Implementing Effective Justice and Security Sector Assistance in Conflict-Affected Areas


Washington, DC

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Stabilization is a political endeavor involving an integrated civilian-military process to create conditions where locally-legitimate authorities and systems can peaceably manage conflict and prevent a resurgence of violence. Interventions within the justice and security sectors, especially within fragile or post-conflict states, are not neutral. Evidence from large-scale interventions like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, to smaller security sector reform efforts in places like Guatemala, demonstrate there can be many unintended consequences from assistance programming, resulting in a waste of resources and effort or worse, contributing to the potential for further conflict. This growing realization has led to the development of practices framed as conflict-sensitive approaches to assistance to better attune practitioners to the relationship between programming and conflict in a variety of areas, including in the justice and security sectors.

The recently completed interagency Stabilization Assistance Review (SAR) sets forward a framework for maximizing U.S. Government (USG) efforts to stabilize conflict-affected areas, moving away from large-scale reconstruction efforts in favor of more measured, politically-sensitive, and adaptable ways of reducing violent conflict. As part of the SAR implementation plan, a key area for development guidance is a thorough examination of how the United States seeks to tailor justice and security sector assistance in fragile and post-conflict environments.

Comprised of experts representing the U.S. Government, civil society, and a variety of nongovernmental organizations, this closed-door, invitation-only symposium sought to inform both pragmatic and substantive guidance for the benefit of the U.S. Government in four critical areas of concern for justice and security sector development among fragile and post-conflict states: (1) providing basic security for civilians; (2) increasing local access to justice and dispute resolution; (3) fostering transitional justice to build confidence in the rule of law; and (4) establishing a legitimate state monopoly over the means of violence/enhancing security and the rule of law. Participants engaged in discussion groups and provided feedback based on their experiences.

To accomplish this task, on the first day, the symposium included both plenary discussions to frame the discourse and working group sessions divided into the four areas of crucial concern identified above. The working groups were divided to ensure that recommendations were targeted to the specific needs of the different areas of concern, but each attempted to explore case studies and seek to draw on lessons learned. Invited participants also addressed both fundamental programmatic considerations germane to conflict-affected situations and how to conduct justice and security sector assistance with a conflict-sensitive approach. On the second day, U.S. Government representatives discussed the recommendations and conclusions from the day before, synthesizing the information for the benefit of informing the U.S. Government in its attempts to effectively craft strategic guidance for justice and security sector assistance in conflict-affected environments.

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