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Rule of law

Upholding the rule of law is essential to successful peacekeeping. It requires strengthening confidence in police, justice systems and correctional services.

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 and training personnel

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.

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 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.

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 2012, UN rule of law personnel was deployed across 16 peace missions, including approximately:

  • 315 Judicial Affairs Officers
  • 370 Corrections Officers
  • More than 14,000 Police Officers (9.8% Female) and 16,300 Authorized for deployment

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

United Nations, New York City, 22 June 2011 - In this interview recorded on 18 March 2011, Ellen Løj, Head of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) explains our work in the area of rule of law.