pdf Pragmatic Realism in Justice and Security Development

Author: Eric Scheye
Institution: Clingendael – Conflict Research Unit
Publication Date: July 2009
Keywords: Security and Justice


The report examines the challenges and opportunities of donor support to non-state/local justice and security networks in fragile environments.  These networks tend to provide a large proportion of security and justice to the population and are often seen to be more legitimate and trusted than the state.  Donors should therefore proportion a significant share of support to improving the performance of these networks to enhance delivery of security and justice in the short to intermediate term.  Importantly though, the paper caveats this by cautioning against indiscriminate support and noting any decision to support these networks needs to be grounded in an understanding of the multi-layered politics and dynamic power balances that characterise conflict environments.

Key Issues:

The paper argues a large part of donor support in fragile and post-conflict environment should focus on improving the performance of non-state/local justice and security networks and on building more effective and accountable linkages between these networks and the state.  Fragile and post-conflict environments are often marked by state failures in service delivery, with the state unable and/or unwilling to meet the needs of the population.  As a result, non-state actors regularly fill the void left by the state and become the primary vehicle for security and justice for the majority of the population. These networks effectively function as a ‘second state’.  They form an additional layer of governance often more trusted, accessible and legitimate in the eyes of the population, and are frequently more effective at delivering security and justice.  While donors should not discontinue supporting improvements in state capacity, in the short to intermediate term, non-state/local justice and security networks are effective at substituting for weak states.

Support to these networks should not be indiscriminate, nor should it come at the expense of increasing state capacity.  The practices of these networks may contravene human rights standards, be characterised by elite capture, entail illegal activity, and/or fail to protect vulnerable groups.  Their practices may be so pervasive or atrocious that donors just cannot support them.  A degree of flexibility is required though.  Donors need to assess whether these networks are worse offenders than the state, whether they are open to improving their performance and how effectively they can remedy violations.  The decision to engage these networks comes down to a political judgement.  This needs to be grounded in an understanding of the multi-layered nature of governance and the dynamic power balances that characterise fragile and conflict affected states.

As donors often only possess a partial understanding of the local context, this can present challenges when deciding who to support, in terms of the cost of identifying networks, gaining access to them and deciphering the often opaque and political dynamics between non-state actors and the state.  This brings with it a higher degree of risk and unpredictability that donors may not be accustomed to.  It may require staff that are not only technically competent, but also politically astute, flexible and able to tolerate higher levels of ambiguity.  Local civil society and NGOs are well situated to support donor efforts here, as they tend to have the requisite understanding of the local context required to make many of the political judgements this support requires, albeit bringing their own capacity challenges that donors may have to simultaneously address.

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