Security Sector Reform for Human Security: The Role of International Law and Transitional Justice in Shaping More Effective Policy and Practice

In the post-conflict context, the need to (re)build security institutions that are accountable, rights-respecting, and transparent is the subject of resounding rhetorical tribute in both academic and policy discourse. Yet in practice, ambitious goals of instilling respect for such norms and standards have often been sidelined in favour of more expedient ‘train-and-equip’ components of the Security Sector Reform (SSR) process. At the same time, post-conflict initiatives relating to SSR and accountability measures arising out of transitional justice have rarely interacted in theory or in practice. The gaps between SSR policy ideals, on the one hand, and actual SSR practice, on the other — together with the disconnects between SSR and transitional justice initiatives — represent a lost opportunity for the promotion of long-term positive peace. For the most part, though SSR policy ideals strongly resonate with international legal norms, SSR policy and practice have not been heavily driven by a sense of international legal obligation in this regard, nor has SSR programming been seen as a potential means by which states might come to satisfy broader international human rights obligations. In this chapter, I argue that while international legal norms and obligations do not dictate the fine-grain details, they nevertheless help to establish parameters that should guide SSR practice in significant ways going forward, potentially helping to bridge some of the aforementioned gaps. Emerging norms of accountability and the responsibility to protect, for example, together with the importance of guarantees of non-repetition, suggest that the SSR process must become more rights-based and justice-sensitive, predicated on the promotion of both state and human security, both in theory and in practice. At the same time, there is a delicate balance for actors in a process that, historically, has often been heavily funded and, at times, driven by outsiders. International law includes pillars relating to accountability and protection against human rights abuses, but also respect for principles of sovereignty and self-determination. In this regard, well intentioned but heavy-handed agenda setting by international interveners in the security sector is potentially problematic, and the possibility for frictions may be only heightened if international law is imagined to dictate SSR policy in too rigid, technocratic, or detailed a manner. The oft-repeated policy ideal that the SSR process should be ‘locally owned’ could be seen to reflect these international principles, together with the genuine practical limits to what outsiders can do without very strong local political will.

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Programme Element