What's In Blue

Statement by Karin Landgren, Executive Director, Security Council Report, at the Security Council Annual Briefing on UN Policing

Mr. President,

Thank you for this opportunity to address the Security Council, on behalf of Security Council Report, on UN Policing in the context of the Secretary-General’s New Agenda for Peace.

UN policing is a profoundly valuable tool in the UN’s efforts to strengthen the rule of law, and to protect populations in vulnerable environments. It merits prominent discussion by the Security Council, and the General Assembly, as part of the reflection on the future of peace operations that is recommended in the New Agenda for Peace. The New Agenda for Peace also takes up the linkages between conflict and criminal interests, in the context of resurging inter-state conflict and the internationalization of conflicts. Strikingly, it notes that between 2015 and 2021, organised crime “was responsible for as many deaths…as all armed conflicts combined.”

This is where my remarks today will focus, on UN policing in connection with organised crime.

Most UN peace operations—both peacekeeping and special political missions–work in environments affected by organised crime. Criminal groups can play significant spoiler roles in peace processes. Illicit activities—particularly trafficking in narcotics, gold, timber and other natural resources, armaments, human beings, financial flows, and more—fuel armed groups and drive instability.   Indeed, a well-known quotation has it that many conflicts are now more about greed than grievance.

This Council has referred to organised crime in several contexts, including the challenge organised crime poses to state authority. Council resolutions have especially linked criminal activities with non-state armed groups: in establishing MINUSMA in June 2013, for instance, the Council said it was urgent to address the serious threats posed by transnational organised crime in the Sahel, including links to terrorism.[1]  Non-state actors may also compete with the state, and even co-opt it, as they acquire political influence. Organised crime can become embedded in state institutions. One UN study suggests that “organized crime may be best understood as a strategy adopted by a range of conflict actors (including the state) to achieve their objectives.”[2]

The Security Council has highlighted the important role that UN Police Components can play in building the capacity of host-state policing and other law enforcement institutions to address organised crime, particularly by supporting immigration and maritime security, and crime prevention, response and investigation.[3]

The UN and its peace operations partners have brought a range of policing responses to organised crime. In settings such as Timor-Leste and Kosovo, UN police have had executive policing mandates, in which they assumed responsibility for law enforcement.[4] In Haiti, the UN acted robustly against gangs and gang violence, notably at the time of the MINUSTAH mission, using its troops, its police, including formed police units, and intelligence. In Mali, the UN Police Component established a specialized Serious and Organized Crime Unit.

For police actions to be effective in this sensitive terrain also requires a functioning, and brave, judiciary: to address this in Guatemala in the 1990s, for example, the UN supported bringing in external judicial capacity.

Although the Multinational Security Support Mission in Haiti is not an UNPOL mission, its task of supporting the Haiti National Police to address gang violence will benefit from the UN’s experiences and lessons learned in this regard. The Council, in last month’s resolution 2699, acted under Chapter VII, having determined that the situation in Haiti continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security and to stability in the region. One year earlier, on 21 October 2022, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2653, establishing a sanctions regime on Haiti whose designation criteria include engaging in or supporting criminal activities and violence involving armed groups and criminal networks.  Let me mention in this connection that the work of UN Panels of Experts is notably valuable in shining light on the murky topic of organised crime.


There are two more peace and security contexts in which policing responses to organised crime may prove important. The first is: in transitions. Speaking at this meeting in 2021, USG Lacroix pointed out that UNPOL contributes to host countries’ post-conflict transitions, noting its role in facilitating the drawdown of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and transition to the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), providing interim policing, police planning capacities and knowledge transfer. It seems vanishingly rare for UN Police to remain on the ground once troops have left, but is it logical that they should depart at the same moment as other uniformed personnel? And while organised crime is also a matter for development actors, the departure of UN peacekeepers, often when national institutions remain fragile, is a high-risk moment for the independence of the judiciary and for the security sector. Some criminal actors will view this as an opportunity. In short, the role of UN Policing in transitions probably merits greater focus.

The second circumstance which could also benefit from further Council consideration is in the type of enforcement operation discussed in the New Agenda for Peace. In situations where conflict continues, it is necessary to understand the political economy of the war—who benefits from it, and how—and to establish strategies for addressing this particular driver of conflict. Lucrative criminality can strongly disincentivize peace, but it can be challenging for partners to agree on a context analysis: that is one lesson learned from the hybrid operation in Darfur. Questions for the Council here could be this: Where enforcement, or peacekeeping, action is conducted by a regional organisation or a coalition, authorized by the UN, what is the role of UN policing, and who will be responsible politically for taking up the sensitive issue of organised crime? In the discussion to date of enforcement by regional actors, it’s not clear that there has been any discussion of the potential policing role. This would now be timely.

A further question is the extent to which UN country teams are truly able to take on the spectre of organised crime that threatens sustainable peace, –for which the Council’s engagement has provided such important political backing.


UN Police make up some 12% of UN uniformed personnel and play critical roles in the justice chain—in the protection of civilians—and in interfacing with communities.

I’m fortunate to have worked with UN police officers as well as Formed Police Units as the SRSG in the UN Mission in Liberia between 2012 and 2015, and to have observed the work of UN Police in Bosnia-Herzegovina when I served there with UNHCR in the early nineties.

UN policing faces high expectations (as mandates make clear), and an ever-toughening political environment for peace operations. Also, addressing organised crime is high-stakes work. The Council’s anticipated reflection on the future of UN peace operations could provide the opportunity for the UN secretariat to present on, and for member states to consider in depth, organised crime, and the role of the UN Police with other actors in supporting stabilization and longer-term peace.

Thank you.

[1] See the Global Initiative on Transnational Organised Crime’s interactive tool tracking organized crime on the Security Council’s agenda since 2000. https://globalinitiative.net/analysis/scresolutions/

[2] de Boer, John. and Bosetti, Louise. “Examining the Interactions between Conflict and Organized Crime”, OurWorld, United Nations University, 2015: https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/examining-the-interactions- between-conflict-and-organized-crime

[3] See, for example, S/RES/2185 of 20 November 2014.

[4] https://www.ipinst.org/images/pdfs/ipi_e-pub-elephant_in_the_room.pdf.  With case studies on Guinea-Bissau, Haiti and Kosovo.

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