What is SSR going to look like after Covid19?

by Viola Csordas · April 6th, 2020.

Since the outbreak of the global Covid19 pandemic, it has become clear that the impact of this crisis will not stop at affecting the health of millions of people; analysts all over the world agree that the crisis is going to have a significant impact on the most fragile and conflict affected of contexts. At DCAF-ISSAT, we believe that security sector reform is going to be more relevant than ever during and post-Covid19. Amidst all the uncertainty, nearly all government responses to the crisis have one thing in common: both internal law enforcement agencies, as well as, defence forces have a significant role to play in responding to the pandemic, and the question of how a security sector should be governed and overseen is going to be more pertinent than ever.

Don't miss our Thematics in Practice page on Covid19. We invite all our partners and members of the community of practice to join this discussion through comments on this blog post as well as on Twitter @issat_dcaf  #SSR4peace

Facing a changing landscape of new security challenges and fragile contexts

SSR Donors must expect that their partner governments , undergoing reform, are going to face the twin challenge of maintaining law and order, whilst dealing with a public health pandemic. Increasingly, their assistance will be required to support a security and justice sector response to Covid-19 that is effective and legitimate,  strengthening the social contract, as well as, navigating a changing landscape of security challenges.

The near future might unveil a serious economic crisis on the international scale. Our community of practitioners on human security aspects can anticipate waves of social unrest, including demonstrations and riots because of economic collapse, unemployment and increased inequalities. Further victimization of minority and marginalized groups is highly likely.  Surges in criminal activities such as thefts, break-ins, as well as, new black-market activities, are already starting to show. Self-defense groups, outside the scope of the State could multiply and the challenge of maintaining functioning penal institutions during the current circumstances has become the main preoccupation of States across the world. Additionally, economic collapse compounded with stricter border control regulations might well lead to less migration from poverty-stricken countries, however, significantly increase migration from middle-income countries. The spread of Covid19 in existing refugee or IDP camps are most likely going to multiply the risk of conflict in countries hosting huge populations of refugees, in particular those with scarce resources for response. In contexts in which the state has low legitimacy or is not able to respond to the needs of communities, militias, violent extremist groups or other non-state actors are often security and justice providers that have the support of a part of the population. The current health crisis exacerbates this phenomenon and we are likely to see many non-state actors increasing their influence.

Necessity for governments to prioritize the legitimacy of their security services

The legitimacy of security actors is relevant more than ever today, as their efforts are divided between maintaining law and order, ensuring essential goods distribution and implementing unpopular measures such as lockdowns, quarantines, separation of patients and prisoners, etc. The current focus of governments, including those of Western democracies, should be on ensuring that security forces can obtain support and trust from citizens. Law enforcement unsupported by legitimacy and buy-in by the population will not be effective, given the scale of the crisis.

Robust accountability and oversight mechanisms

Around the world, militaries and other security institutions are deployed beyond their usual mandates to support pandemic response under state of emergency legislation. This increases the rate of their usual  communication with the population, presenting a window of opportunity to strengthen civil-military relations and the military’s image as a community service provider. However, to curb the potential for predatory and illegitimate behavior, this should be done in the framework of an SSR compliant approach, which specifies that a delicate balance should be established between capacity development for effectiveness and legitimacy and accountability.

In times of crisis, SSR donors need to be decisive in sending a strong message reinforcing the role of the security sector as a community service provider, respectful of human rights and the rule of law. Civilian oversight mechanisms and robust accountability state and non-state instruments will contribute meaningfully and timely to much needed social cohesion at this time of public health and human security crisis. It is especially important to reinforce parliamentary oversight over executive powers and their use of security forces to curb the opportunity for executive powers to extend their prerogative using the global health crisis as a pretext.

Higher transparency for security sector budgets

In order for security agencies to effectively deliver on their disaster and pandemic response mandates, governments will need to invest in further building their capacity with regards to disaster risk reduction, preparedness and relief efforts. Most likely, security agencies’ mandates and SOPs for providing domestic support for relief efforts are going to be re-assessed and strengthened.

At the same time, the economic costs of Covid19 are most likely going to impact the availability of public funds, cutting aid budgets and debt relief funds. Increasing pressures on government spending presents an opportunity for more transparent management of public finances in general, and of security budgets in particular to make them more transparent, include them in the regular budgeting processes and open them to higher parliamentary and public scrutiny.

Move towards community-based approaches

At the practical level, these developments might mean a window of opportunity to move security sectors towards more community-centered approaches, such as community policing, investing in outreach and communication efforts, working closely with instruments such as community security councils and building up capacities for de-escalating riot control strategies and crowd management.  Overcrowded prisons and early release of prisoners presents an opportunity to rethink the penal justice system and move from punitive to rehabilitative justice mechanisms.

To make these community-based approaches work, it is essential to strengthen the security sector’s ability to engage and positively reinforce existing relevant capacities within the community. Engaging with traditional leaders, religious authorities and CSOs can ensure the maintenance of basic security and justice services for the community, such as through grass-roots justice mechanisms and  community-based policing. It can also support securing non-state actors’ buy-in for the State’s Covid19-related response measures and make social distancing, for example, much more effective.


What ISSAT is currently working on

Building the new Business Case for SSR through synergies and empirical evidence 

Aid budgets are expected to decrease due to the anticipated economic recession, post Covid-19.  Security, justice and governance programming needs to be able to remain relevant to current challenges and pool resources, maximizing synergies wherever possible. ISSAT has been exploring, as reflected in this blog, possible areas where optimal synergies for SSR programming can be achieved. It is also finalizing work on providing its Members with advice and programmatic-level recommendations on SSR and Disaster Risk Reduction, SSR and Mediation and SSR and civilian capacities.

Moreover, ISSAT’s efforts in recording empirical and experience-based evidence for what works in the areas of security, justice and governance reform will be ever more important to reflect what achievements have reform made to date and feed into the New Business Case for SSR. ISSAT has been working on providing guidance on field-tested methodologies as well as the development of a M&E framework including indicators that will assist donors to design, track and evaluate effective programs and encourage learning on SSG/R contribution to building resilient, responsive and sustainable security and justice systems.

Innovative approaches to data collection and programming

With the security situation in many regions likely to further deteriorate, ISSAT has also been brainstorming innovative methodologies and tools on how to maintain continued support to field-level engagements with travel becoming limited or impossible. These include launching new methodologies previously more commonly used in the business community as design thinking. Design thinking explicitly aims to keep the focus on an end-user’s needs in design processes, when it is impossible to include the users themselves. Therefore, when designing projects with limited ability for interaction with the security needs of populations, design thinking methodologies can -to a certain extent- compensate for that. Additionally, ISSAT is exploring approaches such as investing in partnerships with local organizations, remote data collection methodologies such as participative M&E and scaling up e-learning opportunities. We’d be happy to share innovative ideas and emerging good practices!

Conclusion: SSR as an opportunity to keep human security at the center of pandemic response efforts

In the midst of the Covid19 crisis and its aftermath, all responses to the pandemic and subsequent capacity building and reforms need to stay focused on the main objective of SSR, protecting and ensuring human security. Especially in such times of emergency, robust accountability and  oversight mechanisms are needed to ensure civilian control, adherence to codes of conduct and human rights standards, and enable a legitimate and inclusive modus operandi for the security sector.

This will fully maximize SSR’s potential to prevent conflict and build peace, and has the potential to mitigate some of the new and additional challenges and risk factors to peaceful societies stemming from the global Covid19 pandemic.

Again, we invite all our partners and members of the community of practice to join this discussion through comments below as well as engaging with us on social media Twitter @issat_dcaf  #SSR4peace.

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