Policing – Done Right

“When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when everyone knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And in such circumstances, when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.”

T.S. Eliot, “The Perfect Critic”; 1920, in: Jacobs, Alan. How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds (p. 22). The Crown Publishing Group; 2017.

The United Nations defines “policing” as a function of governance responsible for the prevention, detection and investigation of crime; the protection of persons and property; and the maintenance of public order and safety. Policing must be entrusted to civil servants who are members of police or other law enforcement agencies of national, regional or local governments, within a legal framework that is based on the rule of law. Police and law enforcement officials have the obligation to respect and protect human rights.

(1) Policing is a core function of communities and societies. Done right, it crucially contributes to peace and security for citizens. On the slippery slope from peace to conflict security institutions always show early signs of entanglement, in varying combinations becoming part of the emerging conflict, or a deliberate target. Security institutions that are resilient to undue political control and that understand their function as a commitment to citizens, actively contribute to conflict prevention and allow conflict resolution based on dialogue and mediation. Where prevention and resolution fail within an intra-state conflict, policing will be damaged. A restored policing function post-conflict is essential for sustainable peace and security. It must be based on consensual domestic ownership, gender and community representation, and prioritized early on after a conflict ends:

(2) Policing is part of a society’s immune system. Conflict prevention must include efforts strengthening the immune system of a society. Where conflict prevention fails, assistance to restoration of policing is the paramedic approach needed to stop the patient from bleeding, and to prevent wounded communities and societies from becoming infected by transnational threats, including serious and organized crime, violent extremism, and international terrorism. Where assistance to protection of civilians, and to capacity building of their immune system fails, affected societies and States struggle. More often than not they may end up riddled with endemic corruption, crime, and continued conflict. Threats for international peace and security thrive on this weakness. Finally, after post-conflict stabilization peace building must include efforts to sustain the restoration of a society’s immune system including through it’s integration into regional and international security mechanisms.

(3) Consequently, strengthening the role of UN policing in conflict prevention and in sustainable peace building on one hand and a more decisive and capable assistance of UN policing to the restoration of post-conflict domestic policing as a core function of modern peace operations on the other hand must be a priority. Where early and decisive efforts of today’s peace operations restoring domestic policing are not mandated or sufficiently resourced and politically prioritized, the peace process itself is at risk: In contemporary conflict environments asymmetric actors evolve who are not party to peace agreements, and who have neither interest in complying with peace processes nor respect for international actors supporting peace. They include transnational crime, violent extremism and international terrorism. These actors increasingly target the UN itself. Military responses alone fail against these, whilst policing provides no solitary answer against violent extremism and terrorism at the early stages of conflict intervention either: Robust peace operations require sufficiently resourced police and military capacities, able to act together. At the same time, any international activity that does not successfully assist in restoring domestic security capacity has no exit strategy, leading to getting stuck, or being defeated, on tactical, operational, strategic, and policy levels.

(4) Successful peace building prevents relapse and is practical conflict prevention. There is no alternative to helping struggling societies in creating conditions for safety, security, and justice. Taken together with other global developments the alternatives simply are displacement and migration as means to flee from insecurity and inhumane oppression. Extremism, violence, and crime, feed on this. United Nations Member States must fully embrace the appreciation that UN international policing needs decisive strengthening as part of a much broader strategy aiming to achieve Sustainable Development Goal SDG 16. The argument that policing resources are to be used in own domestic contexts is leaving a vast security dimension devoid that military means can not address, nor substitute.

(5) In 2015, the report of the High Level Independent on Peace Operations (HIPPO) confirmed UN Police as a critical component for peace operations. September 2015, UN Secretary General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon presented the HIPPO-Report to the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council, introducing it, inter alia, with the statement that “…Labels assigned to conflict – internal, inter-state, regional, ethnic or sectarian – have become increasingly irrelevant, as transnational forces of violent extremism and organized crime build on and abet local rivalries.

(6) As borders do not work against crime and terror, neither physically, and even more so not in cyber-space, policing in United Nations’ work on peace and security must become an accepted part of an ever more strengthened international dimension of policing, and it must meet the challenges presented by the global effects of the Internet: There is no local development without global effect any longer, and vice versa.

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