My presentation: the Role of the UN Police in Protection of Civilians [Global Peacebuilding Association, 25 March 2017]

I made a presentaiton on the role of the UN police in protecting civilians at the Global Peacebuilding Association’s seminar on 25 March 2017. The following is the summary of my presentation. I did not expect to have so many enthusiastic questions. Great to see that there is a keen interest in the UN police in the Japanese academics and practitioners – very rarely studied area.


The Role of United Nations Police in Protection of Civilians

25 March 2017

Ai Kihara-Hunt


Having initiated as the United Nation (UN)’s response to mass civilian killings, the concept of protection of civilians (POC) has become the center of what UNPeace Operations delivers. It is the raison d’être for a few recent missions. Prof. Kihara-Hunt explored the role of the UN police in POC and argued that their central role should be supported institutionally and operationally.


The presentation was in three parts: 1) the birth and development of POC, 2) the development of the role of the UN police, and 3) challenges and suggestions for better delivery of POC.


  1. The POC concept was born as the UN’s response to mass killings of civilians. The key is, and remains to be, protecting civilians ‘under imminent threat of physical violence’. The content has become more specific. Some recent mandates identify specific groups for protection. Earlier mandates included POC as a part, and some more recent ones have POC as their objectives. POC has shifted from an authority to use force to the duty to protect at two levels: at the level of peacekeepers and that of the mission. The UN considers its POC mandates in three tiers and four phases, taking a holistic approach with its focus on the community in the host State.
  2. UN police is the fastest growing component of UN Peace Operations. Having started in the 1960s as a 30-member team under the military command, it has grown in number to around 13,000 and has been long recognized as an independent existence. Its functions have shifted from monitoring to capacity building and institution building. They are required to deliver more and more complex tasks. There are two types of UN police: Individual Police Officers (IPOs, including Specialized Police Teams – SPTs), who are seconded by contributing countries and deployed individually; and Formed Police Units (FPUs), who are seconded as units of 120-140 police officers. FPUs are deployed for specific tasks, operating in high-risk environments and/or requiring coherent response. Currently about 70 percent of UN police are FPUs. UN police have gained importance in UN Peace Operations, to the extent that they not only deliver core functions, but also the effective delivery of their functions is linked to the missions’ exit strategies. UN police’ strength, in particular that of IPOs, is their interaction with the communities that they serve for, and information that are based on that posture. Despite this, UN police are yet to be fully integrated into the UN’s planning, strategies, operations and analysis, and struggle to deliver their functions efficiently. They suffer from insufficient and inadequate supply of human and other resources. UN Police are currently under reform. An external review suggested that their functions be considered in two different types: protection and development and that appropriate human resource be provided for those functions.
  3. POC is a mandate that contains the biggest gap between what is expected and what is delivered, according to the High Panel on UN Peace Operations. In particular, the role of the UN police is most unclear according to a study by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The community-centered approach of the POC matches the strength of the UN police. It is suggested that the UN police play the central role in the delivery of the POC. For that, it is essential that the structure of command be clarified, POC operations to be civilian-led in principle, and the UN police to be fully involved POC planning, strategies, analysis and evaluation.


Also see:

New Book: Holding UNPOL to Account: Individual Criminal Accountability of United Nations Police Personnel

My new book ‘Holding UNPOL to Account: Individual Accountability of United Nations Police Personnel’ is coming out in March 2017. The book probes into the effectiveness of the UN’s accountability mechanisms and arrangements in relation to criminal behaviour by UN Police personnel.

UN police are involved in establishing the rule of law, in UN Peace Operations. However, they themselves commit serious crimes, but are not generally prosecuted. This is likely to have an impact on the UN’s effectiveness and legitimacy. Are the UN’s mechanisms for addressing criminal accountability effective? If there is a problem, how can it be mitigated?

To answer these questions, the qualifications, qualities and functions of UN police were identified. Next, an attempt was made to quantify the problem of their criminal behaviour. Current accountability mechanisms were assessed. Jurisdictional and immunity issues were examined as potential barriers to prosecution. Finally, the obligations of States and the UN to investigate and prosecute criminal acts committed by UN police were examined.

The book offers a rare analysis of raw data of criminal behaviour by UN Peace Operations personnel, and dissects UN’s internal mechanisms. Its examination into legal and practical barriers for prosecution makes it clear that legal obstacles are not as big as they are often pictured to be. It then argues that States and the UN have obligation under International Human Rights Law to investigate and prosecute serious crimes committed by UN Police Personnel. The research indicated that the issue of criminal accountability of UN Police Personnel is linked to bigger issues of the UN, which need to be addressed at its political organs.

For more information and purchase, follow the link below: