UN Peacekeeping, DDR & Children

By: Marko Stanic

In many ways, the role of the United Nations Peacekeeping efforts has become synonymous with the efforts of DDR. In many ways, the two can appear mutually exclusive – how can a nation have an effective transition from conflict to peace without the DDR programme and broader peacekeeping efforts?

The final paragraph (119) of the Role of United Nations Peacekeeping in Disarmament, Demobiliation and Reintegration, a report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council, seems to encapsulate the above statement firmly; “…the role of a peacekeeping operation in post-conflict disarmament, demobilization and reintegration is rooted in and feeds into a broader search for peace and development”. Consistent with what makes the DDR successful in peacekeeping operations, the SG acknowledges that one of the most important prerequisites for a successful DDR programmes is the presence of political will, support of civil society, and the assistance of the international community in the host nation.

In the early days of DDR, there has been a distinct lack of children, and child soldiers in the scope and caseload of DDR operations. This lack is most evident in Gen. 1. Since the turn of the millennium however, under the guise of Gen. 2 and 3, the caseloads have been expanded to include the youth. It does not take a lot to recognize that special attention needs to be paid to the DDR processes involving child soldiers. As defined by the United Nations, child soldiers are any persons under the age of 18 who take part in armed force in any capacity – this includes participation in direct combat, and any other non-combat roles, including accompanying groups as well as “girls recruited for sexual purposes and forced marriage.” (United Nations S/2000/101).

Reintegrating former (adult) ex-combatants into the society is a challenging process in itself, and it becomes especially challenging when children are involved. While children and adults may both share the same experience in armed conflict, children will in all likelihood respond differently to these stresses and traumas than adults. The exposure to risk from combat, and any other risks inherent in armed forces have the propensity to disrupt the physical, social, and emotional up-bringing of children. If professionally trained soldiers experience psychological consequences of combat such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), then what will these experiences have on children, and how might the DDR programmes help with this?

As the report by the Secretary-General suggests, “non-discrimination, gender equity, non-institutionalization and non-stigmatization of the children, and early family reunification” are all critically important in preparing DDR programmes that will include children as the targets of DDR. Furthermore, it is imperative to include all the children, including children not in armed forced but those growing up in the conflicted areas as well. It is important for the programmes to be inclusive as choosing to focus on one group over the other is not conducive of long-term peace and development.

While providing educational services does not fall under the operations and programmes of DDR, some fort of education is essential to the children entering the demobilization efforts. Much like male ex-combatants receive support packages and vocational training via reinsertion, so too should children receive education that would have been afforded in the absence of conflict. This will be vital for long-term reintegration. If children re-entering civilian status are expected to contribute to their communities in long-term (in adulthood), then the availability of schooling will directly affect how well they will reintegrate.

Implementing Community-Based Security in Bosnia and Herzegovina

By: Kaitlyn Lynes

Inherent in the second generation of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programming is the focus on development objectives and caseloads beyond the scope of ex-combatants. All aspects of society negatively affected by conflict, including women, children, the elderly, and disabled ex-combatants, must be considered to engender sustainable reintegration and peace. The ultimate goal of successful reintegration is the return of ex-combatants to a community, whether the community they originated from or a new one. However, before a return can be achieved, prior conditions must exist. At a minimum, there must be an adequate absorption capacity for ex-combatants. This means there are economic opportunities for both people living in the community and the arriving ex-combatants. An additional complication often includes the return of internally displaced peoples and refugees, all of whom expect a job when they return. Beyond socio-economic reintegration, critical psychosocial issues must be addressed. Intensive community sensitization is the process of dealing with the traumas of war, often in the form of transitional justice and reconciliation mechanisms.  At times ex-combatants are reintegrated into communities which they attacked during the conflict. In essence, victims are expected to live in the same small towns and villages as their former aggressors, causing an extremely fragile security situation that can be improved with targeted psychosocial reintegration approaches. Most importantly, there must be strong local ownership of reintegration processes, ensuring a credible, context-appropriate program designed and implemented by those directly affected.

Community-based security is most effective in weak or failed states, yet has not been implemented in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since the end of the war with Serbia following the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement in December 1995, the country has been primarily governed by several international organizations. Many post-conflict initiatives—meant to solve immediate security issues at the local level—are still implemented today. The most well-known example is the two-in-one schools, school buildings across the country that have separate classrooms, administrations, offices, and recess hours based on ethnicity. Students and teachers of different ethnic identities never cross paths, even while occupying the same building at the same time. Recent protests against this system by students highlights the urgent need for community ownership over security considerations. The Bosnian government continues to struggle with a lack of authority and reach, as well as widespread corruption, both strong indicators that a bottom-up approach linking security and community development would positively benefit Bosnia and Herzegovina. Community-based security across the country will allow for efficient and effective governance structures to take hold and provide better mechanisms for finally dealing with psychosocial grievances experienced during the war.

Sexual and Gender-based Violence Against Children in the DRC Conflict Part 1: Statistics, Preconditions and Effects

By Ashley Dale

It is no secret that sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is widespread in the DRC; a place that has been dubbed the rape capital of the world and one of the most dangerous places for women and girls to live. The protracted conflict has been the deadliest since World War II spanning nearly two decades and killing roughly 5.4 million people. In June 2012, the Sonke Gender Justice Network and the Institute for Mental Health of Goma implemented a survey as part of a study on sexual violence to men and women in and around Goma in the North Kivu province of the DRC. The study found that instances of SGBV rise during times of conflict. The data gathered from the survey concluded that all people in the region are subject to SGBV including men and boys with women and girls being at the highest risk for encountering SGBV at both the household level and in the field during conflict. Given these facts, it is no surprise that SGBV, particularly rape, is used without hesitation as a key weapon of war in the DRC conflict.

Children account for a large number of actors, both direct and indirect, in the ongoing conflict that has plagued the DRC since 1996. They make up a portion of ex-combatant dependents, outside actors and victims, and child soldiers perpetrating violence and are considered a special needs group (SNG) in DDR. Coupled with the widespread use of SGBV in the DRC, it seems unfathomable that children would not be affected by sexual violence in some way throughout this conflict. In fact, the truth is that children are key targets of SGBV because of their vulnerability and societal status in which they are typically dependents and have no power to make decisions. Children and young adults under the age of 25 make up roughly 60 percent of the target demographic in conflict affected countries. One startling statistic concludes that in the first half of 2012, 74 percent of sexual violence victims and survivors treated at the HEAL hospital in Goma, DRC were children. This number could be much higher since data on this subject is difficult to collect. Many victims live in fear and/or shame and do not come forward to report their abuse. The stigma surrounding SGBV, especially in Africa and particularly in the DRC because of its rampant use, makes it extremely difficult for researchers to get concrete statistics, leaving us with only estimates of the damage done.

Several preconditions typically need to be realized in order for SGBV against children in conflict to occur. First, there is usually a breakdown in governance with a lack of institutional stability; the DRC is a prime example of this being a failed state where institutional instability (and in some cases lack of specific institutions) and lack of governance is glaring. Along the same lines, corruption and absence of rule of law are typically present as well; again this is evident in the DRC. Impunity and lack of accountability are also factors which are also evident in the DRC. A prime environment for SGBV has taken shape when these preconditions mix with communities that are unable to protect themselves, stigmatizing cultural attitudes towards rape and sexual violence, and the normalization of certain behaviors.

The results of SGBV against children in conflict and under the above mentioned conditions are many. Unwanted pregnancies, STDs, HIV, incontinence, and fistula are some of the physical effects of sexual violence against children. Psychological effects include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, flash backs, and drug and alcohol abuse. Some of these psychological effects have longer-term side effects including interrupted or discontinued education, forced marriage, and limited income options (e.g. sex work). SGBV destroys the social fabric of villages in the DRC where children are often rejected by their families and/or whole communities. This in turn creates fear, trust issues, and loss of confidence of the children affected. All of these factors damage children deeply and leave them with minimal hope for recovery. SGBV against children in conflict destroys families and creates breakdown in communities which is a key motivation of combatants who perpetrate this type of violence.

It is important to understand the specific war tactics used in the DRC conflict and what groups they are inflicted upon in order to understand why several DDR processes have been implemented with little success. The newest and third DDR process was recently implemented (May 2015) in the DRC, but how affective will it be in terms of addressing child ex-combatants (child soldiers) who have suffered SGBV? What approaches, if any, will be taken to help reintegrate this specific cohort (as both outside and inside actors in the conflict) of this special needs group back into society? I will address these questions in Part 2 of this blog.

Sexual and Gender-based Violence Against Children in the DRC Conflict Part 2: DDR Issues for Child Soldiers

By Ashley Dale

Children are often left out of the DDR process, especially girls due to gender bias and inequalities in places like the DRC. One challenge is that DDR processes are typically underfunded to begin with. This leaves little room for children in the process, who could be thought of as secondary actors in the conflict, even though many take up arms and actively fight. According to a report from Relief Web, 43 percent of all armed groups around the world use child soldiers with 90 percent of them actually seeing combat.

Another issue is that the DDR process starts with disarmament which acts as a measure of how many combatants need to be demobilized and reintegrated back into society. This process also acts as a measure of success of the DDR process – the more weapons collected, the more successful the DDR. However, not all children carry a weapon, especially girls, which leaves those children out of the DDR process altogether. According to the Relief Web report, only two percent of the female child soldiers in the DRC received any kind of benefits from the DDR process. The benefits they receive are minimal at best. They may get water, a small portion of food, a plastic sheet for shelter, maybe a ride home, and a small, one-time payment if any monetary compensation is given at all.

How could children be treated any differently when they are tasked with the same jobs and cast into the same roles as some of the adult combatants, and how does this relate to child soldiers who were victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV)? It seems that armed groups see children as expendable. They are recruited to fight because they are vulnerable and impressionable, are easily controlled and manipulated, and are cheap to feed and care for. These factors leave them open to acts of SGBV during conflict. Their vulnerability and ability to be easily manipulated also puts them in a position where adult combatants can take advantage of them and force them to be perpetrators of SGBV against other children. This is used as a method of initiation and control, according to the Relief Web report. However, this should not exclude them from the DDR process. Children suffer physical, emotional, and psychological damage that is equivalent or even worse than that of adult combatants. Girl child soldiers are in an even worse position because of gender inequalities and issues only faced by girls such as unwanted pregnancies due to rape, physical trauma like fistulas, and only being thought of as victims of SGBV even though nearly half of girls in conflict serve as active combatants.

Children that are excluded from the DDR process are at a higher risk for reintegration back into the conflict, pose a greater security threat to the country, and are at risk of being cast out of their families and communities. Those children, including boys, who suffer SGBV during their time as child soldiers suffer an even greater physical, emotional, and psychological burden that puts them at even greater risk of the above. In my opinion, no DDR process should be considered a success when it leaves out the most vulnerable group that needs the most help and support – children, especially those who suffered SGBV during their time as a child soldier.

Another issue with DDR of child soldiers is the lack of support for those who enter into conflict as children but are adults by the time the disarmament process takes place. These now adults tend to be left out of the DDR process altogether. This comes back to a lack of funding of DDR processes in general. The money that is allotted for DDR goes to the three main processes that make up DDR, but are crafted for and first given to adult ex-combatants. Future DDR processes need to be designed with special needs groups like children in mind with specific steps addressing their unique needs. Since the newest and third installment of DDR in the DRC was just launched in May of this year, it’s too soon to tell how it will address child ex-combatants, especially those who have suffered SGBV or perpetrated it during the conflict.

Children in DDR: Lessons from Sierra Leone

By Nick Palombo

Recruiting children into governmental armed forces, or other armed groups, is illegal under international law and a violation of human rights. Seen in many conflicts, such as in Uganda, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Namibia, and many others, child combatants make up a significant portion of many armed groups. Because of this it is critical that security approaches are developed, adopted, and incorporated into DDR programs that pertain to disengaging minors from militant groups in conflict settings. Children that are soldiers are first and foremost children. This fact must be the basis for all child-soldier reintegration in DDR programs.

The Cape Town Principles and Best Practices (1997) define a child-soldier as:

“Any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks, porters, messengers and anyone accompanying such groups, other than family members. The definition includes girls recruited for sexual purposes and for forced marriage. It does not, therefore, only refer to a child who is carrying or has carried arms.”

Incorporating child soldiers in DDR programs require a holistic and child-centered approach, founded on protecting children and honoring their rights. Children are significant to reintegration as they may re-take up arms, especially if they are returning to a situation of poverty, rejection, and socio-economic marginalization. Child-soldiers can be both combatants and non-combatants, as well as both boys and girls ranging from infants to 18. It is important that DDR procedures and peace agreements reflect their needs. This ensures that programming is tailored to suit their successful and permanent reintegrating into society. Measures should be adopted and directed at the individual child, their families, and the greater community.

The rights of children, codified in numerous international documents such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, provide a general direction for practitioners in protecting children in contexts of war. DDR for children should be driven by international legal standards, and accordingly, planned and operated by organizations with child protection central to their mandates.  All programming aimed at children should have the “best interest of the child” in mind. This will require a targeted approach that is specific to each child’s needs, which is counter-intuitive to the traditional ‘cookie-cutter’ approach that regular DDR programs usually entail. Despite many similarities, the experiences of children in conflict will always be vastly different. Therefore, the child reintegration assistance must be customized to help each child in their unique situation.

DDR programs targeting minors must be age appropriate, time-sensitive, and should include children who participated in war, as well as children who supported it, and were affected by it. According to the IDDRS, ‘child-centred reintegration is multi-layered and focuses on family reunification; mobilizing and enabling care systems in the community; medical screening and health care, including reproductive health services; schooling and/or vocational training; psychosocial support; and social, cultural and economic support’.[1] Incorporating this range of operations in DDR programs can help practitioners appropriately include child-combatants, while keeping in mind the exceptional psycho-social necessities for children in warfare. Implementing a child-centered and rights based approach is both resource-intensive and time-sensitive. Also, children do not reintegrate in isolation. Outside factors can heavily affect the process and potential success of this DDR type. Therefore a child-centered approach that focuses on strengthening the family and the community will allow for the best and most sustainable protection of a child’s welfare.

A prominent example of child soldier reintegration took place after the invasion of Sierra Leone by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). This group became known for its extensive use of child soldiers. Through the abduction of children during village raids, the RUF forced children to commit atrocities against their own families or others to instil in them the sense that they could never return back to their village. In the time between 1991 and 2001, 10 000 children were forced to fight in Sierra Leonean armed forces (Odeh and Sullivan 2004). Children became rejected from the community, following their infliction of violence by the command of their militant groups.

The Child-Soldier DDR program in Sierra Leone focused heavily on reuniting children with family and the community, as opposed to solely the individual development of the child itself. The reason for this was because after committing such grave atrocities, child soldiers at risk of being rejected by the community. In Sierra Leonne, because children were so central to the conflict, the standard of dealing with child soldiers was at the forefront of peace operations. Laid out in a comprehensive peace agreement, the Lomé Peace Accord specified that children combatants would be given particular attention and handled differently than adults in DDR settings. One example of this difference was in allotment of cash stipends and skills training. Adult combatants were given financial packages for reintegration and incentive, as opposed to children, who were not given these in fear that holding monetary value would leave them vulnerable to their commanders. Instead, children were assisted with unifying with their families, and they were given a choice between education and skills training. In spite of this, difficulty arose when some children requested to be reintegrated as adults, while others, requesting the same, only wanted to participate to receive cash incentive.

Selection and eligibility for child-soldier DDR was a point of contention in Sierra Leone’s program. Determining the age of a child, which is conducive to determining their needs, was made very difficult for a variety of different reasons (aside from the one mentioned previously). Some children were left out of the program because they did not possess arms. Young girls experienced the greatest marginalization in this respect, as they often do in most child-soldier reintegration programs. For an abundance of reasons, such as inability to access programming, feelings of shame, ‘bush-husband’ influence, and gender bias in programming, many girls and young women were overlooked in the process. Out of the 6845 children reintegrated by 2004, 92 percent were boys and only 8 percent girls (UNICEF 2004).  A large part of this exclusion was that girls did not have weapons and therefore were turned away. An important lesson, which can be found in the IDDRS, is that child-soldier DDR programs should have alternate means for child soldiers, in particular girls, to access reintegration services that are not dependent on weapon ownership or the willingness of commanders.

Many lessons like this one can be drawn from Sierra Leonne to be applied to future projects of child-soldier disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. One is that interventions must be made on a basis that is appropriate and specific to the context that a child is engulfed. In Sierra Leone, this was through ‘community sensitization, formal disarmament and demobilization, a period of transition, family tracing and unification, mediation, traditional healing ceremonies, school and skills training, and encouragement and facilitation’ (Williamson, 192). Undoubtedly, returning children to their families was the most important aspect of child reintegration. Families played a prominent role in the sustainability of child-soldier reintegration, therefore building partnerships with these groups and the community was integral to the sustainability of disarmament.

Another lesson from Sierra Leone is that peace agreements must reflect the fact that children can be both combatants and non-combatants, and accordingly there is a need to incorporate both in the reintegration process.  Special attention to procedures and considerations regarding children must be incorporated into not only peace agreements, but also the training of peacekeepers and military observers. Additionally, young women and girls are at most risk of exclusion, therefore special attention should be given to ensure their inclusion when the process is planned and implemented.  Furthermore, even more attention, as well as humanitarian assistance, is due to young adults (both male and female) who were abducted or otherwise forced as children to become part of a militant group and as a result have been permanently socialized to war.

Understanding the needs of child-soldiers is best understood through a contextual analysis. This involves looking at the political, social, economic and cultural origins of a conflict, as well as the ideologies and structures of armed groups, recruitment targets, the living conditions of children in these groups, and the community’s feelings about the impact of the conflict on the needs of children, to best understand the caseload. DDR for children is separate and different from DDR for adults. Programming should be tailored to the needs of boys, girls, young men, and young women, aside from the normal case-load of former combatants. Since children and young people are disproportionately affected by war and conflict, their special needs must be reflected in their reintegration programs.

[1] IDDRS Chapter 5. Pg.30 http://www.iddrtg.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/IDDRS-5.30-Children-and-DDR1.pdf

Focal Points for Health Interventions: DDR and HIV/AIDS

By Nick Palombo

Health considerations in DDR incorporate human security, analyze key health concerns, and respond to the needs of the most vulnerable groups of ex-combatants. Major health concerns in DDR, among others, are chronic communicable diseases, HIV/AIDS, violence and injury prevention, and psycho-social support for mental health and substance abuse. However, health concerns vary greatly according to the geographical area of caseload and conflict dynamics. Types of interventions appropriate in DDR will be dependent on the number of combatants in the caseload, their relatives, the median gender and age, specific needs, and local capacities for the provision of health services.

The objective of integrating health care in DDR is to reduce the percentage of avoidable illnesses and deaths in a caseload, through basic healthcare and preventative epidemiological interventions. These include both reproductive-health and psycho-social care considerations. In all cases, there must be a minimum guaranteed basic medical screening, which should be conducted in the interim at first point of contact (disarmament and demobilization stage). However, ongoing access to healthcare and voluntary counseling and treatments must also remain available during long-term reintegration processes. Satisfying these conditions requires creating partnerships with local public health stakeholders to generate sustainable health services and long-term medical records. Health interventions in DDR are best facilitated through comprehensive partnerships with local health actors. These may include NGOs and international humanitarian agencies, like the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Joint United Nations Program on Aids (UNAIDS), and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

A primary strategy for intervention should be treating ex-combatants in the interim. This means treating acute sicknesses and infectious diseases over chronic and non-infectious diseases. This strategy can decrease the rate of transmitted infections, and minimize the chances of co-infection in already infected individuals. Basic medical screening can permit monitoring of potential epidemiological and nutritional issues, and can build capacity for early detection as well as rapid response. Linking health interventions to DDR can take the form of many types of programming.  Therefore, the choice of programs should be based off an analysis of the political and legal arrangements of peace agreements and the specific nature of the conditions on the ground. Including and utilizing local healthcare providers can ensure that local public health concerns are taken into account. Therefore, local health sectors should be represented in all established programs to oversee the health intervention from the earliest possible stage.

When speaking to health interventions in DDR programs, it is essential to discuss HIV/AIDS infection. DDR programs frequently operate in locations with high HIV/AIDS prevalence. Ex-combatants are considered high-risk groups for infection given their age range, degree of mobility, and risk-taking behavior. Women associated with armed forces are also part of this high-risk group, given the widespread instances of sexual violence and abuse. Even child-soldiers are  part of this high-risk group, given that they are often sexually active much earlier than their non-combatant peers. Furthermore, in some conflicts, drugs are also highly prevalent. This further increases vulnerabilities by increasing risky-behavior and furthering transmissions of HIV infection. DDR providers should additionally take into account the movement of individuals across borders, and the heightened risk of epidemiological disease transmission from emigration. The best strategy for intervening on this is early detection and containment of disease in foreign ex-combatants, to intercede any potential outbreaks from the movement of these populations.

HIV/AIDS poses a grave impeding risk to the stabilization of peace operations. Integrating testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS in DDR programs is important for maintaining the well-being of male and female ex-combatants, women and girls associated with armed groups, and the greater public health of the civilian community. DDR programs can offer a unique opportunity to reach out to vulnerable groups and intervene in the spread of epidemiological diseases. Practitioners of DDR must co-opt this opportunity and incorporate health programming in their DDR programming.

As with many other diseases, HIV/AIDS prevention can be embedded in DDR through a variety of different outlets. Risk Mapping, based on prevalence, attitudes, vulnerabilities and knowledge, can be facilitated to define the needs of the geo-spatial community. Also, identifying and training HIV/AIDS focal points and developing awareness material and training for target groups can play a role in this type of intervention.  Voluntary counselling, testing and treatment must be available throughout the entire trajectory of the DDR program. Also, ensuring the availability of testing, condoms and post-exposure prophylaxis for ex-combatants is critically important. These types of interventions must be facilitated with existing national HIV prevention and treatment infrastructure, in order to develop and ensure their sustainability.

DDR interventions involving HIV/AIDS have been conducted already in many national initiatives.  In Colombia, joint UN efforts supported the Colombian government in training male and female ex-combatants in sexual and reproductive rights, gender equity, and HIV prevention.  DDR practitioners conducted surveys to determine HIV prevalence and sexual behaviors to tailor HIV-DDR programs to the Colombian caseload. Furthermore, the facilitators provided voluntary counselling and treatment alongside a string of other HIV/AIDS-oriented initiatives.  DDR in Côte d’Ivoire also incorporated a notable HIV/AIDS intervention program. The UN supported the DDR Commission in creating three voluntary counselling and treatment centers, as well as STI treatment infrastructure at all of these sites. These centers were focal points for screening and treatment, and ensured that medical aid would be widely available to all in need. Additionally, through partnerships with the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire, the commission also trained uniformed personnel on HIV, human rights, gender equity, and technical support on HIV-DDR. They also trained peer educators to provide local training and support for diagnosis of HIV/AIDS and HIV prevention.

Colombia and Côte d’Ivoire are just two successful examples, among many others, of HIV/DDR treatment integration in DDR. However, many challenges exist in the integration of greater medical processes. Lack of human capacity and will is a major component of deficient health resources in DDR programs. Medical diseases such as HIV/AIDS are simply not a priority for DDR practitioners. Especially since the extensive resources needed to prevent and treat epidemiological diseases such as Malaria and HIV may simply not be available in the budget for DDR programs. Additionally, linking DDR health intervention objectives to community health infrastructure may not be possible, as no health infrastructure may exist to begin with in the country of operation. In this case, building the foundations for future health services may be too large of an operation for DDR. Therefore, because of these reasons, health initiatives become secondary and/or far too rudimentary to achieve their primary objective. While implementing health action in DDR programs can be an extensive endeavor, it is undoubtedly necessary to safeguard the most basic aspects of human security in DDR programs.

DDR in the DRC: Addressing Women as a Special Needs Group

By Ashley Dale

Since the end of the first war in the DRC there have been multiple attempts at DDR, including a multi-country DDRRR effort to deal with the hundreds of thousands of foreign fighters from six other countries that were engaged in the conflict. However, despite the complex and immense effort at demobilizing and reintegrating ex-combatants in the DRC, special needs groups (SNGs) including women and children were largely left out of the planning and implementation processes.

Both women and children are considered SNGs and fall into two sub-categories – those as dependents and outside actors to the conflict and those as ex-combatants and/or fulfilling conflict support roles. Each of these four SNGs needed to be considered in the DDR process from the outset, but early in the initial planning stages they were not. Later as DDR programs were evaluated and reconstructed, it became clear that these SNGs were too large to ignore, especially those who took part in the conflict. Special projects such as a Gender-based Violence Trust Fund and a Social Action Fund were set up to assist these groups specifically. With a high level of women ex-combatants, the National Demobilization and Reinsertion Commission (CONADER) developed a gender strategy. However, even with this strategy, women on both sides of the conflict were largely neglected in the DDR process.

Women as dependents rarely enrolled in the DDR program due to cultural stigma that the program developed. Many of these women self-reintegrated back into society instead. One issue was that women dependents only needed to go through the reintegration process, not the disarmament or demobilization phases so it was easier for them to fall between the cracks in the process. Some felt that their inclusion in the process could have perpetuated combat relationships.

Women who took part in the conflict either directly as combatants on the front lines or indirectly in conflict support roles didn’t have any more luck in the DDR process than women dependents. Women ex-combatants and supporters were unfairly discriminated against in the DDR process. One main issue was that in order to receive a demobilization package the ex-combatant needed to surrender a weapon. In the case of women ex-combatants, not all of them were engaged in active combat or were in possession of a weapon. In cases where women did have a weapon, it was common for their commander to strip them of it so they couldn’t get their demobilization package. For those who were able to get far enough in the processes to obtain a package, there were not enough to go around. The lucky few who actually received a package had them stolen by their husbands or families.

In Phase 1 of DDR, 3,478 female ex-combatants were demobilized, of which 1,520 benefited from reintegration assistance. However, in Phase 2, only 1,046 were demobilized as that was the total number of females who registered for processing. Out of the group of women ex-combatants who were demobilized overall, roughly 67 percent benefited from the reintegration process.

Currently a third DDR attempt (DDR III) is underway in the DRC. Only time will tell if this attempt will be more successful than the previous two and more inclusive of SNGs in general. Full inclusivity of SNGs all around will push the process closer to a ‘successful’ outcome. Women are a crucial part of Congolese society and the peace process to rebuild the country, and being part of the peace process means they need to be included in the DDR process as part of the peace-building effort.

Sudan’s Second Civil War and DDR Attempt: Focusing on Special Needs Groups

Sudan is the largest country in Africa and one of the poorest in the world, despite the abundance of valuable natural resources it has. More than 20 years of civil war has destroyed the country’s economy and infrastructure, leaving devastation in its wake. A UN report from 2005 estimated that 20 percent of the population had been displaced and left severely impoverished (United Nations. Interim DDR Programme for Sudan. July 2005). It was in 2005 that a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed between the Government of Sudan (GoS) and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SLPM/A), the two major warring factions, to end the war.

The much needed and long awaited CPA came after decades of a second round of violent conflict know as the Second Civil War, which raged from 1983 through 2004. The first civil war in Sudan took place from 1955 to 1972 and was marked by conflict between the north and the south. The Addis Ababa Agreement (also known as the Addis Ababa Accords) was signed in 1972 and marked the beginning of 11 years of relative peace. However, the Agreement failed to relieve tensions between the north and the south. The reintegration of the Anyanya, a southern Sudanese rebel army, was a complete failure. Mounting tensions and the failure of the reintegration of Anyanya ex-combatants along with other factors such as unequal access to the country’s rich natural resources (namely oil), and ethnic and religious divides are suspected to be the cause of Sudan’s second civil war.

It is in cases like this that we can see how the failure to design and implement a rigorous, detailed and conflict-specific disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) plan can have catastrophic consequences for a country. In Sudan’s case, the country plunged into another volatile civil war which killed roughly 2 million people and displaced another 4.5 million. The DDR plan following the CPA of the second civil war needed to be flexible and accommodating in a heterogeneous environment. The delicate handling of special needs groups such as women, children and the disabled along with other armed groups (OAGs) that contributed to the fighting needed to be taken into consideration when designing the DDR, especially the reintegration portion. This is because many of the ‘special’ groups would only be taking part in either the demobilization and reintegration or only the reintegration part of the plan. In the interest of keeping this post on the shorter side, I will only speak briefly about two special needs groups: women and children.

The CPA specified that special needs groups were to be addressed before all other ex-combatants. The DDR outlined the demobilization of child ex-combatants first before any adults. Even within this special needs group there were sub groups that needed even more specialized attention such as girls and girl mothers. Previous DDR attempts that addressed child soldiers failed to recognize the difficult situation girls and girl mothers faced in conflict and when attempting to return home. The CPA and DDR plan understood that this couldn’t be repeated with Sudan’s second DDR attempt, so specific conditions were laid out for these groups.

A few distinctions of the child DDR plan were to focus on child protection and to also include children in the process who had not been directly involved in the conflict, which is an interesting approach. The child DDR extended to other vulnerable children such as child IDPs (internally displaced persons) and child refugees returning from other countries. It also created special methods of protection and reintegration for girls specifically. The child DDR used some of the basic principles in the UN’s IDDRS including taking a community-based approach to reintegration. The collaboration between community groups, religious leaders, educators, youth groups, and families coupled with several years of follow-up was essential to the success of child ex-combatant reintegration.

Another special needs group addressed by the CPA and DDR was women. Although men are typically seen as the major threat to security in a post-conflict setting, women in the case of Sudan were seen as a secondary threat, but a threat nonetheless. Excluding women from DDR would have undermined the entire process and could have potentially caused a threat to Sudan’s future peace and stability. Women took on many different roles during the second civil war, making it harder to create tailored methods of DDR for the various sub groups within the women special needs group. Some women were combatants and fought on the front lines while others took on supporting roles such as porters, cooks, caretakers, messengers, and more – these women providing supporting roles either voluntarily or through coercion are known as women associated with the armed forces and groups (WAAFG).

Other women were indirectly involved by way of their husbands who were combatants. These women were considered dependents of ex-combatants and would also need to be included in the reintegration portion of DDR alongside their husbands. In Sudan polygamy is common and it was possible that combatants had more than one wife, further complicating DDR for dependents. The DDR plan had to be flexible enough to accommodate these special and sensitive situations. Other women were abducted and forced into the armed groups, and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) became pervasive. Rape, prostitution, forced marriage, and sexual abuse further complicated the reintegration of women back into society. These complications needed to be specifically addressed in the reintegration of women and WAAFG in order for a successful outcome to be realized.

Women also had a large role to play after male ex-combatants went through the DDR process; women made up the majority of support for ex-combatants upon their return home. However, the women themselves had little support, which undermined their ability to provide adequate support to the ex-combatants (United Nations. Interim DDR Programme for Sudan. July 2005). Major community-based support and assistance from government agencies and NGOs would have been beneficial not only to the women but also to the ex-combatants they were supporting and to the entire community.

The reintegration portion of Sudan’s second DDR attempt utilized many of the same tactics that other DDR programs used such as monetary packages for transportation, food, and family support, health and psychological care, skills and vocational training, and education. However, what sets Sudan apart from other DDR programs are the carefully designed reintegration mechanisms catering to the special needs groups as well as the ex-combatants. In brief these include but are not limited to monetary packages for ex-combatants with varying amounts according to their rank held, vouchers for WAAFG to use in the community, thereby regenerating local economies, particular attentions paid to girls and girl mothers, the establishment of child protection networks, targeted catch-up education for child ex-combatants, the development of alternative family/living arrangements for child ex-combatants lacking family (or where family cannot be located), the inclusion of non-combat related children in the reintegration process, reintegration methods for women that were sensitive to the practice of polygamy,  HIV/AIDs awareness campaigns, and violence against women (VAW) awareness campaigns. The more detailed, flexible, culture-sensitive, and conflict-specific a DDR plan can be, the likelihood for a successful outcome will be greater.

By Ashley Dale

Swaying around existing initiatives: Uganda and LRA


Conflict in Uganda started as early as late 1980s that sprung from internal conflicts that involve the ousting of President Milton Obote. However the Uganda’s successor, Idi Amin whose coup was initially welcomed by a widespread of enthusiasm begins to fall short as Amin dissolved and altered the constitution which grated him absolute power and eliminating all opposition. Amin reign did not last long as Amins government has devastated the country and its developing economy leaving him to be overthrown and forced to flee in exile by Tanzanian back rebellion that included Yoweri Museveni, Amins Successor. In the late 1980s, Obote regained power under the UPC in a general election, which was contested by many and considered to be fraudulent. Obote installed an increasingly repressive regime, which led to Uganda having one of the worst human-rights records in the world.

In an effort to control the opposition led by current president Yoweri National Resistance Army guerrilla group, much of the north of the country was laid to waste and an estimated 100,000 people were killed. Despite these oppressive moves, by 1985 Obote was deposed again and overthrown by his army commanders in another military coup. In the chaos that occurred after, Museveni was able to seize control of the country. Museveni proclaimed a government of national unity and declared himself President.

Since then Uganda has been involved in a civil war in the north against the Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA is led by Joseph Kony, who wishes to, allegedly, establish a state based on the biblical Ten Commandments. Kony is accused of carrying out widespread abduction of children to serve as soldiers or sex slaves. It is estimated that the LRA have abducted around 30,000 children and that the civil war has led to the displacement of 1.6 million people from Northern Uganda and the death, mutilation and kidnapping of more than 100,000 people.

Peace process?

Two previous sets of peace talks (1993-4 and 2004-5) between the Government of Uganda and the LRA plunged precisely because no solutions to these obstacles were found. The last negotiation towards peace talk was in July 2006. Evidently we can certainly point out several reason as to why the peace talk prove to be hard.

First, there is a high tendency by the existing government to keep the country at war. For example, if most of the groups from the north/Gulu/Alcholi are fully pacified then this would mount to a serious of opposition, thus it was seen to be better to keep rebel/fighters to be disconnected and devastated politically.

Second, the Alcholi population remains to be a top question in conducting a peace process. Over the years the explicit violence between the Ugandan government and the LRA has affected the most to the Alcholi (child soldiers, women as sex slaves and etc). Concession towards the Alcholi will be difficult. Furthermore, the legal document that administer the discussion of the peace process it lacks the inclusivity of affected individuals and in this case is the Acholi population who are affected most by such conflict (i.e. IDPs?).

Lastly, DDR may perhaps serves as an ideal entry and integration point for mainstreaming humanitarian, recovery-to-development and related security and peacebuilding efforts. However such efforts seem to be bleak for the case of Uganda as conflicts are now spilled over between neighboring states. Conducting DDR process in an active conflict and force operation is considered to be hard especially for the case of Uganda. For example, the conflict is seen to be between the  “south and “north’ (LRA) however the continuing conflict spilled over between borders and draw support from regional neighbor creating further proxy wars between internal Uganda and between States.

Going around the Peace Process

As stated above, the government has high interest in keeping the country at war. Thus, unless there is an active support from the general public Vis a Vis the Acholi, the Ugandan government is unlikely be able to defeat nor cripple the LRA. Against that backdrop perhaps one theoretical approach is that international organizations, NGOs as well as other external entities can help to mediate further the peace process that includes building confidence between the government and local populations. For example, capacity building particularly concentrating the developments of local capacities and increase dialogues between communities leaders can be explore further.

The indictment of the LRA by the request of the Uganda government. For all we know the LRA has committed tremendous human rights violations. Following such investigation the ICC has given an arrest warrant towards the LRA commanders (including Koni). However, the ICC in this process was seen to be a complement towards national justice process that clearly do not exist. Given that thought international organization can/should further build stronger legal hoop holes based on an attempt for a possible prosecution towards Joseph Kony and its related army commanders.

For all we know, government as a sovereign entity has the duty to protect its citizen and based on international humanitarian law such government is required to take all feasible precautions. Obviously since Uganda is at was civilian protection is unrealistic. However, what the government should and ought to do is provide greater protection to civilians (IDPs) through a better focused military operation that includes coordination between existing military and humanitarian agency. Coupled with such initiatives, external entities such as the UNHCR should increase their number of personnel on camp site to monitor the widespread of ongoing abuses committed by conflicting parties.

Lastly, the international community have a greater role in terms of both financial and political support. For example, if the UN is unwilling to help tone down the crisis by deploying peacekeeping operations in the region then it should delegate its “authority” to existing regional organization such as the African Union. Since 2012 with authorization from the UNSC the African Union has established a regional task force that hunt down the LRA, however further examination in its success remains tested as donors and other regional actors plays a significant role in the success of such initiatives.

Danurdoro Parnohadiningrat