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Calling for More Women Officers in Peacekeeping Operations, Force Leaders Briefing Security Council Stress Gender Balance Key for Effective Policing, Building Trust

The deployment of more women police officers is key to enhancing the effectiveness of United Nations peace operations, speakers told the Security Council during a 4 November videoconference meeting, highlighting the importance of a gender balance in community outreach, patrol and confidence-building.

“Gender-responsive policing is essential for effective UN and host-State policing, and to ensure that the different security needs of men, women, boys and girls are taken into account,” said Alexandre Zouev, Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions in the Department of Peace Operations, adding that United Nations police is making gender-responsive work a priority.

He said that United Nations police have already achieved intermediate gender parity targets for 2020, continuing to engage with police-contributing countries to surpass those marks, including at the command levels.  Currently three of the Organization’s police components are headed by women.

Highlighting the vital role of United Nations police across the spectrum of conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding, Mr. Zouev said that police components have been facilitating the drawdown of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), and its transition to the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), by ensuring adequate interim policing capacities to protect civilians and prevent a relapse into conflict.

In the Central African Republic, United Nations police help national capacity-building, including by assisting with the recruitment and training of gendarmerie and cadets, he reported, adding that they have been instrumental in raising awareness about preventing the spread of COVID-19 and have distributed personal protective equipment, hygiene products and medical supplies particularly to the most vulnerable communities.

Turning to performance and accountability of police components, he said that the United Nations, through the Integrated Peacekeeping Performance and Assessment Framework and the Comprehensive Performance and Assessment System, has implemented standards to further evaluate the impact of deployed officers and address cases of underperformance.  Aligning pre-deployment training by Member States with the Organization’s in-mission training is central to enhancing performance, he continued, adding that the Department of Peace Operations continues to develop standardized training modules.

United Nations police have also continued to reinforce zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse, including through pre-deployment and in-mission training, and have taken measures to reduce their environmental footprint, he said.  Climate insecurity, the devastating consequences of which have been laid bare by COVID-19, is a growing threat multiplier for United Nations missions and host communities, he pointed out, adding that this would become a larger focus of United Nations policing going forward, in line with the achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. Zouev was joined by the heads of police components of United Nations missions in Haiti, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Mali, who participated in an interactive discussion with Council members.

Serge Therriault, Police Commissioner of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), said that over the last 22 years, the Caribbean country has benefited from the support of thousands of United Nations police and corrections advisors from the rich network of police-contributing countries.  Through the successive missions, United Nations assistance has progressed to a more strategic advisory role on the essentials of sound police management and security sector governance.  Police institutions are learning organizations, bound to constantly adapt to a changing environment and new threats.

Securing the country on its own since the closure of the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), he continued, the Haitian National Police repeatedly has risen to numerous challenges and proven its operational know-how time.  The Director General ad interim has led the police institution through a year of violent street protests, sharp increases in major crimes, a global pandemic, and long-standing labour relations issues, constantly succeeding in reversing the negative trends.  With the advice of BINUH, the national police leadership established a facilitation and dialogue commission to address police officers’ grievances and improve labour relations.  Some of the recommendations from this commission, which have already been implemented with the support of the Government, including formally recognizing the right to unionize for police officers and improving medical coverage, have also proven to be effective in appeasing internal tensions.

In its advisory role, he said, BINUH continues working with the national police to achieve gender equality and improve capacity to prevent and investigate all forms of sexual and gender-based violence.  Twenty years after Security Council resolution 1325 (2020) was adopted, the increased recruitment and training of female police officers has been a key element of capacity-building to professionalize the police.  Currently, women represent nearly 11 per cent of the 15,000 Haitian police officers and the United Nations strategic advisers are engaged in additional initiatives to achieve the gender-sensitive recruitment goal of 12 per cent female representation by 2021.

Turning to the numerous episodes of armed gang violence over the last year and the prominence of criminality, with a resurgence of robberies, kidnappings, and homicides, he underlined an urgent need for concrete and coherent action by the Haitian authorities for accountability and an end to impunity.  State authorities must strive to curb the gang phenomenon and marshal all efforts through a holistic approach and nationally owned solutions, especially ahead of a crucial electoral period, to protect its citizens from all forms of criminality while promoting democracy, justice and stability.

As a precondition for the success of the ongoing transition, the Government needs to allocate sufficient and sustainable financial, operational and human resources for the police, with the United Nations country team and national and international partners continuing to support police development and ensuring oversight to maintain the trust of the population in its sole public safety institution.  “With adequate support, the professionalization of the national police can be a vehicle for stability and play a central role in restoring the rule of law in Haiti,” he emphasized.

Unaisi Vuniwaqa, Police Commissioner of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), said the Mission was confronted with an unprecedented threat — both to the community it serves and its own personnel — amid the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.  It acted swiftly and decisively to protect its staff and continue implementing its protection and peacebuilding mandate, while also managing reputational risks by countering misconceptions among the local population about UNMISS personnel being “contagion vectors”.  The robust actions taken to mitigate the spread of the virus included freezing non-essential travel, prohibiting large gatherings, limiting interaction outside of bases and requiring physical distancing, mask wearing and handwashing.

Noting that Mission staff faced particular difficulties in implementing prevention measures to protect civilian camps and camps for internally displaced persons, she said “hands on” policing posed considerable risks.  In response, the police contingent reduced its footprint inside those sites but maintained the capacity needed to respond to emergency security situations if required.  Notably, at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in June, fighting erupted in a protection of civilians site in Juba.  Mission staff responded — equipped with personal protective equipment — and successfully ended the fighting with no casualties.  Several officers later tested positive for COVID-19 and were quarantined, stopping the virus from spreading to the broader UNMISS base.

Outlining other activities still being conducted by the police contingent in line with the Mission’s mandate, she cited technical assistance workshops and support to communities of internally displaced persons.  Sensitization on COVID-19 awareness is also ongoing, as is the distribution of hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment including face masks.  Quick impact projects to renovate and build selected police stations also continue despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, and seven stations were completed and handed over to the national police.

She went on to note that political violence has been markedly reduced since the signing of a ceasefire and peace deal in 2018.  UNMISS, in close consultation with the Government and other partners, is working to gradually draw down its presence.  That includes re-designating some protection of civilian sites and transitioning them into internally displaced persons camps, for which the Government will assume responsibility.  The UMISS police contingent plays a key role in preparing for those transitions and helping the national police to build its community-oriented policing capabilities, while also providing technical and logistical support, on-site training, mentoring, coaching and monitoring of policing activities.

Pascal Champion, Head of the police component of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), said United Nations police officers — despite sometimes being overlooked — have demonstrated their enormous potential on the ground in missions around the world.  In the Central African Republic, for example, the Mission’s police officers have conducted more than 40 missions related to the protection of civilians.  They are also helping to ensure security conditions for the upcoming elections, assisted in the conviction of perpetrators accused of carrying out attacks against peacekeepers, helped to build the capacity of the national police force — including robust participation of women officers — and successfully stemmed the spread of COVID-19.

Noting that cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers have been completely eradicated in the three years since earlier cases first came to light, he went on to note that MINUSCA police officers work closely with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the European Union’s training mission and many bilateral donors.  Citing several strategies that have made the MINUSCA police component effective, he said it benefits from strong support from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and has successfully integrated critical United Nations norms and standards into its work.  It also took on board the “price of excellence theory” of policing, increased its productivity and flexibility, and never hesitates to identify and address weaknesses.  “We continue to keep a human touch in everything we do,” he said, calling for more attention to the good work being carried out by United Nations police components.

Issoufou Yacouba, Police Commissioner of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), noted that a world marred by increasingly complex conflicts requires consideration of the roles of civilian, military and police components in the strategic objectives of the mission as defined in resolution 2531 (2020).  United Nations police are active at all levels of decision-making across every level of the mandate.  Therefore, cooperation and partnerships with the host country are essential, from sectoral strategic plans signed with the heads of each security service to periodic meetings with those partners, enabling the mission to provide technical assistance and foster decision-making.

He noted that policing contributes to peaceful societies, including by advocating for inclusion and the greater involvement of women.  MINUSMA is implementing community policing and operationalizing security advisory committees as consultation frameworks between representatives of the State, security services and local populations.  While noting the significant promising steps in Mali, he said there is much to be done, especially as the pandemic and political crisis have severely impacted the implementation of the mandate.  He added that host countries must stress respect for the rule of law, with security forces establishing an environment conducive to redeploying State representatives, restoring State authority and fighting impunity.  Those elements contribute to social and economic development, and without them there can be no security, peace and stability, he said.

After the heads of police components of United Nations missions spoke, leaders and Council members expressed their views on the role of police officers in United Nations peacekeeping and special political missions, with some calling for greater support for police components as they face restrictions and undertake expanded tasks during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Others highlighted the need to implement an integrated peacekeeper performance strategy to hold police components accountable for meeting United Nations standards.

Germany’s delegate noted that 8,890 police officers are serving in 12 peacekeeping and special political missions in different regions of the world, including German police officers in Kosovo, Mali and Somalia, a history that dates back to 1989.  Reviewing that history, he noted the role of United Nations policing has grown from providing 700 officers in 1994 to almost 9,000 officers today, but especially in the mandates it is implementing in field missions — protecting civilians, including the most vulnerable in conflict, advising senior leadership of host State police services, integrating women and providing assistance through standing capacity to countries where no missions are deployed.  Stressing the importance of security and democratic policing in sustaining peace and fostering development, he said that United Nations Police must be resourced, staffed and trained according to needs on the ground, addressing that request to the Security Council, the Secretariat, the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) and police-contributing countries.  Recruitment processes are still taking far too long and are not sufficiently transparent.

Tunisia’s representative — also speaking on behalf of Niger, South Africa and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines — affirmed his support for the important role of United Nations police units in restoring stability in conflict-affected areas.  All Member States should commit to enhancing the safety and security of peacekeepers, including police officers, who are deployed around the world in line with the basic principles of peacekeeping — namely, impartiality, consent of the host country and the non-use of force.  Emphasizing the need to properly equip United Nations police officers with resources, equipment and targeted training, he also called for clear, realistic and achievable mandates.  The Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping strategy remains a critical road map paving the way for the delivery of comprehensive, nationally led political solutions as well as successful mission transitions and exit strategies.

Commending the United Nations for its successful efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 — both among its missions and local populations — he underlined the need to remain vigilant against a likely second wave of the pandemic.  National authorities should take the lead in deciding what assistance is required in that regard, he said, while spotlighting the importance of partnerships with regional organizations — especially the African Union — in addressing the spread of COVID-19.  Concluding, he noted that the last report on United Nations policing was submitted in 2018 and requested that the next one be submitted in 2021.

The representative of the United States agreed that United Nations police officers provide important support in the protection of civilians, public order management, the investigation of crimes and other crucial areas.  Police components now have protection of civilian mandates in each of the United Nations five largest peacekeeping missions.  Underlining the need to integrate gender goals into both the deployment and training of United Nations police officers, she said, two years after the adoption of Council resolution 2436 (2018), more work is needed to implement an integrated peacekeeper performance strategy in all missions.  Indeed, police components must be held accountable for meeting United Nations standards.  Looking forward to hearing more candid assessments of personnel performance — and of how the United Nations can better address performance issues — she declared:  “With more and more complex missions around the world, we need United Nations police to be professional […] and accountable.”

France’s representative said that his country deploys 21 gendarmes of all ranks in United Nations missions in Mali, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Noting that 2020 marks the sixtieth anniversary of United Nations policing, he said it is essential that the United Nations police accompany the transition from peacekeeping and peacebuilding.  The population must be at the heart of this objective.  The establishment or re-establishment of a relationship of trust between the population and public authorities and institutions are indeed an essential condition for restoring lasting peace.  This involves strengthening the rule of law, supporting national internal security forces, protection of all and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.  France supports training before and during deployment, increasingly relying on police experts while also helping police officers master the language of the host country.  The mix of male and female contingents is also key in enhancing police efficiency.

The United Kingdom’s representative said policing must be fully integrated into the planning process throughout the life of a mission, from inception to transition, with police experts at the table, and it must be supported by relevant intelligence, reporting and data.  He added that pledges of personnel need to be tailored to the needs of missions, and to contribute to achieving the Secretary-General’s gender parity strategy, with fair, timely and merit-based recruitment.  The full, equal and meaningful participation of women is not just a moral imperative but a critical operational consideration.  He added that performance must be prioritized, pointing out that when personnel perform to the high standards expected they are better able to deliver their mandates and ensure their own safety and security.  He underscored the urgent need to finalize the policing Strategic Guidance Framework, as it will help develop the right manuals and training tools to allow police contributors to understand what standards their personnel need to meet.

China’s representative said that in increasingly complex missions, the safety and security of police must be guaranteed, including improving equipment and medical conditions to reduce risks.  He joined other delegates in supporting the role of women, adding that capacity-building must be strengthened, calling on Members States and the Secretariat to assist police-contributing countries in supporting personnel.  China, he noted, has trained 1,000 participants and will continue to contribute on that level.  The Council must consider the views of all States where policing is active, taking into account realities and evolving conditions.  He specified that MINUSCA must provide logistical support for the election process, and MINUSMA must continue implementing the peace agreement there.  China has provided 2,600 police officers to policing mandates, eight of whom have died, and it has been active in nine post-conflict countries on four continents.

Indonesia’s representative said currently 307 Indonesian police officers serve in five peacekeeping missions.  Since its first deployment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1960, the role of United Nations police has expanded vastly, he said, adding that its growing role must be supported with adequate financial resources.  Furthermore, as peacekeepers are confronting more dangerous environments, greater efforts should be made to ensure their safety, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Calling for an increase in women’s participation in peacekeeping, he emphasized that police officers in Indonesia are trained with specialized expertise, such as forensics, investigation or organized crime.

Viet Nam’s representative said that United Nations police, since its inception, has played an important role in the protection of civilians and other duties, thus contributing to the maintenance of international peace and security as well as national development.  His delegation wishes to see more women in formed police units, as they can be effective in community outreach and confidence-building, stressing that the deployment of women police officers has long-term, positive impacts on the ground.  To achieve greater participation of women, measures must be taken to ensure their safety and create an enabling work environment.  Stressing the importance of supporting developing countries who contribute police to United Nations missions, he noted that Viet Nam is training personnel and will be able to dispatch qualified police officers starting in 2021.

The Russian Federation’s representative joined others in calling for proper logistics and staffing for effective implementation of police tasks.  She said it is also necessary to improve planning and management within missions and avoid duplication of efforts.  It is counterproductive to give the police political or human rights mandates, which would distract them from their core tasks and reduce the overall efficiency of their activities.  Her country has formed a personnel reserve of participants in peacekeeping operations, which allows regular rotation of police officers deployed to United Nations missions even in a pandemic.  Since 2000, her country’s training centre has trained more than 1,750 people, including 150 female police officers from the Russian Federation and several African countries.

Belgium’s representative underscored the essential — and previously undervalued and overlooked — role of United Nations police officers in the protection of civilians.  Noting that police contingents should be given a voice in planning and designing that critical area, she also called for more appropriate and flexible capabilities and tools to address existing capacity gaps.  Posing several questions to the briefers, she asked how they envision the role of United Nations police officers following the transition of some protection of civilian sites to traditional internally displaced persons camps; what their role should be in helping to administer transitional justice; and how women police officers are working in places where the cultural context makes it difficult for women to interact with men. 

The Dominican Republic’s representative agreed with other speakers who described the protection of civilians as a fundamental aspect of the work of United Nations police.  “It must always be the priority,” he said.  Praising the work of United Nations police officers amid the COVID-19 pandemic — including addressing difficult issues related to human trafficking, the counterfeiting of medical products and the threat of food aid obstruction — he drew attention to various funding challenges facing police contingents, especially in Haiti.  BINUH’s mandate to strengthen the Haitian police must continue, and it and must be supported by new commitments on the part of the Government of Haiti.  Turning to MINUSCA, he welcomed the Mission’s new performance assessment framework, the enhanced use of technological tools and the drawing up of plans to increase efficiency and capacity.  In Mali — a critical country for ensuring the stability of the Sahel region — he said security challenges continue to include trafficking, terrorism, violent extremism and a humanitarian crisis, and the United Nations police presence is essential to addressing them.

Estonia’s representative said it was crucial to implement policies aimed at enhancing the performance of peace operations, with particular focus on the protection of civilians and the promotion of human rights.  Noting the impact of COVID-19 on both the responsibilities and risks to United Nations police, he sought more details about its effect on the level of vacancies for United Nations police units in peacekeeping missions.  He also underlined the importance of promoting the equal participation of women in peace processes and United Nations police, and the critical function that a more gender-equal composition plays in community policing and in eliminating conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence.

Council members then posed various questions to the briefers, seeking details on how performance data is used to make decisions about police rotations and deployment and how protection of civilian mandates can be better addressed in transitions.  Among other questions, they also asked about measures taken to create an enabling environment for women officers in the field and about the weakest link in mission efforts to enhance the safety and security of peacekeeping police.

Responding to delegates, Mr. Zouev said there is a definite focus on nationally led political solutions and making all possible adjustments for United Nations police in the COVID-19 pandemic context.  Additional guidance is being provided, along with personal protective equipment for police and other partners.  As several delegations, including the United States, had raised the issue of performance, he responded that the United Nations has introduced a performance assessment system.  Performance, he stressed, remains the cornerstone of all activities.  Noting the role of women was mentioned by almost all speakers, he said the United Nations is proud of its improvements in that domain over the last five years, but much more effort is needed.  Troop- and police-contributing countries should also send more female personnel.  He assured France’s delegate that, given the largest missions in Central Africa and Haiti are French-speaking, the United Nations considers language of vital importance and is striving to find more and more French-speaking personnel.

Mr. Therriault said that it is important that United Nations police taps into 100 per cent of the population, stressing the role of leadership in expanding the inclusion and role of women in missions.  At United Nations Headquarters, a roster of senior women candidates has been created, and policies are being put in place to remove systematic biases and filters that prevent women’s access to positions.  Under the policy guidance, at least 20 per cent of personnel dispatched by police-contributing countries should be women.  In Haiti, great progress has been made on developing national policing capacity.  On technology, he highlighted the need to allow more time for the Haitian National Police to adapt.  Turning to capacity to deal with sexual and gender-based violence, he said one of his 13 professional staff members is a gender advisor.  With the transition to a special political mission, a specialized police team morphed into a tool for bilateral assistance.

Ms. Vuniwaqa said that the changes made to the mandate of UNMISS in 2018 allowed police components to provide technical assistance.  The protection of civilian sites are re-designated as camps for internally displaced persons.  This change enabled United Nations police to re-posture themselves and work alongside and mentor national police on how to handle human rights violations, including gender-based violence.  On gender balance, it is important that women are given opportunities in police-contributing countries even before their deployment to United Nations missions.  Once deployed, they should have opportunities to serve in leadership roles so that they return to home countries with expanded experience.  Performance data is increasingly used in line with the evaluation framework introduced in 2019 by the Police Division.

Mr. Champion, responding to a question about gender parity, said MINUSCA achieved successful results in that area after fundamentally changing its gender strategy in 2019.  Women officers are preferred to men in certain cases and are recruited as such.  Citing cultural and other contexts that have sometimes proven challenging for female officers, he welcomed that male officers have frequently supported their female colleagues.  MINUSCA police officers currently perform daily tasks in support of the Central African Republic’s preparations for the upcoming elections — including planning for the establishment of a 24-hour-seven-day-a-week telephone hotline for emergency election support — and are helping to build up the country’s infrastructure.

For his part, Mr. Yacouba outlined several lessons learned from Mali’s recent political crisis.  MINUSMA’s police contingent is making progress in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process and advising the transitional authorities on a range of issues.  Noting that the security situation is deteriorating, he said the top priorities now include governance, sustainable development, civilian protection and the expansion of State presence and the protection of institutions, as well as efforts to tackle terrorism and trafficking.  “The real problem today is a lack of trust between the populace and representatives of the State,” he said, calling for a holistic “shared management” approach with women at its centre.  Turning to the Mission’s special police units — which he said are currently overwhelmed — he said officers engaged in fighting crime in the centre of the country are particularly inundated and struggle to protect themselves and their base.

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