Thursday, April 14, 2011

Transforming the Heart of State Power

Director of ICTJ's Research Unit, PabloDe Greiff 
discusses challenges of vetting.
Thursday's final session on security sector reform (SSR) and vetting of state institutions began with chair Mohamed Saleh Kheriji, a member of the AIHR Board of Directors, asking the panelists to consider the following questions:
  • Is it possible to reform the security sector if you eliminate the police force? 
  • Is the re-education of individuals considered during institutional reform?

Marina Caparini, a senior research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs led the conversation with a thorough explanation of what is meant by SSR and the particular process of vetting. 

Caparini explained SSR is the process of changing once-abusive institutions into ones responsive to the needs of society, including the poor and marginalized. While vetting is a process by which public employees are screened to ensure they are qualified for their positions. 

She discussed two examples from Bosnia: police reform, which is still problematic because of its lack or transparency and the size of the program, and judiciary reform, which was quite successful.

In response to a question about the possibility of vetting turning into a "witch hunt," she observed that the process of lustration in many East European countries became a very politicized issue, but one lesson learned was the importance of transparency, especially concerning the former state security archives.

Pablo De Greiff, director of ICTJ’s Research Unit then presented on the special challenges of vetting. He reminded participants that the security system is at the very heart of state power and reforming it is therefore incredibly difficult.

One of the biggest challenges is that high-ranking officials of the security forces take years to get to their positions so they are entrenched in their ways. Dislodging this entrenched behavior is the aim of vetting, but it is a difficult task that can take a very long time. He pointed at the examples of Brazil, Argentina, and Tunisia where an additional problem exists in that the military becomes entrenched far beyond the provision of security.

The final speaker, Habib Belkouch, president of the Center for Human Rights and Democracy Studies and former director of the Center for Documentation, Information and Training in Human Rights in Rabat, Morocco, spoke about vetting in the regional context.

He admitted the challenge faced by the region is huge. “Just months ago civil society was in direct conflict with the security sector and now it is in a place where it is poised to reform it,” he said. This is an exciting opportunity, but a significant challenge considering the Middle East and North Africa region does not have a history of reforming the security sector. The only relevant example, that of de-Baathification in Iraq, is a problematic one. 

During the discussion, participants considered the possibilities of re-education and training for security-sector personnel, and considered the possible dangers of vetting.

This is our last post for Thursday. We'll be blogging and live tweeting for the second day of the conference in Tunis tomorrow at 9am. See the schedule here and tune into our live stream tomorrow.

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