Case Studies

Case studies provide excellent insight into the practical challenges of SSR initiatives and provide an opportunity to learn from those that have been successful, and not so successful.  They help us to see the patterns of good practice, when to apply different approaches and what pitfalls to avoid.  Please add your own case studies to help us build a rich repository of examples from real experience.

UNDP Engagement in the Police and Judicial Reform in Mozambique


After becoming independent from Portugal in 1975, Mozambique, led by the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Frelimo), witnessed structural transformation from a colonial state into a modern socialist society. Shortly after, the party Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (Renamo) led an insurgency that slipped into a 15 year long civil war, at the end of which the armed forces were devastated. In 1990, Mozambique adopted a new constitution that transformed the political system and oversight of the security sector. The war ended with the signature of the General Peace Agreement in 1992, supervised by a United Nations peacekeeping force (UNOMOZ).

Later on, the Defense and Security Act (17/97) established a basic legal and institutional framework for the military, police, and intelligence services, but no similar framework was created for the Polícia da República de Moçambique (PRM). It is currently under the Ministry of Interior and is composed of several units: the National Police, the Criminal Investigation Police (PIC), the Special and Reserve Forces (Rapid Reaction Police), the immigration and border police, and the independent traffic police.

A new judiciary police body with investigative powers, the Polícia Judiciária, was also proposed in order to tackle the deficient interface between the PIC and the Public Prosecution Office (PPC), but the idea was blocked by the police.

Entry Point

The crime rate increased after the end of the civil war, leading the public to perceive the PRM as inefficient and corrupt. This pushed a group of international donors to form the Police Donor Group (PDG) in 1996. The PDG, working through UNDP, proposed a police reform agenda to the government of Mozambique. UNDP coordinated the activities of others in a project aimed at transforming the PRM into an accountable service, retraining existing officers through a new police academy (ACIPOL) and a police academy Training Centre, and afterwards integrating the new cadets with the old PRM police.

The UNDP also initiated a judicial and penal reform in order to strengthen the Centre for Legal and Judicial Training (CFJJ), the national institution aimed at training and retaining all judicial personnel, to address the sector’s weaknesses, rehabilitate the court infrastructure, and to develop an integrated strategic plan for the justice sector.

Lessons Identified

Neutrality in the management of propositions– UNDP acted as an impartial coordinator of the programme, managing the reform in the areas in which the government was opposed to external involvement and third party actors did not want to engage on a bilateral basis.

Support in the development of SSR tools – the supporting role of UNDP to the government and the international donor community in Mozambique was implemented through the facilitation of research and drafting of SSR reports and analyses, needs assessments, and policy recommendations. The UNDP approach to SSR combined the same standards and principles which apply to the rest of the public sector’s unique characteristics, ensuring a sustainable reform process.  This has been a first step in addressing a change in the institutions’ cultures.

Common guidance – all judicial institutions stated that even following their specific strategic plan, they were following a general guidance, provided by UNDP, for the design and the implementation of their annual plans. The common supervision generated a more holistic system with the result of an increase of 30% in the resolution of pending cases, according to the 2004 President’s report on the State of Nation.


According to two external evaluations commissioned by UNDP and the Swiss government the police reform in Mozambique still faces some problems. The Swiss report highlighted improvements in the police’ protection of human rights, but the biggest challenges facing Mozambique’s police reform are corruption, lack of adequate training programmes, legislative gaps, the absence of a long-term planning capacity, the need for legislation regarding police involvement in natural disaster management, and the need for a change of attitude with respect to domestic violence and HIV-AIDS interventions.

The evaluations about the judicial reform are also mixed. In 2005 the President of the Supreme Court stated that in the previous year the courts performed more efficiently and effectively, but the practice of each institution adopting a strategic plan without coordinating with the others created a reform project difficult to manage for all actors.

Despite external evaluations stressing the need for more reform, the involvement of UNDP stands out as a case of building local trust and political engagement thanks to its neutral stance during the reform process. As a mediator between Mozambique’s government and donors, UNDP was able to provide common guidance for police and judicial institutions.


Case Study

Triangulation Rapport Between State, Donor and Civil Society in Indonesia


When General Suharto resigned from his presidency in 1998, Indonesia was stuck in an economic and institutional crisis. Power had been centralized in Suharto’s hands for decades, sustained by a highly politicized army. Indonesia’s judiciary had lost its authority, and was also impaired by corruption. At the request of the government of Indonesia, the IMF provided support for economic revival and started focusing on the installation of a bankruptcy regime for corporate sector recovery from 2000 to 2004. The Netherlands supported this endeavour by funding technical assistance to strengthen the judiciary’s capacity for the bankruptcy laws’ implementation.

The IMF/Netherlands Program for Legal and Judicial Reforms created Commercial Courts to this end, but it soon became clear that they could not achieve their aim unless a transformation of the entire judicial system was undertaken: the crisis of the country’s institutions was running so deep that the Commercial Courts suffered from the same shortcomings as the rest of the judiciary. Furthermore, resistance to change among Indonesians complicated the endeavour. Firstly, the externally imposed intervention did not resonate well with key actors, who felt like they had no ownership of the process. Secondly, judicial corruption had become internalised as normal practice over the years, decreasing local actors’ willingness to address them.

Entry Point

The difficult dynamic surrounding the legal and judicial reform changed when a new Chair of the Supreme Court, a non-career judge who was more open to reform, was appointed to replace the retiring Chair. He was not opposed to structural change, which created a window of opportunity to address the deeper issues in the judiciary. The IMF/Netherlands Programme consequently shifted its attention from the Commercial Courts to the Supreme Court, working to restore the latter’s institutional capacity and efficiency.

When the People’s Consultative Assembly, Indonesia’s legislative branch, amended the Constitution to provide for a new Judicial Commission, the IMF/Netherlands Programme initiated a series of workshops and seminars on institutional development. This generated fruitful exchanges between the Supreme Court leadership, the IMF resident experts and NGOs, especially the Institute for Judicial Independence that belonged to the Indonesian Centre for the Study of Law and Policy. The latter started a substantive research process targeting the judiciary, supported by the Supreme Court leadership that granted the researchers access on all levels. These different actors now interacted regularly, complemented by workshops and study trips for the judiciary. The research process produced so-called ‘blueprints’, strategy papers that provided specific approaches to reform at different levels, widely perceived as a significant step to an overall planning model for the reconstruction of the Supreme Court and lower civil courts.

The triangular approach of involving state actors, donors and civil society helped to alter the dynamic of reform in Indonesia. Actors with a strong commitment to reform, such as the Indonesian Centre for the Study of Law and Policy, were given an important voice in the endeavour. As a result the process gained greater legitimacy because local actors complemented donors’ input.

Lessons Identified

Working with Local Expertise and a Network of Resources – The special relationship that emerged between state, donors and civil society allowed tackling legal and judicial reform on a broad-based footing, drawing strength from a group of committed reformists. The extensive use of local knowledge and expertise, through the inclusion of the Indonesian Centre for the Study of Law and Policy and other civil society organizations, contributed to a sense of genuine ownership of the process which helped to overcome some of the initial resistance to reform. It also motivated the press, the public, and a new generation of NGOs committed to reform, to keep pushing for change.

Identifying and Using Windows of Opportunity – The case shows that momentum for reform can arise suddenly, through small developments such as the arrival of a new person in a key position.Surrounding dynamics should therefore be evaluated carefully with a view to identifying potential entry points, even if they are not obvious at first sight.

Flexibility of Donor Programming and Funding – TheIMF and the Netherland’s had the flexibility to adapt their programme and shift their budget when a window of opportunity appeared, which was paramount to supporting and enhancing the local drive for reform when it occurred. It is fundamental to program success that they have the ability to respond flexibly to such developments.


The IMF/Netherlands Programme created a platform for exchange that helped overcome initial inertia to reform because it brought together different actors and gave a voice to locally rooted, committed reformists. The so-called ‘blueprints’ are a tangible project outcome and present a useful road map with potential to keep the reform momentum alive. Yet, they were not a panacea to repairing the country’s judicial system. Their implementation remains a challenge, in part due to some persisting opposition and in part due to a lack of capacity. At the operational level, judges are required to familiarise themselves with and put into practice these pathways to reform, while political leadership also needs to show willingness and commitment to empower judicial institutions.

At the same time, the triangulation can serve as a model for how reform efforts might be undertaken in other difficult environments, and the blueprints may be a useful planning format for institutional reform outside of Indonesia. Nevertheless, the case also shows that efforts beyond the development of a road map are necessary. The momentum generated through the triangulation process can only be sustained if translated into actual reforms, which remains a challenging task due to persisting opposition and a lack of institutional capacity. 

Case Study

CICIG: A Mechanism for Justice and Security Sector Reform


Guatemala experienced over three decades of intermittent armed conflict starting in the 1960s. Among the main perpetrators of violence were illegal security forces and clandestine security structures (Cuerpos Ilegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Seguridad CIACS). When peace was made in 1996, the country was marked by violence, poverty and institutional weakness, fostering corruption and impunity. Commitments to strengthening justice and human rights institutions, fighting impunity for human rights violations and dismantling paramilitary groups were included in the 1996 Agreement on a Firm and Lasting Peace.

Due to the continued influence and threat of remaining CIACS, in 2002 a civil society proposal called for an international commission to investigate threats against the justice institutions responsible for investigating their crimes. After four years of intense political dialogue and continuous international pressure the Agreement to Establish the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) was signed by the Guatemalan government and the United Nations in 2006. CICIG was established in 2007 with a two-year mandate as an independent, international body to support state institutions and strengthen criminal justice and accountability for crimes committed by members of CIACS. It is set to end in September 2017, but the Guatemalan president has already suggested seeking approval from the national congress to renew the mandate for another 2 years as had been the practice established by his predecessors.


Entry points

The agreement establishing CICIG stated two main objectives: to support, strengthen and assist state institutions responsible for the investigation and prosecution of crimes allegedly committed by CIACS or associated with them, and on the other hand to establish mechanisms and procedures for the protection of the right to life and to personal integrity, pursuant to international commitments with respect to the protection of fundamental rights.

CICIG was thus tasked with investigating and identifying existing CIACS structures, forms of operation and sources of financing, as well as assisting the state to dismantle CIACS and investigate and prosecute members for their crimes. In addition CICIG was tasked with making public policy and institutional reform recommendations to prevent the re-emergence of such groups to the Guatemalan government.

CICIG supported the Guatemalan government in various roles, ranging from providing technical support for specialized training courses to acting as a private prosecutor. Achievements include the creation of a witness protection programme, tightened gun controls, rules for court-ordered wiretaps and the freezing of assets, the creation of high-risk courts for especially dangerous defendants, investigations resulting in charges against top public officials for extrajudicial prosecutions, fraud, illicit association and homicide. Most notably, it has exposed the massive corruption scheme La Línea in 2015, leading to the resignation and arrest of president Otto Pérez Molina. According to a 2016 report, CICIG is supported by 66% of the Guatemalan society and is thus the most trusted institution in the country.


Lessons Identified

Political independence is crucial, so is political will:

The political and economic independence of CICIG has allowed for changes and reforms that national institutions struggled to implement. The political will by the national leadership was necessary for a politically independent and powerful CICIG; results would have been harder to achieve if CICIG did not engage at the higher level to channel political will, a task that would be a major role of the CICIG Commissioner. The political pressure by the international community could be considered equally as important in securing political buy in.

Trust-building can enhance marge de manoeuvre and effectiveness

An official agreement with the national government, like the one CICIG had with Guatemala, is vital in building local trust with key judicial institutions. Although the CICIG relied on the support of Guatemalan civil society groups working for human rights and justice to achieve effective outcomes, their partnership with the Public Prosecutor was fundamental. Skills and competences were transferred through trust-based forms of collaboration involving joint working groups, investigations and trial preparations. The support CICIG enjoyed from governmental and non-governmental agents enabled CICIG to work on a wide range of issues and effectively tackle challenges. This support laid the foundations for working relationships to become based on trust as senior state officials were being successfully prosecuted, and judicial actors and human rights defenders were becoming less threatened. 

CICIG’s working strategy and political activism opened doors for others to succeed

CICIG’s achievements were highly influenced by the personal management of each commissioner, who would become extremely visible public figures. Political activism was critical to removing obstacles within a mandate lasting only 2 years, with no automatic guarantees of extension. CICIG’s working strategy had to carefully plan and prioritise investigations under these restrictions as well as ensure an enabling environment for the local judicial system. CICIG thus assumed high profile cases that would produce the most strategic impact in combating impunity and orientated their local capacity building strategy to meet this objective. These high profile cases primarily focused on influential State actors with ties to criminal organisations rather than focusing on crimes of the past, considered a fundamental part of the Peace Accords and the basis for the genesis of the CICIG. However, with the spotlight on the CICIG and its achievements many key human rights cases dealing with crimes of the past were significantly advanced. This included the sentencing of two former members of the military to 360 years in jail for the murder, rape and sexual enslavement of indigenous women (Sepur Zarco Case 2016) and arrest of several former military officers on charges of forced disappearance and crimes against humanity based on evidence uncovered at the military center in Cobán.



With the exposure of the corruption scheme La Línea and the resignation and arrest of a president, CICIG is generally considered a success story. Between 2008 and 2014, the level of impunity in the country decreased (Public Prosecutor’s Office, Work Reports 2008-2013; Annual Reports 2014-2015), and is likely to continue decreasing as a result of a more effective criminal justice system. In addition, the issue of impunity is no longer simply a priority issue for human rights NGOs, but is now of greater visible interest to the general public as citizens are becoming more proactive and vocal in demanding to tackle impunity and corruption and hold government officials responsible.

CICIG resolved numerous legal cases in cooperation with the public prosecutors. The most frequently cited achievements include the above-mentioned La Línea, as well as helping to reveal the mechanism behind targeted killings linked back to a former minister of the interior (Ibid.). Today, CICIG serves as a good practice example for tackling corruption and organised crime facilitated by weak state institutions.


Crutch to Catalyst? The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, International Crisis Group, 2016. 

Acuerdo Global Sobre Derechos Humanos

Agreement to Establish CICIG

Against the Odds, CICIG in Guatemala, Open Society Institute, 2016. 

Acuerdo de paz firme y duradera


Case Study

Burundi – Dutch Security Sector Development (SSD) Programme : Building Local Trust in a Difficult Environment


The Arusha Agreement signed in 2000 marks the beginning of SSR in Burundi. The agreement established human security and political neutrality as the guiding principles of the national security forces. Peace and ceasefire agreements between the government and CNDD-FDD (Conseil National pour la Défense de la Démocratie-Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie - 2003), and later with FNL (the Hutu Rebel Group - 2008; 2009), were formulated in reference to the Arusha Agreement. These ceasefire agreements aimed to encompass the reforms regarding the reintegration and demobilisation of former combatants, as well as the need to balance the representation of different factions within the security sector.

In support of the direction put forward by the Arusha Agreement and the following ceasefire agreements the UN led several missions in the country from 2004 until 2015, carrying out institutional reforms and building integrated national defence and internal security forces. The peacekeeping forces were gradually scaled down. The United Nations Electoral Observation Mission was established in the beginning of 2015 and operated one year in the country. UN is currently represented in the country through the Office of the Special Advisor to the Secretary General.

Despite this agenda, and the institutional efforts led by the UN and donor countries, Burundi suffered from weak institutions and continued political violence which escalated in April 2015 with the protests against the unconstitutional bid of president Nkurunziza for a third term and were supressed by security forces. The clashes between the security forces and armed opposition groups have continued well into 2016 with the population facing major security challenges and civilians driven out of the country in large numbers.[1] However important insights into the political nature of SSR can be gathered from the Burundian case.

Entry points

The Netherlands was among the several international donors supporting SSR in Burundi. Among other things, the SSD Program implemented by the Dutch MFA aimed to institutionalise the security forces and stretched over a total of eight years in four 2-year phases. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by both the donor and the host country at the beginning explains the long term pillar structure in detail.

This long term structure divided in phases, as opposed to a single term fixed structure, enabled the Dutch together with the Burundian to identify intermediate objectives in parallel to the main goals. By investing in informal and formal networks and appropriate staffing, the Dutch were able to empower the local decision makers and engage them in a discussion on the future of SSR in their country. The Dutch programme also attempted to support security and justice issues with projects which identified and continuously adjusted the programme’s focus. This resulted in the mission being able to respond to political developments in the host country rapidly, as they occurred. Local leadership was increasingly empowered as the latter phases of the programme were launched.

The Dutch-Burundian programme set expectations for early deliverables which should foster trust and support joint design in the later phases of the programme. The Dutch-Burundian programme also allowed for flexible funding for unexpected windows of opportunity by making generic funds available at the outset of the project. 

Lessons identified

The SSD Programme in Burundi was able to build local trust and enhance political engagement from early stages.  

Key security and justice issues were continuously assessed and their political scope for positive change was realised.

  • Political engagement was carried out on a daily basis and efforts were spent to act quickly in response to political developments. This was implemented by several projects developed at the beginning of the programme. The baseline assessment of the Burundian and military and police forces, for example, conveyed new issues and insights on the programme. Another project created an open space for discussing SSG issues with both governmental and non-governmental stakeholders which turned into a working group in the later phases of the project.  
  • The staff concentrated on building high level support as well as building informal networks with the decision makers in the justice and security area in Burundi.

Intermediate objectives and milestones were identified for longer-term direction.

  • With the distinct structure of the programme divided into four phases, short term deliverables were facilitated. The trainings and material developed at the earlier phases of the program helped generate trust among the local interlocutors, providing them with an initial focus and familiarity with the programme, which contributed to achieving longer term strategic objectives like the discussion of more sensitive security challenges. It also helped local capacity building and empowerment as the local stakeholders contributed and had an impact on the short term deliverables.

Domestic political support was built from early on.

  • One of the first projects was a baseline assessment of the Burundian military and police forces, and another was designed to create an open space for discussing security sector governance issues with a broad range of governmental and non-governmental stakeholders. As a result of these two projects, new issues and insights were brought into discussions which could shape the programme in the years to come. The open space with stakeholders gradually evolved into a working group that slowly built the confidence needed to discuss sensitive issues and secured local trust.

Official agreements helped create and reinforce political engagement.

  • The programme was governed by an eight-year Memorandum of Understanding which provided a stable indication of long term Dutch support, and also highlighted the importance of local participation as an important enabler for programme success. The significance attached to local stakeholders in the governing document further helped building trust and ensuring political engagement from the host country.


The Burundian Ministry of Defence asked advice from the Dutch on the strategic defence review close to the end of the second two-year period. This would not have been possible if the SSD Program was not successful in establishing local trust and getting the politics right. Although similar level of trust building was not witnessed in the police pillar of the programme as no such high level advising was requested in the latter sector, it is significant that various local decision makers in the defence sector did not refrain from this engagement with the Netherlands. Given the tense Burundian environment and its evolution, the good practice achieved by the Dutch MFA Programme is further proof on how local trust can be built in fragile and sceptical political contexts by being politically proactive.

Several in depth case studies on the Dutch SSD Program have been conducted by the OECD on the programming success ,  offering a comparison of several international SSR support missions (including by ISSAT) : Capacity and accountability in the military: some examples from the SSD-program, Burundi.

Selected Resources


Case Study

East Timor – Reconciling formal and customary systems through evidence-based programming


Traditional legal practices in East Timor, usually imbued with ancestral religious beliefs, are inherent to a system in which kinship concepts regulate most aspects of everyday life. Conflict resolution and punishment of crimes are part of this. These even kept their relevance throughout Portuguese colonial rule and Indonesian occupation, actually adapting and taking advantage of the formal laws imposed by both external rulers. “These mechanisms have developed in an environment where no state-bodies prevailed, and are paradigmatically contradictory to modern systems of rule of law”, as highlighted by Tanja Hohe and Rod Nixon (see reference below).

Within the complexity and diversity of Timorese legal systems, customary law is characterized by collective restorative justice and social sanction as means for enforcement. It is also a layered system in which a dispute is first reported to the family, then subsequently to the leaders of the village, hamlet, “suco” (group of villages), finally to the elders in the community, and maybe also to the police (albeit this does not mean that the case will follow a formal judicial route of resolution). The pertinence and legitimacy of customary justice implies that, even when justice is done through the formal institutions, the community still needs and demands that the issue be settled through traditional mechanisms. Support to the justice sector in independent East Timor, starting with the United Nations Transitional Administration in 1999, carries the assumption that the extension of statutory justice will gradually replace traditional mechanisms and reconcile its core values with modern concepts and norms.

Entry point

Justice sector development has been central to state-building and peacebuilding in East Timor but, as the Asia Foundation points out, the citizens have seen little benefit “despite many years and tens of millions of dollars spent on reforming the formal system by supporting the physical and human resource infrastructure for formal court actors”. Whilst progress has been made in recent years on strengthening formal justice, the resilience of local systems challenges common assumptions in justice development and questions the validity of rule of law interventions.

The Asia Foundation, a nonprofit international development organisation, has been conducting periodic assessments of end-users’ perceptions of the impartiality, effectiveness and accessibility of the justice system in East Timor, going beyond the understanding of where people go to address their justice concerns.

Surveys were conducted in 2004, 2008, and 2013 by the Asia Foundation with local partners, providing an important snapshot of perceptions held toward formal and informal justice mechanisms, the police, and security in general. The comparison between formal and informal systems was a vital component of the survey.

The results of the surveys pointed to the need to support other actors under justice reform programmes, and contradicted prevailing perceptions about whom ordinary people call on to seek justice. Moreover, the lessons extracted allow for evidence-based programming in a crucial area, fostering sustainability and ownership of interventions aiming at reconciling customary systems with statutory justice.

Lessons identified

The most important lesson from the three perception surveys undertaken by Asia Foundation is that institutions and systems that have little or no relevance to a people’s way of life are unlikely to be adopted in the short term. In this, the data provides strong evidence backing policy and academic literature – above all, from anthropologists – describing how the state-building enterprise in East Timor ignored the pre-existing and functioning local legal order.

The 2013 survey confirmed that, despite significant progress toward strengthening the formal justice system, “a greater proportion of people in contemporary Timor-Leste are more confident and comfortable with local justice systems.” Attitudes towards women’s access to justice, meanwhile, remained significantly worse than in 2004. Ultimately, despite outreach initiatives since 2008 (the year of the last major political-security crisis), Asia Foundation research shows that the people of Timor-Leste continue to have limited knowledge about the justice system and their legal rights. The data indicates also that concerns about best practice, human rights standards, and equitable treatment for all members of society in such a strictly patriarchal and hierarchical system are not yet adequately addressed.

The Asia Foundation strongly recommends stakeholders in justice development to effectively engage with traditional actors and aligning them with existing obligations under the Constitution and international norms, to ensure quality of care and a ‘do no harm’ approach.

Selected Resources

Case Study