Launch of Policy Paper on Human Rights Readiness of UN Peacekeepers

Event Video: 

The extent to which consideration of human rights is integrated into the generation, operational configuration, and evaluation of uniformed personnel of United Nations peacekeeping missions was the subject of a June 25th virtual event co-sponsored by IPI and the Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN. The event served to launch the policy paper Integrating Human Rights into the Operational Readiness of UN Peacekeepers co-authored by Namie Di Razza, Senior Fellow and Head of Protection of Civilians at the IPI, and Jake Sherman, Senior Director of Programs and Director of IPI’s Brian Urquhart Center for Peace Operations.

The paper offers a definition of “human rights readiness” for peacekeepers, which is intended to complement the UN’s “operational readiness” policy framework. It analyzes the extent to which human rights are integrated into training and force generation for uniformed peacekeepers, and concludes with concrete recommendations for how the UN and troop- and police-contributing countries can strengthen human rights readiness.

Jukka Salovaara, Permanent Representative of Finland to the UN, said that human rights training was compulsory for all Finnish police recruits in keeping with Finnish foreign policy’s overall emphasis on human rights. “Finland’s goals in international human rights policy are the eradication of discrimination and increased openness and inclusion, and we are really mainstreaming this in all our foreign policy. And it is crucial to us that the men and women we deploy in the field respect the principles of human rights. This is critical for upholding the credibility of UN peacekeeping and the shared value of UN operations.”

Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “We have in the last few years worked with various internal and external partners to mainstream UN peacekeeping under a broad framework of human rights readiness.” She said the goal was to “reinforce the centrality of human rights” and to ensure that personnel from the UN and countries that contribute police and troops to UN operations had human rights training. “Political willingness and respect for human rights is a key condition and prerequisite for peace and security at the national, regional, and international levels, including in the work at the UN.”

Luis Carrilho, Police Adviser, UN Department of Peace Operations, declared, “Every United Nations police officer, like every police officer around the world, is a human rights officer. And the police is one of the most visible faces of the state, so the action of the police is key for the balance between freedom and security for all.” He said that all mandated tasks should incorporate “democratic policing,” which he described as policing in which the human rights of everyone are “protected, promoted and respected.” The best way to guarantee that, he said, was through comprehensive and early training. “It goes without saying that effective training, with human rights aspects, mainstreaming human rights throughout, lies at the core of these efforts.” He also said it was critical that this training should be conducted prior to deployment.

Also arguing for thorough-going pre-deployment training was Mark Pedersen, Director, Integrated Training Service, UN Department of Peace Operations. “Human rights is not a peacekeeping-only skill, it should be the foundational knowledge for all soldiers and police personnel,” he said. “The first time a soldier… meets a human rights issue should not be on a peacekeeping operation. As long as we continue to deal with a situation where that first encounter is in a peacekeeping situation, we’ll be struggling uphill to inculcate human rights among peacekeeping personnel.”

Francesca Marotta, Chief, Methodology, Education and Training Section, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that in force generation, knowledge of human rights was a key determinant in both selecting and deploying UN personnel. “An effort has been made to flesh out modalities leading to uniformed personnel best equipped to advance human rights aspects of mandates.” She said the UN screening policy had two main goals—“to preempt the deployment of personnel involved in violations” and “to enable selection of personnel and units that are best equipped to effectively implement their mandates.” She said there were still “gaps in training where specialized human rights resources may be limited. We know from our work with troop/police-contributing countries that national trainers who are typically police officers may not have the effective background to deliver human rights training” and that “resorting to external partners may also have its limits.” Instead, she said, OHCHR had developed a pre-deployment training approach jointly teaching both policing and human rights expertise. “We have partnered with standard police capacity to develop training of human rights that provides a different understanding of human rights.” The first such course was conducted in Jordan for African peace trainers, she said, but a second had to be postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maj. Gen. Hugh Van Roosen, Deputy Military Adviser, UN Department of Peace Operations, said that a major focus of his office’s work was educating peacekeepers about human rights. “For the military, if we are going to require individuals to be stewards of human rights, as part of the protection of civilians strategy and our other tasks and mandates, we have to have a clear understanding of what those human rights are,” he explained. He said that explicit language about concepts of human rights tasks, principles, and standards was now included in infantry manuals and training materials. “Within the UN structure, there is a long-overdue integration of these concepts and practices in a way that’s meaningful to basic soldiers. If a basic soldier said simply ‘human rights,’ without any definition of what we are talking about, that would not be clearly understood. We have to focus on clear tasks and standards, and I’m delighted to report that the integrated effort we’ve been making is beginning to pay off.”

Sari Rautio, Director, Security Policy, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, stressed the importance of exchanging lessons learned. “An important finding of our training is that international cooperation offers the opportunity to share best practices, develop and compare modules, share trainers and students, create and harmonize standards.” She added, “We take to heart the recommendation that we should make greater use of human rights officers and human rights NGOs and human rights commissions in the training. We already do this, but there is always space to improve.” Finland put particular emphasis on the need for women in peacekeeping and has achieved gender parity in two of its annual UN missions over three years, she said. “Finland thinks the inclusion of women in peace operations is a prerequisite for sustainable peace, democracy, and human rights. By the same token, the participation of women in peacekeeping widens the skills available, access to communities, and ways UN missions can be enhanced.”

Mohammad Koba, Deputy Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the UN, said that in selecting persons for peacekeeping missions, “we check their human rights records to make sure we have the most qualified and well-prepared personnel. We develop human rights-specific training, incorporating lessons learned.” He stressed that meeting human rights objectives was a mission-wide responsibility. “The civilian human rights component has the main responsibility. However, all personnel in the mission—both civilian and uniformed—have an important role to play. The delivery of human rights mandates on the ground is not easy, and now the challenge has become even greater with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Christoph Heusgen, Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN, said that how peacekeeping and special political missions can contribute more effectively to the promotion and protection of human rights would be a focus of the current German presidency of the UN Security Council. “It’s important that peacekeepers have a clear understanding of what human rights is,” he said.

Dr. Di Razza, co-author of the policy paper, observed that although human rights was a part of the core pre-deployment training prepared by the UN and administered by member states to their personnel, “the delivery of these trainings can vary in quality.” And while the human rights screening had improved from the days when it relied on self-certification, she said, there still was a need for a greater role by the Secretariat to do its own assessment of the human rights readiness of personnel. Commenting on another of the paper’s findings, she said, “quite interestingly, as the UN focused on the human rights records and compliance of non-UN partners, it seems that more processes were developed for external actors than for UN personnel themselves.”

The other co-author of the paper and moderator of the discussion, Jake Sherman, remarked, “Human rights activities are not just for the human rights component of a mission, and the speakers today have emphasized that this is really an obligation for all peacekeepers and that the intent of this initiative is to try to proactively integrate human rights into police and military operations. There is a solid policy basis that already exists within the organization to do that. This is ultimately a partnership between the UN and member states, and if the UN is going to be able to hold up its end of the partnership, it needs capacities to be able to do so across the whole range of offices and departments.”