The prevention of violent conflict has traditionally been one of the core aims of SSR. SSR is seen as a means of progressively building resilient security and justice systems while addressing many of the root causes and drivers of conflict that stem from ineffective, poorly managed or unaccountable security and justice institutions.

Security and justice institutions are commonly the primary interface between the State and the population they are meant to serve. In many contexts they are the litmus test for the effectiveness of the State.

Due to its political nature and technical complexity, SSR is a difficult and challenging undertaking in virtually all contexts. There is an opportunity to build on examples of the application of SSR principles that have demonstrated an indispensable role in preventing violent conflict and addressing the underlying drivers of conflict.

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Sub-Regional Approaches Linking Security and Justice Actors to Service Delivery

One of the most noticeable long-term trends in SSR is the gradual shift towards bottom-up approaches to reform, moving away from the traditional state and capital-centric approaches. There has been a continued growth in the number of policing programmes supported by the donor community, focused on delivering improved policing at the community level and ensuring that tailored security approaches are developed and can quickly deal with threats before they escalate into larger violence and conflict.

Countries emerging from conflict, including Liberia and Timor-Leste, have continued to struggle to deconcentrate policing and security capacity to the communities, leaving critical vacuums in governance and security provision which can stimulate violent conflict.

By increasing the visibility and transparency of the police through joint action and dialogue with communities, community policing has also been an important element in increased public trust in security institutions.

Example: In Bougainville, New Zealand, a community policing programme has been credited as playing an important role in prevention of recurrence in conflict. The programme focused on providing rural villages with community-based officers, who set up accountability systems for the police that encouraged reporting and community focus. It was especially effective in integrating women into the policing structure, which proved highly appropriate in Bougainville given the core traditional role of women as peace-makers.

Example: In Sri Lanka, community policing has positively impacted the communities’ perception of state police legitimacy, as evidence by increased interaction between the two parties. It has also improved police effectiveness in mitigating conflict by providing information from the community more proactively, before security situations escalate.

Example:  In Timor-Leste, the continued failure of community policing efforts despite various donor initiatives was only resolved once the responsibility for initiating and designing the community policing approach was assumed by national actors. Traction in instituting community policing was only achieved once a locally-owned process was developed allowing national actors to formulate their own community policing approach.

Directly focusing on Whole of System Coherence

Security and justice institutions have a sectoral role in the prevention of violent conflict. Security sector reform policies and guidance place a strong emphasis on holistic and cross sector approaches to reform, whereby all institutions, both state and non-state, should be integral parts of the reform process.

One of the areas of SSR that has seen relatively fewer resources from donors has been reforms of probation and penitentiary institutions. Yet, evidence has shown that even modest efforts at introducing effective rehabilitation in penitentiary institutions can directly contribute to decreasing crime through reduced recidivism rates and help reduce instances of radicalization in inmates, helping to address two key drivers of conflict.

A promising trend in recent years has been the re-engagement of donors to strengthen the law-making and oversight functions over the security and justice sector of Parliaments. The role of Parliament is widely recognized as critical in sustainable and accountable SSR processes, as political engagement in peaceful development is a fundamental component of preventing conflict.

Example: In Mali, a DCAF programme demonstrated that even a small programme focused on improving Parliament relations with key stakeholders and building basic awareness on SSR can have a positive outcome  in promoting the role of Parliament in overseeing and supporting the national SSR process. This in turn should help ensure that Parliament is able to more constructively engage with the community and state stakeholders.

Example: DCAF has supported Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia to develop EU standards, best practices, solutions and mutual trust in their cross-border law enforcement cooperation. Through a combined top-down (political, management and expert level) and bottom-up approach (operational and practitioner level), all necessary levels of national law enforcement authorities were included. Such an approach contributes to the building of mutual trust among the countries from the region, and can reduce tensions at the high political level that could contribute to violent conflict.

Inclusive Institutions

The fundamental element of an inclusive approach to SSR is supporting transparency and a culture of openness that treats SSR as a public policy issue. Despite growing examples of the positive outcomes that stem from local driven and owned process and inclusive approaches to SSR, there remains a gap between policy and practice. In Macedonia and Iraq, the inability to create ethnically and geographically balanced security institutions, despite improvements in the capacity and capability of those institutions, has had a negative impact on political stability and social cohesion.

Example: In Timor-Leste, many of the instrumental reforms that have increased public trust in the state security and justice institutions were brought about once the donor’s footprint had started to decline in the reform process, and national actors became more assertive. These included successful efforts in community policing, devolving conflict resolution to communities where appropriate, and creating interlinkages between formal and informal institutions.

Example: In Sierra Leone, a move away from a state centric approach, towards a people centred approach to formulating and implementing the SSR process has also been credited with positively improving political stability and social cohesion, which previously were contributing factors to instability and conflict in the country. The decentralisation of decision making and more inclusive consultations on structures and strategy to peace and security at local level strongly contributed to increased public confidence in the institutions and improved perception by the public of the legitimacy of the institutions.

An inclusive approach is a complex and challenging undertaking that involves creating systems of decision and policy making, dialogue on programme design, open discourse on performance and conduct, and technical exchange of expertise and views. Transparency and openness are important means of improving public trust and perception of legitimacy of state security and justice institutions which can otherwise contribute to violent extremism or emergence of conflict.

Management and Accountability

A lack of effective democratic control, accountability and management over security institutions, notably the military and police, can trigger points for conflict. In most countries, donors typically spend 80-90% of their financial resources on tactical and operational reforms. While there has been a growth in the number of SSR programmes that have significant governance components aimed at strengthening management and accountability systems, such efforts are commonly overshadowed by the attention given to these standard ‘train and equip’ programmes.

Changing the culture of impunity of security and justice institutions, which remains a critical driver of conflict in many post-conflict and fragile contexts, is a long-term undertaking. To develop a robust accountability mechanism requires a combination of three models of accountability: internal, external by state institutions, and external by non-state institutions.

Example: In Nigeria, the UK’s Justice for All project has directly contributed to an increase in public perception of the police. By improving public complaints’ mechanisms at central level, within the Police Service Commission body mandated to oversee conduct of the Nigerian Police Force, as well as creating local community based accountability forums where citizens could directly address their complaints to the police, there was an increased trust in the integrity of the police.

Example: In Timor-Leste, modest investment by donors in strengthening the capacity of civil society in monitoring and reporting on police performance and conduct has positively influenced the accountability of state security and justice institutions. Due to their wider acceptance by the communities, civil society has shown to also be effective in detecting potential triggers of conflict and raising the issues to forefront of attention of state and non-state security providers.

Public Finance Management and SSR

Lack of adequate financing, misappropriation of funds, or poorly executed budgets have commonly been contributed to poor performance of SSR processes, endemic corruption, and limited public confidence in the sector. In practice, public finance management has been inconsistently part and parcel of SSR processes, and often a parallel discipline. Yet, the recent growth in the number of examples of mainstreaming PFM into SSR has yielded positive results in the prevention of violent conflict.

Example:  In the DRC, an EU implemented small scale chain of payments project reformed the system of direct payment of salaries to officers and new recruitments, which positively influenced troop morale by preventing such salaries from being syphoned off by superiors. The more timely payment of even a basic remuneration had a positive influence, reducing the predatory behaviour patterns of the military on local communities that was often used to compensate for lack of payment.

Example: In Guinea-Bissau, a pension system for war veterans developed also contributed to ensuring war veterans are not a destabilizing factor. The system provided an incentive to war veterans and decommissioned staff to demobilize. This was an important conflict prevention measure as it ensured that former military officers and leaders had fewer financial incentives to remain in power, and reduced their periodic influence on regime change.