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Security sector reform

  • UNAMID police officer interacts with children at the school of El Sereif camp for Internally Displaced Persons in Nyala.
    UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran
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.

Security Sector Reform (SSR) is a core element of multidimensional peacekeeping and peacebuilding, essential for addressing the roots of conflict and building the foundations of long-term peace and development. 

The aim of UN assistance to SSR is to help ensure people are safer through effective and accountable security institutions, that operate under civilian control within a framework of the rule of law and human rights. The Secretary-General laid out in a 2013 report his vision for strengthening UN support to SSR.

The UN Security Council has also affirmed that SSR in post-conflict environments is critical to the consolidation of peace and stability, promoting poverty reduction, rule of law and good governance, extending legitimate state authority, and preventing countries from relapsing into conflict.The political leadership and political will of national authorities are critical for the progress of security sector reform.

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.

Security Council resolution

UN Security Council resolution 2151 was unanimously adopted on 28 April 2014 and is the first stand-alone resolution on SSR. The landmark document reaffirms the centrality of SSR to peace operations and contains clear operational recommendations to Member States and the UN system. The resolution underlines:

  • Centrality of national ownership;
  • The need for integrated and coherent support to national SSR efforts, including through senior leadership;
  • Importance of both sector-wide and component-level assistance;
  • Concept of SSR as both a technical and political process.

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. 
Since 2007, DPKO has focused on supporting those efforts at the strategic level and in a holistic way, across all components. 
DPKO’s Security Sector Reform Unit (SSRU), part of the Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions, is the SSR focal point and technical capacity for the UN system as well as for national and international partners. The unit has responsibility for:

  • Providing political, strategic and technical assistance to peace operations involved in supporting national SSR efforts;
  • Supporting senior UN leaders to ensure SSR is integrated in to the UN’s overall work;
  • Acting as a global centre of excellence through the development of guidance and international norms;
  • Developing SSR partnerships for the UN.

Peace operations with an SSR mandate include:

In the field, peace operations support national authorities to:

  • Facilitate national SSR dialogue;
  • Develop national security policies, strategies and plans;
  • Strengthen oversight, management and coordination capacities;
  • Articulate security sector legislation;
  • Mobilise resources for SSR-related projects;
  • Harmonise international support to SSR;
  • Training and build institutional capacity;
  • Monitor and evaluate programmes and results;
  • Undertake SSR public expenditure reviews in cooperation with the World Bank;
  • Undertake reforms of specific security sector components, such as defence, policing, border security and management.

Delivering as one UN

In 2007, the Secretary-General established an Inter-Agency SSR Task Force (IASSRTF). 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. The Task Force has both operational and policy development mandates.

The IASSRTF is co-chaired by DPKO and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and incorporates 14 UN entities engaged in SSR. SSRU acts as the Secretariat of the IASSRTF, coordinating the development and implementation of the IASSRTF’s work plan. SSRU  leads numerous IASSRTF projects, including those in the areas of field support, guidance, partnerships and the UN Roster of SSR Experts.

The IASSRTF developed Security Sector Reform Integrated Technical Guidance Notes on national security policy- and strategy-making, gender, democratic governance, peace processes, national ownership, and transnational organised crime to assist SSR practitioners and better understanding of SSR by interested stakeholders.