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The Role of UN Police in Preventing Conflict and Sustaining Peace

United Nations Chiefs of Police Summit (COPS)
Panel on “The Role of UN Police in Preventing Conflict and Sustaining Peace”
New York, 21 June 2018

Statement by Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights

Ladies and gentlemen,

Police officers and human rights officers are natural partners.
Some people – usually those who are fundamentally uncomfortable with human rights principles – try to claim the opposite: that human rights and security are contrary in practice and in values. We reject that line completely.

For us, it is clear that human rights and policing go together. After all, we both share a commitment to upholding the rule of law; to protecting the population; ensuring justice; and sustaining peace.

Experience, research and indeed basic common sense all show that police services which systematically incorporate human rights into their work are more effective in addressing crime, and enjoy vastly greater legitimacy in the eyes of the wider population, than those that do not.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and our 60 human rights field presences support law enforcement agencies by providing expertise on legal and policy frameworks. We help police services build their internal oversight systems, while also supporting external accountability measures that keep the police clean and honest.

Over and beyond strategic advice, we also provide hands-on human rights training to police services across the world. Soon, we will publish an enhanced and expanded version of the OHCHR Human Rights and Law Enforcement training materials. These are made available to all member states; free of cost. We stand ready to support you with expertise and training should you wish it.

Human rights become particularly relevant in countries that may relapse into conflict. Human rights and police officers deployed to U.N. peace operations regularly support host states in building professional, accountable and democratic police services. These are crucial to sustaining peace and preventing the emergence of a security vacuum that is too often filled by armed criminal groups.

Helping to building credible national police services that effectively protect the population and allow the national military to focus on external threats (as they are supposed to do) may be the greatest legacy that peace operations can leave behind when they complete their mission.

On a day-to-day basis, United Nations police and human rights officers work shoulder-to-shoulder in documenting and addressing human rights violations by local actors. While serving on mission in Haiti, the current UN Police Advisor Luis Carillho was instrumental in establishing arrangements that form the model for institutionalized cooperation between human rights and uniformed components across the world. Some examples of:

  1. Working together in rebuilding national police forces
    a.   In Haiti, the MINUJUSTH human rights component and UNPOL are working on the legislative and oversight reform of the Haitian National Police in a new approach to implement the rule of law mandate of the mission.
    b.   In CAR, the MINUSCA human rights and police components work closely together, including in the vetting of the new national police force.
    c.   In several other missions, various forms of training and capacity-building events are organized and conducted jointly between the human rights and police components.
  2. Joint work in investigation of human rights concerns
    a.   In missions with a human rights and police component, investigations into serious violations of human rights are often conducted jointly, with the police units providing their specific forensic, investigative or also ballistic expertise. In CAR / MINUSCA, for instance, the documentation of mass graves or examination of arms relies on UNPOL expertise.
  3. Preventing violence and protecting the local population
    a.   Presently in DRC / MONUSCO our Human Rights Office JHRO) works closely together with the UN Police on monitoring and reporting on electoral violence and the shrinking of democratic space. They also participate in a contingency planning exercise for a joint operational response to monitor potential electoral violence, as well as advocacy with national governmental and police counterparts.

    Globally, the UN Human rights office and UNPOL are also working together closely to implement the Secretary-General’s Human Rights Due Diligence Policy. This crucial Policy was established to ensure that the UN does not (inadvertently) contribute to human rights violations when its supports local security forces. Increasingly, UNPOL and others successfully use it as strategic leverage to promote positive behavioral change and reform on the part of national police services.

    I would also like to draw attention to our growing focus on non-coercive interrogation techniques. It is widely recognized that torture is completely illegal, immoral and indeed ineffective. Not only does it discredit governments, police and justice services, especially when it is perceived to result on wrongful convictions. It also leads to wholly unreliable evidence being produced, as people under extreme duress will say literally anything in order to stop the pain. We are looking forward to increasing our cooperation with our UN Police colleagues to help stamp out these harmful practices and develop a universal set of standards for investigative interviewing practices grounded in international human rights law.

    The bonds of professional respect and trust that are formed in peacekeeping do not end when officers return from their field deployments. My experience is that both police and human rights officers return home with a far greater understanding of each other’s work.

    Working together and learning from one another is for the better of our staff and the people they serve and protect. As I said, at the beginning, we mustn’t let people say we have contrary approaches, priorities or values. Police officers and human rights officers are indeed natural allies – and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to reinforce this case today.