Lessons Identified from the United Nations Mission in Liberia support to Rule of Law

UNMIL straddling peacekeeping and peacebuilding in an attempted comprehensive approach for RoL in Liberia

Beginning of 2018, UNMIL approached the International Security Sector Advisory Team of The Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF/ISSAT) to work with both the UNMIL Rule of Law Pillar and our DPKO and OHCHR colleagues in United Nations Headquarters to reflect on the Pillars experience of working on human rights, police, justice and corrections, and security sector reform over the years. In order to undertake this lessons identification exercise, the ISSAT/UN Team looked at sector specific as well as a broad range of cross cutting issues. These lessons both reaffirm the importance of sustained support to national reform processes and the critical contribution of SSR, justice, corrections, police and human rights assistance to build in a stable and peaceful society. 

UNMIL General Lessons

  • Mandate evolution:Existing mechanisms for interaction between missions and the United Nations Secretariat are inadequate to foster dialogue around improved alignment of priorities, progress towards the desired end state, and to allow missions to feed more effectively into the process of development of the mandate. 
  • Under-Utilization of Strategic Planning: The under-utilization of strategic planning by missions leads to lack of focus and shortcomings in mandate implementation.
  • Organizational Learning: The early development of effective information management systems and the regular undertaking of lesson identification exercises strengthen organizational learning and contribute towards adaptation of mandate implementation.
  • Assessments and analysis: When conducted through inclusive processes, assessments can have catalytic effects, help test underlying assumptions regarding needs, as well as promote increased national ownership of the reform process. In order to maximize positive outcomes, assessments require a clear methodology, and a structured follow up process to monitor implementation of recommendations.
  • Risk management: Adequate risk assessment and strategic planning strengthen decision making on whether to withdraw from particularly difficult Rule of Law reform efforts. A risk tolerant approach is needed to ensure that critical reforms, which are the subject of institutional reluctance to address, are not abandoned in favor of easier reforms or quick wins. Pursuing quick wins, including tactical and operational level reforms, while core strategic issues influencing effectiveness and sustainability remained largely unaddressed led to poor outcomes.
  • Affordability of reforms: Systematically analyzing affordability and the cost implications of proposed or ongoing reforms can help promote prioritized and sustainable reforms in a national resource constrained environment.
  • Quick impact projects as enablers of reforms: Quick Impact Projects are fundamental enablers of a mission’s ability to support justice and security reforms. Quick Impact Projects planning needs to be linked to wider Pillar strategies rather than standalone activities.
  • Mission staffing and human resources: Recruiting the right staff, and ensuring that staffing and expertise is periodically reviewed and adapted to the demands and evolution of the mandate is critical to guaranteeing that a mission effectively implements its mandate and provides relevant support.
  • Rule of law pillar structure evolution: The Rule of Law Pillar performs better in implementing its mandate when its components are integrated through problem specific approaches, rather than structure proximity, or approaches based around support to specific institutions.
  • Gender in the rule of law pillar: The impact achieved in addressing Gender issues within the police, justice and security sector reform agenda is maximized when undertaken as part of an integrated and holistic mission approach that includes a mix of technical and political interventions. Strong commitment from mission leadership in promoting a gender sensitive and mainstreaming approach is critical to ensuring a consistent and robust mission engagement in addressing gender issues across the national security and justice reform process.
  • Sequencing transition with national police and economic cycles: Planning and sequencing of mission transitions should factor-in risk analysis, considering change management of national political dynamics and financial planning cycles.
  • Continuity of support through UNMIL/UNDP joint programme on rule of law: Where joint programs on Rule of Law represent a clear advantage in advancing mandate delivery and enhancing the capacity of national institutions, they must start early in the transition continuum to allow sufficient time for their testing and implementation.
  • Building-in time for monitoring and trouble-shooting: Transition processes need to be frontloaded, providing sufficient time and space for handover, and followed by monitoring and trouble-shooting to help institutionalize reforms and promote greater sustainability of efforts.

Political Engagement

  • Managing political engagement and good offices: Furthering human rights, and police, justice and security sector reform, are political processes, which must be fully recognized as such, particularly in post-conflict settings. A clear strategy for political/good offices engagement in mandated areas, appropriately supported by activities at the technical level, is essential for meaningful and sustainable results.

Elements of National Reform

  • Co-ordination : Given the significant resources, reach and influence, missions can play a critical role in facilitating and encouraging a coordinated approach both within the national justice and security sector, but also amongst development partners. The effectiveness of the mission in supporting coordination efforts, however, is largely contingent on the extent to which: 1) it is able to foster a strategic rather than simply tactical approach to coordination; 2) internal coordination systems within the mission are effective; and 3) the mission is proactive in seeking to play a coordination role.
  • Capacity building of national institutions :Investment in broad capacity building of a wide range of junior and senior staff in the early stages of missions is essential for sustainability of knowledge, and influence of current and future leaders that will take on important middle and senior management roles as the mission closes down. Building effective national training capacity in the early stages of missions allows for a gradual re-allocation of resources to more specialized trainings and targeted approaches to capacity building over time, whilst ensuring greater sustainability of efforts.
  • Supporting management and accountability reforms : Addressing management and accountability deficits in the security and justice sectors requires proactive and sustained effort from missions at both political and programmatic levels. When management and accountability reforms are integral elements of the priorities of missions, greater success is achieved with respect to institutional development.
  • Improving local level security and justice service delivery: Efforts to support the extension of state authority and improve local service delivery need to balance management and accountability reforms alongside capacity building. Deconcentration of staff or services in the absence of such a balance can make services inefficient and susceptible to corruption. Effort should be made to ensure that key systems and processes, including recruitment, training and oversight, are devolved to the local level as early as possible.

UNMIL Specific Lessons

Security Sector Reform

  • Effectiveness of SSR advisory support: Downplaying the importance of the SSR advisory position at the start of missions is likely to result in belated recognition of this function, leading to shortcomings in subsequent internal structure adaptation, and to diminished effectiveness in the support provided to the national counterparts. 
  • Supporting national security policy and strategy deevelopment: Opportunities to engage in overarching and strategic-level support to SSR through security policy-making processes should be seized by missions at early stages of reform, at a cost of otherwise risking a scattered approach to security and justice reforms, and forfeiting a coordination role.
  • Bridging gaps in accountability: The establishment of Military Justice legal frameworks and systems are likely to involve mid to long-term efforts before operationalization, highlighting the relevance of interim oversight mechanisms to enhance internal and external accountability of the armed forces.
  • Management, control and oversight of SALW: Aligning SSR and management of SALW related processes at the strategic level of interventions, allows for investment in the development of national frameworks and institutions to control and oversee the use of weapons and curb illicit proliferation.
  • Track three diplomacy towards oversight of the security sector: Support to capacity building of national think tanks is an effective contribution to democratic oversight of the security sector and improved civil security relations.
  • Supporting gender in security through coordination: The establishment of the Gender and Security Sector National Task Force proved an effective way for UNMIL’s internally coordinated support to national stakeholders, fostering collaboration and coherence of approach amongst gender units of national security institutions.

Police Reform

  • Envisaging an end state for a reformed police state: Missions must be able to set out a sustainable end state for a reformed police service. Focus on fleet management, human resources, and maintenance are critical elements of ensuring sustainability of reform efforts and support.
  • Fostering internal and external monitoring systems : An integrated focus on development of internal accountability structures in the police, notably when matched with simple external monitoring systems, resulted in improvements in police accountability.
  • Re-capacitating a police service following conflict- focusing on future leaders : When re-establishing and developing a police service following conflict, equal attention needs to be given to building a professional ethos in the policing structures as well as to building operational capability. Focus on operational policing skills needs to be balanced with support to strengthening managerial capacities and competence across the national policing structure from the start of the reform process, including at more junior levels with a view to these being the future leaders.
  • Empowering expertise for successful police reform:  Empowered reform expertise coupled with a programmatic approach is fundamental to successful UNPOL implementation of the police reform agenda.
  • Women in the police service: Gender balance and modelling good practice by UNPOL can have a direct influence on the extent to which national counterparts take effective steps towards promoting greater participation of women in policing.
  • Strategic and coordinated approaches: Strategic level steering groups can be important platforms for priority setting or coordination, as well as helping to create more structured and regular interactions between UN Police and national counterparts. Investing in such a steering group also provides an important structure to deal with crisis or monitor the extent to which the reform process is achieving results.
  • Link community policing capability to locally accepted structures : The most effective community-oriented policing outcomes were achieved when UNMIL supported links between informal policing structures and the formal police system.
  • Developing transnational crime units: Developing capabilities to target transnational crime is expensive and difficult given its complexity. When attempting to do so, it is important that parallel structures and systems for transnational crime be avoided, and effort is rather focused on integrating such capability in existing structures and systems.

Justice and Corrections Reform

  • Prioritization – sequencing: When a mission is given a broad justice sector reform mandate, whether it is for supporting holistic reform of the sector or an individual institution, it is important to establish clear prioritization and sequencing of support through effective medium-term planning. A large number of parallel and disconnected initiatives can contribute to limited mission resources being spread too thinly, limiting the potential for achieving robust results in specific areas.
  • Linking mentoring – court monitoring – advising: Integrating mentoring, court monitoring and advisory functions contributes to more relevant capacity building efforts and helps inform the overall reform process by identifying weaknesses and deficiencies in the system. It is important that monitoring does not become an end in itself and over time the focus on conducting monitoring should be reduced in favor of deploying such resources to support capacity building and broader efforts.
  • Data collection/analysis and case management systems: In a resource constrained environment, low-tech and incremental approaches to developing basic case tracking and case management proved effective in producing sustainable and effective systems capable of producing critical data on case progression, thereby increasing transparency and efficiency in the criminal justice system. In comparison, the institutions lacked the capacity to manage and maintain more complex, cumbersome and, therefore, less sustainable IT based systems.  
  • Capacity building – corrections: An incremental, robust and sequenced approach to building the capacity of national corrections institutions can be an effective strategy to not only ensure that institution is able to quickly perform basic functions but to also develop more sophisticated capabilities over time. This approach requires a balance between individual and institution capacity building support but also strategic medium to long-term planning.
  • Specialised structures to deal with cases: Support for the development of specialized systems and structures to deal with SGBV cases can have a positive impact on raising public awareness, promoting political commitment to address the issue, ultimately increasing reporting rates for such crimes. However, the long-term impact of such structures on ensuring effective access to justice for both the victims and accused is limited in the absence of substantive reform of the broader criminal justice system.
  • Pre-trial detention/ prison population: Addressing prolonged pre-trial detention requires strong political engagement, a collaborative approach across the criminal justice chain and systematic monitoring and analysis of both its symptoms and causes. A failure to institutionalize effective diversion systems and to strengthen access to legal aid, while overly focusing on addressing the symptoms rather than the causes of pre-trial detention will result in mission support efforts having only a short-lived impact.
  • Linking formal and informal justice systems: Limited engagement with the traditional justice mechanisms undermined the relevance and effectiveness of the Mission in improving access to justice for a large part of the population. In the absence of a clear system of diversion, including linkages and referral mechanisms between the formal and informal justice systems, the effectiveness and efficiency of the justice system was hampered by a need to divert significant attention and resources to low level crimes or civil disputes that could have otherwise been settled out of court.


Human Rights

  • Supporting effective national transitional justice: An appropriate balance between a mission’s political and human right priorities is critical for meaningful justice and reconciliation in fragile and complex post conflict situations
  • Creative approaches to the successful implementation of protection of civilians' mandates and the human rights due diligence policy: Prevention through “good offices” and developing an integrated and nationally owned preventive approach is essential in implementing the POC mandate
  • Adopting effective capacity building approaches: A focus on structural institutional development and a change in focus from capacity enhancement for leadership to mid-level management helped address chronic weaknesses in the national human rights protection system
  • Empowerment of right holders' in protecting their rights: Right Holders’ empowerment is an important tool for efficiency in mandate delivery
  • Successful human rights transition during missions' closure: A successful transition of the human rights agenda during the phasing out of the Mission requires early planning, qualitative analysis of the country’s human rights priorities and challenges, and the active engagement of mission leadership


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