Achieving Impact and Sustainable Results in Security Sector Reform (SSR) through a Human Rights-Based Approach?

21/07/2016 @ 12:57
by Mirko Daniel Fernandez

The UN has long established that rule of law and respect for human rights are fundamental pillars of SSR. This means that the success of SSR is inherently interlinked to the ability of the duty bearers to exercise due diligence with regard to the fulfilment of these human rights obligations. Compliance with human rights has been categorised into positive and negative obligations. The current norm on positive obligation requires national authorities apply the necessary due diligence to safeguard or enforce a right or to adopt reasonable and suitable measures to protect and enforce the rights of the individual or groups. In fact, the established due diligence that developed from the positive obligation is a critical foundation for addressing gender-based violence, a priority issue in SSR. Yet, there is little evidence to support that programmes related to peace and security efficiently incorporate into their human rights based approach (HRBA) the due diligence elements that have evolved in over 20 years of human rights standard setting by the international mechanisms. Moreover, in spite of guidance for its monitoring and evaluation, UN Common Understanding of a HRBA (2003) has not undertaken this endeavour systematically nor assessed it for impact translating into a loss of valuable baseline information and opportunities for evolution. Having positive examples of a HRBA application to SSR is fundamental to making the business case for human rights compliance to national actors implementing SSR and to non-State actors with an influence in the security and justice sector.

Are there good examples of a HRBA applied in SSR that can support the growing evidence base that a HRBA correlates to more impact and sustainable results as pointed out by the former UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights in 2015*?

*See Beyond legal empowerment: improving access to justice from the human rights perspective.  Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona & Kate Donald (2015) The International Journal of Human Rights. 

16/06/2017 @ 22:34
by Mark Knight

To summarise the question: are there good examples of Human Rights Based Approaches (HRBA) being applied in SSR that can show impact and sustainable results? 

Private Security Providers

I would highlight the case of Private Security Providers (PSP), and the outcome of multiple concurrent processes that resulted in an International Standard Organisation’s (ISO) management standard specifically for the private security industry (ISO 18788 Management system for private security operations).  This industry specific management standard can be understood as a combination of two separate but well established processes, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP), and the ISO 31000 Risk Management Standard. 

 - Human Rights Due-diligence

A HRBA requires human rights due-diligence, the UNGPs provide an overview of the requirements of a human rights due-diligence process as:

  (a) Policy commitment to respect human rights;

  (b) A process to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how to address impacts on    

       human rights;

  (c) Remediation. 

Furthermore, the UNGPs requires that “The [due diligence] process should include assessing actual and potential human rights impacts”.  Potential adverse human rights impacts are ‘risks’, and actual adverse human rights impacts are ‘the realisation of that risk’. 

 - Risk Management

The ISO 31000 Risk Management Standard defines the risk assessment process, and the integration of risks management in an interactive and sustainable management system.  By combining the UNGPs and a risk management process (ISO 31000), the resulting PSP industry specific standard (ISO 18788) ensures that private security providers integrate within their day-to-day management process a human rights due-diligence process.  This due-diligence process allows the PSP to understand and identify specific risks that their operations create within a specific context, to the human rights of stakeholders impacted by the delivery of security services.  The due-diligence also ensures the PSP are aware of when these risks to human rights are realised, as adverse human rights impacts, and establishes a process for remediation. 

Lessons Identified

The lessons from this PSP specific approach that can be applied to public security providers are:

  1. The objectives of a HRBA can be met by applying a human rights risk management process, in-line with the UNGPs description of a human rights due-diligence.
  2. Sustainability can be enhanced by utilising or adapting an existing process, structure, or mechanisms that are valued by the public security provider; in the example of PSP this was the ISO standards and structures.
  3. The integration of a human rights due-diligence process within existing management practices can result in an organic internal process that iteratively assesses human rights risks, mitigates these risks, assesses adverse human rights impacts, and ensures remediation.
  4. Specific resources are required for establishing and maintaining an external complaints mechanism, particularly building the trust of rights holders that the complaints processes effectiveness. 

SSR Entry Points for Public Security Providers

There are several potential entry points when establishing a human rights due-diligence process within a public security provider:

  1. Support to the establishment of a policy commitment to respect and protect human rights, and the requisite due-diligence process;
  2. Support a human rights impact assessment of the public security provider’s operations, in partnership with either (i) the public security provider itself, or (ii) relevant stakeholder, or (iii) ideally a combined undertaking of stakeholders and the public security provider.
  3. Support the establishment of an internal and external complaints mechanisms, along with the necessary processes for managing complaints.
  4. Support processes of remediation for extant adverse impacts on human rights caused by the public security provider. 

Any of the above activities are entry points that will also support the evolution of a complete human rights due-diligence process as part of the public security providers day-to-day operations management.  

02/08/2016 @ 16:05
by Mirko Daniel Fernandez

Estimado Santiago,

Muchas gracias por su aporte y por señalar la utilidad de las evaluaciones de la implementación de la Agenda. Sin duda esperamos rescatar muchas lecciones y aprendizajes de este proceso. Los requisitos  de seguimiento elaborados en punto 74 serán particularmente valiosos como indicadores en la aplicación de un enfoque de derechos humanos.  

Saludos cordiales,


02/08/2016 @ 15:35
by Mirko Daniel Fernandez

Dear Alexander,

Thank you very much for highlighting your justice-sensitive approach (JSA) to SSR. I very much agree that the complementary natures of SSR and transitional justice need to be better explored.

I was recently in Guatemala invited by IEPADES to participate on a regional platform to discuss the implementation of UN Resolution 1325 National Action Plans. Both transitional justice and SSR were central themes. As a panellist, I discussed the importance of seeing SSR as an opportunity to embed the spirit of the resolution into the security and justice institutions. When making the link to Transitional Justice, I advocated for jurisprudence linked to awarded reparations from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on guarantees of non-repetition to be translated into SSR programming language (including for the monitoring and evaluation component). I cited jurisprudence from emblematic cases of gender-based violence from the Court which I believe would be essential to capture in any transitional justice process in Guatemala. I explained that a HRBA is catalyst for translating legal norms into programming language. However, I conceded that this requires substantial legal knowledge with very few SSR programmers possessing the required skill set to do so.  

Notwithstanding, I can see how the three areas of SSR intervention in your proposed JSA are complementary and mutually reinforcing to a HRBA. At the same time, I equally see how a JSA will face the same technical challenges as a HRBA in regards to SSR programmers.  Thus, I see consultations with local rights-holders and civil society, who may subsequently possess the right skill set and contextual knowledge, will be fundamental for the success of both a HRBA and JSA.

Additionally, at the regional platform I advised both civil society and participating government partners to work together to hold external and internal SSR actors accountable when implementing a HRBA to ensure that all development cooperation effectively incorporates human rights standards, norms and principles in all programming phases. I would also include holding SSR actors accountable for a JSA to this recommendation.

Thank you again for the reference to your paper. We will take a closer look at your ideas as we develop our initiative for a HRBA to SSR. You may hear from me sooner than later.

Best regards,


02/08/2016 @ 01:27
by Santiago Roberto Bertoglia

Estimados Miembros ISSAT.DCAF

Recibo con agradecimiento sus conocimientos y sus invitaciones a participar en este Foro. Compartiendo el respeto a los Derechos Humanos y la necesidad vital de RSS en todos los países para la existencia de Seguridad Humana. Encontramos conocimientos valiosos en realizando evaluaciones sobre la implementación de la Agenda. Comparto con Ustedes esta resolución ya que en ella encontraremos "Nadie debe quedar atrás".

Gracias por esta oportunidad. Saludo cordial 

27/07/2016 @ 15:58
by Alexander Mayer-Rieckh

Dear Mirko,

Thank you exploring and advocating for a HRBA to SSR. For some time, I have a justice-sensitive approach to SSR. While these two approaches are not identical there is significant overlap. A justice-sensitive approach explores the linkages between transitional justice and SSR, and identifies the implications of transitional justice on SSR. In doing so, a justice-sensitive approach argues that three areas of SSR intervention are particularly important in dealing with a legacy of massive human rights abuse:

  • Promoting inclusion of disadvantaged and marginalised groups, in particular of victims of human rights abuse;
  • Fostering a comprehensive notion of / approach to accountability (future and past; vetting…); and
  • Enhancing the legitimacy of a security sector that is subject to a deep crisis of trust (particularly relevant in this regard are verbal and symbolic interventions.

I have explored these questions in several publications including in the DCAF SSR Paper no. 10: Dealing with the Past in Security Sector Reform. See While this paper does not look at impact it provides examples of justice-sensitive SSR interventions. Another useful source in this regard are two recent reports the UN Special Rapporteur for the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence issued in 2015, one guarantees of non-recurrence and the other on vetting.

I am happy to discuss these matters further if you are interested.

Best regards,

Alexander Mayer-Rieckh