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Post-conflict peacebuilding: Role of security sector reform

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Post-conflict societies face numerous peacebuilding challenges to get back on their feet. The challenges include disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of forces, organization of elections, protection and promotion of human rights, resettling refugees and displaced persons, security sector reform, and fostering national reconciliation.

This piece explores the vital role of security sector reform in post-conflict situations. Indeed, the United Nations deems security sector reform so important that the process has become an integral part of contemporary United Nations peacebuilding and political missions.

The security sector includes the structures, institutions and the personnel responsible for the security of the state and its people. It includes military, police, intelligence and judicial services and the institutions (often referred to as line or parent ministries) responsible for the management and oversight of these services, such as the ministries or departments of defence, immigration, internal affairs and the responsible legislative bodies.

Security sector reform aims to enhance the effectiveness and accountability of the security services to the state and the people; without discrimination and with full respect for human rights and the rule of law, thereby laying the foundation for peacebuilding and development.

In order for the security sector to be an effective peacebuilding, and indeed a peace maintenance tool, it needs to be as representative of the state’s people as possible.

Although not referred to in those days as ‘security sector reform,’ the newly independent states of southern Africa at the end of the last millennia – Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa – in fact carried out security sector reform. They integrated the erstwhile opposing forces from the liberation movements and the formerly white-controlled national security sectors and were thus able to decolonize relatively peacefully.

Northern Ireland is another example where security sector reform has been at work. The ‘reform’ of the Royal Ulster Constabulary entailed not only changing the name of force to the Police Service of Northern Ireland but also ensuring that its ranks reflect a society composed of both protestant Unionists and Catholics.

Nowhere has the importance and need for security sector reform been better demonstrated than in Iraq and in the events surrounding the Arab Spring. In the majority of instances, the general populace has been worse off in terms of security in the post-conflict environment than prior to the conflicts, as new ascendants to power have simply reversed the old security sector structures.

The original of the article was first published in the Peacebuiding Post, the newsletter of the Alliance for Peacebuilding.

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