When Kauko Aaltomaa became Head of Mission of the EUPOL COPPS in Palestine just over three years ago, the 70 plus international staff of the mission were already well established in their work – training, advising and mentoring the Palestinian Civil Police (PCP) to prepare them to efficiently and effectively run the country whenever the independent Palestinian state is established.
But what Aaltomaa did not anticipate was that during this period, the PCP he was training was going to face several serious challenges: the threat of Israeli annexation of occupied Palestinian territory and the resulting decision by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to end all coordination with Israel, including security, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the worrisome economic situation. Nevertheless, this did not distract or impede him from proceeding with his work in the best way he can under very difficult and stressful conditions.
“With the threat of annexation, the pandemic and economic issues, the PA is working under great stress,” Aaltomaa told WAFA at the EUPOL COPPS headquarters located on top of a Ramallah hill overlooking the western Palestinian coast a day before he is going to return to his European home state – Finland – where he is going to resume his duties as Director-General of Police in the Finnish Ministry of Interior.
Working under this stress, the Palestinian police may have difficulty honoring some of the basic training they have been receiving at the hand of the EUPOL COPPS since its establishment in January 2006, namely maintaining human rights and the rule of law – two basic elements in the training work of the European police and rule of law mission.
“Under these circumstances, human rights are sometimes pushed aside, not only here but all over the world,” said Aaltomaa. Nevertheless, he added, since the PA has acceded to several international organizations, including those working in human rights, it will be obliged to introduce laws that protect human rights and the rule of law into its own laws and to honor its international obligations.
Part of the work of the EUPOL COPPS (the EU Police and Rule of Law Mission for the Palestinian Territory) is to train the Palestinian police in how to deal with protests, demonstrations and riots without infringing on human rights and the rule of law.
“We are supporting the institutions here so that they are ready to run their own state. So we are advising, mentoring and training. We are not monitoring. This is our task so the authorities are more effective and trusted by the public,” he said.
“The rule of law sector is very important for our work. We have always combined the rule of law in the training. We very much concentrate on improving rule of law,” said the outgoing head of the EUPOL COPPS mission, adding, “Freedom of assembly and expression are fundamental to human rights. We have to take care of these freedoms so that people can demonstrate. We advise them on what they can do to maintain law and order but also maintain human rights. What we advise them they take very seriously.”
Aaltomaa believes that the Palestinian police force has made progress over the years.
“The Palestinian police are progressing well. They have improved their performance very well over the years. There’s still a lot to do even today,” he said, explaining that “the civil police are the most reliable security force here.”
Aaltomaa is worried that the end of coordination between the PA and Israel is going to undermine the security and safety of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories.
“This is a major consideration for us. For the security of people, there should be certain coordination so that people can live safely. I hope this cooperation will be restored for the sake of the security of all the Palestinians so they are protected. This is one way we are trying to build a trusty and workable Palestinian security working within the rule of law.”
At the same time, the EUPOL COPPS has also adapted itself to working with the COVID-19 pandemic. “There are difficulties. However, we adapted ourselves,” said Aaltomaa, adding that the mission has also donated equipment to protect the police and justice institutions so that they can carry on their work during the pandemic without risking their lives or health.
The mandate of the EUPOL COPPS mission is renewed every year. Its current mandate ends in June 2021 after it was extended for one year. “Member states are doing a strategic review then they will decide if the next mandate will be for one year or two,” said Aaltomaa, who notes that the work of the mission will eventually end one day even though it is difficult to predict when.
The mission has 72 international and 34 national staff, a budget of EUR 12.43 million for the period between 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020, and the contributing states include all 27 EU Member States as well as Canada, Norway and Turkey, who can contribute to the mission.