By Kofi Ampeah-Woode

The Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center (KAIPTC) in partnership with the Government of Switzerland, has commenced a two-weeks training course, dubbed ‘Protection of Civilians (PoC) 2021’, for actors of peace operations.

The 10-day PoC residential course – which is actually one of the flagship courses of Ghana’s learning Centre of Excellence – commenced on Monday, 11 October, 2021, with the Swiss Ambassador to Ghana – His Excellency (HE) Philipp Stalder, as the Guest-of-Honour, with the august presence of the Commandant of KAIPTC – Major General (Maj Gen) Francis Ofori.

The training is for twenty-two persons from various institutions which have a part to play in Peace Support Operation (PSO), such as the military, the Police Service, Prisons Service and civilians from Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and 2 military personnel from the Switzerland Armed Forces – who are on pre-deployment training to Mali.

The annual partnership course, has 9 experienced Ghanaian peacekeeping facilitators, which include serving and retired military personnel, human rights advocates and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), is being delivered through a combination of lectures, presentations, breakout interactive discussions, whilst the last two days would be scenario-based exercises codenamed ‘CARANA’, with specific injects relating to PoC operations.

Some of the topics under the course include ‘Introduction to PoC’, ‘the Legal Framework’, ‘Different Approaches to PoC’, ‘Different Definitions of PoC (United Nations and African Union)’, ‘Gender Aspects of PoC’, ‘Terrorism in PoC’, ‘Responsibility to Protect’, ‘Security’, ‘Decision-Making Process, PoC Plan and Strategy’, then the Final Exercise.

Switzerland sponsors 3 training courses at KAIPTC namely; PoC, Multidimensional Peacekeeping Operation and Intelligence Support to Peacekeeping Operation, and also supports training institutions such as the Ecole de Maintien de la Paix Alioune Blondin Beye (EMPABB) in Bamako, Mali and the newly established International Peace Support Training Centre (IPSTC) in Nairobi, Kenya.

HE Ambassador Stalder, delivering the ceremonial opening speech, stated that Switzerland’s motivation in peace support interventions, has been a special responsibility and legitimacy in helping to ensure the respect for international humanitarian law deriving from the Geneva Conventions, with an objective to ensure the dignity of detained populations, to connect separated families across borders, including the immediate need to reunite children with their families.

Ambassador Stalder, referencing some of the credentials of Switzerland in peacekeeping operations, stated the role his country played in the formation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1863, and the adoption of the Geneva Conventions and protocols, and that presently, there are 240 men and women from the rank of Private to Major General, involved in UN Missions worldwide.

On the importance for such a course, HE Mr. Stalder intimated that the need for the UN, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other international organizations, to engage in strengthening their roles in the protection of civilians in conflict areas, makes training on protection of crucial importance in enhancing peacekeepers’ capacity to implement their mandates.

Taking his turn in welcoming the course participants and underscoring the importance of the course, Maj Gen Ofori stated that millions of civilian victims of violence and war, are subjected to forced displacement, hostage-taking, rape, torture, extrajudicial executions and massacres.

Citing the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s and the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 to buttress his point, General Ofori stated that during conflicts, serious violations of international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law occur, and defenceless civilians are the unfortunate victims.

He elaborated further that in the year 2000, the UN first incorporated the protection of vulnerable populations as a key objective explicitly stated in the revised mandate of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), and from thence, mandates of UN missions have clearly included Protection of Civilians as a core task of the mandate.

The Commandant, referencing the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO), which underscores that protecting civilians is a core obligation of the whole UN, and not only peacekeeping, said that PoC has been one of KAIPTC’s main training courses, to help build capacity to mitigate the effects of conflicts on civilians.

Speaking in an interview with Peace Journal, the PoC Course Director, and Training Officer in the Swiss Armed Forces Planning, Training Center, – Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Marc Wettstein, said that the objective of the course is to enhance the capacity of participants to operate on the ground, with adequate knowledge to implement PoC strategy, in order to mitigate the impact of conflict to civilians.

Lt Col Wettstein opined that since peacekeeping is multidimensional, and encompasses the military, the Police, the Prison Service and some civilians, it is a key element for the course to have a mix of knowledge and experience that is derived from all these components of peacekeeping.

On the need to institutionalize knowledge acquired from the course, the Course Director intimated that the course manual for the program has been well documented and is certified by the UN, with each session having exercises with injects of new situations. 

Lt Col Wettstein also revealed that Switzerland has been in partnership with the KAIPTC for 15 years and that the Swiss Director of International Relations and Defence – a Brigadier General – would be visiting Ghana, to participate in the closing ceremony of the PoC course, with the Commandant of KAIPTC, to commemorate the anniversary of the partnership.

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