Post-Conflict Policing and Rule of Law: The Case for UN Reform

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By Joshua G. Smith, William Durch and Victoria Holt – There are currently 17 United Nations peacekeeping operations deployed around the world helping to foster sustainable peace, rebuild shattered states, and promote human rights and good governance. Police and other personnel who support the rule of law play a vital and expanding role in these missions. Whether battling armed gangs on the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, or helping to recruit women into the nascent Liberian National Police force, the UN provides diverse and critical support in the effort to (re)establish the rule of law in states attempting to transition from the chaos of war into safe and stable societies. Indeed, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping OperationsJean-Marie Guehénno has argued that (e)xperienced civilian law-enforcement professionals are just as vital to the success of our missions as military forces.”


UN Capacity: Not Keeping Pace with Demand and Complexity

Through the 1990s, steady demand kept about 2,000 UN police (UNPOL) officers deployed, but since 1999 demand has expanded dramatically. By late June 2007, the UN had over 9,500 officers from nearly 90 countries serving in ten peacekeeping missions and six political/peacebuilding missions around the globe. Another 6,500 have been authorized for the UN-African Union mission in Darfur.

Two needs feed the growing demand for international police and the increasing complexity of their assigned tasks: First, the rule of law is fundamental to lasting and self-sustaining peace. Second, competent, professional police—international and domestic—are essential to rule of law. Thus today, UN police not only support post-conflict public security but usually help build needed local capacity. Since 1999, UN police have been heavily involved in the training and reform measures needed to build that capacity.

The system for recruiting and deploying UN police has, however, not kept pace with demand. It takes the UN an average of nine months to get the authorized number of individual police officers into the field, depriving new operations of public security personnel at the most critical phase of a country’s war-to-peace transition: Its beginning. And the quality of officers offered by member states is highly uneven, with one-third to one-half failing to meet minimum requirements.

That most states are not eager to volunteer their finest officers is not surprising. Not only do police have active “day jobs,” but the UN offers no financial incentives or compensation to states for individual police seconded to UN missions. (They do receive reimbursements for troops and paramilitary police in formed units.) So the UN continues to face major gaps in its ability to recruit, prepare, and deploy qualified individual police to new missions in a timely manner. Its ability to strategize, offer operational guidance, and effectively manage police contingents in the field is further constrained by the small UN office charged with all of these tasks. Roughly 50 people will provide all the support needed by up to 16,000 officers deployed in increasingly dangerous field operations.

To address these gaps in UN capacity, we recommend major reforms, including:

Creation of a Standing UN Rule of Law Capacity (ROLCAP)

A standing cadre of police and rule of law experts should be created to help plan new missions and fill key leadership posts in the critical first year, and to provide support to other, ongoing peace operations. This standing rule of law capacity (ROLCAP) should be composed of roughly 400 personnel, eight teams of about 50 people each. Two-thirds of each team would be drawn from policing specialties, would run the police component of the operation and would jumpstart the reform process for local police. One third of each team would address legal issues, prison support, and the judiciary. Four teams would be deployed in the field at any one time; the others would be in training or offering training to members of the proposed UN Police Reserve.

Creation of a UN Police Reserve (UNPR)

Rather than leave recruitment of the bulk of UN mission police and rule of law personnel to the current, ad hoc system, we propose creating a UN Police Reserve (UNPR). Countries would still nominate officers for deployment and the UN would screen them for quality. But countries would be offered incentives to nominate quality people, such as “retainer fees” to police agencies for officers selected for the new reserve system and reim­bursements for their deployment. The size of the reserve should mirror demand for police in the field and be large enough to meet all demand for individual police by UN operations, assuming deployment cycles of two years at home for every year served with the UN.

Creation of a Senior Reserve Roster

Finally, we propose a Senior Reserve Roster (SRR) as a source of senior professionals who volunteer in advance for service in UN missions. Its membership initially could consist of retired or former police and criminal justice experts and allow the UN to fill open senior positions in those areas quickly and efficiently. Thus reserve members could fill, in particular, senior security sector reform posts where experienced personnel, especially from the mission’s region, are needed to advise local ministers, senior judges, and heads of security forces, or to fill leadership positions as senior mission personnel complete assignments and return home. Reserve members on the roster willing to commit to rapid call-up (on the order of 30 days notice) could be offered a stipend. The size of the roster and the proportion on rapid call-up could be flexible; over time, represented skill-sets could expand from rule of law to other specialties needed by UN peace operations.

Time to Match Means to Mandates

Implementing these proposals will require new and solid commitments of support by member states. Nations must be willing to trade short-term costs for continuing and longer-term benefits in mission planning, execution, and achievement of mandated objectives in peace operations. Given the critical nature of UN work in providing and supporting law and order in post-conflict settings and the ever-expanding demand for qualified police personnel, a long-term boost in UN capacity to do that work should more than offset the short-term investment costs to build that capacity. The sooner these investments begin, the sooner UN police and other rule of law personnel will begin to meet the performance standards that UN staff and member states alike expect of them, and the sooner security can be improved for the victims of violence in the countries where UN peacekeepers serve.

For a thorough overview of trends and challenges in UN policing and a comprehensive description of these proposals (including detailed cost analyses), see the new report, Enhancing United Nations Capacity to Support Post-Conflict Policing and Rule of Law, by Joshua G. Smith, Victoria K. Holt, and William J. Durch of Stimson’s Future of Peace Operations program.

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