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Mandates of peacekeeping missions

Last edited: July 03, 2013

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  • The Department of Peacekeping Operations (DPKO) is the United Nations Agency tasked with developing and implementing missions for peacekeeping around the world. As of May 2013, there are 15 peacekeeping missions and a special political mission led by DPKO.
  • Peacekeepers have an important role in protecting civilians from sexual violence during armed conflict.  Since the early 1990s, mandates for UN peacekeeping missions explicitly include provisions for the protection of civilians. In the last decade, additional directives have been issued on gender and VAWG:
  • In March 2002, the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations affirmed that DPKO should ensure that gender equality issues are properly addressed in all operations, both in the field and at Headquarters, and that the United Nations Secretariat should provide proper support and adequate resources for the work of gender advisers in the field.
  • The 2006 DPKO Directive on Gender Equality is the guiding document for all work on protection against VAWG in peacekeeping missions. Following the mandate of UNSCR 1325, the directive included the first stand-alone attention to VAWG within the framework of peacekeeping missions. It mandates an effective security presence that incorporates protection for women, including from violence; ensures that women are consulted in all information-gathering and priority-setting and decision-making processes; promotes a progressive increase in the number of uniformed female peacekeepers, including military observers and UN police officers; and ensures adherence to the highest standards of professional conduct and discipline.
  • The 2006 directive established the Office of the Gender Advisor (OGA) as the central hub for gender mainstreaming in field-based missions.   As such, the OGA office serves as the main coordinator of programs that address violence against women on the ground. Through their work mainstreaming gender, reporting on UN Security Council Resolutions, and liaison with the community, gender officers are responsible for addressing VAWG in a comprehensive manner. Peacekeeping units – including child rights, gender, rule of law and human rights all work closely with the OGA to prevent and protect against violence against women. In some missions, specific VAWG units are placed directly under the Special Representative of the Secretary General (the highest office in the Mission). The unit--often a partnership between UN Action and DPKO--is made up a high level advisor on VAWG who works alongside the OGA to ensure attention and resources for VAWG.
  • UNSCR 1820 requested the U.N. Secretary-General to establish training programs for all peacekeeping and humanitarian personnel deployed by the United Nations, and encourages troop- and police- contributing countries to take steps to heighten awareness of and prevent sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations. It also urged all partners to support the development and strengthening of the capacities of national institutions, in particular of judicial and health systems and of local civil society networks in order to provide sustainable assistance to victims of sexual violence as part of multi-sectoral peacekeeping operations.
  • Substantively, the mandate of protection related to VAWG falls within the responsibility of several sections of a peacekeeping mission. They include:
    • Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Rehabilitation (DDRR): Experience has shown that it is vital to consider and include provisions for assistance, health care and counselling services for victims of conflict-related sexual violence who are eligible for the DDR programmes. Those who have experienced rape (especially repeated rapes) and sexual abuse sustain damage to internal and reproductive organs and other physical health problems, which often result in physical and psychological disability. DDR-related provisions in agreements should also recognize the need for gender-responsive reconciliation and public safety programmes for communities receiving large numbers of ex-combatants.  This includes an active recognition of the types of violence that women may experience as former combatants as well as the potential for violence during rehabilitation activities. (See Section VIII on DDR.)

Example:  UN Mission public information offices (PIO), DDR units and gender units have worked together, often in partnership with women’s organisations, to sensitise communities and inform women about the DDR programme, for example in Southern Sudan and DRC where the UN missions have effectively used radio for this purpose.

Source: Excerpted from DPKP/DFS, 2010a).

    • Elections: Uniformed peacekeepers often assist in the establishment of a secure and peaceful environment for the holding of free, transparent and inclusive elections. There are a number of security risks women in areas of conflict encounter in accessing registration or polling stations during elections.  Mitigating the risk for violence against women is key to free and fair elections following the conflict.  Elections units in peacekeeping mission must ensure that there are measures to address increase the participation of women as voters, candidates, and electoral officials and to ensure that electoral processes have an equal impact on women and men- including specific attention to the violence that may surround elections for women in post conflict context. During elections international assistance providers should work early to create ties with local, gender-sensitive organizations that can provide cultural insight and are open to integrating gender and electoral violence topics into their election period programming. Consistent strategies for networking and information exchange should be put in place at the time of program conception. Effort should be made to build the capacity of research and documentation centres that provide civic education materials and promote the circulation of information on gendered electoral violence.

For information about women and electoral violence, see IFES. 2011. Breaking the Mold: Understanding Gender and Electoral Violence, available in English.

Example:  Peacekeeping missions have worked with other UN agencies to set up task forces to coordinate activities among key stakeholders to improve women’s participation in the electoral process. In Afghanistan in 2004 such a task force monitored progress on women voters’ registration and contributed to increasing the number of female voters. In Cote d’Ivoire since 2007, ONUCI, other UN agencies, national government partners and NGOs have worked for a 30% quota for women in the electoral law and to strengthen the capacity of women candidates. A Women and Elections core group was set up in Sierra Leone to strategise for the 2008 elections. The integrated nature of UNIOSIL facilitated the creation of a coordinated and well-funded effort in collaboration with UN and bilateral development agencies and other stakeholders to promote the participation of women as candidates and voters in national and local elections.

Source: Excerpted from DPKO/DFS, 2010a.

    • Security Sector Reform: Peacekeepers must work to ensure that new Security Sector mechanisms address VAWG in the post-conflict environment.  Police and Security forces must be both responsive to the needs of women survivors as well as integrate women as new sector personnel.  DPKO Policemen and women can play a key leadership role in preventing violence against women. Personnel may employ a range of actions such as working with community groups and leaders to identify specific threats to women‘s security and plan prevention strategies; using specific deployment strategies to stop or deter incidents of violence; engaging in outreach activities; and communicating how they will work to address the issue, which can send a message to the population that the behaviour is not acceptable. One way they do this is establishing women‘s police stations/ specialized units, acknowledging that while women often prefer reporting to another woman, appropriately trained men in the community can also increase reporting of violence.

Example: MINUSTAH in Haiti is preparing lawyers and providing initial and continuing education to prosecutors and judges to better respond to SGBV. A training programme has been conducted with the national police Women’s Coordination Unit and Child Protection Brigade. The MINUSTAH Gender Unit in collaboration with the office of the Force Commander, UNFPA, Human Rights section and UNPOL has supported a successful pilot of a space in the police commissariat for the reception of women victims of SGBV; the concept is being replicated across the country.

SourceDPKO/DFS, 2010a).

    • Working with the Military: The Military Contingent of the DPKO provides physical protection for women. DPKO military regularly work with local women’s groups and women leaders.   Peacekeepers can exert a profound impact on social practices; if they treat women with respect, the community and even combatants may follow suit.
  • Example:  Female UNPOL Officers have hosted “Women’s Forums” in camps – gatherings at which they exchanged views on how to improve community safety with IDP women. Where tribal leadership has been reluctant to allow officers to meet exclusively with women, officers entered into a sustained dialogue with them to obtain consent. In 2006, it was reported that the “Women’s Forum” in Otash camp, Darfur, regularly attracted up to 200 women.

    Source: UN Action (2010), “Addressing Conflict-Related Sexual Violence: Analytical Inventory of Peacekeeping Practice.”

    • Justice and Rule of Law:  Rule of Law within DPKO missions is a key area for addressing conflict-related sexual violence in framing provisions for post-conflict justice through (1) accountability for those with a history or association with conflict-related sexual violence; (2) protection and participation of victims and witnesses engaged in pursuit of justice and reparations; and (3) reparations for victims of conflict-related sexual violence. Legal efforts often move beyond victim assistance toward long-term attention to a fair trial and defence. However, enforcing court decisions is often a difficult task because the justice system in many conflict and post conflict countries is compromised due to issues such as poor logistics, safe and secure judicial case recording and information storage, limited profiling of convicted perpetrators, and poor penitentiary facilities.

Example: In post conflict Liberia, the Ministry of Justice’s GBV Crimes Unit was established in 2007 to consolidate and speed up the process of prosecuting VAWG cases as well as ensure their appropriate response.  The unit is responsible for coordinating the judicial response to VAWG cases from around the country. The unit conducts public education including conducting training on integrative and collaborative assistance on VAWG and has created a handbook on provider response. Additionally, a newly renovated Criminal Court ‘E’ has been set up and will focus on the prosecution of sexual offences and respond to the backlog of VAWG cases.

Source:  UN Action (2012), “Combating Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Liberia.”


Example:  Over a period of almost 10 years peacekeeping missions in Timor-Leste have supported the government in revising laws to protect women’s rights. The revised penal code adopted in 2009 makes domestic violence a crime and a specific law on domestic violence was enacted in 2010 after a 7-year process. The mission and UN agencies have also assisted in the development of a national action plan on domestic violence and a gender policy for the Ministry of Justice and supported the socialisation of new legislation through public outreach and training.

Source:  Excerpted from DPKO/DFS, 2010a).

    • Recruitment and Retention of Women Peacekeepers. Even small increases in the number of women in peacekeeping forces can create immediate changes on the ground. Women peacekeepers have a comparative operational advantage in sensitive situations like house searches, body searches, working in women’s prisons, interviewing victims of VAWG, providing escorts for victims/witnesses, and screening of women combatants at DDR sites. They are regularly able to establish relationships within the community that increase the political will to enhance overall impact of the peacekeeping mission. Women police officers provide a role model for local women who are interested in security sector careers and can be vital in that recruitment effort overall. The goal of the UN is to have 20% of its police force female by 2014. For more information about women peacekeepers, see Bertolazzi, F. 2010.Women with a Blue Helmet – The integration of women and gender issues in UN Peacekeeping missions.”

Example: UNMIL’s all-female Family Protection Unit has proactively promoted women’s security. Their example has encouraged more women to join the Liberian National Police (LNP), contributing to a three-fold increase in the number of applications from women. This has a powerful effect on communities not accustomed to seeing women in uniform or performing official, public functions. They have also been credited by the local police with encouraging increased reporting of sexual abuse.

Source: UN Action (2010), “Addressing Conflict-Related Sexual Violence: Analytical Inventory of Peacekeeping Practice.”


Additional Resources

For an analysis of the peacekeepers’ responses to the problem of violence against women in conflict, see Anderson, L. 2008.Analytical Inventory of Responses to Peacekeeping Personnel to War-Related Violence Against Women.” UNIFEM.  

For a review of the role of peacekeepers in addressing violence against women in armed conflict, see UNIFEM, 2008a).

For guidelines issued by DPKO see: