SSR Overview


Despite the differences that persist in scope and terminology, there is some convergence on the definition put forward by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD DAC):

Security sector reform means transforming the security sector/system, which includes all the actors, their roles, responsibilities and actions, so that they work together to manage and operate the system in a manner that is more consistent with democratic norms and sound principles of good governance, and thus contributes to a well-functioning security framework.


Within the framework provided by the OECD-DAC definition, there are three primary goals which SSR seeks to achieve:

  1. Improve the democratic oversight of the security and justice system and its components
  2. Improve the effective management of the security and justice system
  3. Strengthen the security and justice system's effectiveness in delivering services

At its core SSR, is about development. Creating a secure and stable environment is crucial to a sustainable economic development processes. Enhanced security and justice service delivery can provide structural stability and is vital for preventing conflict and resolving disputes before they become violent. SSR processes are also vital to ensuring good governance in a framework that respects the legal separation of powers and the fair conduct of democracy. As security is becoming increasingly privatised and politicised, appropriate accountability and oversight structures are needed to ensure that security and justice provision is people-centred, responsive to the rule of law and able to meet the needs of the recipients of these services.

It must be emphasised that SSR is a fundamentally political process, involving institutions associated with national sovereignty. SSR inevitably creates challenges, but also opportunities (which some might view as fueling winners and losers) while addressing sensitive issues such as strengthening human rights, rule of law, and democratic processes. It can fundamentally alter power structures within a country and for all of these reasons needs to be approached in a participatory manner that fosters broad local ownership. SSR becomes even more political when the relationships between local communities and donors, amongst donors themselves, and with other regional actors are all taken into account.

ISSAT views SSR as incorporating both security and justice components, which at times are separated at the policy level into different initiatives. At the operational level, these distinctions between support to security and justice reforms simply are not sustainable.

To understand more about SSR, read SSR in a Nutshell or take the SSR Level 1 e-learning course (3 hours duration).


The overall objective of the international community's SSR support is to assist countries to provide security and justice services to their population in a manner that is:

  • accountable to the State and its people;
  • effective, efficient and affordable;
  • and respectful of international norms, standards and human rights.

To achieve this objective, security and justice sector development focuses on three core principles:

1. Local ownership

  • The process must be driven by credible local leaders and the local population.

2. Effectiveness and Accountability
  • Effectiveness: Security and justice providers need to be able to provide an effective service to the population. They should have the knowledge, skills and resources to be able to carry out their allocated tasks.
  • Accountability: Security and justice providers need to operate within the law. They should not abuse their positions. The population should be able to trust in the fact that there are functioning measures to ensure abuse does not happen - and if it does, that there are suitable (and working) mechanisms for redress and preventing re-occurrence.

Security and justice sector development also takes into consideration three main practical challenges:

3. Holistic, Political, Technical
  • Holistic. Security and justice actors and institutions do not operate in isolation. Whilst focus on support may be concentrated in one or other area, it is paramount to ensure that this fits into and interacts with the wider security and justice system. SSR practitioners must retain a holistic vision of security and justice development.
  • Political. Security and justice development goes to the core of the interests of individuals, organisations and states. It is not just about creating structures and improving skills. SSR practitioners must remember that security and justice development is first and foremost a political undertaking.
  • Technical. There are many different elements in security and justice development: different thematic areas, and diverse processes and organisational systems. SSR practitioners must recognise that security and justice development is a technically complex process.

Support for Security and Justice Sector Reform

Security and justice sector reform is gaining interest from across the international community.  It is recognised, however, that in order to provide effective support to local reform programmes, the international community will itself need support to develop its capacity for security and justice sector reform and improve its processes for coordination.

Some bilateral and multilateral actors have developed high levels of capacity to engage in supporting security and justice reform programmes, while others actors still lack a policy-level understanding. So, while some bi-lateral donors have national SSR strategy papers, committed departments, and multiple engagements in security and justice reform, others are only beginning to realise that many of their programmes touch upon security and justice reform. Within this context of varying levels of understanding of and engagement in reform processes, a growing percentage of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) is going towards SSR.

The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action provide an important policy framework on which all reform support should be based. The reality is, however, that to apply the principles and ambitions set out in those guiding documents, technical inputs are needed from practitioners with diverse backgrounds and skill-sets. In reality no single country is able to mobilise all of the needed capacities and very few practitioners are capable of bridging the gaps between SSR's many sub-sectors, such as policing, the courts, prisons etc. In addition, the technical capacity to provide support must be coupled with sufficient process capacity to plan, monitor and evaluate effective reform programmes.

In order to help achieve the commitments made in the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda, ISSAT is responding to the need for capacity building and greater coordination within the international community.

Last updated: October 2015

Key Texts

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