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Press Conference on Rule of Law in Peacekeeping Operations, 27 May 2011

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

Officials of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations stressed the importance of strengthening the rule of law as a key part of peacekeeping, as they marked the ninth International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

“Rule of law is essential for peace. It’s part of our exit strategy and its part of our entry policy,” said Dmitry Titov, Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions, a unit established in 2007, describing the theme of this year’s International Day, which is observed annually on 29 May, but is being commemorated today because it falls on a Sunday this year.

Mr. Titov explained that police, advisers and other personnel concerned with the range of law and order issues — from police training to judicial systems and good governance to humane incarceration — arrived around the same time in post-conflict countries as the rest of the peacekeeping operation. As the security situation stabilized, they worked with their national counterparts and political leaders to restore legal order in a sustainable manner, he said.

Joining Mr. Titov at today’s press conference were Ann-Marie Orler, Police Adviser and Director of the Police Division; Robert Pulver, Chief of the Criminal Law and Judicial Advisory Service; and Mary Okumu, Corrections Coordinator, Criminal Law and Judicial Advisory Service.

All the speakers paid tribute to the 120,000 peacekeeping personnel — military, police and civilians — presently serving worldwide under the blue flag. “Blue Helmets have represented the Organization at its best,” Mr. Titov said. They also remembered those who had lost their lives in the cause of peace, noting that a wreath-laying ceremony this morning had honoured the 99 peacekeepers who had died between 1 March 2010 and 11 April of this year.

“This is a heavy toll,” Mr. Titov said, while noting that just today there had been an attack on peacekeepers of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which had wounded several of them. It was too early to flesh out the full details about that attack, although it appeared to have been the result of a roadside bombing on a logistical convoy, he said.

Ms. Orler noted that the year’s death toll included nine United Nations police officers, who had been deployed in a range of dangerous situations around the world, helping to restore law and order in post-conflict countries. Recently, in Timor-Leste, their capacity-building and training programmes had allowed the national police to resume full responsibility for the country. “This is monumental,” she commented.

Among other situations in which the said United Nations police were making a big difference was Haiti, she said, where they helped to keep order in displaced persons camps and trained national police, with an emphasis on combating sexual crimes. In that regard, she said that the Police Division was working to increase the percentage of female officers from 10 to 20 by 2014.

She said that, in all situations, United Nations police helped to restore professionalism, accountability and trust in national police, while lending them technical expertise in such specialities as organized crime and forensics. It took time to build credible and accountable institutions, for which long-term support was needed.

Turning to judicial institutions, Mr. Pulver said: “Without a functioning judicial system, infrastructure and personnel, there can be no rule of law.” Judicial affairs officers connected with both peacekeeping and special political missions worked with national authorities on the raft of activities needed to restore an impartial, fair and accountable judicial system, from recordkeeping to legislation, with an emphasis on national ownership. The endeavour required much time, commitment and resources.

Ms. Okumu stressed that a corrections system that guaranteed the rights of prisoners was another crucial part of the rule of law, even though the issue of prisons was often overlooked. In post-conflict countries, conditions were often horrific. “To be sent to prison must not be the same as being sentenced to death,” she declared. Peacekeepers under her coordination helped national authorities improve infrastructure and human resources to reach the minimum standards needed to respect human dignity.

Asked whether the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) and the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) had made progress in the rule of law in Sudan, Mr. Titov stressed that there were good relations with the authorities in UNMIS area of operations, with an active programme in conjunction with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that had made “sizeable progress”, but the conditions in South Sudan were very challenging, with corrections facilities still very basic.

On human rights abuses reported in a police training centre in South Sudan, he said the situation concerned a national training institution that was run in conjunction with some international partners. UNMIS had not had access to the facility until the reports emerged, and since then, the Government had undertaken corrective action and human rights monitors had visited the centre.

A systemic approach was needed, he said, adding that the Peacekeeping Department knew how to ensure that training was done within the highest standards of human rights.

Ms. Orler added that training was no longer going on at that facility. Investigations had been launched and UNMIS was closely following them.

Regarding what was being done to ensure that perpetrators of sexual crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo were brought to justice, Mr. Pulver said that there were units advising and supporting officials in that country, who had the responsibility to prosecute the perpetrators and end impunity. Peacekeeping units also helped with monitoring, investigating, reporting and political leveraging. Political will in the country was needed to address particular cases, he stressed.

Mr. Titov added that they were pleased that high-profile cases had indeed been brought to trial in the Democratic Republic of the Congo recently.

The panel knew of no United Nations peacekeeping presence that would help to monitor a reopened Rafah crossing from Egypt to Gaza, though there was a liaison office in Cairo, speakers replied to another question. Asked why rule of law was not a focus of peacekeeping in the Middle East, the panel stressed that the international system had different mechanisms for different cases. The Peacekeeping Department only dealt with the issue when it was mandated as part of an operation authorized by the Security Council.

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