Promoting inclusive security in restricted civic space
The crucial role of civil society in security sector reform (SSR) and governance processes is well-established, yet in practice civil society often remain excluded. The politically sensitive nature of SSR and the highly masculinized character of the security sector pose particular challenges for women’s organizations and more marginalized groups to engage. Governments – and sometimes civil society itself – often regard security and security sector oversight as the realm of the State. Further, in conflict-affected countries civic space is often restricted, and civil society organizations (CSOs), journalists and others face barriers including limited access to information, censorship and even intimidation and threats.
The role of civil society in SSR
Since 2010, the African Union has accelerated its support for SSR, including the adoption of an SSR Policy Framework in 2013 to support countries, especially following conflict, to develop or reform security-related policies, structures, and institutions to make them ‘more effective, efficient, and responsive to democratic control, and to the security and justice needs of the people.’[i] Civil society, specifically, has a crucial role in building communities’ confidence in security providers through, for instance, facilitating dialogue, and in monitoring security provision in a ‘watchdog’ role. Despite this, in many of the contexts ASSN works in, including South Sudan, Niger, Central African Republic and Somaliland, civil society remains inadequately included in SSR and governance.
Since the outbreak of civil war in South Sudan in 2013, civil society has been highly vocal calling for peace, respect for human rights, and more effective security provision. This is in a context of ‘closed’ civic space according to the CIVICUS monitor,[ii] and in the face of restrictive laws, censorship, threats and arrest for their work.[iii]
Despite this environment, via extensive lobbying, civil society secured its formal representation in the peace processes leading to peace agreements in 2015 and 2018, and in various implementation bodies, including the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism in South Sudan (CTSAMM). Further, women’s groups successfully pushed for a Hybrid Court to address sexual and gender-based violence alongside other war crimes.[iv] South Sudanese civil society has built strong technical expertise on SSR supported, in part, by ASSN. Positioning themselves as ‘SSR experts’ has allowed civil society to navigate the politicised and highly sensitive area of security provision, and helped bring round those who still see security as the realm of the state.
Niger is characterised by widespread insecurity and challenges including the presence of armed groups. Civil society have been active calling for security provision more attentive to the needs of individuals and communities, yet in a very restricted environment. For example, in March 2020, at least 15 people were arrested and detained after participating in a demonstration critiquing an audit report by the Ministry of Defence.[v] The asset management, the lack of budget predictability and lack of prioritizing in the strategy of the Nigerien security sector were also the subject of critical remarks in a recent study by the World Bank/UN.[vi]
A consortium of national CSOs established a Security Sector Governance Observatory in 2017, to facilitate interactions between civil society and security sector authorities, which was later supported by the National Democratic Institute and ASSN.[vii] This has been important for bringing together networks of national and local organisations for information exchange, and enabling a platform through which to engage and develop working relationships with security actors. The CSOs that are part of the Observatory also work in local communities, giving them a strong understanding of peoples’ everyday safety and security needs and concerns, and how these are or are not being addressed.
Civil society in conflict-affected countries have an important role to play in ensuring that security providers meet the everyday safety needs of people, and that the security sector is accountable and gender-responsive. Yet restrictive civic space – and (in some contexts) a limited knowledge of SSR – is limiting civil societies’ full potential. Civil society continues to develop effective strategies to navigate civic space - building coalitions to help mitigate risk and speak with a collective voice; establishing dialogue with security actors; and providing invaluable technical expertise.
Regional and international stakeholders who want to support these efforts further must support civil society in all its diversity in conflict-affected countries to navigate restricted civic space. This includes providing resources, diplomatic support and protection in times of crises to strengthen technical expertise and influencing skills, and to be able to adapt projects and influencing strategies in the context of shifting civic space. This is crucial to support the development of locally-owned and gender-responsive SSR, and ensure security provision is truly accountable and meets the needs of all.
The post was written following a Learning Event ‘Stretching Civic Space: Influencing on Inclusive Security,’ co-organised by ASSN and Oxfam Novib, with support from the Knowledge Platform Security and Rule of Law.
[i] African Union (AU). (2013). Policy Framework on Security Sector Reform. Retrieved 25 May 2020, from http://www.peaceau.org/uploads/au-policy-framework-on-security-sector-reform-ae-ssr.pdf, p. 6.
[ii] CIVICUS. CIVICUS Monitor: Tracking Civic Space. Retrieved from https://monitor.civicus.org
[iii] KPSRL (2020). Civil Society, Democratisation, and the Closing of Civic space - Experiences from South Sudan. Retrieved 25 May, 2020 from https://www.kpsrl.org/blog/civil-society-democratisation-and-the-closing-of-civic-space-experiences-from-south-sudan
[v] Publish What You Pay (PWYC). (2020). Niger – PWYP’s Africa Steering Committee strongly condemns the arrest and charges brought against Ali Idrissa amid unrelenting crackdown on civil society. Retrieved 10 May, 2020 from https://www.pwyp.org/pwyp-news/niger-pwyp-asc-condemns-arrest-charges-against-ali-idrissa/
[vi] B. Harborne, W. Dorotinsky, and P.M. Bisca (eds.). (2017). Securing Development Public Finance and the Security Sector. World Bank Group and United Nations. Retrieved 25 May, 2020 from https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/25138, pp. 34, 38-39.
[vii] L. Aminou. (2020). Cartographie des Organisations de la Société Civile Nigérienne Intervenant dans la Réforme du Secteur de la Sécurité. ASSN. Retrieved 3 May 2020, from http://africansecuritynetwork.org/assn/assn-maps-nigerien-civil-society-organizations-involved-in-security-sector-reforms.