Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Bangladesh police in Haiti

By Razzak Raza, Blitz

On 15 May 2010, Bangladesh once again became the part of the UN Peacekeeping history by sending her first constellation of women police to the quake-ravaged Caribbean county, Haiti. It is not new from the part of Bangladesh Police to serve overseas, as they marked their first impression in Namibia in 1989. It is not also new for the women members of the Bangladesh law enforcement agency to serve in the UN mission. The first Bangladeshi women police served in Timor Leste in 2000. At this moment more than 1,608 Bangladeshi Police officers are working in the UN peacekeeping missions. Till now some 6,369 Bangladeshi police officers, both male and female, have completed their tenure of serving in the UN peacekeeping missions. Bangladesh holds the topmost position among the police contributing countries in the peacekeeping operations. Now what is the new with it? The epoch making news is that for the first time Bangladesh sends her all-female Formed Police Unit (FPU) to serve the peacekeeping field mission. With the landing on Haiti Island, the Bangladeshi women police unit became the second such unit in the peacekeeping arena. The first all-female FPU was sent in Liberia from the Indian State of Tamil Nadu in 2007. The other unique feature of the Bangladeshi female unit will be that it is for the first time a Muslim country has endeavored to send their women officers en mass and leave them at their own in a post disaster zone to ensure security. The 160-member Bangladeshi women FPU will have 30 supporting male staffs. The Indian all-female FPU having 125 members incorporated some 22 men to provide logistic support. The supporting male staffs work as drivers, barbers, clean men, electricians, cooks, plumbers, motor vehicle technicians/ mechanics etc.

Now what jobs do the female officers will perform in the UN peacekeeping mission? According to the instructions of the UN Police Handbook, the tasks and responsibilities of a Formed Police Unit include, dealing with public order and threats to peace, static security of vulnerable buildings, mobile security of vulnerable areas, VIP protection, criminal information gathering, counter terrorism and counter insurgency operations, surveillance, election security, road blocks and checks, barricade reconnaissance and removal, house search, vehicle search, escort duty and training of local police agencies in crowd control and law and order duties. They act as a backup support to the UN Police component and also provide high visibility crime deterrence capability to the unarmed UN Police.

As the specialized police unit, the all-female FPU will have to perform all the above-mentioned duties. But being a fully women-populated and administered unit they have some unique jobs to do. The Indian all-female FPU provide security within the Liberian capital city during public events with high profile leadership as their primary duty. But, they provide free medical services and clean drinking water for the community which has led to a reduction in the number of poverty motivated petty crimes in the capital.

According to the Haiti U.N. mission’s police spokesperson Fred Blaise the new female policing unit from Bangladesh will work on a rotating basis inside the U.N.’s approximately 700 makeshift camps for internally displaced persons, where they will be responsible for crowd control, disturbances and other regular duties, just as their male counterparts.

The UN authority are on frantic efforts to enhance the women’s participation in the peacekeeping operations to fulfill their commitment to ensure gender-balance as envisaged in the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security of 2000. But, though their utmost trial could increase the rate of the civilian women staff at 30%, their affirmative actions with respect to the uniformed women peacekeepers are still disappointing. Among the uniformed peacekeepers, policewomen consist of 8% while the military women consist of only 2%. However, the Police Division of the United Nations Peacekeeping Department (DPKO) is vowed to increase the number of policewomen in the peacekeeping operations at 20% by 2014.

However, there are practical grounds and popular expectations to increase the women peacekeepers in the UN missions. There are numerous reports against the UN male peacekeepers about their involvement in sex-related misconducts. On many occasions, some derailed male UN staff are used to sexually harass the local women. The inclusion of women peacekeepers will create a deterrent effect against such unwanted misconducts. The mission areas are the fertile grounds of traditional crimes, which are dominated by crime against women, mostly rape and other sorts of violent crimes against women and children. But, the local police authorities have neither adequate manpower nor required efficiency to address these crimes. On, the other hand, women are historically shy to report sexual crimes to the local male officers, let along the foreign male peacekeepers. So, it is expected that the increase number of women peacekeepers will increase the reporting of sexual crimes or domestic violence among the local women population. Moreover, often, women peacekeepers can better communicate with local women, generating a greater sense of security while serving as an example of women’s empowerment. During conflicts, men in uniform often perpetrate rape and other forms of sexual violence. This makes the oppressed women frightened to take recourse to uniformed forces for assistance even after the conflicts. So, women in uniform will hold out the flag of assurance to the victim women.

Policewomen working in the UN peacekeeping missions are the sources of inspiration to the local women. They play role models to the young women of the mission country in giving shape to their amorphous bureaucracy and strengthening their fragile democracy. The very presence of the female peacekeepers makes the war-victim women ambitious to join the non-traditional government positions like the police service and the armed forces. One typical example is the rapid increment of the women applicants for the Liberian National Police. The Liberian National Police received three times the usual number of female applicants in the month following the deployment of the Indian all-female police contingent. Female police officers now comprise 15 percent of the Liberian National Police, which is more than the average percentage of the United States.

However, the role of the Bangladeshi all-female FPU will be somewhat different than that of their Indian counterpart working in Liberia. Liberia is a war-torn mission area where ex-combatants and conflicting parties are active to materialize their own agenda. But, the Stabilization Mission in Haiti has been operating in a post natural calamity area. The earthquake on 12 January 2010 rendered the whole country nearly to debris. People, there, are the victims of the Mother Nature. So, our lady peacekeepers will render more humanitarian services than their traditional police operations. As Ms. Rokfar Sultana, Commanding Officer of the all-female Bangladeshi police contingent, stated, according to the UN mandate, their activities in quake-ravaged Haiti would be providing humanitarian activities besides community policing. They will also provide primary education, primary healthcare, protection on violence against women, prevention of HIV, Aids training and so on.

The all-female Bangladeshi Police contingent will also face some different challenges than those of their Indian counterpart. The Indian FPU is a full-fledged women unit. The members are groomed up for working with women only. The Indian State of Tamil Nadu raised their all-female police unit “Woman Police Battalion of Tamilnadu Special Police, in 2004. Since then the unit had been commanded and managed only by female officers. They are accustomed to acting independently. As an independent police unit, the Indian FPU has tested history. But, in Bangladesh, we don’t have such all-female police units. Like the other FPUs, the all-female FPU had been formed not more than two months before they flew to Haiti for full deployment. Although the officers and the force are individually experienced in police operations and management, they are very new as an independent police unit. So, how a newly formed police unit will perform in foreign land in discharging their peacekeeping duties is yet to be tested. The mammoth challenge of the Commanding Officer and her deputies will be to police their own police and to manage their own affairs.

Though Bangladesh Police have endeavored to become the 2nd country in the history of peacekeeping to send an all-female police unit for peacekeeping, no such all-female police unit exists in the country. It is worth mentioning that the need of an all-female police unit is being felt for many days. Reports from newspapers referred to the proposal of the government to raise such a battalion in the Dhaka Metropolitan Police. Even the Prime Minister told the Jatiya Sangsad about creating a separate female-armed police battalion in the organizational structure of the Armed Police Battalion, and, some 371 posts in different categories had also been created to conduct activities of the proposed battalion. But that proposal remained only in the imagination. No practical steps are visible to materialize the proposal since then. Now the practical demand of women police unit from the United Nations forced the government to form an all-female FPU over days. Such demand for more all-female FPUs is on the UN card. So, Bangladesh must raise more than one such all-female battalions as soon as possible, if they want to avail of the UN offer.

It is true that the sending of the all-female FPU to the peacekeeping mission has ushered in a new horizon to the female officers of Bangladesh Police. The high demand of policewomen in the peacekeeping operations gives the Bangladesh government ample chances to earn international fame, with a handsome amount of foreign currency. It will make the policewomen more ambitious to build their police career. But, the other side of the coin diminishes its money value. The police public ratio in Bangladesh is alarming with respect to the UN standard. The percentage of women in the police service is more disappointing. Bangladesh Police has only 1,937 women members, which comprises less than 2% of the total force. With the sending of the all-female FPU some 155 (25 in civpol and 130 in FPU) women officers are out of the country for peacekeeping mission. That is, the citizens will now feel the shortage of 9% women officers for their domestic services. So, the government should make up the loss by recruiting more women police and raise the proposed women battalion as soon as possible.

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