Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR), but how?

Since the 1990s, more than 60 disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programmes have been carried out. Geographically speaking, most of these programmes have run in African countries; some in Latin America, the Caribbean, Southern and Eastern Europe, Central and South Asia and the South Pacific. Even though DDR planners generally try to adhere to the Integrated DDR Standards drawn up by the United Nations, it is not always possible, and it sometimes does not make sense to implement them in the same way in each country. The demobilisation process in Columbia, for instance, followed other necessities and objectives than the current DDR process in South Sudan; political obstacles to DDR in Haiti are totally different from those in Afghanistan.

DDR in the specific country context

In short, DDR processes need to take into account local realities and conditions in post-conflict situations. The socio-economic context and existing national capacities have significant implications for the planning and executing the reintegration of former combatants. Another major factor when planning DDR programmes is the organisation of armed groups and forces that need to be demobilised. The demobilisation of conventional armies, for instance, needs a different approach to that of the demobilisation of militias. Three general approaches can be identified:

  1. DDR of conventional armed forces: Structured and centralised disarmament and demobilisation is often carried out in separate camps. The demobilisation is closely connected with security sector reform efforts;
  2. DDR of armed groups: Often decentralised processes in which individuals are identified, registered and offered livelihood support. Sometimes there are incentives for voluntary disarmament. The reintegration of former combatants is closely connected with local reconstruction processes in the communities;
  3. Mixed DDR approach: Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of state or non-state armed groups, non-state armed actors and conventional armies.

Socio-economic opportunities for the reintegration of former combatants differ from country to country. While, for instance in South Sudan, reintegration is extremely difficult as there is virtually no infrastructure and very limited job opportunities, its neighbour Uganda offers a wide variety of reintegration options.

Security oriented vs. development-oriented DDR processes

Since the 1990s, DDR programmes have undergone fundamental change. In the past, DDR processes had a strong focus on reducing military expenditures and stabilising the respective country (minimal emphasis on peacebuilding). Today, peacebuilding, human security and development are at the centre of DDR. DDR programmes currently last longer, deal with larger numbers of ex-combatants and have a better financial basis than in the past. Additionally, they are linked with other economic, political and social reform processes in a given country. DDR programmes not only deal with the individual ex-combatants but also with groups associated with fighting forces, such as women and children, who may have served as carriers, child soldiers or in supply lines during the fighting.

Individual and community oriented reintegration

The international community has increasingly learned that DDR programmes are not isolated, purely technical processes, but rather need to be closely connected with other development projects. This holds true in particular for the socio-economic reintegration of former combatants. Individuals are still supported by vocational training programmes and advice (individual reintegration), but these activities are increasingly complemented by programmes that support the receiving home communities of the returnees. This approach is more community oriented, because it provides support to the communities in which an ex-combatant will reintegrate in developing their local infrastructure. Financial and material support to the individual ex-combatant, on the contrary, often causes envy within receiving communities and can fuel further conflict. Community oriented reintegration is particularly appropriate for communities that receive a high number of returnees or that show a high risk of violent conflict, for instance between different ethnic groups. Such approaches have been tested and adopted in Haiti, Mozambique, the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Sudan.

The added value of community-oriented versus individual reintegration programmes is that the former are well adapted to the local context and take into account conflicts in the receiving communities. Without such support, numerous communities would not have the necessary capacity or interest in receiving returnees into their midst as, due to their military past, many ex-combatants only have very little schooling and no vocational training. Their actions are driven by military thinking, which causes difficulties in their interaction with other members of the community or traditional leaders. Often, these individuals are traumatised or have psychological issues, such as high levels of aggression. Therefore, to receive former combatants would more likely be a burden than added value for the communities. Community oriented reintegration in a DDR programme aims at counteracting this dilemma. In practice, both community oriented and individual reintegration approaches often run in parallel.

Sources and further information:

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