Category Archives: civil society

Drawing from Peacebuilding Policy to Address the Crisis of Populism

I have recently reflected on whether there are lessons from peacebuilding practice and policy that could be usefully applied in countries ostensibly at peace. Those countries facing crises posed by populism could benefit from some of the practices and principles aimed at repairing the social contract and building commitment to the state. Notably, the principles of local ownership and ways in which inclusive and meaningful local ownership is generated could be considered.

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The Principle of Local Ownership

In post-conflict environments, the principle of local ownership is considered to be critical to the likelihood of success and the legitimacy of peacebuilding interventions. There is generally broad agreement that local ownership is fundamental if the outcomes are to be locally accepted and responsive to local needs and, thus, sustainable. Taking Security Sector Reform (SSR) as an example, if the locals beyond the elites are not engaged from the outset in SSR programmes, it is unlikely that the reformed or reconstructed security and justice sector institutions and policies will be responsive to their needs or enjoy broad-based public confidence and trust. The institutions and policies will thus likely fail and, in so doing, compromise broader peacebuilding efforts.

There is, however, often a gap between policy and practice, and the concept of local ownership often narrowly interpreted in terms of who owns what or ignored entirely. Moreover, the focus of SSR often continues to be on building state institutions, rather than building the relationship between people and the state, which further limits the extent to which people, particularly at the community level, are engaged in SSR processes.

There are ways, however, in which to promote engagement and thereby build the requisite public confidence and trust in state security and justice sector institutions, and ultimately, the state itself. One way is to incorporate community security structures into SSR programs. Community security structures can include community safety or security groups which involve representatives of the community, security agencies, political administration and other stakeholders coming together to identify and address security concerns in the locality. Ideally, these concerns and ways in which they could be addressed would feed into state-level efforts to reform the security sector based upon agreed priorities and needs. This could be considered to be a hybrid approach to SSR, incorporating top-down and bottom-up approaches to building security and justice after conflict. It would enable voices beyond elite and dominant groups to inform SSR programs and, thus, subsequent structures, policies and processes. Peace dividends, particularly post-conflict justice and security would, thus, be enjoyed beyond privileged and elite groups.

Of course, engaging people at the community level in such processes can be costly, time consuming, and carry risks. SSR and wider peacebuilding processes should be seen, however, as complex and long-term processes – ones that are instrumental to SSR outcomes – foreshortening processes, bypassing risks by limiting engagement does not build state resilience or sustainable peace. Rather, state resilience, effective state security and justice sectors institutions, and long-term, meaningful peace are all, in large part, built upon the extent to which people can influence decisions that will shape their security and their futures.

The Crisis of Populism

The principle of local ownership, and ways in which it can be realised, could be equally applied at home – in those countries ostensibly at peace and which engage in peacebuilding practices elsewhere, many of which currently face crises associated with populism. Where confidence in the democratic process has declined and populist leaders take advantage of disaffection and disquiet, creating opportunities for meaningful engagement in the decisions which affect people’s lives can help repair the social contract and confidence in state institutions. Opportunities could include establishing community security groups as a forum through which security concerns are raised, grievances aired, information shared, awareness raised, and social capital increased (the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, which enable that society to function effectively). Such initiatives could help counter rising mistrust and hatred between groups by creating a forum in which groups come together and concerns are raised, as well as build knowledge of and investment in democratic processes. Populism breeds violence and increases division, which efforts to promote better dialogue between groups and with representatives of the state could help address. Indeed, bottom-up and hybrid approaches to governance in those very countries which advocate for such an approach in countries emerging from conflict, could help address the current crisis of political authority and legitimacy.

Moreover, such an approach to addressing crises of confidence in democratic systems could help navigate future crises in peacebuilding, where the credibility of external actors engaged in peacebuilding and building democratic systems elsewhere may otherwise be compromised. More broadly and more bluntly, it could help counter the hypocrisy of principles applied abroad but not at home. Indeed, unless efforts to repair the social contract at home are made, peacebuilding efforts elsewhere may become ineffective – how crises at home are navigated will impact the extent to which stakeholders in crisis-affected countries elsewhere will accept advice or engagement, particularly when it comes to imparting wisdom about democratic traditions.

Lessons regarding risks and limitations of, for example, drawing from community security structures to inform SSR, can help inform ways in which to build confidence and engagement in the democratic process and its institutions. Risks include that grievances aired may create conflict as well as potential consensus or resolution, that structures aimed at broadening engagement and inclusion can be co-opted and used simply to legitimise ‘business as usual’ – exclusive processes benefitting elite agendas. Limitations include that community level structures often replicate power relations at the state level, and marginalised groups may be equally marginalised in community level structures. Lessons can also be drawn from the example of integrating community security structures into SSR programmes to address ways in which existing community initiatives at home can inform policy, engage different groups at the community level, and help share knowledge and build trust between representatives of the state and the people they serve. This could help generate the type of influence over politics, policy and institutions that would remove the attraction of protest votes, such as those that contributed to Brexit and the election of Trump.

There are, of course, differences between conflict-affected environments and those ostensibly at peace – including opportunities for engagement in politics in peaceful societies that may not exist in conflicted places. Nonetheless, the social contract is evidently damaged in many countries facing crises associated with populism, with increased levels of hate crimes, violence and vitriol. Drawing lessons from peacebuilding policy (and to a lesser extent, practice) could help forestall growing mistrust between groups, address democratic deficits, and rebuild public confidence and trust in the state and its institutions.

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Power, Poverty and Peace

An article I wrote last year on the false positives scandal in Colombia and the implications for peacebuilding has just been published in the State Crime Journal – http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.13169/statecrime.6.1.0132

The false positives scandal concerned the arbitrary execution of, principally, poor, marginalised male civilians by the military, sometimes in collaboration with illegal armed groups, who were then presented as guerrilla fighters having been lawfully killed in combat. These crimes were primarily committed between 2002 and 2008 and involved the execution of over 3,000 civilians. The scandal constitutes one of the most shocking global examples in recent years of crimes of the powerful: crimes committed by state actors against the most dispossessed and marginalized members of society.

The article examines factors which led to the scandal in order to analyse the extent to which socio-economic inequalities and the persecution of the poor impact conflict dynamics and prospects for sustainable peace. My argument is that while criminal accountability for those responsible for these crimes is important, it is not sufficient. More broadly, the focus on securing justice after conflict as a means of addressing grievances and laying the groundwork for reconciliation and sustainable peacebuilding is of vital importance. However, unless those structural factors which enabled such crimes to occur are addressed, the search for justice will be futile.

There is a need to address extreme socio-economic inequalities that prevail in Colombia and socio-cultural attitudes towards the poor which dehumanize and, thereby, deny or justify crimes and other harms against them. Otherwise the poor will remain vulnerable to further victimization and peacebuilding will not be successful or meaningful to those beyond privileged and elite groups.

It has since struck me that the marginalisation and criminalisation of the poor adversely impacts prospects for peace in many conflict-affected environments. With all the talk of inclusive, bottom-up or hybrid peacebuilding, even where the rhetoric is reflected to some extent in reality – it often, of course, is a mere rhetorical device used to claim legitimacy, where local ownership and engagement in peace building practices tends to only extend to elites or tokenistic gestures – those who are socio-economically marginalised, poor people, continue to be overlooked, sidelined and silenced. There might be some effort, at least superficially, to promote inclusion of more women or ethnic minorities or rural residents in peacebuilding processes. There is, however, little effort to promote engagement of a demographic more representative of the community in terms of income and opportunity beyond immutable differences. However, we know how significantly poverty impacts and is impacted by security; socio-economic inequalities can fuel conflict, and those who are poor are more likely to be exposed to security threats. It should follow that there should be particular effort to engage in pecebuilding those who are socio-economically marginalised, not least in order that their security and justice needs are attended to, and to address disaffection and grievance that can sometimes manifest itself in threats to security and stability. We also know that poverty is often the greatest barrier to political participation and the greatest indicator of marginalisation, particularly where the poor are also women, children, ethnic or religious minorities, disabled, displaced or stateless.

Exclusion of the poor isn’t contained only within conflict-affected environments, of course. Nor do the impacts on security and governance as a result of the exclusion of the poor contain themselves to such environments. The marginalisation of the poor manifests itself in social harms so perniciously and so comprehensively that they are rarely regarded as harms; violation of the rights of the poor are considered part of the natural order and where they are not the poor are often to blame. The poor are invariably undeserving; capitalist logic blames the weakness of those who are poor for their poverty, absolving others from the responsibility for these inequalities and exposing he poor to further victimisation and insecurity.

There are occasions where this illusion is exposed for what it is – an effective means of justifying inequality and punishing those who suffer –  when the harms against the poor are so shockingly evident, as was the case recently with the Grenfell Tower fire. Often, when these crimes happen, the machinations of the establishment finds a scapegoat after significant and extensive pressure (so extensive that often the many years that have elapsed compromise any semblance of justice). When these crimes happen abroad, we might more quickly blame a society that allows such crimes to occur. At home, we’re more inclined to look for scapegoats or bad apples rather than the enabling structural and institutional factors. We need to comprehensively address the factors which result in those who have less money being more likely to suffer ill health, be the victim of crime, be exposed to harm at home and at work, be marginalised from political processes – and be less likely to access security and justice, and have less education and employment prospects. That is if we want things to change.

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.