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Recruiting Women, Qualified Officers to the United Nations Police Division

By Ann-Marie Orler, Commissioner, Police Adviser, and Director, Police Division, Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, United Nations

Stepping out of the MI-8 United Nations helicopter in the Liquica district of Timor-Leste and seeing a long line of Timorese police officers standing at attention, and next to them United Nations police officers from 12 countries demonstrating with their stature and faces how proud they are of the accomplishments they have helped to make, is thrilling.

he Liquica part of East Timor (Timor-Leste) was ransacked and razed in 1999 following the referendum. With a population of some 55,000 people covering 543 square kilometres, Liquica is a picturesque district that borders the Savu Sea and views the Ombai Straight where the Savu and Banda Seas come together. Almost no structures and no official buildings were untouched in the ransacking. People fled into the outlying areas; there was no security and no law and order, but rather the rule of terror.

From 2000 to 2006 the new government of Timor-Leste worked hard to build rule of law and security institutions with international assistance. The importance of sovereignty and national control in the new nation led to a premature departure of the United Nations peacekeeping forces. New violence erupted, and the government of Timor-Leste invited the United Nations to return to the country in 2006 to maintain law and order, ensure respect for human rights, and to help build and train a national Timor-Leste police service.

The author arrived in Timor-Leste in October 2010, four years after this gargantuan task had been greatly advanced. She visited the districts where the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL) had assumed command and was in charge of security, law, and order.

The Liquica district was the first district in the country to employ a female PNTL commander. Commander Natercia Euracia Martins radiated pride during this visit as she inspected her officers and invited the author into her office for talks. After all of the paper pushing, discussions, representations, and advocacy at United Nations headquarters in New York City, this was what United Nations policing is all about: helping to develop stability and helping to create a national capacity that can shepherd a post conflict country to democratic and accountable governance based on rule of law.

Facts and Figures
United Nations Peacekeeping*

Uniformed personnel: 98,863
  • Troops: 82,144
  • Police: 14,521
  • Military Officers: 2,198

Countries contributing uniformed personnel: 114

Civilian personnel: 19,209
  • International (as of December 31, 2010): 5,521
  • Local (as of December 31, 2010): 13,688

United Nations volunteers: 2,387

Total number of personnel serving in 14 peacekeeping operations: 120,459

Financial aspects
Approved resources for the period from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011: about $7.83 billion

Estimated total cost of operations from 1948 to June 30, 2010: about $69 billion

Outstanding contributions to peacekeeping: about $2.41 billion

*As of March 1, 2011, unless otherwise specified
Mandate-Serving Officers

United Nations policing is not for the weak. It is hard work, and it hones all of the innate skills that professional officers can bring to it. Consider that United Nations police officers come from as many as 100 different countries and that officers from 20 to 50 countries are involved in any given mission. They are sent to implement a mandate that was agreed by the host government and the United Nations Security Council.

The particulars of this implementation, girded by guidelines and lessons learned from other United Nations operations, count on the creativity, ingenuity, smarts, perseverance, and common sense of the officers who serve the United Nations. They are the crux of the equation and must adapt to the circumstances and bravely and patiently carry the mandate forward.

The circumstances under which these officers must work vary enormously even within the same duty station. They learn teamwork, communications skills they never thought they had, and understand the assumptions that they never knew they took for granted.

Beyond the challenges, United Nations police work is also some of the most satisfying and intellectually stimulating work that a police officer can perform. It is for a limited period of time, which adds to the intensity, and it is selfless work. Officers are serving a people who are in need and who want help. They do not have enough hours in the day to teach the amount that their colleagues will want to learn. And they learn extremely quickly that one of the greatest lessons they are giving is their own professional conduct.

In the Liquica district in Timor-Leste, Commander Martins was inspired to become a commander by the example of female United Nations police officers who were sent to work in her country. The United Nations has actively sought to increase the number of women serving in peacekeeping for the past decade, and the United Nations Police Division has set a quota: by 2014, it wants at least 20 percent of serving officers to be female. Currently, the percentage of females is close to 10 percent. The United Nations aims to accomplish this goal because it wants to inspire more commanders like Martins, and it believes that police services must reflect the communities that they serve. This is important practically and symbolically.

The Value of Female Police
Women represent about half of the world’s population. Their perspective on specific situations, their understanding of specific issues and concerns, and their ability to relate to a large portion of the population they are serving—women—breaks down communication barriers. Female police officers play important roles as mediators, investigators, protectors, and trainers in United Nations operations. And, in the United Nations context, the greater representation of female police officers helps countries recovering from conflict to facilitate protection of women and children from violence and abuse. During conflicts, women sometimes fear turning to male uniformed personnel for assistance.

Further, there is anecdotal evidence from the United Nations that female officers as part of a police team bring about a better working environment in which male officers are usually on their best behavior.

And, as with Commander Martins, a positive impact on female recruitment has been noted following the deployment of United Nations female officers in former Yugoslavia; Sierra Leone; Liberia; and, of course, Timor-Leste.

Call to Action

United Nations Police Division Promotes Female Global Effort through Facebook Page

The United Nations Police Division launched a Facebook page during the annual training conference of the International Association of Women Police. The page, which became available in September 2010, promotes the division’s female global effort. To learn more about the United Nations and national efforts to increase female participation in police work, visit and search “United Nations Police Division Female Global Effort.”
The global effort goes beyond peacekeeping operations. To make it possible for more United Nations member states to send more female police officers, the United Nations is calling on all nations to increase the number of female officers serving. Agencies must make a conscious effort to recruit women. There can be no complacency; the world needs more female law enforcement officers.

As police adviser and director of the peacekeeping police division, the author is responsible for providing strategic direction to the missions, defining the standards for United Nations policing, specifying the necessary capabilities required in the field, ensuring that recruitment procedures are professional, deploying police personnel to different countries, and developing and implementing relevant training for both male and female police officers in the field. She actively forms working groups with the ministries of various countries and influences them to cultivate trust with their police services. Working closely with member states is the most important part of her job. The United Nations is only as capable as its members states mandate and enable it to be.

The United Nations Police Division has developed a strategy for the next two years to ensure that its global effort stays on track. Among other measures, the division aims to facilitate regional training programs for female police officers to expose them to the requirements that must be met to be accepted as a United Nations police officer.

The division will increase its efforts to monitor ratios of female police officers in member states and will continue to find innovative ways to support member states with their own efforts to increase the number of female officers in their national services.

The division is presently working with a number of organizations, including the International Association of Women Police, the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, and many member states, with financial support from the governments of Italy, Germany, and the United States. Its goal is to establish an international female police network to reach out to more female officers who could participate in international policing and to promote guidance for United Nations police when working on issues related to sexual- and gender-based crimes.

The newly established Selection and Recruitment Section of the police division is looking at innovative ways to make service in United Nations missions easier to organize and more accommodating for female officers. Division leadership is in negotiations about how it can attract more women to join the division for a period of six months to two years. One of the ideas that the division is proposing is to recruit teamed partners of female officers who would be able to cover six months each in a particular position in an operation and then leave for six months when the second officer would take over the duties. To do this for two years would give officers a chance to be away from their families for only six months at a time.

As the police adviser, the author concentrates on professionalizing the United Nations police in all aspects. Since 1960, the United Nations has deployed police, and in the last decade the number of United Nations police that the Security Council has authorized has more than tripled. United Nations police are deployed not only in peacekeeping operations but also to six political United Nations missions where preventive and long-term integrated peacebuilding is the goal. Police advisers are working in Afghanistan, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Sierra Leone, and Somalia.

There are also 41 United Nations police officers based at the United Nations Logistics Base in Italy. They are a standby group that can be sent within 72 hours to any country or territory around the world. This year, judicial affairs officers and corrections officers, newly on standby at the logistics base, will be working alongside the United Nations police officers so that, for the first time in United Nations history, joint teams can be sent to address challenges in the whole criminal justice chain. The United Nations Police Division will never be a mean and lean service, but that is not its goal. Its leadership wants it to be a professional and highly specialized service that can efficiently implement the mandates that are given.

The division is increasingly facing criminal syndicates in peacekeeping operations. It is no surprise that organized crime can make inroads in states emerging from conflict. To address this issue, the United Nations police developed a close working relationship with the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime. To build capacity for local police services to fight against organized crime, the police division must hire highly qualified crime fighters; specialists in forensics, investigations, organized crime, community policing, and sexual- and gender-based crime units; and solid police officers. Member states must be ready to send the division; these men, women, and experienced officers must seek to be sent.

The events that the author described regarding her visit to Timor-Leste are repeated each time she embarks on a peacekeeping operation. In Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Haiti, and Western Sahara—all operations visited in the last six months—she observed committed men and women working for their governments or local authorities with United Nations police available to assist as the mandates proscribed.

There is adversity, and the situations are often far from settled, but the process is making incremental improvements, whether through helping to establish a new police academy, physically training young recruits who were recently disarmed and demobilized, walking the beat with local police colleagues in a refugee camp, or addressing a group of women at a community meeting. The work that United Nations police perform exposes them to another level of humanity and adds a new dimension to their experience as police officers and as human beings.

Becoming a United Nations police officer is not a career path, per se; it is an experience, and, to learn more, individuals should contact their national authorities to discover service opportunities in peacekeeping operations or political missions. Many officers who have worked for the United Nations Police Division have stated how the experience positively affected their service at their home agencies.

Police agencies have much to gain from sending highly qualified police officers to United Nations field missions for one year or 18 months as a positive career-advancing experience. It is not an easy experience, but if an officer wants the chance to meet police officers from around the world, the chance to work in a team dedicated to helping restore security and the rule of law, and the chance to be an example and gain and share expertise, the United Nations can provide these opportunities and more.

For more information about the United Nations Police Division, visit ■

For more information about peacekeeping, visit these websites and follow United Nations activities.






Please cite as:

Ann-Marie Orler, "Recruiting Women, Qualified Officers to the United Nations Police Division," The Police Chief 78 (June 2011): 22–27.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 6, June 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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