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Security sector reform

It is essential that reform of a country’s security sector takes place once a conflict has come to an end. It is vital for sustainable peace and development that people feel safe and secure, and have confidence in their State.

Men standing in a line near a fence with an armed soldier in the foreground.

Ralph Blok/UN Photo

A soldier protecting voters in Southern Sudan during the January 2011 referendum.

The United Nations supports security sector reform (SSR) to ensure the development of effective, efficient, affordable and accountable security institutions.

SSR aims to enhance effective and accountable security for the State and its peoples. SSR transforms institutions to make them more professional and more accountable. It is a process led by national authorities and the reform should be undertaken without discrimination and with full respect for human rights and the rule of law.

What are security sectors?

No single model of a security sector exists. However, the UN considers that security sectors usually include structures, institutions and personnel responsible for the management, provision and oversight of security. These could include defence, law enforcement, corrections, intelligence services and institutions responsible for border management, customs and civil emergencies. In some cases, elements of the judicial sector responsible for cases of alleged criminal conduct and misuse of force are included. The security sector should also include management and oversight bodies and, in some instances, may involve informal or traditional security providers.

Restoring confidence

The reform of a country’s security sector is essential in post-conflict contexts. In those settings, making people feel safe and secure and (re)-building confidence between the State and its peoples is vital for sustainable peace and development. In other contexts, SSR can even prevent conflicts or crises from emerging or resurging and it is also a process that many States undertake on a regular basis to respond to emerging threats or potential internal or external pressures.

How does UN Peacekeeping help?

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has been assisting in the reform of individual components of the security sector, such as police services, for decades. However, it is only recently that DPKO has started supporting those efforts at the strategic level and in a holistic way, across all components.

DPKO has an SSR  Unit in UN Headquarters that supports various peacekeeping and special political missions:

In the field, our teams support national authorities to:

  • facilitate national SSR dialogues
  • develop national security and defence policies, strategies and plans
  • strengthen oversight, management and coordination capacities
  • articulate security sector legislation
  • mobilize resources for SSR-related projects
  • harmonize international support to SSR
  • education, training and institutional building
  • monitor and evaluate programmes and results

Delivering as one UN

The Secretary-General established an Inter-Agency SSR Task Force that is co-chaired by DPKO and UNDP with representation from 11 UN entities engaged in SSR. The goal of the Task Force is to enhance the UN capacity to deliver more efficient and more effective support to national SSR efforts, as one. On behalf of the Task Force, the SSR Unit in DPKO manages a multi-year SSR programme of activities.

A key element of this programme focuses on regional approaches to SSR. Through consultations in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa, the Task Force has sought to learn from and enhance the SSR capacities of regional organizations. Consultations in Africa led to the development of a long-term strategic partnership on SSR between the African Union and the United Nations, which aims to support the African Union in the elaboration of a continent-wide SSR policy and build capacities for its implementation.