One week into the war ravaging in the Ukraine, we see unimaginable suffering of civilians in Europe again. We see pictures of people seeking shelter in subway-stations, we see bravery and courage of citizens putting themselves at grave risk by stepping into the way of military vehicles and soldiers, we see an overwhelming readiness for self-defense in light of imminent harm and potential death, we see mothers and children arriving at borders of the European Union, we see them being separated from their husbands, fathers, male friends and loved ones, as they have to stay behind in the Ukraine, for territorial defense. We see and hear gunfire, bomb explosions, rocket attacks, and we see both the deliberate and the collateral impact on civilian infrastructure, buildings, houses. Civilians including women and children are being killed, or injured in ever rising numbers. Children loose their mothers and fathers.
I want to make it clear from the outset on that I belong to those who strongly condemn a war against the Ukraine, violating the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and bringing all of us, collectively and globally, close to the brink of a catastrophic escalation, whether as a terrifying new Cold War, or even worse, as a war spiraling out of control like a wildfire.
But no matter what some of us may believe in relation to justification of this military action, or many others considering this being an illegitimate war violating all principles of the international security architecture which has kept many of us safe for generations, we have to take note of the terrible impact of this war on civilians.
As a member of a post-war generation in Germany I grew up both in peace and with the conscience of a historic burden through Germany’s role in atrocities of the Second World War, and the Holocaust. As a young person, I grew up in a divided Germany and during decades of a Cold War. As a German police officer I witnessed the end of the Cold War, I witnessed peaceful events including the German reunification and the often peaceful dissolution of the former Soviet Union, but also the violent wars on occasion of the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. As a police peacekeeper of the United Nations, as a member of the European Union External Action Service, or being part of the German Federal Foreign Office, until today I am witnessing the memories of people in the Western Balkans, whether in Belgrade, Podgorica, Pristina, Sarajevo, Skopje, or Tirana. I am writing this from Belgrade, and everyone here is scared and has own memories of war and conflict and fear, as is the case for all other parts of the Western Balkans. To whoever I talk on the streets or in the grocery store at the corner, everyone is scared, on the grounds of own memories.
All of these memories are different. Explanations are different. Historical narratives are different. Some justify, others condemn. Acts of genocide are subject to dispute. And most recently, an allegation of genocide without any facts is being used as a cynical argument in a narrative cloaking the real intentions behind a war.
Yet, there should be one common denominator which we can all agree on: The civilian population of the Ukraine suffers terribly, and needs to be protected by all means.
However, at the end of the first week of the war in the Ukraine, all signs do tell us that there is a strong risk for ever more military violence targeting civilians, either as part of a strategy, or as a cold and even malicious calculation of collateral damage, and the psychological impact stemming from it. As I write this, these news are coming in, from cities throughout the Ukraine, whether Kyiv, or Mariupol, Kherson, Kharkiv, or others. We have news of systematic shelling of civilian neighborhoods.
As a former United Nations police peacekeeper I have had the privilege, honor and duty to contribute to the protection of civilians in situations of conflict and war. As a former United Nations Police Adviser, I was blessed with assisting in developing the role of United Nations Police in the field of Protection of Civilians, through doctrinal development, training, and overseeing the deployment of thousands and thousands of police peacekeepers, working alongside their military and civilian colleagues in peace operations, often at gravest personal risk. We say “We go places others don’t”. I have personal fond memories of doing this jointly with Ukrainian and Russian police officers, working in the interest of peace alongside colleagues from all over the world. As police peacekeepers we work together with international colleagues in other organisations, such as the European Union, the African Union, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and many others, in our tireless work protecting civilians at risk. Most importantly, we work in partnership with our countless colleagues in law enforcement in countries which we assist.
Thus, we form a network of innumerable individuals in a global community who have formed a unique partnership in what Police does, and shall do, worldwide: The Protection of Civilians in conflict and war is one expression of the fundamental principle of policing as we in the United Nations understand it: To Protect And To Serve.
I call for protection of the civilian population in the Ukraine.
I call for abstaining from any military action targeting civilians, by intent, malfeasance, or negligence, in the Ukraine.
I call for an end of this war, and for returning to the negotiation table, and returning to diplomacy, in the interest of the people in the Ukraine.
I call for my fellow friends and colleagues in the field of international police peacekeeping to raise our voices and to join me in a public expression of our outrage over the suffering inflicted to civilians, especially women and children, over and over again.
If you decide to join such a call in public, by using social media or any other public means accessible to you, and if you decide to let me know about this, please send references to the email-address
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Stefan Feller – Former United Nations Police Adviser – March 02, 2022