International Law

More on UN Detention Procedures for Military Operations

By Ashley Deeks
Monday, November 25, 2013, 1:28 PM

About a month ago, I asked what had happened to the UN’s effort to develop a set of standard operating procedures to govern detentions that arise during the course of UN operations.  It appears that such a document exists in draft but is not public and has never been finalized.

Against that background, I noted with interest a recent UN Security Council Resolution related to Somalia.  UNSCR 2124 (Nov. 12, 2013) requests that the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) “establish Standard Operating Procedures for the handover of any detainees, including children, who come into their custody during a military operation.”  The Security Council set the stage for such detentions in an earlier resolution: in UNSCR 2093 the UNSC authorized AMISOM to take “all necessary measures” to carry out its mandate, which includes improving the security situation in Mogadishu and reducing the threat posed by al Shabaab.

So here we have the Security Council asking the AU to establish SOPs for detention during military operations, even though the UN itself has not been willing to make its own detention SOPs public.  Surely it would be useful for the AU to be able to draw from (or even copy) UN detention SOPs in formulating its own policies.  Perhaps this is happening behind closed doors – maybe the UN office of peacekeeping operations has shared its draft detention SOPs with AMISOM.  But it would be useful for the public to have greater clarity about how these bodies plan to wrestle with the hard questions that arise when one entity seeks to turn over detainees to another entity that may lack sufficient physical facilities to hold them; may lack legal authorities to detain or try them; and may have a reputation for failing to provide humane treatment to those in its custody – some or all of which might plague the current government of Somalia.