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Parliamentary Oversight

As the highest representative body in a democratic system, parliament and its committees play a significant role in maintaining public accountability of the security sector. This has been emphasized in international and regional conventions and code of conducts. Indeed, in many countries, parliaments apply their generic functions of law-making, oversight, representation, elective functions, and budget control to the security sector. 

Despite this recognition, parliaments have received little attention in academic studies, and only a few scholarly articles briefly explore, for example, police accountability to parliament. DCAF contributes to fill the knowledge gap by conducting comparative research, developing capacity building tools such as handbooks, guides, and backgrounders, and producing in-depth case studies. 

In particular, the programme aims at: 
•    highlighting the importance of parliaments in security sector governance;
•    exploring the role of parliaments in security sector governance; and
•    identifying good practices of parliament’s role in security sector governance



Within our broader support to the UN, we have a focus on the following priorities: 
•    Mapping UN efforts to reform national defence sectors;
•    Learning from past experiences in the integration of ex-combatants into the security sector;
•    Enhancing multilateral cooperation in the field of SSR;
•    Improving coherence between policy and practice; and 
•    Raising awareness of the role of SSR in the implementation of two major UN agendas: (1) the sustaining peace agenda and (2) the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

DCAF provides policy advice to regional and international parliaments. 

For the Inter-Parliamentary Union, DCAF shared its expertise on sustaining peace and sustainable development at a hearing organised by the IPU at its 137th assembly meeting in St Petersburg in 2017, and provided advice on the draft resolution on “Sustaining peace as a vehicle for achieving sustainable development”, which was subsequently adopted at the 138th IPU Assembly meeting in Geneva in 2019. 

Furthermore, for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, we provided comments on its draft resolution “Strengthening the OSCE’s Approach to Supporting SSG/R in participating and partner States” (Annual Session in Berlin, 2018).

In 2011, we drafted a study on intelligence oversight in EU member states, which informed EP’s legislation on the oversight of EUROPOL. We have also given advice on improving intelligence accountability at the hearings on extraordinary rendition organised by the European Parliament in 2006.  



Parliamentary oversight of the security sector: Principles, mechanisms and practices 
Hans Born, Philipp Fluri, Anders Johnsson, 2003
The handbook is divided in eight sections, each containing several chapters, and can be read in two different ways. A complete reading of the Handbook will provide the most comprehensive understanding of security issues and the role of parliamentary oversight. However, it is also possible to make a selective reading of those sections and chapters which are of particular concern to the user. The index and various cross-references are designed for this purpose.
Throughout the handbook, there are separate boxes which clarify complex issues in the main text, provide examples of laws or regulations and highlight practices of parliamentary oversight of the security sector in various countries. At the end of most chapters there is a section called -- "what you can do as a parliamentarian," where concrete recommendations are given. However, these recommendations have to be looked at from the national context.
The handbook has been translated into 41 languages

Parliamentary Oversight of the Security Sector 
Hans Born (DCAF), European Parliament, 2013
This paper represents a further addition to the series of publications on issues in parliamentary practice from the Office for Promotion of Parliamentary Democracy (OPPD) of the European Parliament. Its main objective is to provide an overview of the main issues affecting parliamentary oversight and, more generally, democratic governance of the security sector in new and emerging democracies.

Parliaments, SSR Backgrounder
This SSR Backgrounder is about the roles and responsibilities of parliaments in good security sector governance (SSG). While parliaments are unique to each political and legal system, all share similar functions that make them central actors in ensuring good SSG in every democracy. This backgrounder explains how parliaments can apply the principles of good governance to the security sector.


Policing: The Role of Parliament in Police Governance: Lessons Learned from Asia and Europe
Mario J. Aguja, Hans Born, 2017
The objective of the edited volume on “The Role of Parliament in Police Governance: Lessons Learned from Asia and Europe” is to put forward good practices and recommendations for improving police accountability, with an emphasis on the strengthening of the role of parliament in police governance. The comparative analysis includes insights and lessons learned from eight country case studies including Belgium, Germany, India, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Philippines, Thailand and the United Kingdom. The findings of the cases studies can be taken into account when analysing and considering options for improving the accountability of the police to parliament as well as strengthening independent oversight bodies and parliament-police liaison mechanisms. However, it must be emphasised that these good practices always need to be adapted to the exigencies of the local context.

Intelligence: Parliamentary Oversight of Security and Intelligence Agencies in The European Union
Aidan Wills (DCAF), Mathias Vermeulen (EUI), 2011
The study evaluates the oversight of national security and intelligence agencies by parliaments and specialised non-parliamentary oversight bodies, with a view to identifying good practices that can inform the European Parliament’s approach to strengthening the oversight of Europol, Eurojust, Frontex and, to a lesser extent, Sitcen. The study puts forward a series of detailed recommendations (including in the field of access to classified information) that are formulated on the basis of in-depth assessments of: 
(1) the current functions and powers of these four bodies; 
(2) existing arrangements for the oversight of these bodies by the European Parliament, the Joint Supervisory Bodies and national parliaments; and 
(3) the legal and institutional frameworks for parliamentary and specialised oversight of security and intelligence agencies in EU Member States and other major democracies.

Armed forces: Report on the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces
Adopted by the Venice Commission at its 74th Plenary Session, 2008
The report focuses not only on the subordination of armed forces to democratically elected political authorities, but also to the legal standards and to the principles of democracy set out by them, which are to be enforced by the competent organ or authority.




Good Governance of the Security Sector in Southeast Asia: What Role for Parliament?
Mario J. Aguja, Hans Born, 2016
The publication is a compilation of contributions submitted at the 10th Anniversary Workshop of the Inter-Parliamentary Forum on Security Sector Governance in Southeast Asia (IPF-SSG) in Siem Reap on 15-16 September 2016. The publication consists of country case studies of Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and the Philippines.

Parliaments and National Strategy Documents: A comparative case-study from the Nordic region
Policy Paper N°36, Alyson JK Bailes, 2015
Many countries today produce a security 'strategy' document to cover the full range of military and non-military challenges facing them. By their nature such policy papers deserve careful parliamentary scrutiny, but do they receive it?  A case-study from the five Nordic states shows that governance arrangements for strategy-making vary considerably and sometimes leave parliament only a limited role.  This does not necessarily mean the strategies themselves are wrong, but it does underline the problem of updating parliamentary roles to keep pace with new security practices.

Parliamentary Oversight of the Security Sector: ECOWAS Parliament-DCAF Guide for West African Parliamentarians
Hans Born, Jean-Jacques Gacond, Boubacar N’Diaye, 2010
In collaboration with the ECOWAS Parliament, DCAF has developed a capacity building tool that is tailored to the needs of parliamentarians in West Africa. The Guide addresses various aspects of security governance in relation to the role, powers, challenges and prospects of parliaments, such as parliamentary oversight mechanisms, defence and security budgeting, and gender mainstreaming, amongst others. It serves as a vector for the dissemination of the principles of effective parliamentary oversight of the security sector in the West African region.
The Guide is the product of contributions of various experts in the field of security sector governance, particularly from the West African region. The reliance on local experts from diverse backgrounds including contributors drawn from civil society and the media reflects broad based and grassroots engagement. The Guide was presented to the Plenary of the ECOWAS Parliament on 29 September 2010 by a Review Committee and unanimously approved.



Parliamentary War Powers Around the World, 1989-2004: A New Dataset
Wolfgang Wagner, Dirk Peters, Cosima Glahn, 2010
War powers have been contested between governments and parliaments throughout the history of democratic politics and political theory. On the one hand, the authorisation of standing armies, of conscription and of taxes for the purpose of waging war has been the raison d’être of early modern parliamentarianism ever since the English nobility reached a constitutional settlement in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The paper outlines some patterns and basic variations that we found in parliamentary control procedures among 49 states examined and describes the decision-making power that parliaments possess before troops can be deployed by their governments.

The 'Double Democratic Deficit': Parliamentary Accountability and the Use of Force Under International Auspices
Hans Born and Heiner Hänggi, 2005
The use of force under international auspices has increased substantially in the past decade, but the same cannot be said of its democratic accountability. Standards of parliamentary accountability for the use of force under international auspices illustrate the national and international dimensions of what can be termed "a double democratic deficit".
The basic question is what rights parliaments should have, but their near exclusion from the sensitive judgements surrounding intervention seems incongruous in a democracy age. Modest improvements could be sought by more networking among national parliaments, enhanced procedural rights and information-handling methods, and - at the international level - more reporting to parliamentary bodies and a greater role both for the European Parliament and national assemblies in scrutinising the EU's security and defence policy.





Strengthening the Role of Parliament in SSG – Challenges and Opportunities from selected Case Studies
Hamza Mighri,Maxime Poulin, Jean Conte, Teodora Fuior, Vlado Gjerdovski, Mónica Pachón Buitrago
Parliaments play an indispensable role in good security sector governance, ensuring that individual and collective security is provided in accordance with the will of the people. This comparative study maps out challenges, remedies, and opportunities for parliaments in exercising security sector oversight across four case studies in different parts of the globe, and gathers observations and lessons to which can be used to inform future policy choices and SSR interventions.






As the primary agency for law enforcement, the police ope...

The publication "Good Governance of the Security Sector i...

Acknowledgements Assistance rendered by thi...


Hans Born, Assistant Director, Head of the Policy and Research Department, (