By Hyun Jin Kim and Lea Angela Biason
An interview with Ms. Unaisi Bolatolu-Vuniwaqa (Fiji), Police Commissioner, serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
How did you learn about your UN position and how were you recruited? Did you face any challenges during the recruitment process and how did you overcome them?
I first learned of the position when deployed as an Individual Police Officer in the mission in 2016, which was my first stint with United Nations Peacekeeping. I had tried to secure a professional position with the UN Police in the past and had reached the competency-based interview stage on three occasions. I realized that having prior mission experience, although not compulsory, would be helpful in addition to my academic qualification and work experience for putting me in a better position for selection. That was why I chose to join the mission as an Individual Police Officer and, while in the mission, I applied for vacancies that were advertised. The mission knowledge and experience assisted me greatly when answering questions during competency-based interviews.
What skills that you developed in national service were particularly helpful in the UN mission setting?
In my case, earlier in my career I had the opportunity to be exposed to a wide range of skills that assisted me in my current position. At the start, it was general policing and then community-oriented policing, sexual and gender-based violence crime investigations, media and public relations, training and child protection. As I advanced through the ranks, then the managerial competencies such as budget planning and implementation, strategic planning, human resource management and general administration of a police organization were extremely helpful. Hence, having a good understanding of both operations and administration has been of great use in a UN police component. You will have a team to advise you, but a good understanding of both administration and operations will compel you to ask the right questions as well as add value to what your team comes up with for the overall achievement of your goals.
What are the top three most important accomplishments you have undertaken as Head of Police Component in the field mission?
First, the development of a roadmap for the UNPOL component in line with the mission’s strategic priorities. It clearly articulates the two main approaches the UNPOL component focuses on in order to contribute effectively to mission objectives on the protection of civilians and building durable peace in South Sudan. We understand that security situations are unpredictable and that the plan will need to be reviewed as and when required, but at least a strategic direction is set to chart the way forward. However, for UNMISS, the protection of civilians mandate has been in place since 2013 until the introduction of the Technical Assistance and Advice mandate in 2018. This prompted the change in our approach to include both operational cohesiveness and effectiveness as well as Technical Assistance and Advice.
In addition, the development and implementation of the Technical Assistance and Advice concept. Within the protection of civilians mandate the component was to rebuild collaboration with our national counterpart, the South Sudan National Police Service. It is a kind of capacity-building initiative, and proper planning was needed to be clear on the scope and parameters within which it was going to be conducted. It also informs the national police from the start of what we can and cannot offer in terms of assistance.
Moreover, the introduction of annual work planning as well as budget distribution to field offices, which has ensured its successful implementation in recent years. The distribution of budget allocation to field offices prompted the officers working in those offices to take greater ownership of its implementation.
What has been the most difficult aspect of carrying out your role as Head of Police Component?
Having the right people in the right place as your principal advisers makes the role of Head of Police Component much easier, as well as building up a leadership team that functions well. Therefore, the recruitment of staff is critical to ensure you are surrounded by capable officers to share the responsibility as well as to provide timely and quality advice when needed. In addition, building good working relations with other mission components, including humanitarian and development, is necessary because integration is a key aspect of a multidimensional mission such as UNMISS.
What has been the most satisfying part of working as Head of Police Component?
To witness the national police taking steps towards professionalism as well as gender inclusiveness in their own organization. In some cases, it may be two steps forward and one step back, but the forward momentum is there. With all the Technical Assistance and Advice provided to the national police through workshops, it is satisfying to see that progressive improvement is being made. For example, a police officer was convicted of rape in one of the states. It shows the commitment of the local police to address sexual and gender-based violence even when it is perpetrated by one of their own. Although there may be other cases of abuse of powers by police still surfacing, any small steps achieved such as the above example indicates that the national police are working towards professionalizing their organization. Moreover, the promotion of female officers and their increasing inclusion in workshops and other Technical Assistance and Advice programs indicates that advocacy for gender mainstreaming is taking hold. However, there is a lot still to be done given the political and security environment of the host country.
What advice would you give for effectively mainstreaming gender issues in all aspects of policing in peacekeeping? Can you give an example of how this was implemented in your field mission?
[Mainstreaming involves ensuring that gender perspectives and attention to the goal of gender equality are central to all activities — policy development, research, advocacy/ dialogue, legislation, resource allocation, and planning, implementation and monitoring of programmes and projects — UN Women]
One of the initiatives undertaken was the review by an interview board that presides over recruitments for positions in the mission. In addition, constant gender analysis to see that women are represented in most areas of the mission. Hence, from the interview board, the number of women officers applying for positions is tracked and when women are not applying, the information is channeled to the UNPOL Women’s Network that was established to empower and support fellow women officers. Moreover, the establishment of an UNPOL Gender Advisor who works closely with the Gender Unit in the Police Division at HQ in the development of their Annual Work Plan also assisted in gender mainstreaming within UNPOL as well as with the national police service.
What advice would you give for supporting female deployment in the field? What support can the UN give? What can Member States do?
The process of female deployment begins with Member States. Increasing number of females in their police service will mean more female officers can be deployed to UN missions. In addition, introducing special measures such as intensive female leadership training to ensure females are represented at the middle and strategic management levels of their organizations will eventually benefit the UN.
The UN has invested a lot into ensuring that the field missions are female-friendly as far as recruitment and logistical support is concerned. Assisting Member States in preparing female officers to join the mission could be of great help. Hence, the recent effort by the Police Division to develop a senior female command cadre to prepare them for professional positions is very welcome.
What advice do you have for female officers who want to take on leadership positions with the UN?
It is an epic experience one will never regret. It is challenging yet more rewarding at the same time. Having a professional development plan at some point in your career is a necessity to meet all requirements to launch your career with the UN. From passing the Selection Assessment and Advisory Test to relevant work experience and academic qualifications need to be in sync with your career plan within your own police organization because achievements in one area may contribute to the other.
In my case, I had an initial plan to reach a senior position in my police organization and joining UN Police was my other option. Hence, after achieving my academic and professional goals in my own police service, I pursued a leadership position with the UN Police. I knew I had what it took to serve at this level and that what was lacking was my mission experience. As such, I came into the mission as an ordinary Individual Police Officer at the rank of Assistant Police Commissioner and walked the front lines of the mission, gaining an understanding of the dynamics, context and important role UNPOL plays. In the end, I got much-needed mission experience, pursued the position despite my earlier failed attempts and will leave UNMISS when my contract expires as a Head of Police Component.
The authors are Programme Management Officers with the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations.