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

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.

Technology and Post-conflict Reconstruction: Lessons for DDR

In 2014, the World Bank released an interesting study titled ‘The role of information and communication technologies in post-conflict reconstruction.’ The report reflected the untapped potential of technology in addressing post-war challenges. In general, conflicts mark the disruption of a State’s information and communication channels. From a DDR standpoint, the restoration of these networks might not be an immediate priority but evidence shows that it can reap its own benefits, especially in terms of confidence building measures among the affected community.

Some supranational initiatives, such as The Expert panel on Innovation in UN Peacekeeping (2014), commissioned by DPKO[1] do already acknowledge the role of technology in making peacekeeping a more innovative enterprise. The examples that the Expert Panel cited include:

  1. PMP[2] which was piloted by MINUSCA[3] and allowed 80 users to connect to a single point, internal web-based radio stations developed by UNMIK[4] and MINUSMA[5] to broadcast news alerts accessible anywhere on the intranet grid.
  2. ASIFU[6] developed by MINUSMA to provide the mission’s force commander with timely and integrated intelligence analysis.

Such technological interventions can be of interest to DDR as well. In places such as Sudan, which houses a DPKO Peacekeeping Mission that worked in tandem with UNDP on DDR, the sharing of technological inputs to achieve better connectivity and coordination can be a great blessing.

However, treating technologies as an end goal in itself can be counterproductive.  Instead, depending on the end user, the technological formulations ought to be customized. For instance, DDR practitioners can leverage off the fact that cell phone penetration among the population is generally high. The focus can thus be on developing training modules on skills training initiatives for ex-combatants which rely on SMS/MMS based technologies.

The idea is to actualize their hopes of access to another world, one far removed from conflict and violence. On the other side, where issues like resource provision and efficient administration become important concerns, technologies like biometric identification for ex-combatants (already used in places like Afghanistan) can be examples of useful interventions. Additionally, local peace builders can use cell phones and social media to build trust between hostile groups; crucial to any successful community reintegration effort. The example of a such an initiative includes ‘Peace Factory’, which shares messages of friendship on Facebook, allowing for people to people contact to foster amicability between warring population groups like the Israelis and Palestinians.

Reliable information is crucial for making informed policy decisions and for availing donor support and international help. Civil society organizations can play a greater role here by disseminating information through local communication networks like the public radio. In this light, The World Bank Study (2014) points towards the need to have Early Warning Systems (EWS) and technology-enabled intelligence gathering mechanisms to identify conflict hotspots well in advance.  In terms of collaboration, the internet offers new possibilities for UN DDR practitioners, donors, community organizations and national actors to come together. For instance, UNDP created an online platform called ‘Mahallae’ in post-conflict Cyprus for online collaboration among the community members to discuss matters related to peacebuilding.

In short, post-conflict societies have different histories and different socio-economic trajectories. Still, as underscored by the World Bank study (2014), they tend to share the common feature of social cohesion disrupted by violence. As Winston Churchill famously said, “jaw jaw is better than war war”, i.e., talking, communicating and negotiating is better than violence that seeks any form of redressal. But communication needn’t happen at that upper echelons alone.  In fact, in post-conflict situations, greater knowledge of each other is crucial to allow for intangibles like empathy to burble up to the fore. For all this, we need to provide for a channel of communication which can be addressed by various technological solutions discussed here. Nevertheless, it is important to not forget that one has to be cautious about the unequal access to technology and digital divide, especially in the post conflict setting. Despite such nuances and potential complications, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) ought to be placed as one among the priorities for the long term national reconstruction and socio-economic development, both of which are essential ingredients to the peace-building process.

– by Ardra Manasi

[1] Department of Peacekeeping Operations

[2] Point-to-Multipoint

[3] United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic

[4] United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo

[5] United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali

[6] All Sources Information Fusion Unit

Prospects for Peace & Security in Myanmar

Helena Gronberg in her piece for PRSG – “Is Myanmar Ripe for DDR?”, rightly points to a classic DDR ‘dilemma’ being faced in Myanmar. This is focused largely on the sequencing of a DDR effort, pointedly D-D-then-R. In what is called ‘classic’ or 1st Generation DDR lasting from around the late 1980s until the early 2000s[1] this was less of an issue as DDRs were governed by comprehensive peace settlements. These occurred most notably in Southern Africa and Central America. Countries like Angola, Mozambique, Guatemala and Nicaragua are notable examples. In the mid-2000s both the promulgation of the global policy guidance known as the Integrated DDR Standards (IDDRS), as well as the 2nd Generation DDR in Peace Operations simultaneously, and respectively, cemented policy around historic best practices and lessons learned while also calling for a new policy construct based on lessons being learned. Part of this new policy call includes flexible sequencing for D-D-R.

While security sector reform (SSR) and/or security sector integration (SSI) is in play when discussing Myanmar, on the face of it this un-necessarily conflates issues related to a negotiated political settlement, and while more complex issues are at stake, the basis of Helena’s argument is one of DDR sequencing and political dialogue. As such, there is nothing inherent to SSR or DDR that requires disarmament prior to negotiating terms in a political settlement.

At issue is the fact that 7 of the 15 armed groups is not parties to the NCA as pointed out. The reasons for such exclusion, willful or otherwise, are as important to understanding the terms for SSR and DDR, as they are for the preconditions to undertake SSR and DDR. Are the conditions that are being established precluding bringing parties to the table? The question is relevant for armed groups, as well as government actors. Disarmament as a precondition for negotiating peace is quite dissimilar to sequencing D-D-R once a settlement is signed. Both require varying degrees to trust in the peace process, and both requires a certain type of entry points for negotiation assuming both parties are willing to do so. This can include incremental disarmament, arms management and verification programs and the like as part of a peace settlement. Disarming armed groups prior to getting them to the peace table is likely to be more difficult.

The above discounts armed group’s unwillingness to be included in any SSR/SSI process that would use DDR as a tool for implementation. As Helena points out, Myanmar’s conflict includes ‘root causes’ and ‘grievances’ related to deep ethnic divisions. In such cases, the very notion of a DDR effort must be challenged – “Is Myanmar Ripe for DDR?” is a suitable question.

The question then becomes is DDR the appropriate tool, program, policy and/or approach for durable conflict mediation and peacebuilding in Myanmar. If issues of autonomy are being pursued as part of a larger SSR, Rule of Law (RoL) and Governance agenda, then we must consider that references and pushes on the DDR issue too early in the peace process may ‘cause harm’ by stalling already fragile peace processes.

In this regard, Myanmar may wish to look to its neighbors both regionally and beyond for examples of ‘DDR-like’ processes that are facilitating peace through approaches that include armed group ‘decommissioning’ as was considered for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Philippines, or the ‘normalization of relations’ as is being considered in the Brussels Agreement between Kosovo and the Serbian Civil Protection Corps (CPC). These convey a certain degree of dignity, recognition, respect and legitimacy on armed groups where DDR is often perceived by groups undergoing disarmament as the equivalent to defeat, loss and failure. In some cases this may include cultural, political and personal emasculation.

In all instances, Helena does point us in a direction that is relevant and warrants further analysis and consideration.

By:   Dean Piedmont.  Director PRSG & the Countering Violent Extremism Initiative

[1] The use of the term ‘classic’ or 1st Generation DDR is used by Adjunct Professor Dean Piedmont in at the Studley Graduate Program of International Affairs at the New School in the ‘DDR in Contemporary Peace Operations’ course. The conceptual framework juxtaposes DDR through 3 successive generations. The first deals with a ‘Statebuiding Era’ for DDR, the second is DDR in an ‘Age of Development’ while the third in ‘Political DDR’ typified by ongoing conflict in asymmetric settings with violent extremist (VE) groups. Currently DDR is in its 3rd Generation, though this is not where Myanmar sits in this construct.

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) and Security Sector Reform (SSR) in Myanmar

By Helena Gronberg


Since the signing of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) between the government of Myanmar and eight of the 15 rebel groups active in the country (in October), the question on everyone’s mind is, “what next?” The main question begging for an answer is what role the military will have in the upcoming political dialogue. Other uncertainties include the competition for power among alternative political forces inside the country, the extent of participation in the political dialogue/ peace process by the country’s population at large, including women, and how the recent ceasefire agreements between the government and the various ethnic insurgent groups will play out.

It is widely understood that disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) is an important process on the road from active military engagement to post-conflict settlement. But in Myanmar, a country where non-state armed groups (NSAGs) have long looked at DDR with great suspicion, putting forth a comprehensive DDR program will not be an easy task. Furthermore, NSAGs frequently prefer to focus not on disarmament, rather other issues, like social and economic reintegration of armed combatants – what they perceive as the grievances, or ‘root causes’ for their taking up arms in the first place.

As Security Sector Reform (SSR) has wider implications than DDR – in that it includes a range of reforms such as judiciary- and police reforms – DDR could be used as a tool for a broader SSR that might also be more attractive to the armed ethnic groups that are so suspicious of DDR efforts. DDR and SSR could thus be mutually reinforcing. Indeed, Knight (2009) argues that military integration in some post-war contexts can be integrated with SSR, including in the police and the judiciary. Furthermore, according to research undertaken in Myanmar (Kyed and Gravers 2014) this might well be an option there as well. Some NSAGs have indicated that they could envisage themselves in a reformed Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces).

According to the UN, SSR in a country in transitional like Myanmar can be aimed at introducing “the principles of democratic governance to the security sector.” The objective is to create public trust in security institutions. It thus seems imperative to include NSAGs in any SSR process. The link between DDR and SSR relates to rightsizing security bodies in the context of post-settlement restructuring. Security personnel who may be downsized as part of this process are likely to require reinsertion and reintegration support.

Kyed and Gravers (2014) suggest that community policing as an integration mechanism for ex-combatants could be considered as part of a wider SSR process that could include members of NSAGs as well as government militias. Such initiatives should be based on proper understanding of existing village defense forces, government militias and NSAG security providers, and the power dynamics that they are embedded in (Kyed and Gravers 2014).

But Myanmar faces many challenges to achieving this. The decades of military rule are still very visible as the military continues to hold on to power and call the shots. Any DDR and SSR will need to be integral parts of the political dialogue.


Knight, M. (2009). Security Sector Reform: Post-Conflict Integration, GFN-SSR. University of Birmingham.

Kyed, H. M and M. Gravers. (2014). Non-State Armed Groups in the Myanmar Peace Process: What are the Future Options? DIIS Working Paper. Copenhagen: Danish Institute for International Studies

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.

Enhancing our Understanding of the Social Reintegration of Ex-Combatants ~ The case of Aceh

Since the First Generation DDR programs were launched, there has been a major concern on how to socially reintegrate ex-combatants into the community. The social reintegration process as understood within DDR has focused on ex-combatants and the importance of transforming their identity from combatant to civilian. To avoid the return to war and reduce the threat they pose to domestic peace and social cohesion, DDR programs have emphasized the importance of providing them with jobs and economic assistance. Measurement are first and foremost linked to the element of economic reintegration.

Gradually, the importance of including community members into the social reintegration process has also been highlighted. The reason is discussed in regard to the broken relationship between ex-combatants and community members, which is argued to create a potential stigmatization of ex-combatants. More specifically, previous research has looked upon the issues of acceptance, trust and forgiveness by community members towards ex-combatants. When discussing these aspects a polarizing rhetoric has often been used, where ex-combatants are seen as perpetrators and community members as victims. This understanding of social reintegration is closely connected to the field of transitional justice, where different kinds of healing mechanisms, such as truth and reconciliation commissions, are said to promote the success of social reintegration.

While it is clear that social reintegration is about the relationship between ex-combatants and community members, the ways of measuring this relationship have been inadequate. One reason is the lack of conceptual clarity, which, in turn, has to do with the tendency of lumping a diverse set of community members under a single voice and opinion. Moreover, the discussion of community has focused primarily on the individual level and the relationship between ex-combatants and their family, friends and neighbors. As a result, there is little discussion about how the relationship between ex-combatants and community members materializes at the community level, despite the fact that the Integrated DDR Standards (IDDRS) recognizes that social reintegration of ex-combatants occurs at the community level.

In an attempt to develop our understanding of the community, and consequently bring more clarity to the concept of social reintegration, a field study in Aceh was conducted. The field study was based on a the idea of social citizenship – that all citizens have certain social rights, such as the right to education, work and health care. More specifically, it was argued that the social reintegration of ex-combatants should be defined in terms of ex-combatants and community members having equal access to different social sectors within community.

To measure this, community members in four different sectors (the job sector, health care sector, religious sector and general community sector) in two antipodal type areas were interviewed. One area where the social reintegration of ex-combatants was considered to be successful, according to the theoretical argument that reintegration is less problematic where ex-combatants receive support from community, and another area where the opposite situation was said to prevail.

The role of power
The findings showed that ex-combatants and community members had different access to the social sectors under consideration. What became clear was that this is strongly related to a power dimension

When looking at the social reintegration process in Aceh, one could see that the relationship between ex-combatants and community members varied due to how much power the ex-combatants had within the different sectors and whether community members’ attitudes towards ex-combatants were negative or positive. More specifically, community members talked about ”high” and ”low” level ex-combatants as well as ”good” and ”bad” ones.

In the area where reintegration was considered successful, ex-combatants were, on the one hand, referred to as powerful. On the other hand, attitudes towards them where mixed. While interviewees from the job sector explained how difficult it was to run their own businesses because of threats they faced by the ex-combatants, and sometimes even killings, interviewees in the religious sector referred to the ex-combatants as highly educated and respected. In the health sector, it turned out that ex-combatants had tried to use their power to get special health care treatment earlier on in the post-war period, but that they did not have any special power anymore. As a result, attitudes had become more positive towards the ex-combatants. In contrast, in the area where social reintegration was considered unsuccessful, the power of ex-combatants was weak. Often they were referred to as uneducated, poor and followers, and some interviewees even felt sorry for the ex-combatants because of the hard life they were living.

This shows that within the area where social reintegration was considered as successful, there where tendencies of ex-combatants excluding community members from some of the social sectors investigated. However, within the area where social reintegration was considered as unsuccessful, there where no signs of community members excluding ex-combatants. Nevertheless, one explanation to this can be related to the difficulties of finding an area clearly characterizing an unsuccessful reintegration, since the conflict in Aceh did not use atrocities against civilians as a war strategy to the same extent of many other civil wars.

Based on the findings, the following recommendations aims to provide a better discussion on how the Second Generation DDR programs should define and measure the concept of social reintegration.

  1. DDR research and practice seem mostly to have talked about social reintegration in relation to post-war situations where community members’ attitudes towards ex-combatants are likely to be negative. In turn, this may increase the likelihood of exclusionary behavior by the former towards the latter. However, little attention has been paid to the potential of ex-combatants acting exclusionary towards community members, which might be the larger issue in cases where the power of ex-combatants is strong. Important, therefore, is to identify whether ex-combatants are most likely to exclude community members or the opposite way around in each post-conflict context as well as to discuss how DDR programs can help to promote an equal power balance between ex-combatants and community members. For example, how do DDR programs focus on economic reintegration and affect the relationship between ex-combatants and community members in terms of power?
  2. The result shows that to consider community only in terms of family, friends and neighbors cannot fully measure the social reintegration process at the community level. Therefore, DDR programs must create clear indicators for social reintegration at the individual, community and national level in order to capture different problems within the social reintegration process. At the community level, this would, among other, imply investigating which sectors in each specific post-conflict context it is that ex-combatants might have greater interest in increasing their participation. Thus, which sectors within the community can result in greater material or non-material benefits for ex-combatants?
  3. A better understanding of the social reintegration process at the individual, community and national level is necessary in order to capture different aspects of failure and success within the social reintegration process. That would also enable DDR programs to better identify what role they can and should play in the social reintegration process.

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