Pierre Lapaque, UNODC Regional Representative: “In West Africa, insecurity comes partially from the security sector itself”
The United Nations Organisation against Drugs and Crime (UNODC) plays an important role in the fight against terrorism, illicit trafficking, organised crime and corruption. It is also mandated to contribute to strengthening the Security Sector Reform (SSR) through an integrated approach. In this interview, Pierre Lapaque, UNODC Regional Representative for West Africa, talks about the importance of SSR and provides an overview of the various SSR processes involved in the sub-region which continue to face new challenges that threaten peace and security.
Could you explain to us what exactly the Security Sector Reform (SSR) is?
The SSR is a process whose objective is to reform and strengthen at the same time institutions, structures, legislations and staffs in charge of security control in order to increase their professionalism and accountability. It is most important in post-crisis contexts. The fundamental objective is to guarantee to the State and populations an efficient security system respectful of the Rule of law. In West Africa, experience has demonstrated that insecurity comes partly from the security sector itself, whether it is due to its shortcomings or its politicisation.
There are multiple threats to peace and security in West Africa and in the Sahel. On what aspects of these threats should the focus be?
The Mali crisis violently reminded us of the precariousness of peace in West Africa and in the Sahel which remain “hot spots” of the continent. It is emblematic of the hybrid and transnational character of the security threats in the West African space today. Even though a majority of countries are not afflicted by open conflicts, the existence of flashpoints of tension that could flare up at any time, as well as episodic tensions notably related to electoral processes, underline the risks of tipping into open crisis situations. In addition to structural and historical vulnerabilities of the past, there are today new factors of cross-border conflicts such as international terrorism, drug trafficking or maritime piracy. The rise of these new threats constitute a priority in the agenda of the States and their partners, such as UNODC, as they jeopardize great advances in peace and security achieved these past ten years.
The SSR process involves various actors. Who are they? And what mechanisms are implemented to facilitate the coherence of their action?
The SSR involves multiple actors headed by Countries driving this process, the Regional Economic Communities (REC) such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as well as partners that provide support in this area. The latter are numerous and specialized in different themes. It is not just about reforming the army, the police or the justice system, but rather the entire security system, and it subjects all its various components to a democratic control run by the State, the civil society and the media. This is why SSR is often defined in conjunction with other transition and development processes such as disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of the traditional justice system. At the United Nations level, to facilitate a holistic and coordinated approach, the Secretary General has created a special inter-organisations team, jointly headed by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the United Nations Programme for Development (UNPD) to which participate about a dozen of United Nations entities working in this domain.
What role does the United Nations in general, and the UNODC in particular, play in the SSR process in West Africa and in the Sahel?
West Africa has experienced a series of deadly conflicts, notably during the 1990s, in countries that are part of the Mano River Union and the Gulf of Guinea and, more recently, in Mali. In each case, these conflicts have necessitated complex SSR processes in which the United Nations did play and continue to play an important role. Throughout its SSR and Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reinsertion (DDR) branches within peacekeeping missions in the region, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations plays a major role in this apparatus.
The UNODC, through its mandate to fight terrorism, illicit trafficking, organised crime and corruption, contributes to the strengthening of the SSR using an integrated and holistic approach made of several components. First of all, we provide legal assistance to the States in the adoption of legislation, strategies and national programmes, in terms of security and criminal justice, in accordance with international conventions and the respect of human rights. This includes, for example, the adoption of new anti-terrorist laws in Burkina Faso (December 2015) and in Niger (May 2016). Then, the UNODC implements various capacity-building programmes to security and judiciary actors in the entire chain of the criminal justice system: from identifying criminal behaviour to judicial inquiry, to the judgement and imprisonment. All of this while complying, in each step, with democratic standards and international conventions. In this respect, our office works in close collaboration with the REC, particularly the ECOWAS and the G5 Sahel, as well as other international partners such as the integrated United Nations Multidimensional Mission for the Stabilisation of Mali (MINUSMA).
What are the challenges faced by the countries in the implementation of these reforms? How do you resolve them?
The combined action of ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) achieved significant results these past few years in terms of SSR at the country level, but also at the regional and continental levels. The development of a SSR strategy for ECOWAS, and of initiatives such as the development of a Code of Conduct for the Armed and Security Forces, constitute important steps that are praiseworthy. However, the recent degradation of the security situation in some countries emphasizes the fact that these advances are fragile and may be reversed. Moreover, the capacities of qualified staff, from the ECOWAS as well as from the States must also be built, in order to lend a coherence and a greater efficiency to the reforms. At the State level, the enactment of ECOWAS protocols in this domain, as well as the strengthening of national judicial frameworks and the adoption of coherent and integrated programmes and action plans remain priorities. In this respect, the ability of States to demonstrate political leadership and take ownership will be of paramount importance. Finally, the partners will have to ensure that there is a good coordination of actions to be undertaken, based on detailed assessment needs and on a political context favourable to reforms.