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.

Sustained Political Dialogue and Implementation of the Paris Declaration in Mozambique


The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005) and the Accra Agenda for Action (signed in 2008 to support the implementation of the first document) are two key documents aiming to provide guidelines for Aid Effectiveness. They set out a practical, action-orientated roadmap to improve the quality of aid and its impact on development. The documents consist in action-focused guidelines organized around five principles (Ownership, Alignment, Harmonisation, Managing for Results, Mutual Accountability), and require both partner countries and donors to mutually assess their commitment to Aid Effectiveness.

Mozambique provides the international community with a good case study to assess the effectiveness of political dialogue throughout the delivery of International Aid. The country has been emerging from very high levels of poverty. It is one of the country’s most dependent on international support, as 40 to 55% of the national budget is financed through aid. This follows the 1992 peace agreement, which occurred after 16 years of violent armed conflict. Mozambique has also been internationally recognized as a good example since it actively participated in monitoring surveys from the donors in 2006 and 2008. International donors and the government signed a second Memorandum of Understanding in 2009, highlighting the necessity of aid under the form of Budget Support.

Entry point 

A framework for mutual accountability existed in the country since 2005, establishing the main coordination principles for international cooperation. In 2010 the government adopted the International Cooperation Security Strategy. Mutual accountability can be seen as a constant process of bringing together heterogeneous bodies, from the civil society, the international community, and state bodies. The collaboration is based on the follow-up of an agenda of shared interests, aiming to consolidate the behaviour change required to see significant results. The donors’ and recipient country’s strategies have shifted from a project-oriented approach to international aid, to a sector-specific and general budget support. Budget support activities, such as sectorial support and budget overview, have been instrumental in maintaining continued dialogue between the parties. It has contributed to the implementation of a solid dialogue structure, built on the definition of policy goals and a framework for annual monitoring. A Performance Assessment Framework, defined by a Memorandum of Understanding, acted as the main instrument for monitoring and evaluation between the national government and the 19 donors.

Lessons identified

Country-level evaluation as an incentive for good practice – Mozambique  and donors agreed to robust, data driven, country level assessment of progress, which was the basis for political level discussions on what had been achieved and what further should be done. The existence of an agreed strategy between both parties, as well as of aid effectiveness targets and assessments undertaken by both sides, were prerequisites for success.  Evaluation reports showed that participants from the state of Mozambique considered the programme as serious and of high value. This positive appreciation represented a major step towards mutual trust.

Political Dialogue is more efficient on a sector-based approach – In sectors where the partner’s priority matches the donor’s agenda, and where dialogue is strong enough to allow a mutually-defined strategy, funding is more likely to flow according to the Paris Declaration principles. In Mozambique this trend can be clearly observed by comparing aid to the Health sector, which has been informed by strong ownership and a clear vision, to the agriculture sector (where the support funds have reduced significantly over time).


Political discussion and dialogue enshrined in the Paris Declaration have become an integral component of the interaction between the donors and the government in Mozambique, and have been assimilated by the civil society to a certain extent.  Thanks to several initiatives aiming to raise awareness on the aid effectiveness agenda, a number of civil society bodies took part in the dialogue process revolving around the role of civil society in promoting aid effectiveness. Specific support was provided to civil society by the UN and donors, with the government of Mozambique committed to engage with it more closely.  

A well organised dialogue on policies and results achieved through donor harmonisation has been established through the lessons of the Budget Support. Alignment of the government of Mozambique and Budget Support partners was consequently improved. This has given rise to a very well organized base of international donors. The annual review on governance and fight against corruption through the Budget Support dialogue generated progress in those areas. The mutual accountability framework in Mozambique has been highlighted as an international reference, and is presented as one of the main examples of improved relations between donors and partners.

Selected Resources

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

Colombia - Coordination between national and indigenous judicial systems


Colombia is home to over 80 indigenous communities, each with their own dialects and judicial authorities. The year of 1991 represents a landmark for them, since it was the year when a new Constitution was established, in which the diversity of cultures was acknowledged, and their protection was referred to. Various other pieces of legislation have followed that further specify the ways in which indigenous populations have had to be increasingly incorporated into the national system. Especially the 1996 Act No. 270 of the Statute of the Administration of Justice, given that it placed the justices of peace and the jurisdiction of the various indigenous communities within the Judicial Administration structure.

Nonetheless, managing the difference between the rules of the national judicial system and those of the indigenous judicial systems has been a challenge in the absence of a law on coordination (also foreseen by the 1991 Constitution). This challenge places indigenous groups in vulnerable circumstances, especially in those cases where the two jurisdictions clash. A law allowing for the coordination of over 80 indigenous groups, considering their unique differences, whilst being sufficiently operative to settle disputes, proved difficult to obtain. Adding to the complexity is the widespread armed conflict that has been part of the country’s history for the past five decades. National security forces often enter territory without indigenous approval, undertaking operations that sometimes bring the conflict dynamics into these communities.

Entry point

The disparities between the different systems of carrying out justice turned collaboration between the national authorities and the indigenous authorities necessary. Building on the various types of legislation in place to promote the respect and protection of the indigenous populations, in 2004 the Higher Council of the Judiciary, in partnership with the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia, and the Association of the Indigenous Council in the North of Cauca, developed the programme “Support to the Coordination between the Special Indigenous Jurisdiction and the National Judicial System”. The aim was to foster mutual knowledge of the two systems and the new legislation, and to promote coordination, in order to improve the access of indigenous communities to basic justice services. The programme was co-funded by the Inter-American Development Bank and the Higher Council of the Judiciary, with resources having been provided by the Special Japanese fund.

The programme had five main components:

  1. An intercultural educational training that brought together the justice officials of the national system and those of the indigenous system to learn about each other’s modus operandi, including norms and processes, as well as  to identify needs.
  2. The establishment of a system of data collection to document and report on the different decisions of each jurisdictional body, in order to better understand how the other works. Respect for the customs of each community was respected through establishing voluntary participation in the process of contributing data.
  3. Development of a jurisdiction map covering all judicial systems, the competent authorities, and the services offered.
  4. Consultation of the population at the national level, to assess their opinion about the results and successes obtained, and contributing to the identification of the future financial needs of the programme. 
  5. A national workshop with the participation of the Organization of American States (OAS) to present the results and discuss relevant issues concerning the Special Indigenous Jurisdiction.

Finally, an Advisory Committee for the Programme was created as an accountability mechanism that was in charge of overseeing the accuracy and effectiveness of implementation.

Lessons identified

The main lesson from the Colombian process is that coordination can be enabled in practice, even if legal regulations are absent. The programme “Support to the Coordination between the Special Indigenous Jurisdiction and the National Judicial System” was successful in facilitating mutual system knowledge, and in promoting interaction between actors of the formal and of the indigenous justice systems. It also succeeded - through the consultations – in sensitising other relevant stakeholders such as the security forces and the private business sector towards the need to respect both jurisdictions. The transversal intercultural component of the programme contributed to the creation of a culture of jurisdiction collaboration and coordination previously inexistent. An iconic example of this is a sentence by the Constitutional Court – related to the Vencedor Piriri-Guamito y Matanegra Indigenous Reservation – stipulating that prior consultation of the indigenous authorities is mandatory before private extraction companies enter their territory. 

Selected Resources

Case Study