International Alert recently organised and hosted a roundtable discussion in Brussels on “Socio-Economic Reintegration of Ex-combatants – What Role for the European Union?”. The roundtable brought together experts, practitioners and policymakers for a lively and productive discussion about the issues and problems that arise when working towards the socio-economic reintegration of ex-combatants into post-conflict societies and communities.
Alert supported the participation of representatives from our partners and contacts in Burundi, Liberia and Nepal to come and speak about their varied experiences of reintegration, ranging from high level political involvement to running a project on the ground working with and mediating between communities and ex-combatants.
The aim of Alert’s roundtable was to reinvigorate the debate about socio-economic reintegration at the EU level; to provide an exchange platform for the diverse range of stakeholders that need to work together effectively in order to tackle the complex challenge of reintegrating ex-combatants into civilian life; and to catalyse further thinking and action in this area.
But what is Socio-Economic Reintegration?
The UN Secretary General defined reintegration as “the process by which ex-combatants acquire civilian status and gain sustainable employment and income. Reintegration is essentially a social and economic process with an open time-frame, primarily taking place in communities at the local level. It is part of the general development of a country and a national responsibility, and often necessitates long-term external assistance”1.
There are multiple, complex challenges in countries emerging from conflict. These often include the presence of large numbers of ex-combatants who have a huge potential to destabilise any nascent peace process and contribute to ongoing or renewed insecurity. Ex-combatants tend to be used to making a living by the gun and, given the high levels of youth caught up in conflict, many ex-combatants know no other way of life.
Reintegration is a difficult and drawn out process which is influenced by many factors, many of which are the reasons why people chose to fight, or ended up fighting, in the first place. However, one of the key factors in determining whether ex-combatants are willing to put down their guns and return to a civilian way of life is if there are appropriate economic and livelihood opportunities open to them.
When employment opportunities do not materialise, experience has shown that ex-combatants rapidly become frustrated and can engage in protests or disruptive/destructive actions. In the absence of potential employment opportunities, ex-combatants are likely to resort to engaging in illegal activities such as smuggling, illegal mining and weapons trafficking which can have potentially destabilising effects, both nationally and regionally.
In December 2006 the European Union agreed on the EU concept for support to Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants, which was supported by the European Commission and European Council. In the run up to this process, international Alert worked with the Finnish Presidency of the European Union to inform and advance EU thinking on DDR. This included organising, together with the Finnish Presidency, an experts seminar on "The EU and DDR: Supporting Security and Development" in Brussels in July 2006, as well as producing a briefing paper on this topic.
Since then some progress has been made and the EU remains a major player in this area, but many challenges still need to be addressed.
Alert will continue to work with counterparts within the European Commission, European Council and other key actors to ensure this issue remains on the agenda and that the debate continues to move forward.
1 Note to the General Assembly, A/C.5/59/31, May 2005.