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Developing the security and justice sectors

Blog series: justice and peace

This series of blogs explores ways to include a much broader array of actors in the process of building peace and justice.

Security and access to justice are basic rights. However, efforts to develop a country’s security and justice sectors must take into account the needs of local people, not just those of the state. 

Security and access to justice are basic rights and part of a dignified human life, just as important as other areas of development, such as health or education.

However, in many countries, especially those emerging from violent conflict, the institutions and organisations that make up the state/formal security and justice sectors (such as the police, armed forces and judiciary) are often either unwilling and/or unable to provide people with adequate services. Parliaments, civil society groups and the media may also struggle to provide effective oversight and ensure accountability. In some cases, security and justice institutions may even be abusive, corrupt or used to serve the interests of political elites. This is worrying as we know that where security and access to justice are not available equally to all, grievances may develop that can lead to violence.

Sadly responses too often attempt to ‘control’ or ‘stabilise’ insecure environments through force or purely technical interventions. Yet in most cases a narrow security response ignores the nuances of each context, and fails to take into account opportunities for more constructive relationship building efforts that can help address root causes of people’s insecurity rather than the violent symptoms. Most importantly, it runs anathema to people’s actual human security needs. Building the state instruments of security and justice without public consultation risks merely securitising systems of power and resources and entrenching inequalities – with potentially violent repercussions.

Therefore Saferworld takes a much broader perspective, one that focuses on people’s experiences of insecurity and injustice. This people-centred approach moves beyond just addressing immediate threats of violence and instead recognises that more traditionally developmental issues – such as access to adequate food, health, employment, education and housing – must also be discussed and provided if peace is to have a chance of being sustainable.

We have seen from our community security work in Bangladesh, Nepal, Kenya and elsewhere that providing spaces for whole communities and their security providers to discuss the full breadth of these issues can build the sort of mutually beneficial relationships that can prevent violence and contribute to people’s lived experiences of being free from fear, free from want and ultimately safer.

We also know through our long experience of working with police services in the UK and Northern Ireland, the Kyrgyz Republic, Georgia, Nepal and elsewhere that increasing their capacity to identify and respond to people’s security needs in a timely, transparent and accountable manner is critical to building partnerships with communities that can in turn encourage better state–society relations. We know that without ongoing security and common adherence to fair and agreed upon laws, it is difficult for other development efforts to take root and flourish.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and World Development Report (2011) agree that successful transitions to peace have rarely been achieved without prioritising justice, because accessible, accountable and context-specific justice systems that uphold the rule of law are important factors contributing to state legitimacy and post-conflict recovery. Yet despite this, in practice there is often an unhealthy trade-off between peace (which can be more immediately prioritised) and justice that risks leaving grievances unaddressed and jeopardising long-term stability.

This trade-off also ignores the reality that the meaning of ‘justice’ encompasses larger questions beyond legal systems, courts and prisons. In many conflict-affected contexts, broader notions of social justice such as equal livelihood opportunities, tax justice, environmental justice, land tenure or addressing legacies of war are vital elements of any post-conflict settlement or social contract. For many, the normative view of justice as a set of laws to be upheld at any cost is at odds with the complexities and varieties of each nation’s social, cultural, legal and economic processes. It also ignores the different capabilities to implement and enforce normative justice.

Therefore Saferworld attempts to strengthen people’s access to and experience of justice not only by developingthe service delivery and capacity of institutions but also by engaging with and addressing people’s everyday experiences of injustice, marginalisation and exclusion that lie at the roots of conflict. We strive for a maximal approach to peace and justice that helps the communities we work with to tackle the more significant challenge of building just and fair societies – framed around the vision of justice that communities and people affected by conflict themselves espouse.

This contextual approach is designed to ensure conflict sensitive interventions, of which a significant aspect is gender sensitivity. Security and justice mechanisms cannot hope to contribute to lasting peace without a deep appreciation of how different genders experience their absence – as shown by our gender, peace and security research in Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

Saferworld works on security and justice in a number of ways. We work directly with governments, security and justice providers, national civil society groups and donors to promote security and justice sectors that are effective, accountable and responsive to the needs of the most vulnerable in society.

We conduct research into public perceptions of security and justice-related issues, for example in Bangladesh, and then work with security providers to ensure that these perspectives constructively inform policy and practice.

In the Caucasus we are supporting community members to identify, articulate and address their security needs, working together with relevant authorities – and we advocate this people-centred approach to security internationally.

We help international actors to understand the specific challenges of building security in post-conflict settings and the need to avoid a ‘one-size fits all’ approach. As part of this we provide advice on technical issues such as the appropriate monitoring and evaluation of security and justice interventions.

We also highlight the different needs and roles of men and women in security and justice systems and provide recommendations on the implications for different actors. For instance, in Nepal we researched the different concerns and needs of male and female Maoist Army combatants as they return to civilian life, with some of the recommendations being adopted by the government.

This list of resources will be expanded. Items listed here do not necessarily represent the views of Saferworld.

  • The Governance and Social Development Resource Centre is an online resource funded by the UK and Australian governments. It provides topic guides and research on a number of themes relevant to security and justice.
  • The Security Sector Reform Resource Centre is run by the Canadian think tank, the Centre for International Governance Innovation. It publishes papers and research on security sector reform.
  • The UK Government’s Stabilisation Unit has a Security and Justice Group that advises on UK Security and Justice policy. The Stabilisation Unit’s  website also has thematic resources on security and justice issues.
  • The Swiss-based foundation DCAF (formerly, Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces) works to ‘enhance security sector governance through security sector reform’. Its website has details of all its programmes and research.
  • DCAF also run the International Security Sector Advisory Team which provides operational support to those involved in security and justice reform.
  • Cranfield University’s Centre for Security Sector Management runs courses, produces research and policy, and publishes the journal of security sector management.
  • The UK Department for International Development and Birmingham University ran the Global Facilitation Network for Security Sector Reform – although the site is now inactive as DFID reorganises all its security and justice-related content, it still provides access to all materials produced up until October 2010.
  • The Security and Justice Research Programme at the London School of Economics conducts research on security, justice and governance in fragile and conflict-affected situations.

more features

"Everything can be tolerated – except injustice."

Based on research carried out in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, this report looks at the links between injustice and violence in the country.