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Security sector reform

Delivering security to its people is the sovereign right and responsibility of any government. But in fragile countries in particular, many women and men lack the protection their armed forces, police, border guards, customs and other officials should provide.

When security sectors perform poorly, societal trust – so necessary for sustained prosperity and well-being – remains elusive. What’s more: the often easily available weaponry facilitates acts of intimidation, abuse and worse. In those settings, serious violations of human rights are likely to occur, and cross-border conflict and civil war persist as immediate risks. Women are trapped in predatory environments. Vulnerable groups live in fear. Institutions erode. Investors are scared away. A few privileged reap the benefits of favouritism and repression, while development is denied to many.

The United Nations assists Member States to undertake security sector reform – to achieve effective and accountable security for the State and its citizens, without discrimination and with full respect for human rights and the rule of law.

We pursue a coordinated and comprehensive approach to security sector reform assistance across the spectrum of peacekeeping, peacebuilding and development settings, anchored in Security Council resolution 2553 (2020) 2151 (2014), and the 2012 Integrated Technical Guidance Note on Security Sector Reform.

Preventing conflict, sustaining peace, fostering development: Why security sector reform matters

Security sector reform – is an integral element of the United Nations sustaining peace and prevention agendas. It is both a preventive measure and a long-term development goal. 

The United Nations supports security sector reform not only in peace operations, but also in non-mission settings, in response to national requests, and in transition settings, where peace operations are withdrawing but where ongoing security sector assistance is needed. In societies emerging from conflict, security sector reform is a determining factor for the exit of a peacekeeping operation, early recovery, sustainable peacebuilding and longer-term development. 

The nexus between security and development is now widely acknowledged. The reform of the security sector, particularly in conflict-affected societies, creates an environment conducive to political and socio-economic growth. The joint United Nations-World Bank study, Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict, notes that “security and justice institutions that operate fairly and in alignment with the rule of law are essential to preventing violence and sustaining peace”.

Security sector reform at work

At the normative level, we 

  • Facilitate the establishment of widely shared principles on solid security sector governance
  • Elaborate policy and guidance about the practical implementation of security sector reform plans and programmes.  

At the operational level, the SSR field components in our Missions focus on

  • Advancing political solutions to conflict through mediation, advisory and technical support to the signatory parties of peace agreements on the implementation of SSR provisions
  • Strengthening national ownership and capacity to design and implement national security policies and strategies to enhance the effectiveness, inclusivity and accountability of security institutions contributing to the restoration and extension of state authority
  • Promoting the coherence and effectiveness of international assistance to the security sector through coordination of partners, mobilization of resources, and advisory support regarding national development and peacebuilding plans. 

Field components make sure to advance the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping initiative by fostering partnerships and delivering effective support to the reforms of the security sectors, as well as the UN’s Women, Peace and Security agenda by supporting national efforts to increase the representation of women at all levels of security and defence sectors.

Our ‘standing capacity’ based in Brindisi, Italy, provides a rapid response to demands from field presences and national authorities for security sector reform support.

Over the last ten years, the Security Council has issued security sector reform mandates that include a range of undertakings, including the promotion of national dialogue, enhancing civilian oversight and public financial management (Libya, Guinea-Bissau and Somalia), security sector governance, police reform, prison reform, defence sector reform (Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Libya), capacity building, establishment of national security coordination mechanisms (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Mali and Somalia), to more context-specific areas such as border management (Mali) or maritime security (Somalia), as well as cross-cutting issues, such as gender mainstreaming in the security sector.

Peace Operations and Special Political Missions with a security sector reform mandate

Building coalitions and partnerships on security sector reform 

The United Nations has an important role to play in ensuring that security sector reform processes are nationally-led and adequately coordinated. But the United Nations is neither the sole provider of assistance nor necessarily the best equipped in terms of capabilities. The legitimacy and effectiveness of the United Nations approach to security sector reform depends on the extent to which it is informed by, and responsive to, regional approaches. We partner with the African Union, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and sub-regional organizations to harmonize approaches and improve joint delivery of security sector reform assistance.

The United Nations also capitalizes on its partnership with the World Bank on public expenditure reviews as well as with civil society and expert organizations, including the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) and the International Security Sector Advisory Team.