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Supporting the Work of Police Officers in Postconflict Countries

By Vivienne O’Connor, Director, International Network to Promote the Rule of Law and Senior Rule of Law Advisor, United States Institute of Peace

Children in Liberia
Photographs courtesy of INPROL

olice officers from around the world deploy to conflict zones to assist in promoting the rule of law and specifically to aid in the reform of dysfunctional police forces. Many of them serve as part of the United Nations (UN), which has been deploying police officers in peacekeeping operations since the United Nations Operation in Congo in the 1960s. As of 2010, 17,500 police officers were working in UN missions.1 The European Union also sends police officers to postconflict countries such as Kosovo, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A small percentage of police officers are deployed by their own countries to a conflict-affected country, as is the case with U.S. police officers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Australian federal police officers in Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, the Solomon Islands, and Cambodia.

In some exceptional cases, such as the UN missions in East Timor and Kosovo in the late 1990s, deployed police officers operate in a domestic policing capacity in the postconflict country. They undertake law enforcement with all the powers and duties of a local police officer. The norm, however, is for deployed international police officers to “monitor, mentor, and advise” local police officers, which would include training and capacity building.2 International police officers also assist postconflict states in restructuring and reorganizing their existing police services to make them more efficient, effective, and consistent with democratic and human rights principles.3

For many police officers, particularly first-time deployees, working in a postconflict country and with a legal system that is alien to them is no easy task. The transition from roles in their home countries where they were engaged in domestic law enforcement can be difficult. These officers suddenly find themselves working in a postconflict country where they are asked to undertake tasks such as reforming the police force, training new cadets, and building the capacity of existing police officers in the postconflict country—much of which will have been outside the scope of their prior roles at home. While some predeployment training exists for international police, nothing can prepare officers for the immensity of the tasks they will be required to undertake in a peacekeeping mission.

Field Realities for Police Officers in Postconflict Countries

Consider the following scenarios:

  • A Swedish police officer is deployed as part of the European Union mission in Afghanistan to be a mentor at the Afghanistan Ministry of the Interior. This police officer is tasked with advising the ministry on how to create a police ombudsman or police complaints commission, because currently there is no oversight of police in Afghanistan. This would involve the creation of an entirely new institution, complete with new policies and new procedures. National partners have requested information on everything from staffing levels of an oversight body to a description of how the body should carry out investigations. The same police advisor is assisting in creating police–civil society consultative bodies across the country to enable the police to develop better community relations; this is no easy task given the major security issues around Afghanistan. At the same time, the officer is involved in developing training modules for police trainees on human rights and gender.

  • Police advisors in the UN Mission in the Sudan are assisting in the process of establishing special units within the police to address the needs of women and children (as survivors, victims, and offenders) in Southern Sudan. As well as establishing the unit, they need to develop evaluations tools, training materials, information on media and public awareness campaigns, protocols on how to work with social and health workers, and guidance on how to work with traditional authorities in creating these units. Advisors are aware that similar initiatives have been conducted in countries such as East Timor and Liberia, but they have not been able to get any further information.

  • It is 1994. The UN Police Commissioner in Haiti is tasked with field training some 5,000 newly trained police officers. The UN police component also is responsible for providing security in the country (including election security and security of food convoys), in addition to vetting the existing police force to identify officers who have committed human rights violations. The commissioner is aware of other vetting initiatives and field training previously conducted in postconflict countries but cannot acquire relevant documents and, in particular, any elaboration of lessons learned from these past experiences.

In the last example, unfortunately, there was no established mechanism to obtain the information needed by the police commissioner, either from the UN or elsewhere. The commissioner, along with other police advisors in Haiti, was left to address the issues on his own initiative. In the first two examples, help was more readily at hand through an online innovation called the International Network to Promote the Rule of Law (INPROL).

The query from Sudan posted on the INPROL online discussion forum received multiple answers from leading police experts from around the world. They shared their experiences and provided their colleague from Sudan with helpful suggestions on relevant tools and guidance documents. Queries from Afghanistan that also were posted on the online discussion forum elicited responses from members who shared expertise and experiences from Canada, Nepal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Northern Ireland. The request for training modules resulted in several already developed modules being sent to the police advisor in Afghanistan within a couple of hours of posing the question to the INPROL community. The request for information on how to establish a police ombudsman and police–civil society consultative mechanisms triggered the INPROL research team to begin an extensive research study that ultimately resulted in the drafting of two detailed memos that outlined in a step-by-step fashion how to establish both institutions.

INPROL Background

Established in 2007, INPROL is a global, online community of practice, comprising some 1,500 rule of law practitioners from 80 countries and 300 organizations.

A UN police officer in Lebanon
Members come from a range of relevant disciplines and backgrounds and include police officers, judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, corrections and prisons officials, policy makers, and academics. What they all have in common is their work on policing and rule of law reform issues in postconflict and developing countries. They also share a desire to learn and innovate together as a community to improve their rule of law knowledge and practice. This online forum can be viewed at

INPROL is spearheaded by the United States Institute of Peace in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs; the Center of Excellence for Police Stability Unit, based in Italy; the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Strategic Police Matters Unit; the William and Mary School of Law; the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre in Canada; and the Institute of International Law and Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization based in Washington, D.C. INPROL also has a number of affiliated organizations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Association of Women Police, and affiliated-research institutions. The day-to-day operations of INPROL are supported by the INPROL teams based in Washington, D.C., and Ottawa, Canada.

A Reach-Back Mechanism for the Field

The primary goal of INPROL is to help international police officers and other rule of law professionals working in postconflict countries to solve the challenges they face in the field by providing access to the right people and the right resources. INPROL connects them—through the website and the INPROL police discussion forum—to their peers working in different locales. In this way, INPROL provides international police officers with a reach-back mechanism and a crucial link to the broader policing community.

A police officer working in Afghanistan can instantly access information from colleagues with experience in countries such as Iraq, Haiti, Cambodia, East Timor, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, and many others. This can result in the police officer in Afghanistan receiving a comparative perspective on the given problem and also in the sharing of lessons learned: the identification what went wrong and what went right when addressing the problem in another country.

In addition to facilitating communication and connecting people, the INPROL team supports the work of police officers by harnessing their research capabilities, as all members of the team have both practitioner and research expertise. The INPROL team is on hand to research any question or problem posted on the INPROL discussion forums at a moment’s notice. The research is performed in as short a time as possible and is then published on the INPROL website in the form of a research memorandum.

During the research phase, the INPROL team will draw in leading subject matter experts to provide input as well as conduct its own independent research. For example, when the INPROL team was drafting the research memorandum on how to establish a police ombudsman, the team had many conversations with individuals working in police ombudsman institutions around the world and researched the experiences of similar institutions in Kosovo, El Salvador, Northern Ireland, Brazil, England, and Australia. The work of the INPROL research team is supported on an ongoing basis by a council of experts consisting of leading practitioners and thinkers on policing reform, including the former head of the European Union Integrated Rule of Law Mission for Iraq, the former UN police commissioner in Kosovo and Croatia, and the former head of the police division in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. These experts provide input to the INPROL team on each query being researched.

Supporting Professional Development and Learning

The second goal of INPROL is to support the professional development and learning of international police officers and other rule of law professionals. As mentioned previously, there are few opportunities for international police officers to undertake the kind of extensive training that would be required to prepare them fully for their jobs. International police officers often do not have institutional support for professional development and, thus, find they have to take charge of it themselves.

Certainly, professional development and learning are enhanced either by a police officer posting a question on the INPROL discussion forums or by participating in or reviewing the ensuing discussions. Equally so, the research memoranda drafted by the INPROL team are valuable learning tools. Further, INPROL provides a number of key features on the website that allow police officers to deepen their international policing knowledge and skills.

A major learning hub is INPROL’s digital library. INPROL houses an extensive repository of 3,000 rule of law documents, tools, and other resources. Not every resource published on postconflict policing available is added to the digital library. Instead the INPROL team conducts a careful vetting of each document to ensure that it is of the highest quality and value to its members. Documents are divided into different topic areas. Examples of policing topics covered in the digital library include everything from human rights and policing and police oversight to human trafficking investigation and police organizational reform. The documents, coupled with the overview of each topic provided on the INPROL website, can assist international police officers in learning about a new area or in refining their knowledge on a subject with which they are already familiar.

In addition to the digital library, members can keep up-to-date with the latest developments in the field by accessing the News and Features section of the website. Finally, members looking to develop their careers can access the jobs page, which houses details of the latest long- and short-term opportunities in postconflict policing.

Promoting Coordination and Interinstitutional Communication

A third key objective of INPROL is the promotion of coordination among the various international actors undertaking policing and rule of law reform. For a long time, a major critique of international rule of law efforts has been the lack of transparency and coordination within postconflict countries, resulting in duplication of efforts. Such institutional silos preclude the sharing of even basic information on who is doing what in any given postconflict country. In order to work effectively and support each other, international actors need to share information and expertise.

INPROL has begun to foster coordination in the broader rule of law community, helping to develop networks and synergies across regions, organizations, and disciplines. Through the INPROL website, cross-institutional conversations can take place between members from many different regions. In some cases, by posting a query on INPROL, a member will get in touch with someone working in the same country and on the same issue. One conversation on the INPROL Discussion Forum titled Protective Intelligence and Threat Assessment for VIPS and Witnesses spurred a conversation between police officers and experts in Canada, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ireland, Kosovo, and Afghanistan from organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, United Nations field missions, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Lawyers Without Borders.


INPROL has been in existence for just four years. In that time, it has provided crucial support to police officers on the front line in conflict-affected countries. Its strength lies in its members and their incredible expertise, coupled with their commitment to supporting the work of their peers. INPROL warmly welcomes new members who are currently engaged in policing assistance abroad. To join INPROL, prospective members may visit and complete the short application form. ■


1“United Nations Policing, A Crucial Part of UN Peace Operations,” UNPOL, (accessed April 12, 2011).
2See, for example, UN Security Council, Resolution 1840 (2008), adopted by the Security Council at its 5993rd meeting (October 14, 2008), 4, (accessed April 12, 2011).

Please cite as:

Vivienne O’Connor, "Supporting the Work of Police Officers in Postconflict Countries," The Police Chief 78 (June 2011): 28–34.

Click to view the digital edition.



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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