Approximately 1,000 military members from 26 countries, including the U.S., participated in the multinational military exercise Shared Accord 2019, which took place in and around the Rwanda Defense Force Gabiro Training Center, Rwanda, Aug. 14-28, 2019.
The exercise, hosted by U.S. Army Africa and the Rwanda Defence Force, is modeled after the U.N. peacekeeping mission, Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. It included a military legal team comprised of advisors from Rwanda, Morocco and the Gambia, who worked together to identify and provide guidance on various legal issues which may arise during a peace operation.
In addition, U.N. mission staff, military trainers and mentors from the U.S., the Netherlands, Italy, Rwanda, and the Peace Keeping and Stability Operations Institute, U.S. Army War College, provided guidance and the practical realities of working in MINUSCA.
"It is an incredible opportunity to partner with African legal advisors in order to share knowledge, promote the rule of law, and forge a future in peace and stability operations,” said Maj. Dan Curley, U.S. Army Africa judge advocate.
Capt. Baboucarr Sanneh, staff officer, the Gambia Armed Forces Headquarters, echoed Curley’s sentiments.
“It was very interesting to work with the U.S., Rwandan, and Morrocan legal advisors,” he said. “It builds experience. We’re able to learn from one another and it prepares us for future engagements.”
Incorporating legal advisors into the mission analysis aspect of the exercise was having real-world benefits, said Lt. Methode Ndizeye, staff officer, Rwandan Defense Forces Headquarters.
“I have seen improvement for legal advisors within the African militaries as the militaries develop,” he said.
Some headquarter elements across militaries and within U.N. missions have legal advisors that provide guidance as operational plans are being developed, but not all militaries have this capability.
"Many militaries' institutions are not structured to provide legal guidance to commanders, instead they have, for example, magistrates who are only responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes,” said Sandra Franzblau, legal advisor from the U.S. Africa Command Office of the Legal Counsel. “Their relationship with command staff is very different from having a legal advisor who is solely assigned to the command to provide guidance on all matters to include international humanitarian law”
This creates a significant legal capability gap. Some countries recognize this institutional weakness and have taken action to address it, she said.
“The Rwanda Defense Forces re-structured to include commander access to legal advisors,” Franzblau said. “They are leaders in my opinion as to how to address this issue."
U.N. staff serving in MINUSCA in Bangui, Central African Republic provided the Shared Accord 19 legal advisors with a detailed briefing of the challenges facing the mission. They also shared how procedures were developed within the legal framework to address a complex security situation.
“As MINUSCA staff, it was very useful to be able to share the political and operational challenges linked to urgent temporary measures, Security Council Weapons Embargo restrictions and the multitude of national and international legal bodies present in the Central African Republic, with the 2019 Shared Accord legal advisor team,” said Niels Stassyns, civil affairs coordinator, Bangui Coordination Center.
He emphasized the importance of making sure legal requirements and procedures are incorporated into the training throughout operational levels and even at tactical levels.
“It should stress the multidimensional nature of the MINUSCA Joint Working Group for Arrests, the U.N. Military Force, U.N. Police, Joint Mission Analysis Cell, Human Rights Division, Political Affairs Division, and Protection of Civilians Unit, of which the peace keeping force is only one building brick,” said Stassyns.
Ensuring AFRICOM multinational exercises include rule of law considerations has lasting impacts to partner nation military operations.
“While it's a nuanced consideration, military operations which follow the rule of law are vital for all countries to set the conditions for a peaceful and secure future,” Franzblau said.