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Security System Reform (SSR)



1. Overview Retour à la table des matières


SSR is a cooperation policy aimed at helping States to improve their governance in the security field. In view of the growing number of armed conflicts and the situation of fragile states, security system reform (SSR) makes a decisive contribution to strengthening the rule of law and institutional stability. SSR falls within the realm of governance reform. It aims to strengthen respect for the rule of law, human rights and democratic standards on the part of all security players. SSR takes into account the context of each specific country and the requirements expressed by the governments and their institutions responsible for security.

RSS is a concept that is widely recognized by the international community and is an essential factor in conflict prevention and resolution. It directly contributes to creating a development and reconstruction-friendly environment.

Who are the actors involved?

- Actors in the security field: the police, gendarmerie, armed forces, paramilitary forces, presidential guard, civilian and military intelligence services, coast guards, border guards, customs authorities, reserve units, civil defense forces.

- Judicial institutions and bodies responsible for the law and its enforcement: courts, public prosecutors’ offices, lawyers, bar associations, ministries of justice, prisons, ombudsmen, human rights committees, national reconciliation or dialogue councils, representatives of customary and traditional justice.

- Supervisory bodies: such as parliaments and their finance, defense and parliamentary investigation committees.

- Bodies responsible for the management and oversight of the professional conduct of actors in the security field: the executive, national defense advisory bodies, ministries of defense and the interior, financial management bodies (ministries of finance, budget authorities, treasuries, courts of accounts), inspection departments, independent authorities (ombudsmen, human rights and professional conduct committees).

- Bodies informing public opinion: the media, civil society organizations.

SSR requires strong political commitment by the authorities of the country in which it is implemented:

SSR can help prevent a political crisis, reconstruct a state or strengthen it, depending on when this process occurs. It involves long-term structural reforms to achieve the lasting stability of a country. In addition to the State, it also impacts all political forces and civil society.

This complex reform process can only be undertaken at the request of the partner country and on the basis of a long-term commitment. A partner country planning to launch an SSR process has to be prepared to undertake extensive work in order to define its needs. There is therefore no single SSR model that can be applied everywhere. Implementing SSR requires the partner country to have institutions whose legitimacy is not disputed and on which the reform process can rely.

2. SSR and international organizations Retour à la table des matières


Within the framework of the United Nations

The United Nations has conducted security system reform actions for many years through its peacekeeping operations (PKOs) and UNDP programs.

In a presidential statement on 12 July 2005, the Security Council stated for the first time that SSR is an essential element of the stabilization process in post-conflict environments. In its annual report adopted in February 2006, the General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations highlighted the importance of SSR in peacekeeping and asked the Secretariat to turn its attention to best practices in this field.

At the Security Council’s request, on 23 January 2008 the United Nations Secretary-General submitted a report on the UN’s approach to security system reform entitled “Securing peace and development: the role of the United Nations in supporting security sector reform.” It outlines the basic SSR principles, calls for the approach of the United Nations to be consistent and highlights the importance of partnerships with regional organizations, in particular the European Union.

The United Nations Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) has likewise made SSR central to its activity, as can be seen in the working guidelines laid down for the five countries currently on its agenda (Burundi, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, the Central African Republic and Liberia).

Within the European Union

The European Security Strategy adopted by the European Council in 2003 advocates enhancing the EU’s role in security sector reform. Since then, the European Union has continuously made SSR one of its priorities as reflected by its Communication entitled “A Concept for European Community Support for Security Sector Reform” published in May 2006.

The EU’s activity is directed towards the reform of the sectors of defense, police, justice and the rule of law, parliamentary cooperation, border and customs reinforcement, and the implementation of the principles of democratic governance, including with regard to financial matters.

The EU has implemented its SSR strategy through several ESDP missions (in DRC and in Guinea-Bissau). However, much remains to be done, notably in terms of training and institutional steering. There is in fact a real need to better coordinate the activity of the Member States in these areas and to encourage them to lend their expertise to the programs.

Within the framework of the OECD

Through its working group on Conflict, Peace and Development Cooperation (CPDC), the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) has drawn up the key principles of SSR based on the guidelines defined by the States. These were subsequently translated into concrete action proposals in the “Handbook on Security Justice Reform: Supporting Security and Justice,” the principles of which were approved at a DAC ministerial meeting in April 2007.

Within the framework of NATO

Without having a doctrine on the subject as such, NATO also contributes to security system reform within the framework of its field operations (Balkans and Afghanistan) and its cooperation and defense programs.

3. France and SSR Retour à la table des matières


Main guidelines

France’s approach to SSR draws upon the following three internationally-recognized basic principles:

- Legitimizing and re-establishing the rule of law, in observance of human rights;

- Establishing civilian and military security forces which are effective, well-trained and accountable to civilian authorities;

- Creating institutions responsible for the management and democratic oversight of security actors. In order to encourage ownership of the reform, local and regional know-how are promoted whenever possible.

Each of these principles is tailored to certain areas of action according to the various actors in the field of security. The objective of these actions is to contribute to:

— Establishing security forces (armed forces, gendarmerie, police etc.) that can accomplish the tasks assigned to them while respecting democratic standards, the principles of good governance and the rule of law.

— Defining the internal security role of civilian and military security forces and ensuring that they are integrated transparently into the administrative and financial organization of the State.

— Structuring civilian oversight bodies (parliament, independent authorities, media, civil society) so that they can fulfill their prerogatives regarding accountability, access to information, transparency and overseeing the security sector as a whole.

— Restoring a competent, independent, accessible justice system whose legitimacy is recognized by the population.

— Establishing a professional demilitarized prison system under civilian control and in compliance with international standards, particularly with respect to human rights.

— Guaranteeing the transparent management of public finances, notably by identifying and limiting the budgets of actors directly or indirectly involved in security.

— Developing controls at land and maritime borders that respect the safety and security of the people and ensure regional stability while fostering trade and development.

— Ensuring the impartiality, professionalism and ethical behavior of civilian and military intelligence services, whose mandates must be clearly defined.


Recent French experiences

- In Europe

Since 1999, France has helped established security institutions, which have progressively gained authority, within the framework of UNMIK (UN Mission in Kosovo). The European Union mission EULEX Kosovo, deployed in April 2008 under French leadership, is responsible for the civilian aspects of SSR.

- In Afghanistan


French volunteer organizations are heavily involved in the reconstruction of Afghan institutions through several types of activities:

- Military cooperation undertaken by the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the Ministry of Defense.

- Cooperation on domestic security through cooperative policing projects undertaken since 2003 by the Ministry of the Interior.

- Cooperation in rebuilding the rule of law: the courts, Parliament, prison system, consolidation of the legal system, support for legal personnel (judges, attorneys).

- In Africa

* The Sahel-Saharan region

During the period of 2009-2012, the project known as JUSSEC (“Justice and security in the Sahel-Saharan Region”) is working to build government capacity in the region (Mali, Mauritania, Niger) in order to confront threats linked to terrorism and trafficking.

* Central African Republic (CAR)

In 2007, France implemented an SSR project known as “appui au renforcement de l’Etat de droit” [“support for strengthening the Rule of Law”], which provides support for strengthening the capacities of the police, the legal system and media development.

* Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

From 2005 to 2009, in support to the peace process, France implemented the SSR project “Soutien à l’instauration d’un Etat de Droit en République Démocratique du Congo” [“Support for the Establishment of the Rule of Law in the Democratic Republic of the Congo”]: this cooperation aimed at improving and strengthening the skills and capacities of the judicial institutions, as well as professionalizing the police and promoting human rights.

- In Haiti

Our SSR efforts notably include training judges, creating a financial brigade and a minor protection brigade. France also offers support for SSR actions undertaken by the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which has achieved highly significant results with the holding of free elections and the dismantling of armed groups.

(October 2011)

4. Statements by France Retour à la table des matières

- 12 October, 2011 – Security Council – Reform of Security Sectors in Africa – Statement by Mr. Martin Briens, France’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations

5. Reference texts Retour à la table des matières

- The document "Security System Reform: France’s approach" on the website of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs



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