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Rule of law

Rule of law assistance is an essential tool that the United Nations relies upon to help maintain peace and security around the world.

the UN Police Commissioner signing a document surrounded by other peacekeepers and locals.

UN Photo/Martine Perret

UN Police Commissioner of UNMIT signs agreement to hand-over primary policing responsibilities to the National Police of Timor-Leste.

Rule of Law is the legal and political framework under which all persons and institutions, including the State itself, are accountable.  Establishing respect for the rule of law is fundamental to achieving a durable peace in the aftermath of conflict.

Laws need to be publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated and be consistent with international human rights norms and standards. Peacekeeping works to strengthen police, justice and corrections institutions, as well as the institutions that can hold them accountable.

Since 1999, all major peacekeeping operations, and many special political missions, have had provisions to work with the host country to strengthen the rule of law.

Rebuilding institutions

Police stations, courthouses and prisons are frequently dilapidated and in some cases completely destroyed following a conflict. Key legal records and other necessary materials are often missing.

Typically, the independence of the judiciary is weak, their salaries low and often unpaid, providing a fertile ground for corruption.

Prisons typically suffer from extreme overcrowding, lack of food, absence of adequate medical care and poor sanitation. Political interference is often rampant and oversight mechanisms non-existent or biased.

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) aims to address these three institutions simultaneously, deploying police, judicial and corrections officers. As a first step the Department works to stabilize the security situation and then begins to work on short- and medium-term plans to rebuild the criminal justice system.

In Liberia, Timor-Leste, Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, our peacekeeping operations have worked with national authorities to develop comprehensive plans that include rebuilding or constructing new police stations, court houses and prisons. At the same time these missions have worked with the host Government to help develop the local capacity and human resources needed to ensure that these institutions can function.

Training personnel

Inadequately trained law enforcement officials, an insecure environment and a general culture of impunity frequently impede the delivery of justice and impact public confidence and trust in state institutions. Police services often have a legacy of being instruments of oppression and are in disarray and lack basic policing skills. In many cases, they are dominated by former combatants, who may have actively taken part in the conflict or become militarised in equipment and outlook.

There is often a lack of qualified judicial, legal and corrections professionals, a lack of capacity to ensure oversight and accountability, and training facilities and educational institutions – where they even exist – are under-resourced.

As part of the overall re-building programme UN Peacekeeping works with national partners and international donors to oversee the rehabilitation of training centres, universities and police and ensure they able to train the required personnel. For example in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, peacekeeping officers developed stop-gap training programmes to prepare train hundreds of police officers.

Basis of UN Assistance

Rule of law assistance is based on United Nations standards that reflect applicable international human rights law, international humanitarian law, international criminal law and international refugee law. It is always based on national ownership and the needs and priorities identified by national authorities and is consistent with the culture and legal traditions of the host country.

The General Assembly established the Justice and Corrections Standing Capacity in 2010. It consists of a small number of experts who can be sent on short notice wherever needed, complimenting the existing Standing Police Capacity which was established in 2007.

Restoring the rule of law is a long-term process, and the DPKO is developing the expertise that can quickly deploy to peacekeeping and peacebuilding environments around the world.

In late 2010, UN rule of law personnel was deployed across 17 peace missions, including approximately:

  • 180 Judicial Affairs Officers
  • 175 Corrections Officers
  • 14,000 Police Officers (9.8% Female)

Our standing capacity consists of 41 Police Officers, three Judicial Affairs Officers and two Corrections Officers.