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Updated on 12 December 2015


Section 5(b):   Subsidiary bodies concerned with peacekeeping


Relevance of linguistic skills to UN peace operations


As noted in a related article on this website, in 2004, the UN Secretary-General called on his counterpart in the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF) to encourage francophone countries to participate in the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).  This appeal was particularly relevant in the case of MINUSTAH, since its troop and police components have engaged intensively with the local population in carrying out the Mission’s mandate to assist with the restoration and maintenance of the rule of law, public safety and public order in Haiti, as well as to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.  After this initial appeal, it has now become standard practice for the Francophonie Secretary General to encourage troop contributions by IOF members whenever a new UN peacekeeping mission is established in a francophone country.


The importance of relevant linguistic skills to UN peace operations has been recognized in certain Security Council resolutions.  Resolution 2100 (2013), which established the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), requested the UN Secretary-General “to recruit qualified staff, who have the professional experience and skills appropriate to the tasks” (italics added).  It was generally understood that such skills include linguistic skills.


The Council became more specific concerning the relevance of linguistic skills the following year, when it adopted resolution 2149 (2014) establishing the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).  Resolution 2149 (2014) requested the Secretary-General “to recruit qualified staff, who have the competencies, education, work experience and language skills appropriate to the tasks”.


Resolution 2185 (2014) was the Council’s first resolution on “The role of policing in peacekeeping and post-conflict peacebuilding”.   Paragraph 3 of the resolution urges police-contributing countries to continue to contribute personnel “with the necessary skills, equipment and experience to implement mission mandates”, and in this context, underlines “the importance of appropriate language skills at relevant levels”.


During the meeting at which resolution 2185 (2014) was adopted, several speakers underscored the need for policing personnel to have relevant linguistic abilities.  In his briefing to the meeting, the head of the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations stated


“From here at the Council, I should like to appeal for additional language capabilities.  We

are operating in places that necessarily require, at least for basic training, a mastery of the

most prevalent language in the country.  Specifically, I have in mind the Arabic language

and French.”


For his part, the Police Commissioner of MINUSCA observed that providing special training in language and driving skills “can be a difficulty in peacekeeping”.  Calling UN police “the most visible face of the State”, he noted that all of the UN police and formed police units serving with MINUSCA are able to speak French.


Among Council members, the representative of Lithuania affirmed that


“United Nations police must ensure they remain close to the communities they serve.  

Speaking the local language is often indispensable for the effective implementation of

community policing and the training of national police authorities.  We welcome the

partnership between the International Organization of la Francophonie and the Police

Division aimed at increasing the number of francophone police officers.”


Similarly, the representative of France stated that “police components of peacekeeping missions now need to be further supported through more specialization, based on specific recognized expertise as well as the ability of police to speak the host country’s languages.”  He further noted that “the ability to speak the host country language” can enhance the contribution of UN police personnel to the restoration of “confidence between the local population and State institutions.”


The representative of Chad underscored that “given that United Nations police are called upon to interact with the population, it is important that they have general skills, including linguistic and cultural knowledge of the host country.”  He deemed knowledge of the language and culture of the host State to be “one of the most important elements that should be taken into account in the selection process” (S/PV.7317 of 20 November 2014).



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