The Negative Consequence of Hyper-Political Integration in Bosnia & Herzegovina

By: Kaitlyn Lynes

Political reintegration is an integral component of a successful disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program. Ex-combatants, associated peoples, and communities must participate in decision and policy-making processes at regional, national, and international levels in order to ensure local ownership. The ideal conclusion of a DDR program is when fair and free democratic elections occur, which should follow the occurrence of a political reintegration process. Ex-combatants often have legitimate grievances, which fuels the wars and conflicts they fight in. Providing political opportunities is often a productive way of compromising with illegally armed groups, ensuring remobilization and the continuation of violence will not occur. Therefore, it is crucial for communities to be involved and supportive so that political reintegration does not appear to be only a buyout or reward for “perceived” war criminals. The transfer of ownership of civic responsibilities to communities and new political parties also serves as a transformative and restorative process for all actors involved. Subsequently, political reintegration has become one of the few durable solution in conflicts where the illegally armed group can not be decisively beaten or allowed to create their own state.

Prior to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina there was no established Bosnian government, as the war caused the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Political reintegration, therefore, faced a particularly unique challenge in Bosnia. Unlike most conflicts, there was no single rebel group looking to be given political opportunities in a previously established governance structure. Instead, the international community had to create a government that provided opportunities to the various groups within Bosnia, including the Muslim Bosniaks, Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Croats. This has led to a tripartite Presidency, directly elected, that consists of one Bosniak, one Serb, and one Croat at all times. Representatives can only claim one ethnic identity, and voters can only vote for one ethnic identity. Instead of creating an equal power-sharing government, the system has only served to institutionalize ethnic divisions from the war. Further segregating different ethnicities, politicians at the state level have little power over the entirety of the country. The defined territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina is separated between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, the self-autonomous district of Brcko, and ten self-governing cantons across the federation, all working at different levels of government. Superseding all of this, the internationally organized governance structure led by the United Nations still oversees much of the Bosnian state. While this highly structured and overlapping system of government was supposed to ensure equal access to political opportunity in the immediate post-war era for all ethnicities in Bosnia, it has instead allowed ethnic tensions and divisions to flourish while avoiding the reform it desperately needs.

 

Women’s essential contribution to peacebuilding

By: Lina Castellanos

Including women in peace negotiation processes is essential to sustainable DDR

efforts. Throughout history, all sorts of arguments have been made to exclude women’s

participation in peacebuilding: lack of negotiation skills, lack of experience, war being a

men’s field and some others that have proven to be mistaken not only because it is

clear war isn’t exclusively dominated by male combatants but also because women

have experienced war in different roles: as victims, perpetrators and peacebuilders. In

2000, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and

Security acknowledged the importance of including women in peacebuilding. The

Security Council, urged member states to increase the representation of women at all

decision-making levels for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict, and

expressed its willingness to incorporate a gender perspective into peacekeeping

operations and involving women in all peacekeeping and peacebuilding measures. For

the first time, women’s perceptions and contributions were recognized in post-conflict

scenarios. Yet, since the approval of Resolution 1325 it hasn’t always been the case

that women are actively included in peacebuilding efforts. In that sense, women are still

stigmatized and marginalized in their communities in a post conflict environment.

Women tend to be the most affected during conflicts but they are also more likely

to unify and advocate for peace. Besides, they have proven to create non-violent

resistant strategies that enrich the creation of a peace environment. In Colombia, for

example, la Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres –The Women’s Pacifist Route- is a non-violent

feminist movement that has made visible the way war has affected Colombian women.

Since 1996, the movement has claimed for truth and justice and has successfully

transformed the idea of women perceived solely as victims of the conflict into a more

active role of women being socially and politically engaged in peacebuilding. Today

more than 10,000 women in Colombia belong to the Pacifist Route and without doubt

one of their greatest achievements has been sensitizing society on realities that were

commonly ignored. These women mobilize pacifically and originally; they usually want

to ridicule war by using tactics such as dressing in vivid colors -to challenge the vision of

war as a black and white subject-, they make soap bubbles to imitate war bombs and

they have confronted illegal armed groups with pacific chants when they have been

stopped before starting their protests in areas hard hit by the conflict.

A clear understanding and promotion of women’s rights accompanied by

initiatives to vindicate them is key to conflict and post-conflicts situations. Without those

elements it is difficult to create sustainable peace.

Strong Contribution of The “Weaker Sex” in DDR

By: Senani Dehigolla

The role of women in war and peace while being subjected to heated debates around the world also emphasises the significance that needs to be attributed to them as an integral part of Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration. Being a major target of combatants women are undoubtedly the most affected during conflict or in circumstances of war owing to their physical vulnerability. Paradoxically, some instances of modern day war fare prove that the integration of women in to military either as combatants or as strategic approaches triggers the need of reconceptualising the requirement of the so called “weaker sex” in DDR. When Yazidi women’s armed struggle against ISIS takes the centre stage, going back in the historical time line it is possible to trace the active participation of extraordinary women such as Joan of Arc, Rani Lakshmi Bhai of Jansi against British India, the French women against the Nazis etc. who were in the limelight for their capacity for military prowess to engage in struggles for national liberation or struggles for their own safety.

Women’s participation is a key ingredient in achieving DDR goals as well as for sustainable societal balance in correcting the damage done to the social fabric of a country. Under the Security Council resolution 1325, measuring the advancement of women in all aspects of peace-building is crucial to DDR and other post conflict reconstruction activities. The caseload of Congo is a classic example where the role of women is instrumental in rebuilding the nation while serving as a real challenge. The degree of violation of women’s human rights is immense and ranges from physical abuse such as sexual harassment to contracting deadly diseases like HIV/ AIDS as a result where rebuilding their lives in a later achieved peace is also perplexing. The deep rooted family traditions and male dominated society hinders the possibility of addressing the special needs of women which prevents them from actively participating in DDR and other crisis prevention interventions. Therefore, moving the social lens from men towards women requires much effort on the ground.

UNDP’s survey in Congo to identify conflict affected women could be noteworthy as it has detected the subtle ways in which the issues can be solved. As an instance, the solidarity fund for agriculture to empower women was remarkable in combating unemployment due to lower skill level. The studies have shown that the women led families which are a result of losing their spouses in war were proven extremely weak in economic stability underlining that that women empowerment is decisive to DDR. Promotion of women’s rights by working to reconcile traditional values with progressive ideas will lead to improving the participation of women in society. Their vigorous involvement in early economic reconstruction activities also has the capacity to fight the social and economic marginalization of women. Local institutions and donors for Congo have experienced the creditable progress and the visibility of UNDP intervention. Increased economic and social opportunities while carefully considering local interpretations paves the way for a better future for women in confronting  social obstacles and fighting their own battles of a disturbed past. Their contribution to DDR matters in major and minor levels deciding its rate of success.

Women and War – Julia Rachiele

The role of women in war has existed long before discourse on the topic came into being.  This blog post will focus on the similarities of female combatants reintegrating during the  DDR process, and female United States veterans reintegrating back into civilian life after discharge. Having spent four years researching the topic of female veterans and how the lack of gender specific services causes higher homelessness rates, it was interesting to learn about the struggles of reintegrating female combatants.  There are many issues that arise in providing services to women who are actively and formerly involved in combat.  Consideration needs to be taken, not only in the immediate needs of female fighters, but also the psychological.

Women’s wartime experiences differ from that of men.  While women might be actively involved in combat, more goes into the female fighter narrative.  Women tend to also play major supportive roles to male fighters.  This hold true for US female military as they were not officially able to participate in combat until recently.  However, unofficial combat roles did exist.  Support roles during war have shown, in some instances, to be more psychologically damaging than combat experiences.  Support roles can range from cooking, organization, and administrative work to clean up after combat (removing bodies).  These roles are overlooked and underestimated in their importance and psychological tole.  Women also have to deal with the added burden of sexual harassment.  Sexual harassment includes verbal comments, gestures, unwanted physical contact, and rape.  Even if avenues existed to report sexual harassment, it has been shown that the stigma behind wartime sexual harassment prevents women from doing so.  All of these additional challenges during wartime cause women to have a more difficult time reintegrating back into society afterwards.

The difference in psychological needs of women coupled with the unique experiences of war, make it more difficult for women to reintegrate successfully.  Women generally have significantly different psychological requirements than men, meaning that female centered services need to be provided if one wants to see successful reintegration.  More female centered and female run psychological services need to be employed to address this need.  This becomes even more important when women are facing PTSD and sexual assault trauma.  Men and women cope differently, so the male centered services offered through DDR and Veterans Affairs are not adequate.  Another important aspect not widely considered for female fighters is their responsibility as a parental caregiver, and experiences of their home lives.  It has been noted that women go into conflict as a way of escaping non-ideal home lives, so when the women return there is a lack of stability leading to more issues.  This is exacerbated when the women are the primary caregiver to children.  Women are then not only responsible for themselves but also their children’s lives.  The additional pressure of children makes it more difficult psychologically and puts women under more stress.  Women fighters need to be consulted when crafting reintegration services to ensure they are what is needed.

Designing services for female fighters is something that has not been perfected even in developed countries such as the United States.  Female veterans are 3 times more likely to be homeless than their female civilian counterparts.  This mean that DDR programs for female combatants needs to be done in a way that truly meets the needs of the population.  Using techniques available to men or even models that have worked for women in other countries will not suffice.  Female fighter reintegration is a context driven initiative and needs to be treated as so.

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.

Moving beyond Peace keeping – Second Generation DDR and the case of Haiti

By Senani Dehigolla of The New School

“UN peacekeeping operations are now increasingly complex and multi-dimensional, going beyond monitoring a ceasefire to actually bringing failed States back to life, often after decades of conflict. The blue helmets and their civilian colleagues work together to organize elections, enact police and judicial reform, promote and protect human rights, conduct mine-clearance, advance gender equality, achieve the voluntary disarmament of former combatants, and support the return of refugees and displaced people to their homes.” ~Kofi Annan

Increased number of conflicts around the world while making the world more insecure demands drastic and effective methods in countering insurgency and to transform nations into peaceful and liveable environments. Authoritarian regimes, religious extremism, barbaric violence, secular nationalism, refugee crisis etc. around the world emphasises the increasingly complex reality of DDR operations that requires dynamic models to operate. It is noteworthy that DDR practises around the world has progressed over last few decades encompassing many political, military, security, humanitarian and socio economic dimensions depending on the diverse nature of conflicts.

Second generation DDR in particular, could be tremendously valuable in moving beyond the military structures towards the entity of community which is severely hindered by armed violence. It is quite obvious that the community play a significant role in successful DDR as it becomes substantial ground for further violence or lasting peace. Therefore, moving beyond traditional DDR is crucial to successful Disarmament and Reintegration given the fragile post conflict contexts where everything that is humane is lost. Many states around the world which were ultimately reduced to ‘failed states’ through conflicts inherits weak public institutions particularly those pertaining to law and justice, constant struggle for power ,illicit drugs, HIV/ AIDS , economic insecurity, lack of political will and pervasive poverty making positive change through DDR an extremely  challenging task. Thus, the evolution of DDR has progressed from a security tool towards a peace building tool in achieving development and improving livelihoods of the affected which in return intensifies its scope and responsibility.

With many dedicated and selfless contributions made every day to make DDR achieve its goals, it is also prone to heavy criticism ranging from failed DDR to outrageous behaviour of ‘blue helmets’. Considering the much debated case of Haiti, it is clear that unique methods need to be implemented to address the changing dynamics of conflicts arising from different contexts. Detached relations of New York and Geneva from the actual intensity of ground realities, financial issues, and poor identification of issues on the ground are some of the negative aspects pertaining to the case of Haiti. MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) was widely criticised for its limited response to the root causes of the conflict where social and political aspects were largely ignored. Since 1991 a number of UN missions have intervened in Haiti and by 2004 the situation was much worse. However, with constant harassments from natural disasters Haiti was in the brink of destruction and admirably the UN support was still available to them. Thus, UNDP’s more innovative approach to DDR in restoring daily life help build the social fabric of these communities with individuals gaining employment, self-respect and creating space for change. Furthermore, to increase its positive impact, DDR programs require better training for the blue helmets, inter cultural dialogue and dedicating longer period of time in conflict affected areas. Long term stabilization also depends on optimistic government participation and increased national capacity to manage weapons and to curb violence.

Colombia, Peace, Social & Political Absorption Capacity

By:  Lina Castellanos – The New School

Reintegration and Absorption Capacity

Last Sunday, October the 2nd, Colombians were asked to vote Yes or No in a national plebiscite to approve –or not- the Government’s peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). After 52 years of war, the bewildering outcome was No. All of a sudden, the four year negotiations between the Government and the leaders of the FARC in Havana-Cuba, were reduced to No 50,21% (6.431.376 votes) and Yes 49,78% (6.377.482 votes). Even more shocking than the rejection of the peace agreement, was the number of Colombians that didn’t vote (around 62% of Colombians didn’t participate in the plebiscite). The outcome to some was absolutely appalling but at the end demonstrates -within a long list of other conclusions- that Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration -DDR- processes are certainly highly unpredictable and need to constantly evolve. Moreover, it demonstrates that the concept of Absorption Capacity was definitely a serious setback in the recent Colombian events.

Absorption capacity is the ability of a community, economy and/or country to include ex-combatants as active full members of the society. The term can also refer to social and political reintegration opportunities. In the 297 pages of the peace accord document -for example- FARC were given the opportunity to become a political party and were given relatively small punishments for their crimes. Those two elements –again, in conjunction with many others from different natures- are precisely a clear sign of the challenges Reintegration and Absorption Capacity represent. Political reintegration was for sure one of the main issues Colombians who voted were evidently divided. Those who believed this was an historic opportunity to end a long-lasting war voted Yes, and those who didn’t agree with the content of the accord, and specially with the benefits given to the FARC, voted No. In that sense, there is a relevant percentage of Colombian population who may be an obstacle when trying to undertake reintegration initiatives and who would at some extent threaten the DDR process, specially the absorption and reintegration of FARC members.

Armed conflict destroys the social fabric of a country; it is clear that for those who personally suffer the consequences of war forgiving is a major thing. Yet, not everyone who voted No has experienced the conflict and many of the regions directly affected by the conflict voted Yes; this proves the myriad of personal experiences that can highly influence a peace process. In the Colombian case, there was an agreement between the Government and the guerrilla group, however we can’t forget that the basis of reintegration is a result of sustainable, community-driven efforts. Efforts hard to achieve when a peace process is tremendously politicized.

Utilizing Qualitative Indicators in DDR: Case Examples of Success.

By Meredith Bapir

Practitioners in DDR note the need for both quantitative and qualitative indicators. Quantitative indicators are often reflected as outputs, or measured results that are numerical such as the number of arms collected in the field. Qualitative indicators are more often tied in with medium to long-term outcomes that measure the longer results of a program and its attributed successes. It can take into account feelings, belief systems, and cultural and historical affinities. Qualitatively a program can be indicated, for example, by how a community feels about the success of a reintegration project.

Little emphasis has been given, however, on using qualitative indicators to document progress. Quantitative indicators, due to their numeric nature, are often easier to gather and can quickly satisfy donor requirements. Qualitative indicators often involve multiple steps of acquiring permissions and participations from stakeholders in addition to setting up focus groups, surveys, and interviews.

While gathering qualitative indicators may seem like a daunting task, they provide a more well-rounded assessment of DDR programs. Take, for example, the DDR program in Sierra Leone. The main objective of the reintegration component of the DDR program was to support the return of ex-combatants to their home communities. Through conducting qualitative research, practitioners noted that it was the opportunity of ex-combatants to “dine, mix, and socialize” with the local community that facilitated their entry back into society. Quantitative evidence could only prove the “causal impact of community infrastructure and short-term employment projects” but it did not showcase the full picture of Sierra Leone’s reintegration struggle. It was therefore imperative in this example to provide both a mixture of quantitative and qualitative factors to view the program’s success.

Contrastingly, Liberia’s focus on only quantitative indicators caused a false reading on the success of the DDR program. This program chose to focus on mostly quantitative indicators such as the amount of weapons collected per overall number of ex-combatants. A narrow focus on indicators attributed to gross mismanagement and misdirection of the program, to where reintegration did not even occur. The inclusion of qualitative indicators would have showed a more well-rounded picture of the program and could have possibly attributed to some success.

Utilizing a qualitative process also allows practitioners to reassess their approach to a DDR program. For example, practitioners in Haiti were able to gauge the importance of focusing on a community-based approach to stemming communal violence. Practitioners in Somalia noted that quantitative indicators were continuously changing due to the dynamic and volatile security environment within the country. Qualitatively addressing the situation allowed for an evaluation to be conducted that called for a change in direction by assessing the changing dynamics in the field.

Qualitative indicators should be continuously emphasized in the field and partnered with quantitative indicators to provide a full assessment of the DDR program.

 

 

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.

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