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.

The Need for Psycho-Social Approaches

By: Sam J.Trudeau

The idea that DDR approaches to reinsertion and reintegration are increasingly focusing on  security and development issues and therefore devoting less attention to psycho-social aspects has been an issue of concern for some. While security, sustainable development, reconstruction efforts and programs to bolster employment are obviously crucial to reinsertion and reintegration efforts, the success of these initiatives is also closely tied to the relationships between participants and the communities they are returning to, as well as the social environment within those communities. From the perspective of ex-combatants participating in DDR, a psycho-social approach to reintegration can help make the transition from combat and military life easier. It can take on many forms, but at its core recognizes the particular psychological challenges such a transition can present for participants. These challenges, although related to reconstruction and economic concerns, cannot solely be addressed by development. In Afghanistan, such an example can be found in programs that compensated former combatants to participate in the de-mining initiatives.  After decades of foreign intervention and civil war notoriously made Afghanistan the world’s most mined country, the value of a program to deactivate and destroy mines seemed self-evident. However the use of former combatants in the process has had at lest three relatively important psycho-social benefits. First, by utilizing former fighter in a noncombat role while leaving them to conduct their work under the familiar command and control structure of their former groups is believed to have facilitated their transition back to civilian life. Second, the important nature of the de-mining process for Afghanistan gave former combatants a meaningful way to contribute to the security, development and reconstruction of the country, withdraw them from the security equation while also allowing them to earn a living.Third, the considerable security threat posed by landmines in Afghan society saw communities greet the initiative with enthusiasm, and also often improved societal attitudes towards ex-combatants. Former fighters were often viewed with mistrust or contempt within the communities they were slated to be reintegrated into. However by holding consultations with local communities on how and where to undertake their de-mining efforts, ex-combatants are believed to have created a measure of goodwill within society. Indeed, it seems that an important aspect of psycho-social approaches is carefully balancing the needs of former combatants without destabilizing those of local communities. This is in turn engenders communal support and acceptance of former fighters. Approaches that consider psycho-social components when devising reintegration schemes can also be key to engaging and assisting vulnerable groups in DDR processes, such as the spouses of former combatants, former child soldiers and the disabled. Including these vulnerable groups into reintegration processes helps demonstrate good faith to communities but also has important impacts on security and preventing relapses in conflict. For instance child soldiers, many of whom have been forced away from their families and have experienced serious forms of trauma, present a considerable risk to rejoin militias if they are not provided treatment and support to facilitate their recovery. In these cases, psychological treatment and support are closely tied to former child soldiers successful social and economic reintegration.

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.

Family, Reintegration & DDR:


– by Ardra Manasi:  The New School

The measurement of DDR outcomes and the evaluation of its success often poses serious challenges. The complexity of the third generation DDR approaches, typified by measures in countering violent extremism (CVE), lies in its shift of engagement from state centric actors to non-state actors, that include often violent extremist (VE) groups like Taliban as in the context of Afghanistan. How does one measure the success of DDR in such a setting? The conventional measurement parameters like the number of weapons collected, the funds utilized and the number of ex-combatants demobilized might present a useful scenario. But can a non-conventional measurement parameter like monitoring the number of days that the individual militant spent with his/her family after demobilization be a useful measure to guide DDR practitioners? How far can family be helpful in understanding an individual’s integration into the community at large?

The Integrated IDDR Standards, the key operational guidelines for implementing DDR on the ground does not pay much attention to the role of family in its reintegration efforts. The disarmament and demobilization phase is followed by ex-combatants eventually returning to their homes, often equipped with socio-economic reinsertion packages. But it is useful to think about of how ‘home’/ ‘family’ becomes a site of both confrontation and adaptation. Is the combatant’s family receptive and welcoming? Or are they hostile and condescending? This gets even more worse for women ex-combatants returning home as they are perceived to have defied their gender roles by taking up arms (The case of women ex-combatants in Sri Lanka’s LTTE illustrate this).

Can an ex- combatant’s family play a role in ensuring that he doesn’t take up arms again? Conversely, what role may a family play in willfully getting an ex-combatnat to become a recidivist?  The family members can turn out to be either positive or negative influencers i.e they can either play a role in “radicalization” of fighters or can play a reformatory role. The latter revealing fact can be leveraged for reintegration efforts, especially for engaging with VE groups. For instance, the family members of such groups can receive special training in terms of taking care of the psychological needs of these ex-combatants and also for aiding in their de-radicalization efforts, supported by the UN or other community organizations. Drawing upon the case of Iraq, Doug Stone (2015), the brain behind the ‘Rome Memorandum’ (a compendium of best practices for rehabilitation and reintegration of violent extremist offenders) argues that for addressing radicalization issues among the violent extremists, the receiving community should be involved along with the militants, either one-on-one or in groups.

Ex-combatants often end up caught between their old extremist affiliations and the very society or community they sought to represent in their struggle. Usually, to the ex-combatant, the former extremist linkages have become unattractive and while the society they seek to integrate into has little need for them. Being caught in such a bind, this results in maladjustment and worse, an incentive to relapse into old ways of violence, criminal behavior, or extremism. This often results from a feeling of being unwanted in their old homes and an ongoing sense of drift. This is particularly true of non-ideological foot soldiers who, unlike ideological leaders, were conscripted into violent struggles to provide “muscle”.  It is here that the families become very important in terms of actively participating in the ex-combatant’s ‘normalization’ process.

Instead of a homogenous rehabilitation package devised for treating individual combatants as an undifferentiated mass, a more effective approach is one that is tiered in how it is administered, is continuously engaged over time, and multi-pronged as far as interventions are concerned.  To this end, this could include bringing families of those affected into community events together, to help them understand the pitfalls and potentialities ahead for themselves and the ex-combatants. This could also involve sensitizing the wives of men who have returned and helping them to cope with the returnee’s stress which may result in psycho-sexual anxieties as well.  On an economic front, if packages for families are tied to the ex-fighters’ continued cooperation and non-violence, there is a collective pressure at work that forces the fighter to aid his family on one end, while simultaneously, it allows the family to see the fighter as one among them.  Furthermore, the family members can be trusted sources for providing reliable information about the ex-combatants and their interactions once they are back home in terms of psychological profiles by a non-professional third party.

It is equally important to design DDR policies which address the psycho-social needs of such families who often face social stigma and alienation from the rest of the community. Developing policy guidelines in the IDDRS for family based integration as a component of ‘Reintegration’ can be a right step in this direction.


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.

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.

A Sociological Interpretation of DDR 

The sociological process of cutting ties to militant groups requires a significant rearrangement of an individual’s social structures. Considering the function of symbolic and social ties can help practitioners gauge the social factors that lead to the successful reintegration of ex-combatant. Sociology overall can provide a valuable interpretation of DDR, and can help practitioners understand the sociological processes underlying the success of DDR programming.

From a sociological perspective, DDR is the re-socialization of ex-combatants into society. Through a process of social and symbolic engagement, ex-combatants are subjected to more stable and productive social forces and structures. Considering the sum of practices, symbols, norms, ideologies, and material objects present in ex-combatants’ everyday lives, can help practitioners unpack the complex sociological processes entrenching DDR programming.

DDR programs are a string of symbolic interactions and social constructions. Disarmament and demobilization happens through micro-level social interactions. In this, combatants perform an action to the community signifying a change in his/her behavior and status in society. From society’s perspective, this process is an initiation right, signifying the ex-combatant’s loyalty to his/her new social group. From the perspective of society, the ex-combatant is making him/her self socially accountable to the community, whereas from the perspective of the ex-combatant, he/she is symbolically beginning to socially-construct a new identity in society.

Reintegration is a continuous socializing practice, more so than a symbolic ritual. In the long-standing endeavor, ex-combatants subject themselves to a different set of social norms and social values in daily engagement. Not only do they change their identity from combatants to civilians, but also reduce or eliminate their contact with or reliance on their previous military networks. This often includes relatives and essential support systems, which makes it difficult for ex-combatants to maintain a degree of seperation.

Similarly to communities, militias are social groups consisting of support networks, norms, a common identity and boundaries of separation. They offer a sense of belonging, and in turn demand a degree of conformity to function. In a sense, militias have push and pull factors, which DDR programs can benefit from understanding. Eliminating a social identity linked with militant groups requires diminishing ties and support systems connecting them to ex-combatants. This is possible only if DDR programs can fill substantial voids left from previous social support systems.

Successful reintegration requires embedding productive abstractions into the social institutions within a given society. On an individual level, it requires newer and stricter forms of cooperation and an increased capacity to create a complex social life by submitting to a generally accepted degree of conformity and set of moral judgments. On a societal level, it requires the infrastructure to socialize ex-combatants. The greatest method of socialization is in the form of educational achievement. While current forms of short-term vocational training in the past has been successful in certain outlets, longer-term infrastructure for educational attainment can have inter-generational effects and provide lasting outlets for continual community engagement.

Self-sustaining education infrastructure is an important center for re-socialization, thus more research should be conducted to explore the practical application of this endeavor. Furthermore, providing long-term education can face many different operational impediments, for example educating participants in remote rural areas. Thus, more research should be done in areas developing strategic solutions to these problems. The nexus between information and communication technologies (ICT) and education in DDR is also another area that is in need of more research.

Given the simultaneous social processes taking place throughout the DDR trajectory, it is imperative that practitioners both consider and address the sociological dimensions of ex-combatants in their community reintegration. Sociological approaches can help professionals account for both individuals and communities in DDR programming. By viewing reintegration as a process of social disengagement and engagement, re-socialization, and the (re-) consolidation of social values and norms, practitioners can better understand the social dimensions of reintegration in DDR.

By Nick Palombo