Research Project

United Nations Peacekeeping Law Reform Project

This project aims to identify ways to improve UN peacekeeping.  

The immense growth of United Nations peacekeeping in quantitative, qualitative and normative terms is one of the major developments of the post Cold-War era. Peacekeeping has become a key activity of the UN despite the fact that it was not envisaged in the UN Charter.

The Secretary-General currently has command of around 120,000 UN peacekeeping personnel, at a cost of near to US$8 billion per year. The demand for UN peacekeeping continues to grow, and the Security Council is mandating ever more robust and complex tasks for UN peacekeepers. With these greater demands, however, there have been significant and increasing challenges for the management of UN peacekeeping.

While UN peacekeeping reform has been a focus of intense discussion since 1990, there has been limited consideration of how work on legal issues may contribute to the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping. The United Nations Peacekeeping Law Reform Project was set up to identify concrete ways to improve UN peacekeeping by combining practical and academic expertise.

The University of Essex has a wealth of expertise to draw upon which is relevant to this work. The project is currently engaged in a number of consultations, including in United Nations in New York, with stakeholders with experience in UN peacekeeping. The project is led by Scott Sheeran, assisted by Sufyan El Droubi, Stephanie A Case, Catherine Bevilacqua and Abigail K Sloan.

The current focus of the project is working on two major studies and consultations for the UN peacekeeping community that concern the 1990 UN Model Status of Forces Agreement and the Human Rights standards relevant for UN peace operations.

The project receives funding from the University of Essex and support from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.



UN Peacekeeper - credit: Stuart Price)
UN Peacekeeper - credit: Stuart Price

About the project

UN Model Status of Forces Agreement

The Model UN Status of Forces Agreement (Model SOFA) (A/45/494) was prepared and promulgated by the UN Secretary-General in 1990. It sets out the rights, obligations and duties as between the United Nations and the host State of a UN peace operation. The Model SOFA is the starting point for the UN and host State discussions on a SOFA or Status of Mission Agreement (SOMA). The Model SOFA is often deemed by the Security Council to be legally in force until an agreement specific to the mission is concluded. The aim of the study is to review the individual SOFAs and SOMAs concluded by the UN in the last 20 years, and consider and trends in the body of UN practice since 1990. A number of central aspects of today's UN peacekeeping efforts are not well addressed in the Model SOFA. A UN peacekeeping mission is more effective when it has clear legal arrangements that match its mandate and activities. The study may identify areas of consistent practice that could warrant an addition to the Model SOFA.More detailed information and preliminary reports are available on the Documents section of this website.

Human Rights standards relevant for UN Peace Operations

In 1999 the Secretary-General Kofi Annan, after significant assistance from the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), circulated a 'Bulletin on Observance by UN Forces of International Humanitarian Law' (IHL). This Bulletin, an internal UN document binding on all UN forces, in essence provided a set of minimum standards of IHL to apply without prejudice the broader situation under international law. While there were difficult issues to grapple with in preparing the Bulletin, its conclusion was an important achievement. The Bulletin provided a core of certainty regarding the standards for the UN and its peacekeepers to observe, and in doing so helped to clarify the situation for those impacted upon by UN peacekeeping.

In comparison, there is a lack of clarity concerning the human rights standards that are relevant for UN peacekeeping. While human rights standards may be of limited relevance for 'traditional' UN peacekeeping, the immense growth of UN peacekeeping in the areas of policing, justice, corrections and rule of law, has significantly changed the situation. The UN Charter provides that the UN 'shall promote... universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all'. The issues and challenges for those working in the field are real and not hypothetical. It would assist UN peacekeepers if the legal situation could be made clearer, and UN peacekeepers could have greater certainty in which carry out their tasks. The second study accordingly will focus on reviewing the possibilities, usefulness and challenges for describing the standards on the observance of human rights by UN peacekeeping forces. More detailed information and preliminary reports will be forthcoming on the Documents section of this website.

Consultation Process

The two studies will be a product of an international consultative and collaborative process. The consultations began in New York at the United Nations in April 2010, and will continue in Geneva later in the year. There was an Experts' Workshop held in London in August 2010 to identify and consider the issues in more detail. The experts included a mix of defence and foreign policy officials, UN officials, military, civil society groups, research institutions and academic experts. The Project presents its preliminary findings at UN Headquarters in New York in February 2011 and will consult and seek feedback from stakeholders. This will include an event co-hosted by the International Peace Institute (IPI) and the New Zealand Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

Information relating to the two studies will continue to be accessible and publicly available on the Project's website (see the 'Documents' section). Preliminary reports will be circulated setting out the key issues and areas of consideration. It is intended that the preliminary reports will facilitate the flow of information, views and feedback among a full range of interested stakeholders. The Project will conduct targeted outreach to a number of stakeholders worldwide in order to seek further views and input into the final reports. The final output of the consultation process will be two in-depth study reports to be finalised in 2011. The reports will be substantive and comprehensive, setting out the impact of these two issues on effectiveness of UN peacekeeping, and any practical opportunities that may exist for positive change. The final reports will be provided to the UN peacekeeping community in New York.

International Consultations

  • New York, April 2010
  • Experts' Workshop - Hosted by the New Zealand High Commission in London, 26 August 2010
  • Geneva, Switzerland
Key Timeline Points
  • March 2010 – UN Member State briefing in New York
  • June 2010 – preliminary reports completed, including with identification of some key issues
  • End of August 2010 – Experts Workshop in London
  • October 2010 – UN Member State briefing in Geneva
  • 2010 – final draft reports completed
  • 2011 – formal presentation of final draft reports to UN Member States in New York
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Peacekeeping Law Reform Project