Camilla Arvastson

I am working in ISSAT Knowledge and Outreach team since June 2019. I hold a Master degree in peace and conflict studies from Uppsala University including exchange studies in conflict and coexistence from the Heller School at Brandeis University. Previous work experience from DG DEVCO and DG HOME at the European Commission in Brussels, Desk Officer at Swedish Migration Agency and experience from UNODC Viet Nam and OECD-DAC in Paris. 

Case Studies

Gender Mainstreaming Case Example of ISSAT’s mid-term evaluation of Swedish Police Project in Liberia

In 2018, the Swedish National Police (SNP) requested ISSAT to conduct a mid-term evaluation for its Police Cooperation project in Liberia. The project was implemented by the SNP between 2016 and 2019. The purpose of the project was to achieve improved quality of crime investigations including on Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), basic crime investigation, basic crime scene investigation and cooperation between the Liberian National Police (LNP) and the Prosecution Service in three police station areas.

The components of the project focused on addressing important challenges and needs as formulated by the LNP and prosecutors such as:

  • Training in basic crime investigations, basic crime scene investigations and investigations of SGBV crimes.
  • Guidelines to optimise the quality control of any crime investigation case forwarded to the Prosecution Service.
  • Basic forensic equipment.
  • Improved premises and facilities for one stop centres and comfort rooms for SGBV victims.  
  • Improved cooperation between police and prosecutors.
  • Public awareness raising.

ISSAT’s evaluation was one exercise in a series of engagements with the Swedish National Police. It built on previous lessons learned studies on police reform in Liberia and national policy documents. The evaluation included a 7-day mission to Liberia and visits to local police zones for direct observations at police station level. The mission also included semi-structured interviews with beneficiaries as well as SNP normally based in Stockholm.


Main Takeaways

The evaluation was carried out based on OECD-DAC criteria (relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, impact and sustainability) which is aligned with ISSAT’s methodological approach for evaluations. Guided by the terms of reference, ISSAT closely liaised with the project’s gender expert to understand and better integrate in the evaluation’s approach the main components of effective police investigations into sexual based crime and victim protection.


LESSON 1: Gender equality approaches need to be an explicit part of the evaluation methodology

Throughout the data gathering phase, ISSAT ensured consistent inquiry into the project’s gender sensitive approaches and strategies. Under each of the evaluation criteria, ISSAT looked at gender relevant issues and dimensions. The results of ISSAT’s evaluation found that SNP systematically promoted gender equality, and allocated resources for combatting sexual and gender-based violence crimes. This reflected Swedish commitment to this gender equality and combatting SGBV, through project strategies that promoted awareness-raising among local counterparts.


LESSON 2: Gender equality subject-matter expertise is essential for articulating project impact

The Swedish National Police included a gender expert as part of the project’s team. The gender expert on SGBV was not based in Liberia but deployed up to four times a year. Having a gender expert as part of the project further strengthened the quality of the project’s deliverables, as well as the communications capability for the project to create traction and ownership of its priorities amongst stakeholders. It increased focus on SGBV reporting, achievements and outcomes for Swedish National Police, as well as enabled greater synergies between the different work streams. 


LESSON 3: Build on what works at the local context

ISSAT’s evaluation demonstrated that the Swedish support project achieved positive results from its capacity building engagements on SGBV because it built on existing training material already used by the Liberian National Police and the UN Mission in Liberia. This method ensured that the project’s contribution was consistent with current skills and techniques used by LNP. The added value of the SNP was therefore to bring in practical implementation techniques addressing victims of SGBV. This made the trainings and practical elements relevant and grounded in a Liberian context rather than in a Swedish model, contributing directly to the success of the project.


LESSON 4: Comfort rooms are an effective protection measure if used appropriately

Another key output of the Swedish support project was the usage of comfort rooms where victims can report SGBV crimes. Comfort rooms require minimal maintenance costs if used in a consistent manner. ISSAT’s evaluation showed that it is important to establish guidelines and objectives for their usage to prevent improper, or unintended usage of the dedicated facilities. Moreover, comfort rooms need to be included in national regulations, operational documents and strategies in order to enable continuous monitoring and review of their usage by SGBV victims.


LESSON 5: Donor coordination on cross-cutting issues is crucial

ISSAT’s evaluation demonstrated that engagement in coordination activities ensures critical information gathering on primary needs when it comes to SGBV crime investigations and forensic evidence gathering. Active and close collaboration between donors and national stakeholders in the form of task forces or coordination groups strengthens the effectiveness and impact of donor efforts and programming. It also provides a platform to explore whether the project is on the right track and opens new channels to troubleshoot if and when the project faces resistance, blockages or challenges.


LESSON 6: Avoid revictimization during evaluation of SGBV programming

To safeguard and protect the victims of SGBV crimes, there is a need for rules and procedures to be put in place in the methodology in order to prevent “revictimization” of victims. Questions and discussions on the person’s prior traumatic experience and re-examination of details and actions that explain the incident and the police’s response could put the SGBV survivor at risk, as well as expose their family or community members to unintended consequences. Evaluation teams conducting impact or effectiveness reviews of a SGBV programs need to design their approach avoiding revictimizing the victims.


Lesson 7: Use awareness-raising campaigns as an outreach tool and not only for visibility

When awareness campaigns are used as a strategy for the project to achieve its objectives, it is important that these are used as outreach channels to raise awareness on SGBV rather than merely be project visibility tools. Such campaigns also enable continuous monitoring on SGBV issues and serve as powerful advocacy tools for national counterparts to their maintain focus on those crimes and combatting them. Projects that integrate empirical evidence of outcomes in their awareness campaigns tend to achieve higher levels of conviction and credibility, particularly on a complex and culturally charged subject area such as SGBV.

Case Study

Burkina Faso - Current Critical Security Issues


In recent years, Burkina Faso has emerged as a country of interest for ISSAT Members. After the security events that impacted the Sahel region recently, Burkina Faso stands at a milestone in its reform and State-building processes. It been increasingly exposed to the threats and attacks of violent armed groups, targeting symbols and representatives of the State, including the defence and security forces, local leaders and political figures.

With a history of several coups, the country has entered a cycle of more frequent terrorist attacks since 2014. The northern parts of the country, bordering Mali and Niger, are particularly at risk as a result of the spill- over of their conflicts. The President, Christian Roch Kaboré, has faced demonstrations criticising his handling of the country’s recent security crisis. In December 2018, a State of Emergency was declared in several regions, granting extraordinary powers to the security forces and restricting freedom of movement and assembly in the country. In January 2019, the Prime Minister and his cabinet resigned in a context of growing violence and a new Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces was appointed.

The below analysis is an ISSAT Note on Burkina Faso’s current critical security issues, which ISSAT considers to be of key relevance to its Members’ priorities and programming in the country. This short knowledge product builds on ISSAT’s work, as well as on open-source documents and map out the top challenges impacting the security landscape in the country. This note also aims to be a conversation starter and ISSAT welcomes comments and contributions from its Members and Community of Practice.

Poverty and Weakness of the State Apparatus

Burkina Faso is one of the world’s poorest countries with more than half of its population living on 1.90 USD per day. It is a traditionally rural country and agriculture is its main source of income. Despite recent economic growth, poverty levels remain the same. This is partly driven by a population growth, combined with recent climate shocks. Cities are particularly affected, with an unemployment rate of 50%. Poverty, combined with a weak government and State apparatus, creates a breeding ground for social tensions and violent conflict. It also leaves room for armed groups activity, in particular in areas where the community experiences exclusion, especially among the youth, and frustration with corruption and unequal distribution of resources and wealth.

Porous Borders and Spill-over Effects from the Conflict in Mali

The broader security landscape in the Sahel region needs to be taken into consideration when examining the worsened security situation in Burkina Faso. Following the conflict in northern Mali and the military interventions led by the government and its allies in those areas, the jihadist armed groups have moved down to central Mali and have contributed, among other factors, to the rise of intercommunal violence, not only in Mali, but also in Niger and Burkina Faso.

The attacks in Burkina Faso were previously mainly conducted across the border by groups based in Mali, using the porous border areas to escape the authorities. Absence of government and State facilities due to unequal distribution of security sector presence over the country have made it possible for these groups to operate in the northern parts relatively freely, increasing their capacity and presence in the country.

While their areas of operation were at first concentrated in the administrative provinces of Soum and Oudalan, in the northern Sahel Region bordering Mali and Niger, the attacks have now spread into other administrative regions notably the Est, Boucle du Mouhoun and Northern Regions and are also threatening the capital, Ouagadougou, and the border areas with Benin and Ivory Coast.

Population Displacement

Indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Burkina Faso have led to the displacement of more than half a million people as of December 2019 (compared to 50,000 in January 2019). This represents around 3% of the country’s population, a number that is expected to increase further in 2020.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) face several critical challenges such as food insecurity and limited access to the fields and markets. Access to basic services such as health, education, water and sanitation is also a major concern. Their presence also weight on the resources of the host communities and puts an extra burden on an already weak resource management system and public services infrastructure, leading to increasing tensions among the communities and risk of intercommunal violence.

Population displacements also impact the surveillance of the territory, and the ability of the security forces to track members of the armed groups, while there are growing concerns that IDPs and people living in refugee camps may become fertile recruitment grounds for violent extremism.

Lack of Resources and Capacity among the Security Forces

During his presidency, Blaise Compaoré reorganised the military and assumed increased control over the security apparatus of the country. After his fall, many of his followers among the security forces deserted or arrested. The Presidential Guard, which represented some 10% of the total military body, was dissolved after the coup d’état in 2015, creating an institutional and human resources gap.

Burkina Faso’s security forces are considered inadequately equipped and lack operational capacity to perform their duties. They have sometimes been accused of disproportionate use of violence, extrajudicial killings and human rights violations, including towards civilians. Furthermore, corruption, lack of accountability and weak legitimacy undermines the role of the security forces. National security personnel may also be members of non-state forces such as the Koglweogo, which is one of the largest security non-state actors in Burkina Faso. It has gradually become recognized as a key player by the government.

Several of the international donors present in the country, such as the EU, US and the Joint G5 force for Sahel are supporting programs aiming at operational capacity development, including skills and equipment provision to the security forces. However, lack of sufficient attention to management and accountability aspects in a country where those are perceived to be corrupt, politicised and abusive of their powers, is a risky endeavour.

Lingering SSR Process

In October 2017, a National Security Forum held in Ouagadougou with over 600 participants from ministries, agencies and civil society kicked-off the SSR process led by the National Defence and Security Council (CSDN). The country set itself on a reformative agenda to elaborate on a new national security policy and strategy, develop an anti-corruption strategy, increase governance of the security sector and develop a strategy to combat violent extremism, among other commitments.

However, due to the worsened security situation in the country with increased violence, more than half a million people internally displaced and lack of State presence in all parts of the country, the SSR process has been lingering. The government is now focusing on preventing violent extremism and has declared a state of emergency in 14 out of 45 regions. Lessons from Central African Republic and South Sudan indicate that stalling or halted SSR processes could be potentially an indicator of escalation in political and security tensions.

Unclear Delineation of Roles and Deployment of the Police and Gendarmerie

The National Police is placed under the authority of the Ministry of Security and organized around the General Directorate of the National Police. It is responsible for public security and consists of civil servants. The National Gendarmerie is technically under the authority of the Ministry of Defence, but reports to the Ministry of Security. It is a military force with similar ranking system to the army. The police and gendarmerie perform their activities across the country. While the law provides that a decree shall specify the respective areas of territorial jurisdiction, both police and the gendarmerie often end up working in the same locations at the expense of certain regions. The traditional role of the police to operate in urban areas and the gendarmerie in the countryside, has been blurred during the last years, leading to a shift of the National Police outside urban areas and the "urbanization" of Gendarmerie units. Despite several requests for the opening of new police stations or gendarmerie brigades in neglected areas, there is no clear plans to organise and restructure the territorial grid. This has led to inefficient use of human resources, incapability of ensuring consistent coverage of all the territory, in addition to, unequal distribution of service to the entire population.

Lack of updated information hamper the analysis of the situation. However, an assessment conducted in partnership with ISSAT in 2018 showed that security forces were absent in 36% of the communes. The ratio of security personnel of 1/758 is well below the international standard of 1/400. With a total strength of 5,219 gendarmes, the gendarmerie ratio is 1/2,685. The country has 350 territorial departments in total, 85 of which have at least one Police station and one Gendarmerie unit; 109 have one Gendarmerie unit or a Police station; and 156 do not have any Internal Security force unit established at all.

Fragmentation of the legitimate use of force

Increased violence and limited response capacity from the state security forces has led to the multiplication of defence militias and paramilitary groups such as the Koglweogo. Formed by farmers to respond to rising insecurity in the northern regions, those groups have since evolved into more organised armed groups implementing their own sets of rules and passing sentences. Those groups have established semi-formal relations with the security forces with whom they might collaborate and who sometimes hand out alleged delinquents or criminals to the traditional groups. In 2018, the government has launched several initiatives to strengthen the dialogue with the Koglweogo and has adopted a decree formally allowing them to participate in the fight against insecurity alongside the State forces.

More recently, the government adopted a new decree creating the status of “Defence Volunteers”. According to the decree, the mission of the Volunteer is to contribute, if necessary, by force of arms, to the defence and protection of persons and property in his or her village or area of residence. After going through initial military training for fourteen days, the Volunteers will receive a weapon and are placed under the supervision of a group leader chosen among his peers at the village level. The groups are loosely placed under the military chain of command, though it is unclear how this control will be implemented.

Koglweogo and similar community defence have already been accused of committing human rights violations and their activities are often inconsistent with the respect of basic rule of law principles such as the presumption of innocence. They however beneficiate from the support of the population, tired of the state's inability to ensure one of its basic functions: the safety of citizens. The legitimation and legalisation of such groups therefore raise the question of the State’s ability to control them and of the risk of a fragmentation of the legitimate use of force.

Weapons proliferation and intercommunal violence

The trafficking and diversion of weapons and ammunition are fuelling the conflict in the Sahel and continue to threaten community safety across the region, in particular in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. Burkina Faso is located along some of the most important weapons trafficking routes in West Africa. Traffickers make use of the porous border areas to link the gulf countries to main recipient countries such as Mali, making weapons easily accessible. Important stocks were also diverted from the government stockpile during the 2011 police and military mutiny. To prevent the worsening of the situation, the Burkinabe government suspended the sale of firearms to the civilian population at the end of February 2019. However, after only a few months, the measure was lifted in June. In early 2020, the government took a reverse approach by creating the status of “Defence Volunteer”, therefore giving access to weapons to civilians and legitimizing their use of force to supplement the security forces.

However, in a country where intercommunal tensions and the multiplication of armed groups are already creating challenging conditions to the protection of civilians, there is a concern that the new measures could further foster the proliferation of weapons and heighten ethnic conflict. While intercommunal violence is a relatively new phenomenon in Burkina Faso, resentment and mistrust toward the Fulani communities, because of their perceived association with the Islamist groups, have increased as attacks led by armed groups have become more frequent.

2020 Elections

Burkina Faso is holding general Presidential and Parliamentary elections in November 2020. The country has a long history of coup d’état’s which weakened the election and governance system, and with the current security situation, this might make for a turbulent election process. Current armed violence and terrorist attacks are predicated to halt the election process. This is mainly due to two reasons; Firstly, as a consequence of the increased violence and terrorist attacks in the country, entire villages have been displaced and regions in the north and eastern parts have lost their population. As a result, the electoral constituencies must be reviewed to reflect the change of inhabitants. Additional local and national candidates could be put forward in regions hosting most of the displaced persons. The government might also need to find a system allowing displaced persons to elect their local candidates outside of their own constituency. IDPs could also elect candidates in the regions where they currently are located. The solution is not perfect however and might result in an unbalance of candidates as entire villages in the norther and eastern parts of the country are emptied. This also implies to rewrite the number of constituencies in each region which is a long and complicated process due to the fluctuating security landscape.

A second challenge for the upcoming elections is the registration to vote which closed in January 2020. About 50 % of the population are eligible to vote, equalling 10 million, but only half are currently registered, leaving almost 5 million people, mainly youth, noneligible to take part in the democratic election process. This situation is particularly worrying as lack of representativity in the public institutions and the feeling of exclusion are key drivers of conflict in the region.

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DCAF-ISSAT Burkina Faso SSR Country Backgrounder 

Case Study

Iraq - Current Critical Security Issues

Introduction and context

Iraq is a war-torn country which faces enormous security and justice challenges, including a large number of internally displaced persons and concerns that small cells of defeated ISIL remain hiding in rural areas. Iraq’s youth are protesting for a better future with less corruption, better governance and lower unemployment; whilst security forces are being accused of using armed violence towards civilians.

With the defeat of ISIL, Iraq can now focus on reconciliation, recovery and reform of the security and justice sector to efficiently meet the challenges the country is facing. Security sector reform and governance is pivotal for long term stability and peace in the country. The official launch of the SSR process in Iraq was made in 2015, but there are still major challenges facing security and justice sector governance.

This short knowledge product aims to address emerging concerns in a country of high interest to ISSAT Members. It builds on ISSAT’s work, as well as on open-source documents and maps out some of the critical challenges impacting the security landscape in a given country. This note also aims to be a conversation starter and ISSAT welcomes comments and contributions from its Members and Community of Practice.

Internal Population Displacement and Returnees

The humanitarian and displacement situation in Iraq are one of the world’s most volatile and acute. Large waves of displacement have been tracked for more than 50 years driven by a combination of factors such as internal armed conflict, external intervention and political, ethnic and religious oppression, in addition to natural disasters including floods and earthquakes. The latest wave of displacement began in late 2013, when ISIL began to take over large swaths of territory. At that point, 2.1 million people were already living in internal displacement due to previous conflicts. The number of IDPs peaked at 4.1 million in 2016.

A decrease in scale and intensity of armed violence in 2018 allowed for around 900,000 displaced Iraqis to return to their hometowns. Since 2014, IOM estimate that around 4.6 million (February 2020) IDPs returned to their hometowns, amidst concerns about forced IDP returns and IDP vulnerability. According to IOM, around 1.4 million Iraqis remain internally displaced (February 2020), with over seventy percent of those originating from the Northern Ninewa and Salah al-Din governorates.

IDPs face challenges in access to safety and security, fair standard of living, employment, land and property, documentation, family separation and/or reunification, participation in public affairs, and justice services. Furthermore, inter-communal divisions between host communities and IDPs are also representing a challenge for future reconciliation and reintegration. The question still remains how to reintegrate IDPs into their host communities, if they are unable to return to their place of origin.

Armed Groups and Insurgency

Insurgent attacks by Daesh fighters and Sunni militias in western and central-northern Iraq, as well as, terrorist attacks across the country, continue to threaten the safety and security of Iraqis. Citizens still feel threatened of ISIL or other extremist groups if they are not eradicated (NDI, 2019).

There is also insecurity in the south with armed tribal groups and violent confrontations between rival Shia military groups which seek to control neighbourhoods in the capital, Baghdad. The neighbouring ongoing conflict in Syria facilitates arms, drugs, refugee flow and people trafficking and enables armed groups operations.

ISIL has suffered from territorial downfall and are today almost eradicated from the territory. It is although estimated that between ten and twenty thousand ISIL fighters are still active in the region and remain a threat to stability. As a small-scale insurgency, they indiscriminately target Iraqi civilians and commit human rights abuses. The United States-led Global Coalition to Counter ISIL continues its military operations in Iraq and Turkey focuses its operations in northern Iraq. The unstable and fragile security landscape in Iraq is jeopardizing a legitimate and efficient national security sector. It further demonstrates different interests and visions among the population based on sectarian, ethnic or regional ties. 

Civil Action and Youth Discontent

Since the Fall of 2019, Iraq and especially Baghdad, has experienced civil protests, as thousands of mostly young people, have been demonstrating in different parts of the country against corruption, unemployment and poor public services. The protests, which started off in a non-violent and peaceful manner, has become more violent as time has passed. Security forces have responded using water cannons, tear gas, live rounds and rubber bullets. Several hundreds of protesters have been killed and thousands injured. Tens of thousands of residents in the southern governorate of Basra were reported to have been poisoned and hospitalized by polluted drinking water, fueling ongoing protests against government’s mismanagement of the neglected south.

Nearly 60% of Iraq’s population is under 25 years of age which is impacting the society and the country’s development. Lack of proper education, early marriages, gender inequalities and high unemployment rates are issues that affect the governance, security and justice needs by the population.

The civil protests in Iraq are one in a series of similar global mass demonstrations that have occurred over the past years. They have had significant repercussions on the security situation in the country, as they reveal shortcomings of State institutions and test the civilian accountability over security actors. Strong national consensus has been formed around the need for the government to be responsible for all firearms control and regulation and removal of all armed manifestations in public spaces. These protests in Iraq are an important watching theme for donors in the security and justice sphere, as this not only demonstrate citizen’s dissatisfaction but also reveals clashes between citizens and government, and between youth and government. Increased training and capacities in human rights training and non-violent protests controls are areas that are in need for support.

Weak Governance and State Institutions

Iraq’s public sector institutions have not been successful in equitably allocating resources across the country and its population and extend basic public services, including access to security and justice in an effective manner. In a poll from NDI 2019, most citizens see the government from federal to local level as ineffective, and a vast majority (74%) acknowledge that they are not aware of the government priorities. For decades state institutions have been captured by sectarian interests and decimated by corruption. The politicization of state institutions and control over state resources have undermined the effective and equitable delivery of services, thus exacerbating the crisis of legitimacy, the challenges to state authority, and, ultimately, the spiral of violence that we see in Iraq today. As noted in the 2011 World Development Report, weak institutions and a lack of legitimacy undermine states’ ability to provide basic security, justice, and economic opportunities for their citizens and can therefore be a key cause of conflict. This holds true in Iraq, where the fragility of key public institutions and processes is reflected most starkly in the chronic weakness of its civil service, public financial management, state-owned enterprises, public investment management, and judicial system.

Lack of Public Trust

Weak governance and accountability, unrepresentative institutions and insufficient access to security and justice services across the country result in lack of public trust in public services. A recent survey from NDI revealed that lack of public trust and low confidence in national elections, drive perceptions that Iraq remains a divided country and increases support for protests. This further strengthens divisions according to sectarian lines in society. According to the Head of UNAMI, increased public trust in governmental institutions is key for development in Iraq, particularly after the fight against ISIL. Lack of public trust is also driven by a view of ineffective and unaccountable governmental apparatus.

Despite a general lack of trust, citizens tend to do have increased trust in army and police institutions, and in the Popular Mobilization Units[1] as the security situation is slowly stabilizing. However, citizens seem to have less trust in judicial institutions and provincial councils.

Today, Iraq needs robust and functional accountability mechanisms and community reconciliation to recover from conflict and its associated societal traumas. For this aim, restoring public trust in the judiciary and justice system to hold perpetrators accountable of key importance.


Endemic corruption is one of the main threats to Iraq’s stability, alienating the population from its ruling elite and driving young people into a protest movement that demands radical change. In a recent poll, more than 80 % of Iraqi’s were concerned, or very concerned, about corruption at the highest levels of government and the population perceive it to be getting worse. In Kurdistan, over 90% say that corruption is getting worse. Corruption among senior politicians and civil servants is systematically undermining trust in the government and destroys the legitimacy of leaders.

Transparency International (TI) scored Iraq on rank 162 out of 180 in 2019. This was a rise of six ranks compared to 2018 and Iraq is now on the same level as Cambodia and Chad. Further, Iraq was ranked by TI as the fourth most corrupt country in the Middle East, only better off than Syria, Yemen and Libya. For comparison, the three countries better than Iraq was Iran (146), Lebanon (137) and Egypt (106).

However, until now, political corruption has been primarily treated as an individual crime. Little recognition is given to corruption as primarily driven forward by the structure of the political system and the role that Iraq’s political parties play in it.

Public Financial Management

A recent survey from NDI reveals that the lack of financial stability is one of the main concerns among the population, and this sparks frustration and conflict. Enhancing public financial management is crucial for building the efficiency and effectiveness of state services and the situation in Iraq is no exception. Additionally, it is crucial to ensure accountability in the management of public resources. Weak public financial management increases the risk of mismanagement of resources and opportunities. In Iraq, formal channels by which public finance and procurement processes are managed hides the processes through which resources are raised and spent. Such parallel processes are unclear and difficult to change, especially as they tend to shift power from the state to other actors. This keeps a vicious cycle of a weak, unreliable and opaque public financial management system. 

Human Rights Violations

Human rights violations are common in Iraq. Security forces are accused of detaining suspects without court order, arrest warrant, or any other justification of arrest. Authorities are accused of violating the process for detainees to see a judge within 24 hours, to have access to a lawyer throughout interrogations or to have families notified of their detention. Detainees have witnessed torture in prisons, in some cases leading to death. Courts sentence individuals convicted of terrorism-related offences to death, frequently after questionable trials that reportedly rely on torture-tainted evidence.

Iraqi families with perceived ISIS affiliation because of their family name, tribal affiliation, or area of origin, have been denied security clearances required to obtain identity documentation or other civil documentation. This has impacted their freedom of movement, right to education, right to work, and right to apply for welfare benefits and obtain birth and death certificates. Although numerous ethnic and religious minority groups are living in Iraq, the government does not guarantee equal treatment and access to public services.  

Gender Inequality

Over recent decades, the rights of Iraqi women have been significantly weakened, and their parity with men has suffered setbacks in a number of areas. However, demands for increased gender equality are increasing.  While the legal position of women was relatively strong compared with other countries in the region and Iraqi women have traditionally taken part in society through education, labour and politics, this reality has now receded. The influence of women started to decline in the 1980s with Saddam Hussein. Women empowerment’s main constraints are largely economic, social, and cultural, driven by sectarian, ethnic and family-related boundaries. Harassment, domestic and sexual violence are constantly reported, and women have few legal frameworks that could be used to protect their rights. Iraq’s criminal code includes criminalizing physical assault but lacks any explicit mention of domestic violence, and even when sexual assault can be criminalized, it does not apply in a marriage. Donors need to not only focus on women, but also to steer gender programming to male roles and unpack traditional gender roles through for example public awareness campaigns.

Weak territorial integrity

Iraq has historically been a battleground in regional power struggles, and this is continuously reflected in its domestic political dynamics with a multiplicity of armed groups with ties to neighbouring states. While many areas of Iraq continue to be relatively secure, pockets of violence exist where armed groups continue to be active. PMU armed groups are operating and fighting in parallel with national security forces, and the myriad of security actors are undercutting state monopoly of violence and state legitimacy. This further leads to incoherent national defence and weak territorial control and integrity.

In addition, Iraqi provinces have a large margin for self-control and a legal right to create autonomous regions. One example of such a region is Kurdistan with its own judiciary, parliament and security forces, located in northern Iraq. In addition, Shia-dominated south has been demanding the right for an autonomous southern region, even though this is facing resistance from other opposing groups. With increased regional tendencies for autonomous rule along sectarian, ethnic and nationalistic lines, the State’s backbone risks further weakness and disintegration, increasing insecurity and lack of access to public services including justice by the population.

Tackling those sensitive challenges in a country like Iraq requires the presence and vested interest of regional, internal and local powers. This today is the biggest challenge Iraq is facing for its State-building and reform processes.

[1] Popular Mobilization Units (also known as Hash’d al Shaabi) are an umbrella organization consisting of more than 50 different militias with ties to the government, performing along the lines of national security forces.

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DCAF-ISSAT Iraq SSR Country Backgrounder

Case Study