport Center Undergraduate Intern, Fall 2008

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As part of the Human Rights Happy Hour, Daniel Blocq discusses the ground-level dynamics of military operations and examined the role of individual military personnel in the United Nations Peacekeeping mission in Sudan.

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Law student Kelly Stephenson leads the responses to Blocq's lecture, as audience members engage in and critique the speaker's work.

Daniel Blocq sought to serve the Dutch military abroad and eventually ended up in Sudan. Selected by his government and the United Nations for a peacekeeping mission, he witnessed the dynamics of military operations and examined the role of individual military personnel on the ground.

“I wanted to gain experience and I wanted to know what the military was doing, and what life was like for an officer,” he said. “I…wanted to go on a mission. I asked if I could be sent out as a legal advisor, but that was not possible.” Instead, he took the opportunity to act as a Military Observer with the United Nations forces in the southern part of Sudan, part of the mission known as UNMIS (United Nations Mission in Sudan).

Daniel Blocq is a Lieutenant in the Royal Netherlands Navy and former Professor of Law. He has earned degrees in International and European Law, and in Tax Law from the University of Amsterdam. Currently, he is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin.

During his six-month assignment in the Sudan, Blocq habitually recorded his observations and insights. After returning home, he drafted a paper capturing his overall impression of the mission. He has recently begun to speak about his reflections.

Blocq worked with refugees and monitored troop movements in southern Sudan to further the mission's mandate to monitor and support the peace agreement between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. Blocq's mission with UNMIS was distinct from that of UNAMID, which operates in Darfur, in western Sudan.

The military mission was designed to work alongside humanitarian and human rights efforts aimed at providing water sanitation, food security and similar services.

“On the micro-level, the UN is not working as we think it might be, but there are so many underlying problems that it is going to be hard to fix,” Blocq said.

“The dynamics within UN operations are never really clear. By looking at these micro-level dynamics, I would like to challenge the idea of a unitary ‘blue helmet' with a singular motivation and a singular attitude. This will also help us look at UN efficiency, inefficiency and even harm,” Blocq said in reference to the purpose of his paper.

Blocq was initially stationed in Rumbek, but after becoming increasingly frustrated with the disorganization at that post, he requested a transfer. Once granted, he was able to aid in establishing a new “team site” in the southwestern city of Raga where there was a lack of UN presence.

While on patrols, Blocq witnessed great disparity in the work ethic, motives and efforts of other military observers. Although there were individuals committed to the mission, others were not.

“There was not much initiative and there wasn't much work [being done]. There was plenty of work if you wanted it, but no one was telling you to do any work,” he said. “There was a problem on the staff level.”

He attributed some of the problems he witnessed to poor communication between the officials and those who should be performing the tasks. With each patrol's end, he questioned to what extent the information was being used for further patrols and to what extent their efforts were being used for the good of the mission's larger aims.

Daniel pursued other projects over the course of his time in the Sudan, most of which dealt with human rights issues in the region. He monitored the cleanliness of the water and the health of the children and animals in order to identify situations in which poor water quality had negative effects.

“You have to ask if the kids have diarrhea, if the water tastes funny, if the animals are sick, but some of the military felt they were not trained for this,” he said.

“Right now, the UN is the only organization capable of doing these things.” Daniel said. “And because I think there is some good in these missions–either mitigating or stopping tensions from translating to violence–it has a role and it is what we have to work with, so if a person like me would stop trying then no one will work any more and that would be sad.”

Daniel Blocq is willing to share his experience with others to generate discourse on the UN's efforts as a peacekeeping organization.

“Once you can find a problem, you can come up with a solution,” Daniel said. “It is important to look at the social dynamics that allow this to happen, and once you do that, you can come up with a solution. But the solution is going to be huge.”

Read the abstract of Blocq's paper: "UN Military Observers at Work: A Case Study from Sudan" (pdf)