In these times of conflict and violence, fluctuating geopolitics, and democratic backsliding, building and repairing trust is fundamental to achieving peace and setting the stage for development. Security sector reform and good governance are crucial in this regard, especially in fragile and conflict-affected places.

Here are selected highlights from 2023, reflecting our efforts to put people at the centre of security sector reforms and build accountable and effective security and justice. On behalf of all of us at DCAF, I hope you enjoy reading them.

  • - Ambassador Nathalie Chuard, Director, DCAF
Nathalie Chuard

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DCAF's mission is to advance the security of all people through nationally owned, inclusive, and participatory security sector reforms based on international norms and good practices.

Over 23 years supporting reform processes in more than 70 countries, DCAF has earned a reputation as the pre-eminent global expert in security sector reform and governance. In everything we do, we adhere to the principles of impartiality, national ownership, inclusive participation, and gender equality. These values are our strength; we are trusted across the spectrum of state and non-state actors to accompany them through long and complex reform processes.

Defining security according to people’s needs

DCAF promotes a people-centred approach to security and justice reform that requires a deep understanding of local realities and insecurities for all members of the community. Prior to the war in Gaza in 2023, we facilitated 54 dialogue sessions in the 16 governorates of the West Bank and Gaza and the 10 largest refugee camps in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. More than 1000 people across all socio-economic and cultural groups shared their security and justice experiences, perceptions, and needs.

Fostering an international community of practice

DCAF provides expert analysis, advice, and training to our International Partners’ Group which includes countries and multilateral organizations seeking to play an effective supporting role in preventing conflict and consolidating peace through nationally-led security sector reform processes. The Group comes together in a unique online resource called the Community of Practice, in which practitioners and policy makers share knowledge on what has been done, what works, and the common challenges they continue to face. In addition to developing their capacity and expertise on SSG/R through this Community, the Group also identifies opportunities to harmonize donor efforts for greater effectiveness of reform and good governance processes, especially in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.

Assessing the security sector’s role in tackling the impact of climate change

To better understand the current and potential role of the security sector in responding to the consequences of climate change and environmental degradation, DCAF conducted stocktaking studies in Brazil, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Philippines, and Sierra Leone. The studies explored the ways in which security institutions in these countries already play a role, such as disaster risk reduction and environmental protection. They also identified new risks and opportunities for how the security sector could be more useful in protecting communities from the ill-effects of climate change.

Delivering better security through improved financial oversight

In several countries in the Sahel, DCAF has supported oversight bodies to better detect, reduce, and prevent corruption in the security sector. In countries where military and security expenditures often account for a third of national resources, financial control over armed forces can be a highly political issue. DCAF’s work in 2023 contributed to its depoliticization, and a change in the common narrative that secrecy is necessary for security. This has resulted in a change in control procedures to ensure that resources are used according to people’s actual security needs. DCAF also started development of a unique financial management tool to help government officials, economists, and lawmakers analyze the affordability of their security institutions, forecast the cost of SSG/R initiatives, and test the budget implications of new policies and strategies.

Feeding expert analysis into policy and practice

DCAF routinely provides expert advice and evidence-based inputs to international fora working on issues related to security and justice reform. For instance, the Working Group on Customary and Informal Justice and Sustainable Development Goal 16.3, the UN Intergovernmental Working Group on Private Military and Security Companies, and the UN Working Group on Mercenaries. DCAF is also a partner in the European Union SSG Facility, which provides on-call expertise to EU actors and instruments to address emerging needs, support strategic policy development, and ensure the EU’s SSR Principles remain central to its programmes worldwide. For civil society, law makers, and ombuds institutions DCAF created the good practices toolbox on SSG/R and SDG 16, an ever-growing, searchable database with practical examples of how SSG/R can be a powerful policy tool for achieving SDG 16.

Supporting multilateral efforts at peacebuilding

DCAF provides expertise and advice to multilateral institutions, such as supporting the United Nations to develop its practical guidance on SSG/R and climate change. In 2023, we helped the Principles for Peace Foundation with an adaptive learning workshop to gather evidence from people’s experience on the ground and create a resource for security actors involved in peacemaking efforts. Closer to home, DCAF is a member of the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform which organizes the annual Geneva Peace Week, an international forum on peacebuilding. We also partnered with the Platform to organize consultations on the New Agenda for Peace and provided input to the UN’s call for submissions on this important policy milestone.

Security sector practitioners in fragile or conflict-affected areas are often very isolated and it can feel like you are trying to reinvent the wheel with every challenge you face. Having a resource like DCAF’s Community of Practice provides a link to those in similar situations facing challenges that can benefit from peer exchanges and learning.

Peter Cross

Deputy Director, PeaceNexus


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Ensuring effective oversight of soldiers at war

Ensuring effective oversight of soldiers at war

Following the Russian invasion in 2022, the Ukrainian government shifted its focus from broader SSG/R initiatives to managing the armed forces during wartime and as such DCAF realigned its support to meet emerging needs. With the Ukrainian army numbering nearly one million personnel, the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, sought DCAF’s guidance to establish an effective military justice system. We helped adjust the institutional and legal frameworks to enhance the accountability of army officers for their compliance on the battlefield with International Humanitarian Law, and provided the National Police and State Emergency Services with specialized training on how to appropriately manage victims and gather evidence for the prosecution of crimes of sexual violence.

Fostering an international community of practice

DCAF and the Honduran National Police have been working together for over five years to improve gender equality within the institution. The Police Gender Policy, approved in 2022, paved the way for the Police University to request that DCAF co-design its first Gender Equity Diploma. In 2023, the new diploma became part of the standard police curriculum and was used to train about 4000 officers in the 36 police districts across Honduras.

Fostering an international community of practice

With DCAF’s support, the Gambian Police Force (GFP) has been working since 2017 to improve oversight and accountability. In 2022, it completed its first police doctrine based on international standards. Throughout 2023, the principles of the doctrine were used to guide the development of training, policies, and standard operating procedures on leadership, gender equality, and crisis and operational management. The additional development of a gender mainstreaming policy was complemented by a first-ever mentoring scheme that brought together female officers from the Gambia with officers from the Thames Valley Police in the UK. The GPF’s commitment to professionalizing its force has shown results. In a survey of GPF staff, 96% said they believed the quality of line management has changed for the better, and 43% said it has “significantly” improved.

Fostering an international community of practice

Building on the foundation of several years of reforms, in 2023 North Macedonia saw significant progress in public trust and accountability of security institutions, and oversight of the intelligence and security sector. As a result of DCAF’s support, the Ministry of the Interior published its first publicly available Integrity Plan illustrating a new level of transparency and accountability. Parliament passed a law to enable the Council for Civilian Supervision to conduct external oversight of the intelligence sector, and in general Parliamentarians reported better and more frequent interactions between their oversight committees and intelligence services. Most importantly, members of the intelligence and security community participated in public events alongside representatives of the ombuds institution, civil society, and the media, contributing to a well-informed public with more confidence in state institutions.

Fostering an international community of practice

DCAF works with governments and communities to help ensure that private security companies respect the human rights of the communities in which they operate. In Peru, we supported local partners to do a study on the use of force by private security companies. It is being used as the basis for a new policy under the auspices of the country’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. Following a period of civil unrest, 2023 saw the reinvigoration of the Cusco Working Group, one of the DCAF-supported multistakeholder groups that bring together mining companies, local leaders, and civil society groups around the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPs). The Cusco Working Group visited local mining areas to meet with miners and authorities, and then brought their experience and observations to the VP Working Group in Lima to inform policy discussions taking place at the national level.

Fostering an international community of practice

In 2023, DCAF reviewed its ongoing SSG/R programmes in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali to assess how best to proceed following coups d'état that deteriorated the political, security and economic situation. Taking a "do no harm" approach, we shifted away from activities linked to defence and security forces, and refocused our efforts on institutional monitoring bodies, and improving the capacity of civil society, local officials, and the media to conduct effective democratic oversight. DCAF did this by training and advising national partners and organizing regional multi-stakeholder conferences to exchange experiences and best practices. The conference in Mali on Citizen Participation in Security Governance resulted in 20 recommendations, including the need to move away from a security-only approach, and greater involvement of women and youth in security governance.

Thanks to DCAF, we have improved our internal processes to give a better response to citizens so they can report bad police practices to our institution.

Silvia Marcela Amaya Escota

Executive Director, Interdisciplinary Affairs of the Police


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Convening multistakeholder dialogues to support pathways to peace

In 2023, DCAF continued facilitating dialogue on security-related issues in Yemen through regional consultations with representatives of local tribes, security institutions, civil society organizations, and donor states. In the years since the 2021 coup d’etat in Myanmar, DCAF has facilitated discussions and trainings for over 750 representatives of the exiled National Unity Government, the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, ethnic armed groups, civil society, donors, and international organizations. Convening these stakeholders to discuss their security and justice needs, especially for women, youth, and other vulnerable populations, helps to lay the groundwork for a potential future peace process.

Fostering change through ongoing training and collaboration

With local partners, DCAF led a group of participants from the Georgian security sector through a professional development series that built their knowledge and fostered collaboration on gender equality across five security institutions. Seven months later, more women were being selected for trainings; gender issues were integrated into training materials; and a cross-institutional working group was formally established to support gender mainstreaming across the security sector. Additionally, DCAF facilitated a Women’s Leadership Programme for the Ministry of Defence, which shifted perceptions about women’s leadership. A participant in the Programme became the first female commander of an infantry company in the Georgian Defence Forces.

Creating effective legal and policy frameworks for SSG/R

In 2023, DCAF opened its newest field office in Chișinău, Moldova. To kick off a new three-year project we organized two national conferences with representatives from the Parliament, the Supreme Security Council, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the General Police Inspectorate, civil society groups, and the international community. They discussed citizens’ security needs, national priorities, and strategic planning in security and home affairs. Throughout the year, DCAF provided guidance on draft laws and policies governing the security and intelligence services, and expert inputs to national fora and closed-door discussions that fed into the development of the Moldovan National Security Strategy. We also supported the successful implementation of the Moldovan National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security with guidance on how to improve its monitoring and evaluation.

Working with the private sector to protect human rights

In Japan, Keidanren, a national business association of nearly 1500 companies and over 100 industrial associations, integrated the DCAF-ICRC Security and Human Rights Toolkit as a key reference for its members. In Asia-Pacific, Ipieca, the global oil and gas industry association, for the first time engaged with DCAF on responsible security management in conflict-affected areas. In Mozambique, DCAF and our partner visited Gemfields’ ruby mine site. It was the first visit to a conflict-affected area to meet with the company and better understand how it manages security challenges with artisanal and small-scale miners.

Helping governments improve regulation of private security and military companies

The globally recognized Montreux Document, which turned 15 this year, outlines the legal obligations of governments to regulate the conduct of private military and security companies (PMSC). DCAF is the secretariat of the Montreux Document Forum and in 2023 we helped Romania become a member alongside 58 other countries and three international organizations. DCAF also continued our support to national counterparts in Niger, Tunisia, and Palestine to revise national legal frameworks that govern private security companies to ensure they align with international law and human rights standards.

A model for success: peer exchange on judicial training

In North Macedonia, DCAF has supported the national Academy for Judges and Public Prosecutors to update judicial training to align with European Union standards. In 2023, we brought members of the Academy to share their approaches and experiences with their counterparts in Spain, which was identified as having an exceptional model for the design and delivery of judicial training. Following the visit, the Academy from North Macedonia identified best practices and recommendations to improve its training courses. These included introducing social and non-legal skill development for judges, and new methods for conducting mock trials, which are a key tool in judicial training. DCAF is helping the Academy to apply these lessons learned.

Your participation and partnership are instrumental in advancing our new United Nations’ vision on security sector reform and governance outlined in the third report of the Secretary-General on Security Sector Reform.

Daniël Prins

Chief, Security Sector Reform Unit, Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions, UN Department of Peace Operations


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