Link the SSR Process to Transitional Justice

05 July 2018   ·   Niagalé Bagayoko, ​Elom Khaunbiow

The Central African Republic’s security sector not only suffers from an acute shortage of manpower and capacity but also from internal disputes over loyalties. To deal with these dynamics, Germany’s new SSR strategy should identify and address political and economic interests of local actors threatened by the reform process. Also, it should entail instruments to fight against abuses committed by security forces.

Germany’s and other international donors’ engagement on security sector reform mostly takes place in countries with limited statehood that recently suffered from civil wars, state collapse or internal conflicts. The volatile situation in these crisis-ridden countries and their potential for sliding back into violence require a systematic and strategic approach to the reform of the security sector to build up effective and democratically controlled security institutions. This is a crucial prerequisite for people's trust in their country's security organs and thus for peace, security and sustainable development.

Hit by decades of turmoil, fighting and collapse of state institutions, the Central African Republic (CAR) is an insightful case for the German government to learn from when working on a new SSR strategy. Since 2016, CAR has undertaken several attempts at a new process aimed at reforming its security system within the framework of its National Security Sector Reform Strategy. These reforms enjoy the support of national actors such as President Faustin Archange Touadera or the Strategic Committee on Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, Repatriation, Security Sector Reform and National Reconciliation (DDRR-RSS-RN) as well as the support of international actors such as the United Nations through the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and the European Union through the European Union Training Mission CAR (EUTM). And yet, the SSR process is facing major challenges, which international partners such as Germany should be prepared to face when developing SSR programs in similar circumstances:

Security forces suffer an acute shortage of manpower

In CAR, the security forces suffer an acute shortage of manpower due to its vast surface area of 623,000 square kilometres, which is almost twice the size of Germany. In fact, a physical control of soldiers (Forces armées centrafricaines/FACA) and gendarmes, carried out in 2017, estimated the de-facto strength of these two corps at 9,377 and thus significantly below the official 10,399. Some of those missing were among the many soldiers, gendarmes and police forces that joined the anti-Balaka militias to fight against the ex-Séléka rebellion. In addition, 532 soldiers and gendarmes were found to be inexistent. The current number of police officers is estimated at 3,000 men. Yet, at least 30,000 men would be necessary to cover the Central African Republic’s territory.

Logistical challenges are also acute. During the last crisis, the armed forces’ security infrastructure was wrecked and the fleet of vehicles was vandalised. Today, few police stations and gendarmerie brigades in the provinces have vehicles, which reduces the operational capacity of the security forces.

Elements of the security forces are involved in illegal trafficking

The ethnic diversification of the security services is also a serious matter of concern. The Gbaya are still in the majority in the army and many of them are supporters of former President François Bozizé. This may lead to polarisation and conflicts within the forces affecting, to some extent, the chain of command. The chain of command appears to be particularly ineffective in the FACA. For example, Muslim soldiers, members of an irregular FACA unit, have abandoned the central command unit to operate in a certain district in the capital Bangui and report to a former Muslim officer of the army.

The collusion of the FACA with criminal groups also poses a problem. As the United Nations group of experts reveals, elements of the FACA are involved in trafficking activities, especially the import of hunting ammunition. The lack of respect for human rights shown by the security services personnel is another major challenge. The FACA deployed in the Eastern and Western parts of the country are accused of misconduct and ill-treatment of the local population (especially in Obo, Zemio and Berberati areas).

Link the SSR process to the transitional justice process

The vetting process advocated by the United Nations Security Council may be another obstacle to the reorganisation of the defence and security forces. Such a vetting process is indeed justified by the violence committed by both armed group combatants and security service personnel. However, its implementation may be delicate, as some perpetrators of violent acts still hold positions of authority in the current administration or are relatives of members of the government or parliament. This reveals once more the pressing need to link the SSR process to the transitional justice process conducted by the Special Criminal Court established in 2017 and the prosecution procedures initiated by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The fight against impunity is inseparable from SSR. The role of the Human Rights Commission – the creation of which was decided at the Bangui Forum in 2015 – will also be crucial.

The differences in approach between the different actors could also be a major obstacle. The approach promoted by international partners to introduce a security system based on the balanced representation of the different communities and the promotion of democratic governance does not necessarily meet the expectations of local stakeholders. The government is particularly concerned with making the defence and security forces more operational, generally through ‘train and equip’-programs and the supply of weapons, whereas local militia groups have the wish to integrate their combatants into the various security services.

Identify the political and economic interests of those threatened by SSR

Based on these challenges to security sector reform in CAR, the German government should pay attention to three issues when setting up SSR programs in similar circumstances. First, it is key to identify the political and economic interests of those threatened by the SSR process, particularly if they are powerful and influential actors. Such a mapping will help to identify those not interested in changing the status quo and hence trying to spoil the reform process.

Second, when dealing with profound reforms such as SSR, the central government should include different societal groups and communities in a consultation process and listen to their security concerns. This is particularly relevant for concerns expressed by the defence and security forces – especially in terms of socio-economic conditions. The German government should design concepts to ensure the involvement of civil society and the media beyond the capital region, including the role of traditional and territorial authorities such as the heads of villages and neighbourhoods.

Third, part of Germany’s SSR strategy should be a set of instruments and mechanisms to fight against past, current and future abuses committed by defence and security forces. Such instruments could be human rights commissions and/or special criminal courts. Also, the German government should advocate the stepping up of effective sanctions (military justice) and inspection organs within the army.