Security Sector Reform: Opportunities and Challenges
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
Thank you, Mr President, for this debate and for your presence today. And to the Nigerian Presidency in New York, for their important efforts on the potentially transformative task of security sector reform.
In May 2006 – four years after Timor-Leste’s independence – as the UN Office in Timor-Leste was preparing to withdraw, a crisis in the security sector sparked a relapse into a political, security and humanitarian emergency.
This was precipitated by the dismissal of nearly a third of the Timorese armed forces, and saw police and army fighting each other in the streets. The unravelling of law and order left dozens dead and some 150,000 displaced.
In response, as we know, at Timor-Leste’s request, Australia, New Zealand and Portugal deployed an international stabilisation force. And in August 2006 the Council mandated another peacekeeping mission, UNMIT.
We need to heed the important lessons of this and other experiences of relapse: on the centrality that SSR can have to long-term stability. And how SSR should be supported.
There is a positive ending, of course, with Timor-Leste, which has made great strides in reforming its security sector, strengthening not just capacities, but governance and civilian oversight. In March 2011, the national police resumed primary policing responsibilities after a phased handover from UNMIT.
Our understanding of SSR has evolved – an evolution helped by the experience in Timor-Leste. From a narrow conception of training and equipping institutions, we now view SSR as a process that needs to encompass the security architecture as a whole. And is as much political as technical.
I will focus on three issues.
First, national ownership. National authorities need to generate and drive a strategic vision for reform. But SSR is in many ways about the contract between the security sector and population, so to be effective must have community buy-in. Involvement of civil society – including women’s groups – is vital.
How do we better foster such ownership and leadership?
Second-generation SSR in Timor-Leste is a good example. The government took strong leadership; with UNMIT and international partners – with their relatively small footprint – in support. There was significant community outreach.
UNMIT’s final stages were guided by a best-practice jointly-agreed transition plan, including a framework for final assumption of functions by Timorese security institutions and continuation of support by other partners.
Separately, Australia has signed an innovative ‘New Deal’ agreement with the Timorese Government, including a commitment to support Timor-Leste’s goals for security sector reconstruction and reform across crime prevention and investigation, public safety and border control.
My second point concerns measuring impact. We need to find new ways to evaluate the real impact of SSR, including public confidence in security services. In Solomon Islands, an innovative tool – the annual People’s Survey – covers perceptions of the police force. This informs planning by the government and Australian-led regional mission – RAMSI – on police reform and law and order.
My third point concerns the role of the UN. Many SSR initiatives fail because of a narrow technical focus. But the UN can be uniquely placed to support a holistic perspective across the sector. UNMIT, for example, supported Timor-Leste’s comprehensive security sector review, which led to new legislation for the security and defence sectors.
SSR is most effective when complemented by development of strong democratic institutions. These are inherently political processes, and today’s resolution rightly encourages Special Representatives of the Secretary-General and envoys to focus on SSR in their good offices roles.
Finally, I’d like to mention two particular areas of UN engagement on SSR.
First, Sanctions. The Cote d’Ivoire regime – where lethal equipment importation is linked directly to the government’s SSR process – is one of the most striking examples of the nexus between arms embargoes and security sector reform. Embargoes can assist in stopping flows of weapons that could reignite violence, creating the conditions for development of stronger security institutions. And groups of experts can provide invaluable support – for example information on threats and illicit flows – which can help SSR design. We urge deeper cooperation between UN missions, sanctions committees and groups of experts on these issues.
Second, policing reform. The Council has just authorised one of the largest police components in any peacekeeping operation, in MINUSCA in the Central African Republic – a country in which rebuilding the shattered security sector is absolutely vital. When thinking of UN police, our minds often jump to images of formed police units patrolling. But let me emphasise the important part police (and civilians) in UN missions can play in supporting rebuilding and reform of host-state policing.
Policing reform is often overshadowed by the higher-profile reform of militaries. Yet police are the public face of the security sector; the ones the population should turn to for protection. Building professional, accountable policing and law enforcement agencies, focused on serving the community – and UNMIT supported this well in its later years – can be central to restoring rule of law and building trust in the authorities. We urge more Council focus on this, including in mandates.
The UN can be uniquely placed to coordinate international support. But it needs to get better at coordinating its own policing assistance, including by harmonising various approaches brought by different contributors to missions. The Police Division’s new Strategic Guidance Framework will contribute significantly to standardising UN policing activities, including capacity-building.
To conclude, Mr President,
At its core, security sector reform is about ensuring a state’s institutions serve and protect its own population. And support to SSR is increasingly – and rightly – an integral part of the mandates the Council authorises. It is, effectively, our exit strategy. And when done well, SSR’s legacy is the stable – and potentially transformative – foundation it provides for long-term peace, security, and development.