Integrating Human Rights into Peacekeeping


U.N. promotes readiness in key areas to bolster operations

Dr. Namie Di Razza and Jake Sherman /INTERNATIONAL PEACE INSTITUTE

To advance reforms aimed at improving the performance and accountability of United Nations peace operations, the U.N. Secretariat and troop- and police-contributing countries (T/PCCs) are expected to strengthen the operational readiness of personnel deployed to the field. This requires ensuring that peacekeepers have the requisite knowledge, expertise, training, equipment and mindset to implement their mandate in accordance with U.N. principles, values, standards and policies.

The operational readiness of uniformed personnel is critical to the effective delivery of mandated tasks authorized by U.N. Security Council resolutions. The U.N. Department of Peace Operations (DPO) and Department of Field Support therefore developed an Operational Readiness Assurance and Performance Improvement Policy, as well as related guidelines, in 2015. Since that policy was created, there has been a gradual recognition of the important role of human rights as part of overall performance. For example, as part of the Action for Peacekeeping Initiative’s “Declaration of Shared Commitments,” member states and the U.N. Secretariat reaffirmed that peacekeeping operations make an important contribution to protecting civilians and human rights.

They also acknowledged the need to “support pre-deployment preparations of personnel and capabilities required for effective performance, and the existing human rights screening policy.” Member states further committed “to certifying that prospective personnel meet U.N. standards for service in U.N. peacekeeping operations.”

We seek to define the concept of human rights readiness for peacekeepers, which is intended to complement operational readiness to make peace operations more effective and fit for purpose. In the context of U.N. peace operations, human rights readiness is the extent to which personnel provided by T/PCCs are prepared and willing to cooperate with missions’ human rights components and proactively integrate human rights into planning and operations, including for the implementation of protection of civilian mandates.

Building on existing U.N. policy frameworks, standards and initiatives, such readiness encompasses the obligations of these personnel to respect international humanitarian and human rights law when serving in a peace operation. It also includes their obligation under the U.N. Charter and U.N. policies to promote and advance human rights in their work, as well as the support the U.N. provides to help them meet this obligation.

The human rights readiness of peacekeepers is ensured by T/PCCs and the U.N., which should support and assess that readiness by integrating human rights and humanitarian law into the generation, operational configuration and evaluation of uniformed personnel. This includes incorporating this law into policies, standard operating procedures and mechanisms that guide force generation and predeployment processes — notably with regard to training and equipment requirements and certification, screening and selection processes.

Human rights readiness also entails putting in place accountability mechanisms, in law and in practice, to ensure that uniformed personnel comply with their human rights obligations. We analyze opportunities and gaps in human rights readiness, exploring ways to improve the human rights readiness of peacekeepers, including their preparedness, ability, capacity and commitment to respect and promote human rights and integrate them into their work on the ground.

A comprehensive human rights readiness framework would include mechanisms to integrate human rights considerations into the operational configuration and modus operandi of uniformed personnel before, during and after their deployment. We start the process of developing this framework by focusing on the steps required to prepare and deploy uniformed personnel through force generation, predeployment assessments and training.

Nepalese Soldiers stand in formation alongside Soldiers from multiple nations during a global peace operations training exercise led by the Nepal Army. STAFF SGT. APRIL DAVIS/U.S. ARMY


Human rights constitute a core function of U.N. peace operations, regardless of whether missions have an express human rights mandate. Most peace operations, including all multidimensional peacekeeping operations, have a mandate that includes: promoting and protecting human rights through monitoring and investigation; analysis and reporting; capacity building for state institutions, including national human rights institutions, and civil society; early warning; protection of civilians (POC); and support to governments in combating impunity.

Many peace operations are also mandated to protect civilians, an objective that relies on integrated efforts by their military, police and civilian components, including human rights sections. These operations may also have an explicit human rights mandate.

In the context of peace operations, POC refers to protection from threats of physical violence. It is therefore closely linked to human rights work aimed at guaranteeing the right to life and physical integrity and to the positive obligation to protect people from threats to their right to life and from ill-treatment, as established by human rights law. Protection of civilians is pursued through three tiers: dialogue and engagement, the provision of physical protection and the establishment of a protective environment.

Human rights activities undertaken as part of this work can include investigation and monitoring of abuse, sensitization to international humanitarian law (IHL) and the fight against impunity, all of which contribute to preventing and responding to threats of physical violence against civilians. The U.N. policy on POC is anchored in international law, describing POC mandates as “a manifestation of the international community’s determination to prevent the most serious violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international refugee law and related standards” that “must be implemented in both the letter and spirit of these legal frameworks.”

Close coordination among human rights officers and military and police personnel enables missions to use different types of expertise and their respective tools and comparative advantages to maximize their mission’s impact on POC. Beyond the mission-specific mandates for POC and human rights, all U.N. peace operations and all U.N. personnel are legally obligated to comply with human rights standards and international humanitarian and refugee law and to uphold U.N. human rights principles when implementing their mandates.

The U.N.’s Capstone Doctrine established that “international human rights law is an integral part of the normative framework for United Nations peacekeeping operations” and affirms that “United Nations peacekeeping personnel — whether military, police or civilian — should … understand how the implementation of their tasks intersects with human rights.” U.N. policy documents have also consistently reiterated and elaborated on the centrality of human rights to peace operations.

A 2011 U.N. policy governs the integration of human rights into all peace operations, including special political missions and peacekeeping operations. The policy requires missions without human rights mandates to uphold and advance human rights standards and to avoid adversely affecting human rights through the implementation of their mandates. It defines the roles of mission components and sections to advance human rights through their functions.

An Indian peacekeeper stands guard at a United Nations mobile operating base on the outskirts of Bunagana in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s restive North Kivu province. AFP/GETTY IMAGES


In his report on the implementation of the recommendations of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, the secretary-general pointed out that “it is essential that United Nations personnel, both civilian and military, conduct themselves in a manner consistent with our values” and that the “human rights record and performance of contributing countries is an integral part of this.” In line with this, human rights are considered as part of the force generation process, from screening to the selection of personnel. Many efforts have been undertaken to make sure that peacekeepers being deployed have not committed human rights violations. However, the current system mainly focuses on screening out perpetrators through formal policies and processes rather than favoring candidates who have demonstrated their readiness to promote and protect human rights.

The force generation process also entails visits to contributing countries, such as assessment and advisory visits, (optional) operational advisory visits and predeployment visits (PDVs). These visits are intended to ensure the operational readiness of individual military units deployed in U.N. peacekeeping operations. Assessment and advisory visits are conducted before units are formed and focus on verifying a country’s readiness to contribute to peace operations in terms of training and unit-sustainment capabilities. In addition to soldiering abilities, conduct and discipline, including sexual exploitation and abuse, can be part of this assessment.

PDVs for military units, which are led by the U.N. Office of Military Affairs Force Generation Service and include representatives from the Integrated Training Service and the Department of Operational Support’s contingent-owned equipment team, aim to verify the country’s capacities and assess its ability to contribute. Most recently, enhanced PDVs have encompassed the validation of military skills, including for the protection of civilians.

To guide these assessments, the Office of Military Affairs has reviewed tasks, conditions and standards related to POC for infantry units in accordance with the revised U.N. Infantry Battalion Manual. Remarkably, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was not part of the discussions regarding the establishment of an operational readiness framework for T/PCCs.

Although human rights are mentioned as one of the parameters of the operational readiness of military units, no human rights experts systematically take part in these advisory and predeployment visits. The visits often focus on training and equipment requirements and amount to box-ticking exercises to formally recognize the processes that T/PCCs have established to comply with operational readiness standards, as defined in the U.N.’s policy. Therefore, they are not necessarily meant to evaluate human rights readiness beyond verifying the existence of a basic training module on human rights during predeployment training. If an in-mission performance evaluation reveals gaps in human rights for a specific unit during its deployment in a peacekeeping mission, this can, in theory, be included in the next predeployment visit and be discussed with the contributing country. In practice, however, the extent to which human rights readiness is considered a critical issue during these assessments remains to be seen.

As recognized by U.N. officials, human rights remains a sensitive issue and there is no clear guidance on how to engage T/PCCs on this, beyond the standard language that appears in diplomatic notes and self-attestation requirements. There is also a strong sense within force generation services that requirements for troop contributing countries, including substantial training and the provision of many documents, are already burdensome. As a result, appetite for another framework on human rights readiness remains limited. Moreover, POC considerations have only recently been expanded in the force and sector commanders’ evaluation of units.

Sri Lankan troops march during a passing out parade in April 2021 before leaving for United Nations peacekeeping duties in Mali. AFP/GETTY IMAGES


Member states are responsible for the predeployment training of military and police personnel assigned to U.N. peacekeeping operations. To assist T/PCCs, the DPO’s Integrated Training Service developed and regularly updates standardized training materials, drawing on substantive expertise from across the U.N. system, including from OHCHR. The Integrated Training Service also supports member states in delivering training in two ways: through mobile training teams, which enhance national training capacities, and through training-of-trainers courses for T/PCC instructors who provide predeployment training to national uniformed personnel.

In modules that include human rights content, OHCHR experts are frequently involved in both types of training, subject to OHCHR’s capacity limits. The U.N.’s core predeployment training materials provide a common foundation for all military and police personnel to understand the U.N.’s peacekeeping principles, guidance and policies. These materials encompass generic, specialized and mission-specific elements. They also include modules on the legal framework for U.N. peacekeeping, such as an overview of international human rights law (IHRL) and international humanitarian law (IHL); the duties of U.N. peacekeeping personnel to promote and protect human rights; and mandated tasks pertaining to human rights, including women’s and children’s rights, and the protection of civilians in U.N. peacekeeping operations.


In the current peacekeeping training regime, much of the focus remains on the normative framework rather than on how to operationally support human rights in missions. The sensitization of uniformed personnel to human rights is often limited to a presentation of human rights norms and legal frameworks. There are only rare opportunities to expand on this sensitization by providing training on how military personnel should integrate human rights into their planning and operations and work with their human rights colleagues in the mission. Without this training, there is a risk that some military personnel could see all human rights issues as the responsibility of human rights sections, diminishing their own sense of responsibility for human rights.

This suggests a disconnect between the normative framework on which peacekeeping is based and human rights-related mandated tasks carried out by the mission, as well as between POC and human rights. Several of the U.N.’s training and human rights staff have acknowledged that existing training practices and methodologies are insufficient, providing uniformed personnel with only a cursory understanding of how IHRL and IHL translate into operational considerations.

Current training does not provide personnel with adequate knowledge of applicable laws, norms and policies, nor does it provide guidance on how uniformed personnel should work with their human rights colleagues. In short, it fails to translate human rights knowledge into daily practice. As the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has noted, “Adding a few hours on IHL and/or IHRL to the existing training program without modifying its content is far from effective.”

Instead, these experts argue that understanding human rights in the context of peacekeeping, and more broadly of POC, requires that it be incorporated into broader training provided by member states to all their military and police, particularly to command and staff officers. Predeployment training is too late in the process to introduce human rights principles and legal concepts to peacekeepers, when much of the focus is often still on ensuring basic soldiering skills. “Historical reflection and social psychology show that the aims of basic training (desensitization, breaking down a soldier’s inculcated reluctance to kill, unit cohesion and obedience to the command chain) are antagonistic to many of the aims of IHL training,” according to the ICRC.

A similar argument can be made for IHRL. IHL and IHRL training needs to be meaningfully integrated into general military and police academy curricula, which is not the standard for a lot of major T/PCCs. This could help personnel develop the correct reflexes through repeated exposure and practice.

Philippine Soldiers prepare to enter a ficticious United Nations food distribution site during a peacekeeping exercise in Bangladesh. MASTER SGT. JON DYER/U.S. AIR FORCE


The protection and promotion of human rights have become essential functions of peacekeeping missions since their inclusion in the 1991 mandate of the U.N. Observer Mission in El Salvador. Although human rights components have a critical role in this regard, upholding human rights is a mission-wide responsibility that encompasses not only civilian human rights officers but also military and police components.

The U.N. is facing a moment of increased attention to the operational performance of peacekeeping. The human rights readiness of U.N. uniformed personnel is a key determinant of this performance, as well as of the U.N.’s credibility and reputation and its commitment to prevention. To professionalize peacekeeping, the U.N. and its member states need to ensure that uniformed personnel understand and have the skills to fulfill their human rights responsibilities and enable the work of human rights components.

Human rights need to be a systematic part of the process of force generation and preparedness, which would also make peacekeeping more accountable to the public and more credible to the U.N.’s partners. Human rights readiness is intended to be a framework against which existing operational requirements related to human rights standards for T/PCCs should be assessed. As with operational readiness, it is a collective effort by T/PCCs and the U.N. Secretariat, which are both involved in all relevant components of peace operations.

To strengthen the human rights readiness of military and police units deployed in U.N. peace operations, tangible action by T/PCCs and the U.N. must take place. This would prepare units to uphold human rights standards and better integrate human rights considerations into their work. It would also ensure that uniformed components can deliver on such a commitment.  

Dr. Namie Di Razza joined the International Peace Institute (IPI) in October 2016 after working on U.N. peace operations and protection of civilians. Jake Sherman is IPI’s senior director for programs and director of the IPI’s Brian Urquhart Center for Peace Operations. This report has been edited to fit FORUM’s format. To read the full report, which IPI published in April 2020, visit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *