What's In Blue

Posted Wed 2 Dec 2020

High-Level Debate on Security Sector Governance and Reform*

Tomorrow morning (3 December), the Security Council is expected to hold a ministerial-level debate on “Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace: Security Sector Governance and Reform (SSG/R)” at the initiative of South Africa. South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, will preside over the meeting, which will be held via videoconference. The expected briefers are Bintou Keita, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa; Alexandre Zouev, Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions; and Smaїl Chergui, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security.

Representatives of several member states that are on the Council agenda and that have undertaken Security Sector Reform (SSR) processes, including the Central African Republic and South Sudan, are expected to participate in accordance with rule 37 of the provisional rules of procedure.

A resolution authored by South Africa is the expected outcome of the debate. The written voting procedure on the draft resolution started today (2 December) at 2 pm and is expected to be concluded by tomorrow at 2 pm. The results of the vote will be read out tomorrow afternoon by South Africa in its capacity as Council president this month.

Background and Debate

The Security Council has been engaging with SSR as a thematic issue since 2007 when it convened its first open debate on the matter during Slovakia’s February presidency. Since then, the Council has adopted several presidential statements that recognised the role of SSR in the consolidation of peace and stability, and in the promotion of long-term development. On 28 April 2014, the Security Council adopted resolution 2151, the first thematic resolution on SSR, following an open debate convened by Nigeria, which spearheaded the resolution. It recognised that SSR should be a nationally owned process, and in this regard recalled the sovereign right and the primary responsibility of the states concerned to determine their respective SSR approaches and priorities. While noting the support provided by bilateral and regional actors, resolution 2151 focused on the key role of the UN system in coordinating international support to SSR processes.

Since the adoption of resolution 2151 in 2014, the Security Council has gradually integrated more SSR considerations in its work, including through country‐specific resolutions mandating peace operations to implement an increasingly wider range of SSR tasks.

The concept note circulated by South Africa ahead of tomorrow’s debate (S/2020/1145) highlights the role of SSR in post-conflict peacebuilding and sustaining peace. It advocates an approach that takes into account the root causes of conflict as well as factors that might lead to a recurrence of the conflict. As such, the concept note states that the design of SSR agendas should consider issues such as the conflict or post-conflict environment, the security threats (past, current and potential), and the role of the security sector during the conflict. It further emphasises that UN support to nationally led SSR processes should be informed by the security needs of the population, while bearing in mind each country’s unique context and historical experience. According to the concept note, tomorrow’s meeting aims to draw linkages between SSR, peacebuilding and sustaining peace. The meeting will serve as a platform for Council members to discuss means to realign SSR priorities with the current peacebuilding strategies.

According to the concept note, several gaps still exist in the implementation of resolution 2151, such as mandates whose SSR elements do not highlight security sector governance or the participation of all segments of society in national SSR processes. The concept note further states that the role of UN peace operations in supporting the coordination of international assistance to SSG/R is not sufficiently linked to mandate priorities and sequencing. A further challenge is the underfunding of security sector reforms included in member states’ national recovery, prevention and peacebuilding strategies.

Tomorrow’s briefers are likely to address progress by peacekeeping and special political missions in supporting the implementation of SSR processes. They may call for an approach to SSR that is more inclusive and people-centred, which takes into account the views and needs of all members of society and builds on cooperation with local civil society. They might further provide recommendations on how to strengthen the coordination role of the UN in supporting SSR processes, especially when it comes to planning with regional organisations such as the AU and EU.

Negotiations on the draft resolution

The expected outcome of tomorrow’s debate is a resolution that builds upon and updates resolution 2151. The draft text, which will most likely be adopted tomorrow, will be the second thematic Security Council resolution on SSR. The draft in blue contains new language which reflects progress in the implementation of the SSR agenda since 2014 and broader developments in the UN’s approach to SSR. It references the need for facilitating inclusivity in SSR processes, including by considering the needs of the entire population and promoting the participation of women in the security sector. It also seeks to address gaps in the implementation of resolution 2151, including through strengthened provisions on reporting by the Secretary-General on SSR in country-specific updates to the Council.

It seems that the negotiations went relatively smoothly, in contrast to the arduous negotiations on resolution 2151 in 2014. South Africa circulated a first draft of the text to Council members on 11 November and subsequently convened two rounds of negotiations. A revised draft was placed under silence on 25 November, but silence was apparently broken by Russia, who was supported by China, on 30 November. These Council members expressed concerns over language referencing the role of SSR in conflict prevention and language relating to women, peace and security. Following bilateral contacts to address these concerns, South Africa placed an amended draft in blue on 2 December.

The draft resolution in blue retains all the provisions of resolution 2151, while also seeking to contextualise SSR in the broader narrative of development and post-conflict reconstruction and reflecting progress made in the women, peace and security agenda. In that regard, the draft text reaffirms that the promotion of women’s full and meaningful participation in the security sector contributes to building inclusive and legitimate institutions and encourages member states to develop context-specific security sector reform strategies that mainstream a gender perspective and increase women’s representation at all levels of the security sector. The draft further recognises the role that youth should play in contributing to conflict prevention, peacebuilding and recovery.

New provisions seeking to enhance the UN’s ability to perform its role in supporting SSR processes are also contained in the draft text in blue. The draft resolution encourages the Secretary-General’s special representatives in peacekeeping operations and special political missions to fully integrate SSR/G into their good offices. It calls on special representatives to consider SSR in their mission’s efforts to advance peace processes and extend state authority. These new references highlight a stronger political approach to SSR, explicitly recognising the link between SSR and operational and structural prevention and highlighting the use of the UN’s good offices to support provisions on SSR contained in peace agreements that would promote broad national ownership and security governance beyond narrowly framed technical provisions. The references to SSG/R which were not present in resolution 2151, reflect the view of some Council members that international support to SSR should not only focus on measures such as training and equipment but also on facilitating good governance in public security provision, including through accountability and the rule of law.

The Council also makes new reporting requests of the Secretariat in the draft resolution. It expands on the provision of resolution 2151 that requests the Secretary-General to update on progress in SSR in his regular reports to the Council on specific UN peace operations, and asks the Secretary-General to develop country-specific benchmarks to assess the effectiveness of UN assistance in support of SSR processes and the host countries’ commitment to these processes. The Council also requests the Secretary-General to submit a report to the Council in September 2021 on his efforts to strengthen the UN’s comprehensive approach to SSR. It appears that South Africa initially sought to establish a regular reporting requirement by the Secretary-General, requesting the submission of a cross-cutting report on SSR every two years. This suggestion apparently faced opposition from some Council members, who felt this might duplicate similar requirements for reporting to the General Assembly, and it was not retained.

It seems that the main disagreements among Council members were on references to the role of SSR in conflict prevention. China and Russia apparently opposed proposed language linking SSR to conflict prevention, arguing that it is not needed in situations where there is no conflict and should only be implemented in post-conflict situations. However, other Council members, including EU and African members of the Council, view SSR as part of a broader process relating to conflict prevention, peacebuilding, sustaining peace and development. Those who take this approach view security sector challenges as a potential root cause of conflict, even in countries that have not experienced conflict.

In maintaining that SSR is not linked to conflict prevention, it is possible that Council members such as China and Russia were concerned about the possibility of the Council potentially infringing on national ownership of SSR processes. It is also possible that these members did not want to see SSR on the conflict prevention agenda to avoid potential impact on country situations that are not on the Council’s agenda.  A compromise was reached by mentioning conflict prevention with regard to SSR, but only in the context of preventing its recurrence in situations with a history of conflict.

Several Council members, including EU members of the Council, sought to add language emphasising human rights principles and the promotion of gender inclusivity in SSR processes. While some language on gender inclusivity was removed at the request of at least one permanent member, a reference to the links among development, peace and security and human rights was retained. In addition, new language was added underlining the importance of an effective vetting process to exclude perpetrators of sexual violence from the security sector and to promote accountability. Similar language proposed by an elected member was removed during the negotiations on resolution 2151.


  • Post-Script: On 3 December, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2553 on SSR.
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