Successful Security Sector Reform (SSR) requires the buy-in of multiple actors and stakeholders. In government processes of SSR, civil society (CS) is often neglected. CS is an important and effective actor for SSR security as it supports reform and stability across sectors. By improving human rights, increasing dialogue, and dispersing a civil mentality, CS effectively stabilizes countries across the board.
While the efficacy of CS for SSR is different between countries, there are similar functions of CS across the cases. CS often works at the grass-roots level of communities, a niche role often not effectively utilized by governments or international programmes. The individual ties and cultural connections brought by local and international civil society organizations (CSOs) allow for the dissemination of important ideas and messages to individuals and the potential to open dialogues on security issues. Effectively, they are better at shifting cultures than states traditionally are. Additionally, CS and CSOs are commonly more suited for the local populations, allowing them to translate policy into local culture and norms through local networks. Using established domestic networks can avoid miscommunication, increase buy-in, and reach a fractured population.
The importance of including CS in SSR is evident in three cases. First, CS was a considerable factor in Morocco and continues to support gradual, positive reform in the country. Second, the lack of CS in the Palestinian Territories impedes SSR and the wider peace process in the Middle East. Lastly, Albania is an interesting case where CS is a potential source for much needed public support in the fight against endemic crime and corruption.
Morocco – A Success Story
Morocco has a troubled history. Previous authoritarian regimes kept the opposition in check through the threat of violence and disappearances, among many other abuses among the populous. However, since the 1990s, political reforms are progressively changing the country and rectifying past injustices, including many security-sector policies. Many of these reforms are in thanks to the efforts of domestic and international NGOs and their advocacy campaigns for human rights reforms. CS acts as a much needed mechanism for political critique and monitoring the abuse and/or corruption of security personnel, in addition to being an important venue for dialogue, political debates, and policy advice (For more, read this report from the Arab Reform Initiative) . CS and CSOs have become an important part of the security landscape for Morocco, ensuring that the SSR processes are in line with the demands of Moroccans and international laws and norms.
Palestine – A Mixed Message
The case of SSR in Palestine provides an interesting contrast to Morocco. CS in Palestine is weak and sidelined by conflict, political turmoil, and the politics du jour. Recent SSR efforts have been highly institutional: building police academies, equipping military and police personnel, and various training activities. Only a few SSR activities are outside of the military and police forces, which focus on the judiciary and penal systems to support counter-terrorist/counter-insurgency objectives. The security challenges in Palestine, including crime, insurgency, and others deteriorate due to wide-spread distrust and poor political buy-in. CS is an important intermediary that provides two-way communication and political dialogue. Increasing dialogue in post-conflict countries can help ameliorate these issues and go beyond the strict boundaries of existing institutions ‒ marginalized groups may target government institutions due to the state’s inability to include all political voices.
Albania – An Opportunity
CS may be a useful tool for Albania’s SSR future. Widespread corruption is a major impediment to any political reforms in Albania, including those targeted at reducing endemic organized crime. Dealing with such challenges requires a “whole of society” effort, with individuals believing in anti-corruption initiatives and willing to report corrupt activities. In a recent poll, CS was the second more trusted institution to fight corruption in Albania, only coming in second to the media. Considering the conclusions of a report from Transparency International’s Defence and Security Programme published last year, CS is a key institution for fighting corruption in the police and wider socio-political systems of a country. The groundwork for CS is ready, as the public believes in the efficacy of CS in this measure. What is necessary now for Albania is to support CS both financially and political in addition to including CS representation on SSR and Anti-Corruption initiatives.