Student Position Paper – Civil society oversight role in SSR – Donatella Rostagno

In post-conflict contexts, it is vital to develop a coherent Security Sector Reform (SSR) in order to build sustainable peace. In order to be coherent and successful, SSR should be context specific and should respond to the principle of local ownership of all the stakeholders, including both the providers of security services and the beneficiaries (population and civil society) (DCAF-ISSAT, 2014). If external donors want to proactively and coherently support the development of democratic, transparent and accountable security institutions, then particular attention and efforts should be put on enhancing Security Sector Governance (SSG) thus creating the right conditions for the development of security institutions that respond to democratic oversight and control. SSR programmes have to be developed and implemented to enhance change and improve SSG (Schroeder, 2010).

It is widely recognized that SSR should be people-centered and locally owned, in order to allow people and civil society organisations to hold security and justice institutions accountable. It is only by ensuring the active participation of the people most affected by either the improvement or the deterioration of the security and justice sectors, that their oversight role is strengthened and trust in state security and justice institutions is reinforced.

However, the international community has too often embraced a technical approach by focusing on equipping and training security institutions and on the operational effectiveness of security providers. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for example, donors have invested in short-term operational objectives, especially to deal with the crisis in the East of the country. Not enough resources have been invested in longer-term initiatives aimed at changing the way security is managed enhancing therefore the role of civil society and the parliamentary security and defence committee (Boshoff et al., 2010). Our NGO therefore calls the international community to ensure that security institutions actually operate under democratic control and are accountable to the population. Resources allocated to building the capacity of parliamentary security and defense committees and civil society organisations should be increased and better structured.

In many contexts, the international community has invested a great deal of resources in SSR in order to ensure security throughout the country and create the right conditions for development. However often progress is quite slow and weak and although it is widely recognized that the effectiveness of the security sector depends on accountability, programmes lack the necessary focus on making sure that civilians and civil society organisations can actually play the oversight role.

Our NGO calls on the international community to make sure that civil society is aware of the particular role it should play, is trained to understand SSR in their context and develops the right knowledge and skills to make security forces accountable. This people-centered approach is needed in order to develop an understanding of local communities’ security needs and priorities as well as the dynamics and trust or distrust in formal security actors.

In their cooperation with security institutions and support to SSR programmes, international donors should communicate the importance of enhancing SSG in order to make sure that the goal of developing effective, inclusive and accountable security institutions and contribute to international peace and security and sustainable development is achieved. Our NGO is convinced that developing programmes aiming at strengthening democratic oversight and control is the only way to ensure that rights and interest of the citizens but also of the people who are employed in the security sector are protected.

In order to achieve the objective of strengthening civil society’s oversight role, coherence and harmonization of donors policies is needed and unfortunately these are often not coordinated and sometimes even opposed (Wulf, 2004). Although at a conceptual and policy level there seem to be widespread agreement among the members of the international community on the basic elements of SSR, on the ground coherence among different stakeholders has been much less apparent (Bryden, 2015). Unfortunately, the lack of coordination and overlapping or contradictory mandates can easily result in a lack of clear priorities and in a lack of optimization of how resources are allocated. Clearly, the lack of coherence has translated into an incapacity of international donors to assist all stakeholders in reforming the security sector and in supporting the capacity building of civil society to play the oversight role.

In conclusion, investments in SSR should aim at enhancing SSG ad make sure that security institutions serve the interests of the population and enjoy the trust and confidence of the population. In order to achieve this objective, civil society must have the means and develop the capacity to monitor security forces and take part in the political debate on security policy and reform since the very early stage of the process (Department of criminology, 2015).

Postscript

It is generally acknowledged that good SSR has to do with “democratic forms of accountability, transparent decision-making processes and security apparatus that is fully subordinated under the control of a civilian authority” (Schroeder, 2010: 11).

Mark Sedra (2010: 6) identifies a number of key norms and fundamental principles of SSR according to which the participation of civil society organisations (being them media, human rights NGOs or grassroots organisations) exercise a control role on SSR policies and practices. Moreover institutional mechanisms should be created with a role of control over the way SSR is carried on in terms of human rights record and financial management.

There are different dimensions to a good SSR (local ownership, effectiveness, accountability and political sensitivity) but often the international community supporting SSR programmes prefers to concentrate on elements measurable in the short-term such as training and logistic support. Accountability is a difficult dimension to be measured and it requires work with security institutions to make sure that ownership of SSR is not only meant as elites’ ownership but also non-state actors and the wider society.

Engaging civil society in the security sector can prove to be difficult: in post-conflict environments civil-society can be quite weak and fragmented, it is not easy to identify who from civil society should take part in SSR programmes, civil society can often lack trust in the government and from the government. For all these reasons often donors find it difficult to concretise civil society participation in SSR. However better coordination and coherence of donor’s policies would be needed in order to develop programmes that focus on all stakeholders’ capacity building and that in turn, would enhance the participation of civil society in SSR at all levels.

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