by Melina Lito, Global Action to Prevent War and Hector Guerra, IANSA
The reference to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) within the United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons (PoA) (Sections II.21, II.22, II.30, II.34, II.35, and III.16) is relevant and shows the possibilities this instrument has in dealing with post-conflict situations in relation to small arms and light weapons (SALW).
In a nutshell, DDR programs are divided as follows: Disarmament, “is the collection, documentation, control and disposal of small arms, ammunition, explosives and light and heavy weapons of combatants and often also of the civilian population […] includes the development of responsible arms management programs.” Demobilization “is the formal and controlled discharge of active combatants from armed forces or other armed groups.” Reintegration “is the process by which ex-combatants acquire civilian status and gain sustainable employment and income,” (Source: Note by the Secretary-General on administrative and budgetary aspects of the financing of UN peacekeeping operations, 24 May 2005 [A/C.5/59/31]).
DDR has been an important approach in the transition of war-torn societies from armed conflicts to peace—albeit not always very successfully. It is not only the first step in the peacebuilding process, but also forms part of the broader political and reconstruction efforts. DDR programs, at least on paper, should help make peace irreversible. These programs, ideally at least, have to be people-centered, flexible, transparent, accountable, nationally-owned, integrated and well-planned.
Inadequate disarmament procedures could take the form of either improper storage of stockpiles that are maintained for national security or they could be kept as surplus, scheduled for destruction. As such, there is no guarantee that SALW will not end up in the wrong hands or in neighboring states because of poor stockpile management. Without proper demobilization and reintegration of combatants, a ready availability of guns means that these individuals could get rearmed and resort to violence—due to their training and experience—toward innocent people who might have already been victimized in war.
Evidently, the PoA addresses such programs, placing special emphasis on the control and elimination of SALW, from collection to disposal, calling on regional and international organizations to get involved in carrying out such programs, in particular the UN Security Council through its peacekeeping operations.
The PoA could have a more holistic approach to peacebuilding, going beyond DDR, one that includes attention to the situation of communities affected during armed conflicts. As we know, civilians, in all their diversity, are increasingly affected by armed violence—in particular that perpetrated by SALW—bearing the burden of victimization. In armed conflicts they make up most of casualties, sometimes reaching ninety percent of the total. Deaths are but one part of the armed violence phenomenon. For each person who dies as a result of armed violence, many more fall victim to direct physical and psycho-emotional damage, loss of limbs and/or livelihoods, as well as loss of family members and material. Communities as a whole are affected and face conditions of human insecurity: negative effects against food production and procurement, public health, education, religion, and women’s rights, among others.
The end of hostilities does not immediately translate into peace, development, and security for people. During times of uncertainty, war-torn societies have to sometimes undergo long reconstruction and reconciliation processes in order to take the necessary steps to produce institutionalized and lasting work to cope with poverty and set the foundations to reach at least minimum levels of welfare and economic growth. “The immediate post-conflict period offers a window of opportunity to provide basic security, deliver peace dividends, shore up and build confidence in the political process, and strengthen core national capacity to lead peacebuilding efforts. If countries succeed in these core areas early on, it substantially increases the chances for sustainable peace—and reduces the risk of relapse into conflict.” (General Assembly, (June 2009) Introduction, Report of the Secretary-General on peacebuilding in the immediate aftermath of conflict, A/63/881-S/2009/304).
Therefore, there are two areas of opportunity in the PoA’s approach to post-conflict situations: a) the opportunity to address the rights of victims of gun violence; and b) the opportunity to address the participation of women in decision-making and peacemaking processes, including DDR.
Victim assistance focuses attention on assistance to direct, indirect, and collective victims. In the mechanism for PoA implementation, there could be clear standards regarding state commitments to not repeat (or accept) patterns of violence and abide by human rights and other international standards. Such commitments could help avoid the recurrence of situations of armed violence that could in turn re-open cycles of victimization.
On the other hand, if the reintegration for ex-combatants is considered as part of the DDR programs, it should consider the needs of the victims of SALW-related armed violence, always bearing in mind their rights, assistance, and very importantly, their participation. As individuals, groups and communities directly and indirectly affected, they must contribute in the definition and embodiment of such programs as stakeholders participating under equal conditions, especially if in order to have former combatants cooperate with communities and non-governmental organizations. Attention to the rights of victims of armed violence should be part and parcel of PoA’s call on the UN and other intergovernmental organizations to support DDR as part of peacekeeping operations’ mandate and budgets.
Similarly, attention must be given to women’s contributions as active agents in peacebuilding processes. UN Security Council Resolution 1325 calls for women’s participation in peace processes and decision making levels and it encourages all those establishing DDR programs to “consider the different needs of female and male ex-combatants and to take into account the needs of their dependents.” (See, S/RES/1325 (2000), para. 1,2,13). Regarding DDR programs, women can face many barriers in participation because they can have limited access to disarmament benefits. (See, Massimo Fusato, Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration of Ex-Combatants, February 2003). Likewise, women face not only issues of stigma for returning to their communities but also pushback into their traditional roles within society. While programs often provide necessary training to ex-combatants, for women such training can be limited to cooking, tailoring or other traditional skills typically associated with women. (See source, Luisa Maria Dietrich Ortega, Transitional Justice and Female Ex-Combatants: Lessons Learned from International Experience, International Center for Transitional Justice, February 2010). As such, efforts must be undertaken to ensure that women have equal access to disarmament and reintegration programs and that women actively participate as relevant stakeholders in the creation and implementation of DDR programs. Overall, an effective peacebuilding process is one which includes the skills and perspectives of all members of the population and one which addresses the different needs of all members of society. As such, efforts must be taken to ensure that women can play an active role to make significant contributions in peace processes.
In conclusion, as part of the greater peacebuilding process, the purpose of a successful DDR program is to eliminate the flow of arms in post-conflict societies and to ensure for the full reintegration of ex-combatants into their communities. In the context of the PoA, more attention is needed on communities affected by violence stemming from the use of SALW, including on survivor’s rights and women’s participation.