Socio-economic reintegration of ex-combatants: What role for the European Union?

Socio-economic reintegration of ex-combatants: What role for the European Union?

The aim of this paper is to reinvigorate the debate about socio-economic reintegration; provide a platform for linking a broader range of actors who could be involved in ensuring the related aspects of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) concept move beyond policy to practice; and to explore what role the EU can play.

A major challenge to improving human security and establishing sustainable peace in countries emerging from violent conflict is how to reintegrate ex-combatants – many of whom are used to making a living through violence – back into society.

This involves helping ex-combatants move away from the roles and positions that defined them during the conflict towards identifying themselves as citizens and members of local communities. In such situations, employment and income generation are often the principal concerns of both local people and ex-combatants alike, and are among the key determining factors as to whether those who have been living by the gun are willing to disarm and reintegrate into society.

Furthermore, if ex-combatants can play a constructive economic role in the communities to which they return or settle, their presence tends to be seen in a more positive light by these communities. In this context, economic reintegration can also contribute to the complex, long-term process of social reintegration.

However, sustained conflict tends to destroy pre-war economies, infrastructure and markets; break down the public sector; leave land uncultivable due to unexploded ordinance and landmines; and undermine the social relations often at the heart of trading, meaning that livelihood opportunities are scarce. In addition, ex-combatants may have limited levels of education, skills and work experience, further hampering their ability to gain employment.