Setting the scene: using audio-visual tools to train peacekeepers to respond

Date: 28 Nov 2012

“There were six soldiers; they came into my house,” recalls one Congolese woman, her gaze fixed and sad. “Immediately they pointed their guns at me,” says another survivor, holding her infant son in her arms. “They asked me ‘do you want to live or die?' ”

“Then he began to rape me,” winces a third woman, adding her story to the series of testimonies that give a gripping human account of the impact of rape used as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

These stories are part of a teaching video that is being used in an innovative scenario-based training programme for UN peacekeepers piloted by UN Women and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) on behalf of UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict and with the support of the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

UN Peacekeepers from Argentina and Uruguay receive training during a scenario-based exercise on 24 April 2012 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The course aims to provide an understanding of sexual violence in conflict and the dilemmas decision-makers face in the field. Photo credit: UN Women/Pablo Castillo

Scenario-based training uses context-setting video clips, photos and other audiovisual tools to set the scene for troops and officers and ignite the discussion on sexual violence in armed conflict. After watching the videos, participants are presented with hypothetical scenarios based on real-life cases. They are given detailed information about the potential threats, the national and international assistance agencies involved, the geography of the area, etc., and asked how each actor should respond to that scenario.

“Attending the courses and seminars … I deepened my knowledge, restructuring and consolidating my perspective,” says Army Captain Alexandre Shoji, Chief of the Civil Affairs Section of the Brazilian Peacekeeping Operations Joint Center (CCOPAB), who first took part in a scenario-based training course on sexual violence in Brazil in July 2011. “I realized that this would be the first step in a series of changes in my perception, whether as a peacekeeper or as an instructor.”

The scenario-based training approach aims to provide current and prospective peacekeeping unit commanders with an understanding of sexual violence in conflict as well as the dilemmas military and civilian decision-makers face in the field. The courses highlight best practices aimed at preventing or responding to sexual violence and explain the roles that various actors in UN missions play in addressing human rights violations, including crimes related to sexual violence.

A new scenario-based training programme by UN Women and the DPKO is teaching troops and officers to better understand, prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence.
Retired Major General Patrick Cammaert has led several scenario-based training exercises aimed at teaching troops and officers to understand, prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence. Photo: UN Women/Catianne Tijerina

“This has very practical and operational implications,” stresses retired Major General Patrick Cammaert, who has previously served as a Military Advisor to the UN Secretary-General and led UN peacekeepers in Bosnia, Cambodia, Eritrea-Ethiopia, and Eastern DRC. He now leads these training exercises. “Gender issues should be taken into account in everything the UN does to prepare for tactical operations or field deployments, ranging from patrol composition, to information and intelligence-gathering to special measures in the construction of camps to accommodate women's needs.”

The presentations and discussions in these training modules stress peacekeepers' obligation to protect civilians and explain how mandate and rules of engagement apply to sexual violence. They teach preventive or responsive tactics, and the appropriate protocols to follow when encountering survivors.

The training has already been piloted in four major troop-contributing countries (Brazil, Bangladesh, Argentina -in a joint training for Argentine and Uruguayan officers- and more recently in India, from 11-12 October).

Back in Brazil, Captain Shoji has since incorporated the scenario-based exercises into all of his pre-deployment exercises and the CCOPAB requested permanent technical assistance so as to mainstream gender in all aspects of its training, which UN Women has since been providing.

Around the world, the modules have also been included in many contingent commander courses.

Both the Secretary-General and the Security Council have encouraged troop contributing countries to test this training, which has been embedded in DPKO's standard training on protection of civilians and will be disseminated to all peacekeeping training academies and staff colleges.