Security Sector Reform & Governance: SSR & Peacebuilding Processes

Challenges of post-conflict SSR

The application of security sector reform (SSR) in post-conflict societies is increasingly accepted as a vital part of the restoration of peace. Post-conflict countries are often characterized by weak state institutions, fragile political situations, tensions and insecurity among various communal groups, oversized and influential armed actors, and precarious economic conditions. Many post-conflict countries also lack the structures to provide physical security to their citizens. Some security environments may be too adverse to implement effective security sector reform programs (e.g., Afghanistan and Iraq) because SSR is taking place under combat conditions.1

What distinguishes SSR in post-conflict contexts from other contexts is that it has to deal specifically with the legacy of past conflict. Activities such as disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR), controlling small arms and light weapons (SALW), clearance of anti-personnel landmines, and establishing and strengthening the rule of law are all considered to be key elements in security sector reconstruction, but not necessarily in SSR activities in development or security transformation contexts.

The provision of security is a major problem in post-conflict environments, especially in situations where an international presence is required. Political violence can be initiated by the state, rebel groups, criminals, militias, and others. Therefore, reform of the military and police is an important component that needs to be linked with the proper functioning of courts and prison systems, as well as with the control of SALW.2 As the broadening definition of SSR has brought security institutions within the realm of rule of law, issues that affect the conditions of governance include the professionalism of the armed forces and, at times, their ethnic composition.3

In post-conflict environments, there is a need to demilitarize rebel factions and armed militia, reduce the number and size of armed forces, normalize military expenditure, and address corruption. In addition, civil society, the media, research institutions, and non-governmental organizations have increasingly played an important role in security sector governance.4

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Primary objectives of post-conflict SSR

In general, post-conflict SSR has three primary objectives. The first objective is either rebuilding security sector institutions from scratch (as in Afghanistan and East Timor) or reconstructing existing institutions and incorporating former combatants (as in South Africa and Angola). During the early stages of SSR, activities are aimed at preventing the possible resurgence of violence, especially through DDR of both state and non-state combatants. Armed actors that have the ability to reengage in violent conflict do not easily agree to surrender, regulation, or dilution. In the aftermath of conflict, there are typically different kinds of armed actors with varying interests.

Long-term SSR includes measures to downsize armed forces and address the balance of staff and officers according to ethnicities and gender in a given context. Training and education are also important for making security forces more effective.

The second objective refers to the states ability to control its security sector institutions under democratic civilian oversight"another important factor in SSR. The primary goal in this area is to ensure that the security forces are not used as a tool for repression against citizens by the state, and that they do not intervene in politics, the economy, and society. The actors involved in this area of reform are generally the Ministries of Defense, the Interior, and Justice, parliament, civil society organizations, and the media. Transparency and accountability of the security forces' expenditures, actions, and policies are the desired outcomes of this process.

The third objective is to make sure that norms and order prevail throughout the state so that security can be maintained. This objective mainly deals with judicial reforms, such as revising criminal laws, modernizing courts and prisons, increasing the number of judges and prison staff, and the promotion of transitional justice (e.g., the prosecution of former war criminals and violators of human rights). In addition, the concept of good governance includes measures to combat corruption and strengthen civil society and the media to oversee and report threats to people's security.

Linking SALW Projects and SSR in Cambodia

The European Unions Assistance on Curbing Small Arms and Light Weapons in Cambodia (ASAC) project was linked with SSR by:

  • Including the security forces in weapons collection and destruction programs, insisting on appropriate cooperation between relevant police and military forces and local and national authorities, and building community-security sector relationships;
  • Supporting wide social and parliamentary engagement with arms law reform; and
  • Including key elements of SSR programming within its scope. For example, a key aim of the project is to increase public trust in protection by police forces. This has been pursued through:
    • Training police in human rights;
    • Training the families of police officers in skills to enhance their livelihoods in order to try to reduce the incentives for police corruption; and
    • Supporting the registration and safe storage of weapons stocks by the military (Ministry of National Defense) and the national police.

Source: Bourne, Mike, and Owen Greene. Armed Violence, Governance, Security Sector Reform, and Safety, Security and Access to Justice. Bradford: Centre for International Cooperation and Security, September 2004.

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SSR and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration

Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) is usually considered to be part of the larger process of SSR. The demobilization and reintegration of former combatants in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, and East Timor have demonstrated that DDR is unsustainable without the rebuilding of disciplined and professional national armies and police forces. Although many analysts and policy makers acknowledge the important link between the two sectors, the fact of the matter is that the sectors do not always interact in a coordinated or effective manner.

DDR's objectives are more likely to be conducted for a shorter period of time--particularly as DDR involves disarmament and demobilization--in order to eliminate the possibility of violence by creating alternative livelihoods for former combatants and to reduce armed forces or groups that could pose a threat to the establishment of the rule of law. In contrast, SSR has a broader reform agenda in a number of security institutions (including expanding the capacity of community policing) and requires a much longer period of time. SSR is often seen to support DDR by strengthening state security institutions under 'proper' democratic control and reducing insecurity.

Concurrently, there have been no attempts to examine the implications of activities under DDR on various reforms under SSR. Works such as the Stockholm Initiative on DDR (SIDDR) and the United Nations Integrative DDR Standards (IDDRS) have institutionalized DDR operations in an attempt to make activities within DDR more coherent and effective. At present, only the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Developments Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) operational guidelines provide a standard approach to SSR.5

Linking reintegration and reconciliation with security sector reintegration

Former combatants who have been demobilized and choose to return or resettle in local communities often become integrated into the armed forces, the police, and other security forces (e.g., paramilitary or private security companies). While SSR deals with the reform or transformation of security sector institutions, DDR needs to be carefully planned so that former combatants recruited into the security sector institutions are able to carry out their daily functions. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), for example, former combatants were integrated into the national army, but some of the newly integrated units with former combatants clashed with existing units in the army. In addition, one newly integrated unit containing former combatants broke away and continued to attack the eastern region of the country.6 In South Africa, groups of black soldiers in the reconstituted national army raised tensions and tested the solidarity of the forces when they voiced complaints over favoritism toward white officers.7

The reconciliation process is an important part of allowing former combatants to become (re)accepted in the local communities where they are to be resettled after demobilization. Reconciliation programs provide support for encouraging acceptance, such as opportunities for dialogue, education, spiritual and ritual ceremonies to promote forgiveness, shared community reconstruction projects, and truth and reconciliation tribunals.  Go to Psycho-Social Recovery: Reconciliation: Reconciliation and National Dialogue

In some post-conflict countries, such as Burundi and Angola, former combatants who have been disarmed and demobilized were unable to find any sustainable means of employment. Employment in security sector institutions was the only alternative for longer-term paid employment. In East Timor and Afghanistan, joining the newly established security forces has depended upon other former combatants joining. At the same time, it is often difficult to know the kind of former combatants who are recruited. Individuals with a history of war crimes and human rights abuses would not only undermine the functioning of the institution but also deepen the mistrust of the local population toward the institution. Furthermore, local police officers need to possess some legal knowledge, as well as appropriate communication skills, for their interactions with the local population, neither of which can be transplanted from the military for the purpose of domestic policing.  Go to Economic Recovery: Employment and Empowerment

Civilian disarmament

The experiences of DDR in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the DRC demonstrate that DDR programs have been unable to get armed groups to disarm comprehensively. In some cases, distinguishing between civilians and combatants has been difficult. Disagreements between donors over their mandates and funds available have made civilian disarmament difficult to pursue in a comprehensive fashion. As Robert Muggah notes, development agencies regard the issue of small arms and light weapons control as outside their mandates or simply too sensitive.8 Therefore, it is difficult to promote civilian disarmament in the short-run. A greater diffusion of weapons in the hands of civilians often perpetuates insecurity and increases the risk of a resumption of armed violence. The absence of coherent operational SSR activities and delays in weapons reduction initiatives may keep local communities' mistrust of armed forces and the police high.

Demobilization of former combatants

Decisions about the size and type of new security forces, who would be recruited, and how the forces can function in the initial stages of a transition usually reflect the immediate pressures of post-conflict stabilization, with limited funding and time. Agreement on the number and type of soldiers retained may satisfy short-term objectives; however, these decisions may become counter-productive in long-term SSR. The size and character of new security forces also is driven by the political and military interests of the winning parties.

In some cases, such as East Timor, former combatants have been blindly integrated with former opposition groups in the newly constituted police forces, which has caused tensions among the various actors. In other cases, such as Afghanistan, the attempt to reorganize eight policing regions to reflect the ethnic composition of the country has been reduced to five regions in order to conform to the military command structure. This modification across ethnic lines in Afghanistan made it difficult for police serving in areas of different ethnicities to carry out their duties.9

According to Small Arms Survey, "As awareness of the importance of public perceptions has spread, modern policing has begun to emphasize the need for police officers to develop and sustain the trust of the communities in which they work. Such an approach contrasts with the more militaristic policing traditions still prevalent in many parts of the world, especially in post-colonial societies, which frequently concentrate on the protection of the state and ruling elites, rather than that of citizens. Strong links between the police and the community are crucial to promoting good policing practices, minimizing the recourse to firearms, and enhancing human security."10  Go to Community Policing

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SSR and small arms and light weapons control

Small arms and light weapons collected during disarmament programs need to be secured in order to prevent stockpile theft and the recirculation of arms to rebel groups, criminal networks, or individuals. Failures in weapons and ammunition stockpile management have undermined security sector reform. An increase in illicit SALW would allow spoilers to a peace process to continue to obstruct negotiations or peacebuilding activities. Widespread insecurity may create conditions for popular support of vigilantism or authoritarian policing. The greater diffusion of illicit SALW in society would also put a larger strain on the police force, especially if it is undergoing a restructuring process.

In Namibia, the weapons collected after the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process were reallocated to the new armed forces and the police force. In Cambodia, large-scale registration of military and police weapons helped to limit unauthorized transfers and contributed to better safe storage management. In Malawi, a project initiated by the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers (NISAT) and Amnesty International helped create proposals for the Police and Firearms Act according to United Nations standards. It also helped expand the capacity of community policing forums, establish training programs for community-based police-civil society liaison groups, and develop regional cooperation among local civil society, the government, and police.11 However, curbing the flow of SALW remains a peripheral issue in many SSR programs because SSR is more concerned with creating institutions capable of ensuring public security than with linking the international development agenda with methods to control the weapons themselves.12  Go to Community Policing

Some SALW-related issues, such as border control, stockpile management, and weapons collection, are often regarded as somewhat less politically sensitive than SSR, and thus can create entry points for a wider reform process. Programs to address the illicit trafficking of SALW may involve customs officials, border guards, police, the military, and/or the intelligence services. Therefore, the development and enforcement of laws regulating the possession, transfer, and trade of arms can feed into the broader aspect of legal and defense reforms.
The Importance of Justice Sector Reform in Haiti

The case of Haiti has demonstrated why security sector reform must be linked with justice sector reform and a focus on the rule of law in order to be effective. The country has struggled to establish an effective police force and functioning justice and penitentiary systems. Concerns remain that the process of creating the Haitian national police has not included sufficient vetting or transparency, and that human rights abusers have not been weeded out. At the same time, "Haiti still lacks the basic capacity to detain, prosecute, and sentence offenders, especially those responsible for serious crimes."16 Insecurity persists in the form of violent crime, kidnappings, and drug trafficking. The failure of police to respond effectively to violent protests against the high cost of living in April 2008 has only underscored the fragility of the situation. International Crisis Group has suggested that weakness in the security and justice sectors poses a serious threat to short- and long-term political stability in Haiti.

Source: International Crisis Group (ICG). Reforming Haiti's Security Sector. Brussels: ICG, 18 September 2008.

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SSR and mine action

In theory, mine action is regarded as an 'effective confidence-building measure' in post-conflict situations. It supports a broader peacebuilding agenda, including SSR activities. Despite the considerable potential of integrating mine action activities into the overall framework of SSR activities, interactions between these two sectors appear to be few in number.

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SSR and rule of law

As Sean McFate points out, "Within the overall context of efforts to establish a safe and secure environment and the rule of law, programs aimed at reforming the security sector and the justice sector (JSR) are interdependent and buttress one another, especially in conflict countries. How­ever, they are not synonymous."13 SSR and JSR generally overlap in the development of criminal justice institutions and personnel. Criminal justice systems require effective institutions, coupled with professional and accountable personnel. Likewise, the success of a justice reform program in SSR is benchmarked by the legitimacy of the laws and the fairness of the judiciary and penal institutions.
Go to Justice and Rule of Law: Introduction

The rule of law determines the degree to which political and human rights are enjoyed equally. Within the scope of SSR activities, reform of police institutions is interdependent with the reform of courts and prisons. If one of these three institutions is weak or ineffective, the other two will be undermined. For example, shortly after the first intervention in Haiti in 1994, severe obstacles to the efficient functioning of the judiciary and the prison system led police officers to vent their frustrations. When offenders were apprehended, they either managed to evade prison or could escape trial because suspects could buy their freedom. At the same time, the local population and the Aristide government were skeptical of the new United States-influenced police force. 

Security scholar Charles Call notes, "Questions about the influence of former military officers in the new police led to quick denunciations by the population of incidents of excessive use of force and other abuses of authority early in the Haitian National Police (HNP) deployment. In the poor slum of Cité Soleil, the police and community members developed an antagonistic relationship shaped partly by the presence of criminal gangs. While human rights NGOs have quickly adapted to the new political situation and made suggestions for changes in the way the police function, the new force continues to lack significant public confidence."14

In Mozambique, democratization has brought only minor changes to the police force. Police conduct continues to undermine trust in the police as an institution and trust in the principle of the rule of law. Evidence suggests that some of Mozambique's ruling elite lack the political will to establish the rule of law to the fullest extent, as there has been little pressure from above to ensure that policing is fair, accountable, and responsive to citizens.15

Local Government Ownership in Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone , the national government played a deeply involved role in peacebuilding activities, including SSR, working in close collaboration with the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). In the SSR process, strong emphasis was placed on the need for security forces to transition from politicized organizations with little accountability to transparent and professional institutions. Issues of public trust posed a serious challenge. In response, strategies of community policing and decentralization of policing to local units have been pursued to increase community trust and involvement. In addition, the Sierra Leonean government has been active in linking SSR efforts to both economic development (by connecting national SSR to the Poverty Reduction Strategy) and to the rule of law, placing emphasis on democratic civilian oversight and monitoring.

Source: Von Gienanth, Tobias, and Wibke Hansen. "Post-Conflict Peacebuilding and National Ownership: Lessons from the Sierra Leone Peace Process." Paper prepared for the International Seminar by the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center and the Center for International Peace Operations, in cooperation with the Department for International Development, Accra, Ghana, December 1-3, 2005.

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Confidence building and trust in security institutions

As armed actors have often targeted civilians in conflict, they have a very negative image in many war-torn countries. If the military and police were part of the predatory state structure, donor-supported post-conflict SSR programs have played a role in transforming the interests of the security apparatus from economic predation to civilian protection. One example was the organized crime unit created by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Kosovo.17

Local communities affected by protracted conflict regard the armed forces as a threatening factor rather than as a security provider. Thus, mistrust tends to persist between armed forces and local communities. Local communities need to be given an opportunity to voice their concerns about needs and expectations in connection with the roles of the new security sector institutions, so that they are more likely to help implement reforms.

Community policing

Some external donors feel that strengthening community-based policing programs may help increase trust between the police and local communities, although there is little empirical evidence to support this claim. Community-based policing, whereby the police force works in partnership with the community, may help increase the confidence between the two parties by allowing them to address and solve various community security problems together. It may also create opportunities for weapons collection programs and short-term amnesties for those surrendering arms, thus reducing the sources of threat in the community. At the same time, community policing is often applied differently in various country contexts, with uneven outcomes.

As approaches seem to vary from donor to donor, bilateral actors have had different ideas about community policing than multilateral organizations. SSR in Haiti exemplifies this situation. In addition, policing reform has been addressed in isolation from the justice system. According to scholars Charles Call and William Stanley, "National and international actors tend to define police reforms according to their own institutional interests and habits. Intervening militaries, for instance, are most interested in establishing some force to maintain order as quickly as possible, whatever the composition or (often) illegitimacy that such a force may enjoy. Armed opposition movements are frequently most interested in incorporating some of their members into any new governmental security forces so that their militants and supporters can enjoy some group protections following disarmament. Such approaches to police reform reflect the imperatives of reaching peace, with less concern for the longer-term foundations for democratic regime-building."18

Building local ownership

SSR will only last if the activities are considered legitimate and when there is a growing sense of local ownership. For SSR expert Laurie Nathan, "the principle of local ownership of SSR means that the reform of security policies, institutions and activities in a given country must be designed, managed and implemented by domestic actors rather than external actors."19 Imposition of SSR might seem possible in protectorates such as Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but even in those countries external leverage has proven to be limited and external dictates counterproductive in the long run. In East Timor, a lack of training to enhance local capacities to oversee the defense forces weakened civilian oversight of the armed forces. Likewise, the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) failed to involve East Timorese political leaders and civil society organizations in the institutional development of the police services, and so any discussions about the police forces remained out of reach of the local population.20

1. Nicole Ball, Dilemmas of Security Sector Reform: Response to Security Sector Reform in Developing and Transitional Countries (Berlin: Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management, August 2004), 8.
2. Michael Brzoska and Andreas Heinemann-Grüder, "Security Sector Reform and Post-Conflict Reconstruction under International Auspices," in Reform and Reconstruction of the Security Sector, ed. Alan Bryden and Heiner Hänggi (Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, 2004), 123.
3. Ibid., 123.
4. Heiner Hänggi, "Conceptualizing Security Sector Reform and Reconstruction," in Reform and Reconstruction of the Security Sector, eds. Alan Bryden and Heiner Hänggi (Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), 2004), 3.
5. Atsushi Yasutomi, "Linking DDR and SSR in Post-Conflict States: Agendas for Effective Security Sector Reintegration," Central European Journal of International and Security Studies 2, no. 1 (2008).
6. Jeremy Ginifer, Support for DDR and SSR after Conflict in Africa: Lessons Learnt and New Agendas in Africa, Conflict Prevention, Management and Reduction in Africa (Helsinki: Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, 2007), 49.
7. Ibid., 12.
8. Robert Muggah, "Emerging from the Shadow of War: A Critical Perspective on DDR and Weapons Reduction in the Post-Conflict Period," Contemporary Security Policy 27, no. 1 (2006): 199.
9. Tonita Murray, "Police-Building in Afghanistan: A Case Study of Civil Security Reform," International Peacekeeping 14, no. 1 (2007): 118.
10. Small Arms Survey, "Critical Triggers: Implementing International Standards for Police Firearm Use," in Small Arms Survey 2004 (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, 2004), 7.
11. Deepa Narayan, Robert Chambers, Meera Kaul Shah, and Patti Petesch, Voices of the Poor: Crying Out for Change (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
12. Ibid.
13. Sean McFate, Securing the Future: A Primer on Security Sector Reform in Conflict Countries (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2008), 3.
14. Chuck Call, Police Reform, Human Rights, and Democratization in Post-Conflict Settings: Lessons from El Salvador (Washington, DC: Inter-American Development Bank, June 1998), 22.
15. Bruce Baker, "Policing and the Rule of Law in Mozambique," Policing and Society 13, no. 2 (2003): 139-58.
16. International Crisis Group (ICG), Reforming Haitis Security Sector (Brussels: ICG, 18 September 2008), i.
17. Heiko Nitzschke and Kaysie Studdard, "The Legacies of War Economies: Challenges and Options for Peacemaking and Peacebuilding," International Peacebuilding 12, no. 2 (2005): 222-39.
18. Charles T. Call and William Stanley, "Civilian Security," in Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreements, eds. Stephen John Stedman, Donald Rothchild and Elizabeth M. Cousens (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2002), 308.
19. Laurie Nathan, "The Challenge of Local Ownership of SSR: From Donor Rhetoric to Practice," in Local Ownership and Security Sector Reform, ed.Timothy Donais (Munster: Lit Verlag, 2008), 9.
20. Ludovic Hood, "Security Sector Reform in East Timor, 1999-2004," International Peacekeeping 13, no. 1 (2006): 60-77.

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