Thirty men and three women in uniform, none of them army officers, but all of them members of United Nations peacekeeping missions. They come from all over Brazil and represent a record number of police officers sent by Brazil to take part in United Nations Peacekeeping missions in 2010. Police officers from various states, lead by the Federal District, São Paulo, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Amazonas, Bahia and Rio de Janeiro are all active outside the Brazilian borders today.
“Not since the 90s has Brazil sent out that many police officers to take part in UN missions, it is quite remarkable,” said Eduarda Hamann, Viva Rio Peacekeeping subcoordinator, a specialist on International Affairs and author of a recent paper on the Latin American participation in United Nations’ peacekeeping missions. Hamann believes it may be a sign that Brazil is interested in taking a more active role in the area.
“The number of police officers in UN peacekeeping missions has increased significantly, because the missions have become much more complex” said Hamann. Police officers first began to be incorporated in UN missions in the 1970s and have increased in numbers since the 1990’s. “Thirty years ago, peacekeeping missions meant united nations troops were sent to conflict zones to protect buffer zones, but after the tragedies in Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia the UN has come to a new recognition of the nature of security problems. Today its missions to conflicted areas also address supporting elections, generating stability, ensuring human rights are upheld, and training police forces,” said Hamann, noting that this has opened the door for police officers in peacekeeping operations.
Latin American troops in UN missions increased by 999% in ten years
“There has been an exponential growth in Brazil’s peacekeeping,” said Hamann, adding that this comes after Brazil boosted the number of deployed military in mid-2004, and after it doubled the number of both military and police officers in 2010.
The new Brazilian deployments are also part of a surge in Latin America’s contributions to UN missions over the past ten years, especially when contrasted with the rest of the world. While the UN increased in 283% the number of military officers, the region that most increased its contribution to UN forces was Latin America. It increased its deployment of military troops in 999% (from 753 to 7,523) while the rest of the world increased its contribution by 265%. “Naturally one expects Latin America to have a greater role in future missions. The UN has been asking Brazil to increase its contingent of police officers to 29 for the past two years, and this is the first time it is met,” said Hamann.
Most Latin American governments do not include the deployment of individual police officers or formed police units as part of their foreign policy, which Hamann attributes to various factors, among them: domestic public security problems, lack of political will, and lack of support in public opinion. In the case of Brazil, media coverage of the January earthquake in Haiti also shed a positive light on the UN mission, the MINUSTAH, for the Brazilian public opinion.
“2010 is a very special year for Brazil. Since the 2010 earthquake, Brazil doubled the number of military officers in Haiti. It also signaled a growth in the number of police officers sent overseas,” said Hamann. In the last 10 years Brazil’s highest deployment of individual police officers had never exceeded 19.
Of the 31 officers overseas today, the most significant contingent of Brazilian police officers is currently in East Timor, numbering twenty UNPOLS, while at Brazil’s highest profile peacekeeping mission at the Brazilian lead MINUSTAH in Haiti, there are currently four officers, although Hamann notes it is expected to grow to ten or twelve. There are another five Brazilian officers in Guinea Bissau and two in Sudan.
“The reason we have so many police officers in East Timor,” said Brazilian Police Captain Sergio Carrera, “is that East Timor is approaching the end of its term in 2012, and a priority was given to Portuguese speaking officers.” Captain Sergio Carrera, from the Policia Militar do Distrito Federal Police (that corresponds to the DF state police force) has taken police involvement in peacekeeping missions to heart. Carrera was deployed in Haiti in 2007 and has since become also teacher, preparing future officers to go overseas. He coordinated a course of Police Observers in UN Peacekeeping, and maintains a blog on UNPOL, called ‘missão de paz’. “Like all fellow officers from Brazilian state police forces , those in East Timor had to pass exams in English, shooting and driving 4x4s. “Portuguese is not an official UN language,” said Captain Carrera, who added that in the case of East Timor proficiency in the local language comes in handy in helping emancipate the local police force.
A second generation UNPOL officer, his father was a police observer in Mozambique, Carrera notes how missions changed since the first missions: “At the time police officers only participated in unarmed missions, as Police Observers. Today, depending on the mission’s mandate, things are quite different. As UNPOL we can act directly in police actions, just like in Brazil. We lead police operations and joint actions, we make arrests, are deployed during worker’s strikes and are on the scene in confrontations. We also have a role in reforming local police forces and even in reforming the criminal justice system. We are altogether more active and hands on compared to the 90s.”
Experience overseas and a change in perspective
For the mostly men, and in a few cases women, who have added the UN insignia to the Brazil flag and their own police department crest on their shoulders, going abroad has meant a life changing experience. You see things from a different perspective and an important part of what you see is that you learn to value your own experience and the role of the police officer in ways that escape you before being deployed overseas,” said Carrera.
Police officers go for longer periods in each mission. While a typical army officer will be posted for 6 months, a police officer stays for a year. Although they do not lose their ranks, they will respond to the mission’s hierarchy, so that a Brazilian police major could have to respond to captain from a different country
Brazilian officers like ‘war doctors’
Brazilian police officers commonly describe how well received they are in their missions, and how they feel appreciated both by locals and fellow officers from other countries. “There are many things that conspire to our success in peacekeeping missions,” said Captain Fabricio Silva Bassalo (photo), from the Policia Militar do Pará (Pará state police), who was in Haiti in 2009 and returned to Brazil literally on the eve of the earthquake. “One thing is that we are trained in many types of policing activities, we are versatile. Our training as military police officers means we are ready to be on horseback, to act in crowd control, to do community policing and if necessary, to take part in dangerous missions.”
“The UN respects Brazilian police officers” said Captain Bassalo, “one of my superiors once said that as police officers we are like ‘war doctors’, we are ready for anything. There are situations that we are prepared for, such as in operations in Cité Soleil, we were prepared to face harsh urban environments, unsanitary conditions and extreme poverty.”
Police missions include policing on foot and in cars, investigation, human resources, logistics, planning, traffic guards, operations, security, training, intelligence, budgeting among other roles. At times the UNPOL can be called to work in structuring various organs of the public security and criminal justice system, such as the Attorney´s Office in Guatemala, the Judiciary in El Salvador.
“Brazilian officers tend to be good at responding to people at various levels of the hierarchy, they can talk to people on the street and to UN officials, which is helpful,” said Captain Bassalo. And of course, the officers always cite the fact the Brazilian flag goes hand in hand with soccer and music… openning, not closoing doors.
Captain Sergio also noted the fact that unlike army officers, police officers tend to have greater contact with locals. UNPOLs tend to live in the community, the will rent houses and apartments, will do their groceries and get haircuts in the communities. “Since they take part in routine life of the city, it helps them get a closer to local life.” Said Carrera.
Brazilian officers also mention the impact of the experience going back to Brazil. They look at their profession anew. They are selected based on national exams. Once passing such an exam, they are on call for 18 months. If in that period they are not sent on a mission they have to take the test again.
Fabricio was posted in Haiti in 2009, coordinated swat teams (tropas de choque). Back in Brazil, he said that his UN experience convinced him of the need to improve policing in Brazil. “We need to spend less time cooked up in the battalions, we need to “quebrar o paradigma dos quarteis” rethink our military vocation, we need to come out of our isolation as police officers, become more community oriented, champion human rights, and mingle with society,” said Captain Bassalo.
Captain Bassalo also contends that Brazilian police officers at home tend to accept negative stereotyping of its own force policing too easily, “we still need to open our minds, and understand that officers who went on missions weren’t in it for personal gain, we need to see what is good about our own policing and also what good policing is about,” said captain Bassalo.
Lieutenant Colonel Valdemir Gomes dos Santos (photo), from the DF state police force believes that interest in joining missions is growing among Brazilian police officers. He teaches a peacekeeping course for police officers, and his police department sent the largest group of officers overseas this year. He nevertheless would like to see more significant growth:
“I think that we are still growing below expectations, since we note that there are many countries with little expression in international politics that send out much bigger contingents than ours in UN missions. I myself, when I was in Sudan in 2008 caused a great deal of surprise when colleagues from other countries realized we were only three officers from Brazil. People just could not understand why we were so few in numbers.”
If the trend noted by Hamann continues, this is certainly about to change.
Fonte: Comunidad Segura