Civilian Police Issues in Peacekeeping
An Interview with Michael O'Rielly
In the early 1960s, civilian police were deployed to ONUC, the United Nations Operation in the Congo. And for over 25 years, they have been part of the UN Force in Cyprus. Starting with the UN mission in Namibia in 1988, civilian police have become an increasingly important aspect of UN peacekeeping. By mid-2000, over 7,000 civilian police from more than 70 countries were participating in 10 UN missions.
As part of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the UN Civilian Police Division was set up in October 2000 with a staff of experienced police officers from contributing countries. The Division is mandated to plan and support the work of United Nations Civilian Police officers in UN peacekeeping operations. Its goals are to enhance planning capacity for police components of UN operations; assist as appropriate in strengthening the performance, effectiveness and efficiency of local criminal justice systems, including police and corrections; enhance ability to deploy rapidly a functional police component; and improve quality representation in the field.
Michael O’Rielly has served in two UN missions, as District Field Commander for UNTAG in Namibia from 1989 through 1990, and as the Commissioner of the UN civilian police force for UNPROFOR in former Yugoslavia from 1992 through 1994.
Prior to his UN experience, O’Rielly served 37 years with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, retiring at the Chief Superintendent level after having worked his way up the ranks from corporal. Each position brought with it different responsibilities, management challenges and training.
Since his retirement, O’Rielly has served as a human rights trainer with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Committee of the Red Cross, at the UN Peace Keeping Training Center in Turin, Italy, and in Southern and Central Africa. He has also facilitated education and training activities for the Lester B. Pearson Peacekeeping Training Centre in Canada. In 1995, O’Rielly led the effort to establish the International Police Transition Team for Bosnia Herzegovina, and coordinated the evaluation of the training program there in 1997. Also in Bosnia Herzegovina and in Kosovo, he performed human rights training and established police special units. O’Rielly serves as a role player and subject matter expert on civilian police in peacekeeping.
Robin Hayden: How did you get involved in UN Peacekeeping?
Michael O’Rielly: In 1989, the UN asked Canada to send police officers to serve in the UN Mission in Namibia (UNTAG), so we sent one hundred officers. This was the first time Canadian police were involved in UN peacekeeping missions. I was Superintendent at the time.
I arrived before elections to establish an emergency communications center for the entire country. In November 1989, I was transferred to tribal homeland on the Angola border. People were trying to discourage elections from occurring, so I spent four months there helping to maintain law and order.
In 1992, the Civil Police Commissioner selected me to be the Commander in the former Yugoslavia for UNPROFOR, but upon arrival, I was also appointed the Chief of Staff to the Civilian Police Organization. This time Canada sent fifty police officers. After nine months the Civil Police Commissioner left the mission and I was appointed to that post.
RH: Who makes these selections?
MO: The Special Representative to the Secretary-General, plus the Under Secretary. The Secretary-General approved the selection, which is part of the UN political process. The UN in turn had to get approval from Canada. Representing Canada entails its own process, one that I was apart from.
RH: Your service in these missions was
MO: Yes, all missions are voluntary.
RH: Why did you volunteer?
MO: Well, it was something different and I was looking for a challenge. I always thought it would be interesting to work in a developing country because, believe it or not, I always looked forward to serving in some kind of missionary work after I retired. A UN peacekeeping mission allowed me that experience while organizing other police officers to help people – sort of missionary police work!
Uniformed police work in any country is, for the most part, social work. Any day of the week a police officer spends 98% of the time helping people and only about 2% of the time arresting people. Why? Because you don’t arrest people unless they commit a crime and you have to have reason to believe they committed it. The job is mostly about helping people and giving them advice.
RH: Is that how you were trained in Canada to think about policing?
RH: Do you find that policing philosophy translates well across countries and communities?
MO: It does. I think police for the most part are trained to serve the public and uphold the law of the land. According to the rule of law, the police officer is there to enforce the law and no one should be above it. That’s what I believe, that no one is above the law, whether you are a police officer or a politician.
RH: How do you apply that perspective in a Namibia, Yugoslavia or Iraq?
MO: While a police officer’s main purpose is to serve the public, there are times when people do not want to be assisted by their local police officers. In many countries, for many reasons, civilian police do not have legitimacy. So, as a UN officer, you have to establish legitimacy, and show that you are there to help. By thinking that way, you are impartial. You are there to help people live in accordance with their law or whichever law you are enforcing. You avoid pointing fingers because then you seem to be taking sides.
When we were in Namibia and Yugoslavia, we did not ride in the same car or associate much with the local police. We had our own vehicles. If they were going to a crime scene, we followed behind them. We were not sure how people saw them. We had to be very careful to not demonstrate in any way that we were working with the local police because they may not be trusted.
But we could cooperate, visit and negotiate with local police, especially those times that they did not want to respond because of ethnic rivalries. They did not want to investigate a crime on the opposing side, so we had to persuade them that is was important to the law and for the good of the people that the investigation was conducted and conducted properly.
The UN mission mandate to civilian police is very general: monitor the local police to insure that they are working according to international standards for human rights. Because the guidance is general, imagination, training and experience are important. The job is to insure one way or the other that the police or any one in authority is not going to abuse or violate human rights when the police
RH: What then is the difference between the UN civilian police and human rights observers?
MO: Civilian police conduct their inquiries in accordance with international law, their own national laws, and their experience and training. If they observe a human rights violation, they will identify it as such and report it so that an intervention can take place. In a country in conflict, recording the event and taking pictures results in the indigenous police assisting because recording the event causes worldwide attention they don’t really want.
Human rights observers are usually lawyers or members of an NGO who are hired by the human rights body of the mission. Their job is to conduct inquiries with people who complain that their rights have been abused.
I am not talking about criminal rights. If a person is shot or assaulted, that is a criminal and not a human rights matter. The human rights matter occurs when, for example, your property is taken from you. Property rights were the biggest problem in Yugoslavia.
People in prison also have certain rights. Perhaps they have been denied a certain standard of living, or, in the case of a female or child who are put into a male detention center when they could have been separated, that’s a violation of their human rights and of international humanitarian law. Perhaps someone has been charged with an offense, but hasn’t been brought before a judge for 48 hours or is denied a lawyer – these are also violations of human rights.
Human rights observers investigate incidents that have occurred. The police are concerned with what’s going on today. That is a law and order issue. In missions with a human rights component, the non-indigenous civilian police share information on investigations. Civilian police will only be in a UN mission maybe six months to a year, but someone has to be able to retain records. The human rights component has permanent retention responsibility, so it’s a practical matter, as they can use the files for a trial. If a person is brought before court, that information could be used if it makes reference to political interference resulting in human rights violations. It is information that could be used in the prosecution of war crimes.
RH: Will a UN mission include training for the new civilian police force?
MO: If you mean for the indigenous police force, then yes. We have prime examples in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor where the UN civilian police trained the new police forces. Kosovo’s training mission included training, graduation, and use of the non-indigenous police as mentors to work with the new indigenous force in the field. It is a different approach because police officers from all over the world are helping the local force to be better police officers.
RH: Do civilian police serving in a mission receive training from the UN?
MO: Typically police officers participating in UN missions are senior officers in their home countries. When they go to a mission they bring a wide range of experience. There are different types of laws: civil, common, and Sharia law are examples. All have different approaches towards the conduct of civil society. When police officers deal with their own people, it is according to their own law. When they go to another country, they have to understand the host country constitution and the type of laws enforced. They get this information the first week they serve in the mission, as part of an introduction.
Many countries now have two to three month-long courses on different types of law. The degree of preparation is improving all the time. People in positions of authority in the UN are realizing that in order to establish a peaceful country, the next step toward good governance is for the civilian police mission to provide law and order. Conversely, law and order will not survive over time without good governance. Of course, good governance is the goal.
RH: Where does the justice system fit in?
MO: The justice system is comprised of the police, the courts and the penile system, which all work together in support of law and order. If you do not have judges and courts sitting, and prisons established, the system fails.
After an arrest, the next step in the justice system is the court, and if the court is not sitting you can’t let the prisoner lie in a cell or hold them in a building. That’s a violation of their rights. On the other hand, if you release them, people will not respect the law, and anarchy will result.
In one past mission, the court was suppose to be established by an international team but they didn’t arrive in time, and without courts, the civilian police had to let prisoners go. In another case, those arrested were held for a month in a makeshift prison. The prisoners complained that their rights were violated.
I think these experiences show that all of the steps should be planned for, even before the military operation begins. Law and order should be a part of the process, whether it’s a UN mission or a coalition operation, otherwise the end result will be a law and order vacuum.
If this happens, a judge is not going to sit in court because they will fear for their lives. They will only sit in court if they feel secure. People may be crying for justice, but unless the judges, the lawyers and all the people that make up the justice system are in place, nothing will happen.
In many such cases, people will organize themselves. What are the implications of that? You will have vigilante justice, which is not right because people suffer. The people you should be concerned about are those who have no authority.
RH: Can you tell me about police training culture and its relevance?
MO: Police are trained to enforce the law of the land. And after a while they obtain a mindset that they are there to help. If they see someone breaking the law they are going to do something about it – it could be a warning, a reminder that you broke the law – or it could be a force of action through arrest or other means available to them.
Police officers are trained to think individually and are held accountable for any decisions they make. They are trained to use force with a soft approach. The taking of a life is a last resort. Officers are trained to carry a weapon and to use it most effectively, which means to incapacitate a person. If they shoot a gun, for the most part it would be fatal. While it might be stylish to shoot to wound, there is a chance of killing an innocent bystander.
An officer carries a weapon to protect the public. The last use of the weapon is to protect his or her own life if it is in danger. If a police officer shoots someone in most countries, especially those that observe common law, a criminal investigation is conducted, usually by an outside police force.
Many police statutes, acts or edicts address the use of force. Use of force could be if someone’s arm is broken while arresting them, or if their handcuffs are on too tightly, or a dog bites while under the control of the dog master. That’s assuming the police force has deadly force they can use.
Officers helping to build a police force in another country have to recognize, accept and respect the differences. That’s not necessarily true of the military force that does its job and then leaves.
In the use of force, the military culture is very different. Military think in groups because of the way they are organized. The military have rules of engagement, whereas the police officer has the use of force in accordance with and stipulated by the law.
The military spend a lot of time planning for action against an enemy, and practice the plans in place every day. Police officers do not plan because the event happens now. They plan as they go, while conducting the investigation into the incident. Generally, police have plans in place for probable emergency situations, like bank holdups and hostage taking. But the plan gets implemented after the bank is held up or the hostage is taken, after the fact. It’s a reaction to an incident.
Let’s look at another example. Humanitarian relief will not move until security is in place. The military may be qualified and appropriate to escort humanitarian aid to a certain area, but the point of distribution has to be organized. Otherwise there will be chaos. If there is no one at the distribution end to get the aid off of the trucks, people will storm in and take all they can. It isn’t a matter of just taking a sack of grain and going home because that’s all they need. Some people are entrepreneurs; they will set up a black market and start selling. If a local criminal group is in control, the aid will go into the hands of rebels and whoever else. Criminal gangs see it as a means of setting up a business. It not only doesn’t get to the people who need it, but criminal activity is encouraged. Contingencies have to be in place in the initial planning stages. Civilian police could help.
RH: What are the challenges to reestablishing law and order?
MO: Even when lightly armed, police protect the public and themselves. Key is establishing communications with the indigenous people in order to be accepted and received. The police have to have the people on their side. Influencing people can only be done through credibility and trust.
In Iraq, for example, police were there before the military operation. Immediately after the invasion, there was a law and order vacuum. If you decide to use the uniformed police, they should not have been involved in corruption. For the most part, the police officer walking the street is not going to be involved in corruption or political situations. Regular police officers enforce traffic and minor laws, and are directed on what to do. Because the regular officer is trained to look after people, he has a special relationship with the average person.
It is important in a country like Iraq or Afghanistan to determine who the police officers were and what they were doing prior to the military intervention. These officers know the nuances of the people, the community and the culture. They know the law. Corrupt officers would likely have been part of a secret, special police force aligned with the government, working with the secret service or the internal security forces of the country. They are not uniformed police. They are plain-clothes officers and are trained differently.
Not knowing the language is a disadvantage. If there’s a bar fight in progress, the police officer’s job is to stop it. He has no idea what’s going on. One person has a gun and is waving it around. The interpreter ducks down and the officer is left standing alone. This situation has happened.
A priority should be to remove weapons. Establish a no-guns-and-weapons law. Anyone found carrying a weapon would have it taken away. It is very difficult, but it can and has been done.
UN civilian police can’t stay forever. Build for the day when an indigenous police force enforces the law. This begins with recruiting. Invite back the old police force to see who was good at their jobs, respected, and want to be officers under a new establishment. New people from all walks of life will apply too. Establish a new force through training, like in Kosovo. Within a year there will be some semblance of a police organization. It is a big task that has to be carefully planned with an understanding of the culture.
When I said earlier that police officers think independently, I was generalizing. Some returning police officers may not be use to the idea of working on their own. Not all police forces allow officers to think for themselves.
RH: In a place like Iraq, what might be done early to restore law and order?
MO: Iraq likely had a federal and a general police force. Every city would have its own small force, probably all reporting through a rank structure up to the Minister of the Interior, or someone similar. Approach the problem city by city. The rural areas may need only a small group of people. Baghdad needs a larger group that is seen on the streets.
A major city of five million people would have to be broken up into segments and precincts to establish law and order one step at a time. Any officer who has worked in major city can do it. That’s not a process that has to be created. If civilian police officers are allowed to set up their own small stations, it should be done layer by layer.
The idea is to be patrolling. If people feel safe in their environment, they will be at peace at home. They will believe this police force will take action if something happens. If the people do not believe that the police are there to help them then they will say, ‘It’s no better than the last group,’ or, ‘We were better off before.’
Secret police are different. Nobody knows who they are. That’s why they’re referred to as the secret police. Uniformed police have seen them, but they accept them with the understanding that that’s the way it is, or preferably was. But they are a part of the history that needs to be understood.
Knowledge of the history of people in Iraq is important, especially now that the pressure of a dictator has been lifted. Understand the country, the culture, tribal differences and tribal relationships. People have been relating, possibly intermarrying, peacefully for some time. When the pressure is off they usually fall apart and may go back to tribal warfare. It’s a good possibility that if the dictator is gone they will go back to tribal arrangements. You have to be very aware of these possibilities and work with them. It is feasible that a police force could overlap with a tribal system. Look at the culture’s history in the last fifty to seventy years…what were they up to at the time the dictator came into power?
Get to know and work with religious and community leaders, NGOs, the International Commit-tee of the Red Cross, the local Red Cross or Red Crescent Society and especially with human rights people, all of who have been working there for many years. Don’t do it alone. Find out who is the power broker, who does what to whom, who reacts when something is said, who are the influencers. Then talk, have meetings, build a relationship based on trust.
Achieving trust in a conflict is very difficult. People in a conflict situation want to know what country you are from because the level of trust depends on how they view people from that country. It takes a courageous police officer working through an interpreter to say ‘we’re here to help with looting,’ or ‘put back what you have taken, it’s not yours,’ particularly in a mob situation.
In a mob, people are yelling and screaming in another language. The interpreter has to interpret what he thinks the issue is. There’s the chance the interpreter and police officers will get emotionally involved. The interpreter may believe what the organizer and the mob is saying, but there’s no guarantee that a non-speaker will get the right picture. In a mob situation, the officer no longer has a one-on-one relationship, which is key to his success.
If mob situations are likely, a Gendarmerie or Constabulary, which consists of police officers that are military-trained, should be considered. This version of a paramilitary works with military units in small groups. They have experience doing that. The military arrive in tanks while the Gendarmerie arrive in jeeps. A constabulary could move into a city alongside a battalion and stay for a time. It could also serve as an interim between the initial military with firepower working as offensive units and the civilian police who are lightly armed working as individuals.
A constabulary might also be useful in Iraq because there is a gap between the military and the civilians on the ground. Yugoslavia was different. The police force trained and worked together for decades. It was possible to move to a UN civilian police force more rapidly because there was a well-established indigenous force prior to the emergency. In Bosnia, the Gendarmerie was used because Bosnia was ethically divided and although UN civilian police were there, they were unarmed in some sectors. The Gendarmerie were established after 1995 and served as the buffer between NATO military and the local police. They had rules of engagement. The Gendarmerie was used for mob and riot control. If necessary a civilian police officer would call in the Gendarmerie because they have light armor, explosive experts…in short, all the needed equipment and training.
Further, a constabulary would best handle checkpoints, which require greater force. Never put only civilian police officers on a checkpoint. If someone comes by with bigger guns, a civilian officer is going to have to let them through. The entire law and order plan will fall back a step because criminals will see that they can get away with intimidating or killing police officers. The person with the bigger gun is always going to win in situations when trying to establish a peaceful nation. If there is no constabulary, then the military has to do the job because the potential risk is too high.
The police may have to turn out in force in the event of a riot. Riot police are usually regular police officers now called upon to tap into special training and put on riot equipment. However, back home, they know the riot instigators. They are familiar with what to expect because the professional riot organizers and their tactics are known. In an unfamiliar place where you do not speak the language, riot control is more difficult.
RH: What advice would you give civilian police officers interested in volunteering for a UN mission?
MO: When police officers go abroad, they have to realize that they are guests. In no way should they impose their values. The officers will say, ‘but I’m comfortable doing what I’ve done for 25 years and it’s very successful.’ Well, that is the flip side of being a good officer and having experience in your own country.
In a place where the form of governance is changing, police officers are helping people to establish a new way of life. Perhaps now for the first time they have the opportunity to live in a democracy, which is imperfect. Democracy is an ideal that people work towards, so recognize that there are likely to be bumps along the way.
It’s very critical to understand respect. This is how to establish trust. Customs must be respected. Use of certain body language can be very insulting. When in a mosque or a religious establishment, if a sign says remove your shoes, don’t question why; take them off. Police officers have to have cultural training before they leave home.
If guns are not allowed in an area, there must be a reason for it. Police officers are not above the law.
A country should send those that have a good attitude, know why there are going and what is expected of them. It is crucial to the success of a mission to have sound-thinking, educated people. They shouldn’t come with personal baggage, or to escape domestic or work problems at home.
It isn’t necessary that they have traveled before. Travel could mean they were on a bus as part of an organized tour, but they never interacted with the local people. Police officers cannot volunteer to serve for a week. This is not a vacation.
RH: Any last thoughts?
MO: Policing and law and order should be a part of the broad recovery plan. It’s a critical part of nation building. Without it, there won’t be a nation, just a constant emergency.