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Improving reintegration of former combatants

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Improving reintegration of former combatants

African experiences help UN ‘refine’ disarmament efforts
Africa Renewal
From Africa Renewal: 
UN / Marie Frechon

Through its peacekeeping operations, the UN has helped disarm and return to civilian life some 400,000 former combatants over the past five years alone. Many have been in Africa, including more than 72,000 in Sierra Leone, 100,000 in Liberia and 28,000 in Burundi. Some 126,000 are in the process of being demobilized in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Ensuring that such ex-fighters do not again take up arms is “critical for the stabilization of post-conflict situations,” then UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown emphasized in December, when the UN launched its new Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Standards.

“By refining our approach to DDR,” said Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guéhenno, “we can better help each ex-combatant to ultimately reintegrate into society.” The aim, he said, is to have them “go from being a cause of insecurity to a force for growing stability.”

In contrast to the ad hoc disarmament and reintegration efforts that marked many early peacekeeping operations, the new standards seek to foster a comprehensive approach. They provide detailed policies, guidelines and procedures for carrying out DDR, from planning and design through mainstreaming HIV/AIDS, gender and youth. To ensure easy access worldwide, the standards and many related documents have been posted on the Web (

From Freetown to Kinshasa

In developing the new standards, 14 UN departments and agencies pooled their expertise and drew on the lessons of more than a decade-and-a-half of DDR programmes around the world. African experiences featured prominently in that undertaking, not only because of the number of peacekeeping missions on the continent, but also as a result of an African-led initiative to approach disarmament and reintegration more systematically.

In June 2005, the government of Sierra Leone and the UN Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA) organized in Freetown an international conference on DDR and stability in Africa.

Although experts from donor countries and international and regional organizations also took part, the event highlighted the work of delegations from 15 African countries, which included government officials, current and former members of national DDR commissions and peacekeeping missions, beneficiaries of DDR programmes, members of armed forces and representatives of women’s associations, civil society groups and communities hosting ex-combatants.

By comparing the successes and failures of earlier DDR programmes in Africa, the participants pinpointed a number of key recommendations. Those included emphasizing national ownership, paying special attention to the needs of child and women combatants, adopting a regional perspective and ensuring that the reintegration of ex-fighters is closely linked to long-term post-war economic and social development plans (see Africa Renewal, October 2005). Most of those recommendations were subsequently incorporated into the integrated DDR standards, Sierra Leone’s UN Ambassador Joe Pemagbi observed at the December launch.

A second conference on DDR in Africa, to be held in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on 12–14 June, will help promote the standards and provide another occasion for Africans to draw lessons from their own experiences. Organized by OSAA and the newly elected Congolese government, the conference will focus in particular on the complexities of carrying out DDR operations in Africa’s Great Lakes region, which is struggling to emerge from more than a decade of war.