Security Sector Reform

Topic Guide: Civil Society and Security

The term ‘civil society’ is often used with imprecision, but is generally understood to encompass areas of activity that take place outside of both the state and the market. It includes a wide range of actors through which citizens can articulate their views and priorities – including non-governmental organisations, grassroots organisations, professional organisations, religious groups, labour organisations and the media.

However, there is little substantive discussion or clear meaning behind how civil society actors can influence decisions on security and defence involving the military, police, intelligence services and judiciary.

Some argue that the role of civil society is little understood by the military and defence sectors, which have traditionally been resistant to public input. Others state that civil society doesn’t have either the necessary expertise or interest needed to provide an informed input into what is a uniquely specialised policy area. Therefore, a major objective of SSR is to make the sector more democratic and accountable to citizens and communities, and more responsive to their needs.

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A good place to start

Civil society can and should play an important role in encouraging the state to fulfil its responsibilities transparently and accountably. Civil society often seeks to influence policy, provide an alternative analysis and help educate and inform policy makers and the wider society. The range of functions include advocacy, education, informal oversight, independent monitoring, policy support and service delivery. Donors often espouse the importance of local ownership and civil society to SSR, but in many cases their policies actually impede deep and meaningful involvement.

Ball,N., 2006, ‘Civil Society Actors in Defence and Security Affairs’, in Civil Society and the Security Sector: Concepts and Practices in New Democracies, eds. Caparini,M., Fluri,P. & Molnar,F., DCAF, Geneva, Ch.4.

Why is civil society involvement important in SSR? Can civil society influence government accountability and policy formation? What are the challenges for civil society in promoting democratic security sector governance? Ball argues that the existence of unprofessional and unaccountable security forces derives from the failure to develop democratic systems. Possibilities for civil society involvement vary according to context and are dependent upon the overall state of democratic governance in that particular context. There are both internal and external challenges to civil society involvement in the security sector. Internal challenges include a lack of expertise and confidence or unwillingness to engage. External problems include government suspicion and donor policies that give inadequate attention to strengthening democratic governance.

Caparini,M. & Fluri,P., 2006, ‘Civil Society Actors in Defence and Security Affairs’, in Civil Society and the Security Sector: Concepts and Practices in New Democracies, eds. Caparini,M., Fluri,P. & Molnar,F., DCAF, Geneva, Ch.1.

What is civil society? How can it contribute to democratic governance of the security sector? This introductory chapter to the book ‘Civil Society and the Security Sector: Concepts and Practices in New Democracies’, explores these questions and provides an overview of subsequent chapters which explore the role of civil society (including the media) in post-communist Europe. It argues that civil society in post-communist Europe is still weak and has been hampered by both a lack of civil society interest in and expertise of security issues. Donor policies have hindered civil society involvement by pre-occupying themselves with legal frameworks, institutional reforms and direct security assistance.

The Role and Relevance of Civil Society to SSR in different contexts

Habasonda, L.M. 2002, ‘The military, civil society and democracy in Zambia: Prospects for the future’, in R. Williams, G. Cawthra & D. Abrahams, eds, Ourselves to Know: Civil-Military Relations and Defence Transformation in Southern Africa, Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria.

What potential and opportunities exist for substantive civil society engagement with the military in Zambia? How can civil society help ensure the democratisation of the military to civilian control? These questions are explored in this chapter of a book published by the Institute for Security Studies. Despite recent democratisation, civil society in Zambia has failed to take a leading role in the democratisation of the military. The institutional environment limits their participation in security matters, but civil society organisations themselves have little willingness to engage and seem content with viewing the military as a remote and distinct entity. The paper argues that civil society in Zambia has a vital role in: (1) collaborating on the defence policy and budget, and (2) exposing corruption, bad practice and abuses of power.

Caparini, M. 2005, ‘Enabling Civil Society in Security Sector Reconstruction’, in A. Bryden and H. Hänggi, eds, Security Governance in Post Conflict Peace Building, Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, Geneva.

What role does civil society have in reconstructing the security sector in post-conflict environments? What lessons can be learnt from Bosnia and Herzegovina? These questions are addressed in this paper, which is part of a paper by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF). Civil society in post-conflict environments remains insufficiently involved and underused. The extent of civil society’s influence depends on the nature of the state: civil society can fulfil its roles within an intact and functioning state but is severely limited in post-conflict environments where the state has collapsed. Bosnia and Herzegovina is notable for the interventionist approach to peace-building taken by the international community. This has resulted in a situation where non-governmental organisations have been more responsive to donor priorities than their own constituencies. The paper states that sustainability of civil society organisations can only be ensured if they reflect the interests of and are accountable to their constituencies.

Role of media

The media is an integral part of civil society and has a vital role to play in enabling society to scrutinise security related decisions. However, as yet, the role and agency of the media in different contexts has been the subject of little research.

Jurisin, P. 2003, ‘Security and Media’, Paper presented at Security Sector Reform and Media: A regional conference on defence and the freedom of information, Belgrade, November 14-15th 2003.

Has democratisation in Croatia improved transparency and accountability in issues of defence reform? What sort of relationship exists between the security establishment and the media? These questions are explored in this paper presented during a conference organised by DCAF, medianhilfe Switzerland in co-operation with the Centre for Civil-Military Relations in Belgrade. It argues that a history of non-transparency during the communist rule has had an impact on contemporary media-military relations. Progress has been made since secession in the early 1990’s and freedom of information and association is now widely recognised. However, certain military related issues, such as army budgets and the costs of entrance into NATO, remain closed to public scrutiny. The media is also failing on its part to provide analysis and inform the public of key issues relating to defence reform.

Community based and participatory approaches to security reform

Participatory approaches are designed as bottom-up processes where local communities undertake research themselves, identify priorities for action and are then involved in addressing their own local problems. Such approaches are popular amongst the development community as a means of empowering communities and generating local ownership. As yet, they haven’t been prevalent in the security sphere, but there are some emerging examples of bottom-up and grassroots approaches to SSR.

SEESAC, 2007, ‘Philosophy and Principles of Community Based Policing (3rd edition)’, South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, Belgrade

Before the political upheaval of the 1990s, police forces in the former Yugoslavia and Albania were centralised and repressive components of the state apparatus. Since then, various initiatives have been undertaken to address the numerous problems of police forces in the region. This has provided an opportunity to introduce community based policing (CBP). This policy document aims to set out the principles and key issues of undertaking successful CBP. It emphasises the importance of a strategic management process in undertaking CBP and, based on this, outlines a ‘model’ for CBP.

Muggah, R. 2005, ‘Listening for Change: Participatory evaluations of DDR and Arms Reduction in Mali, Cambodia and Albania’, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, Geneva.

How should the success of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) schemes be measured? How can participatory methods shed light on the security concerns of people affected by the spread and misuse of arms? This report summarises the findings of a research project undertaken to explore the applicability of participatory approaches to weapons collection activities in Mali, Cambodia and Albania. It argues that approaches to designing and evaluating DDR schemes are often top-down and externally derived from local communities. Participatory monitoring and evaluation involved local communities in all elements of the process and can help define indicators of success that reflect the security aspirations of beneficiaries.

Vulnerable Groups, Hidden Voices and Gender Aware approaches to Security Reform

Security is cited as a priority concern by the poorest and most marginalised. Insecurity affects these groups in unique ways, and security decisions are often taken without prior consideration of their particular needs and priorities. In particular, very few women (and organisations representing women’s interests) enter into debates and discussions surrounding the security sector. The security sector affects women and children in different ways, particularly when public security diminishes and security forces become predatory. It is therefore imperative that SSR attends to the security needs of the most vulnerable groups in society, including women, children, indigenous groups and other communities who are discriminated against or socially or politically excluded.

Narayan, D., Chambers, R., Shah, M. and Petesch, P. 2000, ‘Voices of the Poor: Crying Out for Change’, Oxford University Press for the World Bank, Oxford.

According to this major World Bank study, insecurity and vulnerability are priority concerns of the poor. The study used participatory methods to gather the views, experiences, and aspirations of more than 60,000 poor men and women from 60 countries. It identifies that poor people, particularly women and children, consider persecution by the police and lack of justice, and civil conflict and war as key sources of insecurity. Insecurity has a profound impact on well-being; it disrupts lives and can ultimately have detrimental impacts on livelihood and survival strategies of the poor.

Full text available here.

Nathan, L. 2007, ‘No Ownership, No Commitment: A Guide to Local Ownership’, Global Facilitation Network for Security Sector Reform, Birmingham.

This book, aims to contribute to operationalising donor countries’ policy commitments to local ownership of SRR. Chapter 5 focuses on citizens and vulnerable groups as the primary beneficiaries of SSR. It argues that the security sector tends to be much less responsive and people-centred than other sectors of the state. Even when such conditions for a functioning civil society are favourable, vulnerable groups lack the organisational means to influence and are often neglected in the government’s security priorities. The chapter proposes a number of strategies to ensure that SSR meets the needs of vulnerable groups, including ‘local security survey’ templates to help identify and address the security needs of poor communities.

– Chapter 5: ‘The Beneficiaries of SSR: Citizens and Vulnerable Groups’ is
particularly relevant.

Farr, V.A. 2004, ‘Voices from the margins’, in Security Sector Reform: Potentials and Challenges for Conflict Transformation, Berghof Dialogue Series No.2, eds C. McCartney, M. Fischer and O. Wils, Berghof Research Centre for Constructive Conflict Management, Berlin.

What role have vulnerable sections of society played in developing the concept of SSR? How can proponents of SSR ensure that the voices and opinions of women and the ‘dispossessed’ are heard and acted upon? These questions are explored in this paper, which is part of the Berghof Handbook Dialogue Series. Violence against women (particularly domestic violence) and the insecurity it promotes is drastically under-scrutinised in discussions about the security sector. This is despite the fact that non-mainstream voices have played a key role in challenging, shaping and expanding our collective understanding of security. An in-depth assessment of SSR is impossible without gaining access to the insights of those who are socially excluded – most of whom have little or no access to decision-making bodies. The paper offers suggestions for addressing this situation.

– Full text for ‘Voices from the margins’ avilable here.

– Summary and full text for ‘Security Sector Reform: Potentials and Challenges for Conflict Transformation’ available here.

International Alert and Women Waging Peace, 2004, ‘Inclusive Security, Sustainable Peace: A Toolkit for Advocacy and Action’, International Alert. London.

This toolkit from Women Waging Peace and International Alert aims to be a resource for women peace builders. It outlines the components of peace building from conflict prevention to post-conflict reconstruction and highlights the role that women play in each of these. Section Three focuses on the role of women in security, how they can contribute and the international policies that exist to promote their inclusion. Examples are provided of how women can contribute to SSR through their involvement in the security forces, parliament, government and civil society.

Naranghi Anderlini, S. 2004, ‘Negotiating the Transition to Democracy and Reforming to Security Sector: The Vital Contributions of South African Women’, Hunt Alternatives Fund, Washington DC.

This paper from Women Waging Peace explores how women have helped shape the post-apartheid security sector in South Africa. Women in their various roles as academics, activists, ANC members and cadres, and grassroots civil society actors, have helped shape and articulate a broad and inclusive vision of security for National Security Review. It was largely due to the insistence of women that the Review was undertaken as a nationwide consultative process, effectively democratising the debate and enabling citizens to articulate their own security concerns. The paper identifies several strategies issued by the South African Ministry of Defence to promote the inclusion of women in the security sector.