When conflict strikes, lives are always at risk. Civilians are forced from their homes into bandit-infested streets and countryside. Courts, often fragile before the fighting broke out, can cease to function altogether. Prisoners escape, adding to the havoc. Arms are everywhere and no one feels safe. Instead of being ruled by law, societies are plunged into lawlessness. The injustices that can follow are too numerous to count and too grave to ignore.
The deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping mission can offer hope for a transition from chaos to calm. But for true security to take root, peacekeepers must do more than separate warring parties and disarm combatants. They must strengthen the institutions responsible for security and justice – the police, the courts and the correctional institutions – with full respect
for the rule of law and human rights.
All too often, in post-conflict societies where the rule of law has collapsed, civilians are arrested, spend years in detention under inhumane conditions, and never see a courtroom.
UN peacekeeping is working on all fronts to redress these injustices and restore the rule of law.
To reform the local police, the UN sends highly qualified police officers from around the world to provide training, monitor local police performance and help restructure and reform national and local police forces. While UN Police may be less well-known than their military counterparts, their service to the United Nations is equally important and their numbers continue to grow - more than 14,000 now serve in 16 peacekeeping or special political missions worldwide.
In addition to unarmed police monitors, the UN also deploys 140-member Formed Police Units (FPUs) which help bridge the gap between the UN’s heavily-armed military components and its unarmed police observers. These FPUs play an important role in crowd control, force protection and other high-risk operations. In some instances, when State authorities have nearly completely broken down, the UN Police have been granted executive powers which allow them to arrest and detain lawbreakers.
But creating police forces that are trusted by the local population and respect human rights will not, on its own, bring the rule of law to bear across society. To achieve that, it is necessary to improve often dysfunctional civilian and military courts and corrections systems. That is why the UN is training and mentoring court and corrections personnel while helping build or rebuild courthouses and prisons.
Highlighting the importance that the Secretary-General and Member States have placed on these issues, the Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions was established within the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in 2007. Its role is to strengthen, coordinate and integrate the Department’s activities in the areas of police; justice; corrections; mine action; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants and security sector reform. It works closely with UN Member States to ensure that peacekeeping mandates address the re-establishment of rule of law holistically and ensuring that the personnel needed are deployed to field operations.
Peacekeeping in the 21st century works to build the foundations for long-term institution-building, making it possible for a culture of rule of law to re-develop.
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