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Security Sector Reform and Ending Displacement: Important, but Neglected, Connections

Most of the work on civ-mil relations has focused on how civilian and military actors can collaborate more effectively in responding to humanitarian emergencies. But there’s another connection which deserves greater attention: the role of the military and police in supporting durable solutions for those displaced by conflict. Those of us working with refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) know that lack of security is usually the main reason that the displaced don’t return to their communities or find other durable solutions. But security sector reform efforts – while crucial to resolving displacement – are usually undertaken without thinking about their particular impact on IDPs and refugees. A series of four case studies, conducted with the support of the Australian Civil-Military Centre, suggest that such relationships are complex. In Kosovo, a key challenge was to replace the Kosovo Liberation Army with new military and police institutions which were trusted by the population. The study found that trust-building measures, such as vetting, inclusivity and the multi-ethnic nature of the new institutions played a positive role in supporting durable solutions for IDPs, including settlement in their communities of displacement. In contrast, the case of Liberia – where displacement was almost universal during the fourteen years the country endured civil war – illustrates some of the difficulties which result when the government decides to ‘close the IDP file’ without ensuring that they had found durable solutions. The Timor Leste study concluded that the 2006 crisis could have been averted if more attention had been paid to making sure that the 450,000 IDPs who returned to their homes in 1999 had indeed found a durable solution. Finally, even in cases where the conflict is ongoing, as in Colombia measures can be taken that can reassure IDPs and perhaps support them to find solutions when the conflict ends. These measures include introducing anti-corruption measures and purging criminal elements within the military and police forces.

The relationship between finding durable solutions for those displaced by conflict and building sustainable peace is a close one. As we found in a study on displacement and peace processes when refugees or internally displaced persons are unable to find solutions, stability and peace are more difficult to sustain. At the same time, durable solutions for the displaced usually depend not only on ending the conflict, but also on the establishment of security in areas where the displaced are living or to which they hope to return. While there is thus a common interest between those working on displacement and those working on peacebuilding, in practice organizations working in these areas tend to operate in isolation from one another. We hope that the experiences outlined in these studies will support effects to effectively ‘join up’ those humanitarian and development actors working on durable solutions for the displaced with those working on peacebuilding, conflict prevention and security sector reform. They have a lot to learn from one another.


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