The UN’s Global Focal Point: Top-Down Bureaucracy, or Bottom-Up Results?

Stephen H. Packer
Vol. 37 Managing Online Content Editor
Vol. 36 Associate Editor


The UN’s Global Focal Point for Police, Justice, and Corrections (“GFP”) is now two-and-a-half years old. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced its creation in September 2012, when he appointed the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (“DPKO”) and the UN Development Programme (“UNDP”) as the GFP for Police, Justice, and Corrections Areas in the Rule of Law in Post-conflict and other Crisis Situations.[1] As the cumbersome official title suggests, the GFP is an attempt to provide a more joined-up response to crises by various UN bodies, characterized as “delivery as one.”[2] This includes dividing support and responsibility into a two-tier structure, with DPKO and UNDP responsible at HQ level for responding to requests at country level from UN entities working in fields related to police, justice, and corrections (“PJC”).[3] But is the GFP just an example of top-down, supply-driven window dressing in response to failures, or is there genuine bottom-up, demand-driven need for it?

Genesis of the GFP

Conceptually, the reason for appointing DPKO and UNDP was summed-up by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous, when he expressed the hope that the GFP would help make the transition from peacekeeping to development a smoother one.[4] The need for greater attention to the linkages between development and rule of law and security has been highlighted by several member states, including troop-contributing countries who want to improve the effectiveness of the UN’s work both at HQ and at country level.[5] The GFP’s roots can be traced back at least as far as the UN interim administrations in Kosovo and East Timor, created by a pair of Security Council resolutions in 1999.[6] The mandates of the interim administrations were unique at the time for their breadth and depth, and were described as “a novelty in the history of United Nations Peacekeeping.”[7] Their success illustrates the importance, in a modern conflict situation, of the UN’s being able to restore peace not just by interposing itself between belligerents, but by shaping the very internal governance structure of a country.

These successes encouraged the UN to take on more complex operations with a rule of law component in countries such as Liberia, Haiti, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[8] However, it became increasingly clear that importing the same solutions to a diverse array of contexts was not going to be a recipe for success. In a 2004 report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council, Kofi Annan declared that the UN needed to “eschew one-size-fits-all formulas” in order to build sustainable justice systems, and underlined the need for a comprehensive approach.[9] In a subsequent 2006 report, the Secretary-General acknowledged that UN member states had by now recognized the establishment of the rule of law as a key aspect of peacekeeping missions, and noted the increasing Security Council trend of including reform of PJC systems in peacekeeping mandates.[10] The same report announced the creation of a Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group, which is a forerunner to the Global Focal Point.[11]

Top-Down or Bottom-Up?

Given the politics and bureaucracy of an organization as large as the UN, has the complicated history of the GFP’s creation had an adverse impact on its effectiveness? Certainly, there is a perception among field offices at country level that the GFP is something that looks good on paper at UNHQ, but won’t have an impact in the field.[12] Others believe the GFP is simply a way to get the two lead UN agencies to communicate with each other and coordinate their PJC activities.[13] Indeed, it has been noted that cooperation between the two lead agencies was “notoriously lacking” regarding their PJC programming, leading to a critical lack of collaboration at field level.[14] As an independent paper noted in June 2014, this perception of a top-down model exists because the GFP has not made clear what “value-added” it can bring to the field, and how this can be utilized at country level.[15] Surely the terminology itself, in its reference to “tiers” (with HQ the tier above and superior to the field tier, rather than complementary to it), also contributes this perception. It is also due at least in part to the fact that there was no significant attempt to ensure that field offices were consulted on what would be required of the GFP to ensure a valuable contribution in the field, with all decisions being made at HQ level.[16] Other organizations seem confused about the role of the GFP and what their organization could contribute to it.[17] Clearly, the buy-in of in-country UN actors is key to the success of the GFP, if the agglomeration of expertise is not to be wasted. However, issues as prosaic as problems with IT systems that have prevented personnel from sharing office space for more than a year,[18] among others, have thus far stymied the push to form the united front and common identity necessary to make such a reorganization a success. If the GFP is unable to deliver on its promise, it runs the risk of irrelevancy as missions and country teams revert to their regular service providers.[19]

Peacekeeping operations are no arena for armchair quarterbacks, and so the UN’s PJC activities will thrive or perish depending on how well services are delivered at ground-level. “Client orientation” is a new buzzword, a recognition that the GFP, and the UN in the wider sense, must continue delivering results on the ground in order to stay relevant.[20] This reality is implicitly recognized in the two-tier structure of the GFP, which requires that DPKO and UNDP respond “timely” to country-level requests for assistance.[21] However, despite this and the volume of official GFP visits to the field, the GFP has generally been seen as having only a light impact at country level.[22] In this context, a narrower focus for the GFP would seem to be the best solution, to help grow the GFP concept by delivering concrete results in more limited theaters of operation by concentrating efforts on specific countries. This would enable the GFP to work the bugs out of its operations, and solidify its client-centered focus by reducing the number of “customers” and thus making them more visible. This refocusing does not mean that the GFP has to abandon countries that it isn’t focusing on, but it will help to generate the “success stories” required to change perceptions for the better, and therefore deliver results.[23]

All this is to conclude that, unless the GFP evolves from its top-down beginnings and becomes more responsive and useful it its client organizations in the field, it will become just another stage in the eventual evolution of a mechanism that is more bottom-up and driven by tangible results.

[1] Fact Sheet: Global Focal Point for Police, Justice and Corrections (Dec. 7, 2012), [hereinafter Fact Sheet].

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Global Focal Point Retreat: DPKO and UNDP advance work plan details (last visited Feb. 23, 2015),

[5] Megan Price, Kevin Steeves & Luc van de Goor, Soldering the Link: The UN Global Focal Point for police, justice and corrections (August 2012), at 4 [hereinafter Soldering the Link].

[6] S.C. Res. 1244, U.N. Doc S/RES/1244 (Jun. 10, 1999); S.C. Res. 1272, U.N. Doc S/RES/1272 (Oct. 25, 1999).

[7] Carsten Stahn, The United Nations Transitional Administrations in Kosovo and East Timor: A First Analysis, 5 Max Planck UNYB 105 (2001) at 107.

[8] Independent Progress Review on the UN Global Focal Point for Police, Justice and Corrections (June 2014), at 14 (hereinafter Independent Progress Review).

[9] U.N. Secretary-General, The rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict societies: Report to the Security Council, S/2004/616 (Aug. 23, 2004) at 1.

[10] U.N. Secretary General, Uniting our strengths: Enhancing United Nations support for the rule of law: Report to the General Assembly and the Security Council, A/61/636-S/2006/980 (Dec. 14, 2006) at 1.

[11] Id. at 15.

[12] Independent Progress Review, supra note 8, at 10.

[13] Id. at 21.

[14] Soldering the Link, supra note 5, at 6.

[15] Independent Progress Review, supra note 8, at 10.

[16] Id. at 36.

[17] Id. at 21.

[18] Id.

[19] Soldering the Link, supra note 5, at vi.

[20] Id. at 7.

[21] Fact Sheet, supra note 1, at 2.

[22] Independent Progress Review, supra note 8, at 36.

[23] Id. at 37.