Preparing Former Combatants and Communities for Successful Reintegration

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Preparing Former Combatants and Communities for Successful Reintegration

Below is a list of questions to serve as a starting framework for the discussion in this thread:

  • Who should be eligible to receive support from reintegration services?
  • What are the barriers to reintegration into the community for former combatants?
  • What resources are needed to overcome or mitigate these barriers?
  • What is the role of grassroots organizations, NGOs, and governments in the reintegration process?
  • How can governments or organizations monitor and evaluate the success of reintegration? 
Preparing Former Combatants and Communities for Reintegration

It is important to prepare both former combatants for a civilian life as well as receiving communities to accept them so as to have resilient peaceful communities. Often most DDR programmes tend to focus on principally the disarmament and demobilisation aspects, because of the urgency to separate armed groups from their arms to ensure stability and security. The argument of prioritising disarmament and demobilisation lies in the importance of delivering humanitarian aid in the aftermath of conflict and creating conditions for the reinstating of state authority. However this maybe done at the cost of long-term reintegration.

Focusing on armed combatants mainly tends to be reinforced in the political processes that inform peacebuilding such as comprehensive peace agreements; they delineate who will benefit from the DDR processes. Prior to the signing of peace agreements, it is common for warring factions to swell up their forces so as to gain an advantage in the negotiation process. Yet true reintegration is a multistakeholder, longterm process that requires the whole of society. This begs the question:

Who should be eligible to receive support from reintegration services?

The International Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration Standards 2.30 (the UN DDR Benchmarks) have endeavored to specify who is eligible. However reintegration is context-specific and often times these standards fall short by omitting key stakeholders such as the communities. This maybe understandable due to financial, human resources and time constraints that most DDR programmes face. 

To assess eligibility, an analysis of IDDRS 2.30 (link below) will enable us to reflect on who is ommitted but important.

How to Stay Reintegrated

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) participated in a number of DDR programs through its Peacebuilding Unit and  its experience was documented by the Pearson Peackeeping Centre Press. Commonly, donor participation was quickly mobilised for the Disarmament and Demobilisation phase, but funding was hard to find for the longer term reintegration process. It was clear that simply removing weapons from combatants, and giving them a bag of rice to go back home did not work. One of the challenges noted was that the implementation of DDR programs was usually led by the military wing of donor countries with little or no collaboration with the development arms of those same countries where expertise existed for dealing with civil society.

At the OECD Development Assistance Comittee (DAC) donors agreed on the policy issues for using Official Development Assitance dollars for "military" contact, and found creative ways in spin-off operational working groups to collaborate on funding responses where some took the lead in the DD phase (i.e. UK), and other donors which either lacked the expertise or were constitutionally prohibited from participating in military activites (i.e. Japan) invested in the Reintegration phase over the longer-term. This was the approach taken in Sierra Leone.

While social rehabilitation is critical, there were gaps in knowledge of alternative approaches - one of them being economic opportunities for combatants to reintegrate and stay reintegrated over the long-term. The link to this Operational Framework for the Reintegration of Ex-Combatants Through Micro-Entreprise is 


The role of mental health rehabilitation

There are many complexities when we consider former child combatants as they are as much victims as perpetrators of violence. This leads to complex mental health needs that must be addressed for former child combatants to successfully re-integrate. Since stigma is often a significant factor affecting these young people, designing mental health programs that address past trauma and shame/guilt related to perpetration without contributing to the stigma can be challenging. Additionally, as suggested by Mazuka, it is problematic to provide mental health services only to former combatants in contexts where there is no mental health treatment and yet many have been affected by the war/conflict. Therefore, any framework for providing mental health rehabilitation needs to benefit the whole community, and include individual, family and collective healing processes.

The role of mental health rehabilitation

Thanks a lot Veronica, for highlighting a very important but often ignored aspect of reintegration. With regard to mental health, all former combatants have issues regarding mental health. The conceptualization of mental health by communities (in Africa) oscillates between outright dismissal or attributing malaises to ‘spirits’. It is not uncommon to label such cases to just being ‘mad’. The lack of qualified mental personnel exacerbates the problem; in Rwanda for instance in 2006, there were only two qualified mental health experts to cater for a population of 10 million! Mental health problems also contribute to increased stigmatization; in general ex-combatants were often labeled as ‘those who are confused’ because they exhibited certain symptoms. In a study conducted in Rwanda on the health of demobilized ex-combatants, almost 78% exhibited:

Recurrent thoughts or memories or terrifying events, Unable to feel emotions, Difficult concentrating, Trouble sleeping, Feeling irritable or having outbursts of anger and in order to deal with these symptoms, former soldiers often resort to substance abuse.

These symptoms often affected their capacity to gain livelihoods. Yet most reintegration programs focus on economic reintegration.

In Iraq there is a huge gap

In Iraq there is a huge gap in the local ability to address the mental health needs of the boys/young men who have been under ISIS control for the past three years, many of whom were forced to fight and where there are significant problems with re-integration back into families. Many are also being detained even when it isn't clear whether they fought or not for ISIS.  The U.S. gives large amounts of money for military assistance to Iraq while there is inadequate funding to provide comprehensive rehabilitation services.

I agree with your comment that most economic reintegration programs do not include mental health services. A holistic approach that addresses both mental health and economic reintegration is necessary as symptoms of trauma includes decrease in functioning, including the ability to obtain or maintain employment



Mental health in rehabilitation of combatants

I like to focus on lessons learned and operational responses that worked. Observation of donor responses to trauma counselling of youth and former combatants in DDR programs showed that donor support often came in the form of "western", academic approaches. The Canadian project reports documented that the best progress was in the traditional and indigenous customs. In Sierra Leone, the approach was for the former child soldier to live outside their home village for a period of time with visitation from village healers. At some point in the penance process, forgiveness and healing often took place. This was coupled with donor support to local NGOs to provide education and vocational training to these child soldiers.

It has also been mentioned in other discussions in this conversation that it is important to ensure that former combatants are not given better support than their victims. For this reason, parallel programs need to be established for non-combatants to reduce animosity and avoid rewarding combatants for their actions.

In Angola, the most effective approach to healing tensions between combatants and their communites proved to be the re-establishment of their traditional "healing circles" and traditional courts.

Good points Susan! It is

Good points Susan! It is important though to not dichotomize "western" and "non western", as there are ways to develop interventions that have a sound research base for effictiveness and are culturally relevant. With some of our partner organizations, we have co-developed programming that combines evidenced based mental health programming with culturally relevant and locally developed healing rituals.

Who should be eligible to receive reintegration support?

Brent, you have raised a number of good questions on the issue of how to prepare former combatants and communities for successful reintegration, and I would like to focus on a particular matter which I think, is quite significant for shaping uo DDR programmes in general and that is how to provide reintegration assistanceto both former combatants and their receiving communities. Reintegration assistance, as we know, is often only for former combatants and any specific assistance for receiving communities comes in the picture on an ad-hoc basis, if that ever happens. This is what we know from our experience to date! However, is it realistic to expect to address similar needs of community members in general as part of reintegration programmes which are designed for former combatants within the realities of funding constraints? Therefore, what place is there for innovative approaches that could deal with this dilemma without needing huge levels of extra funding? I think some of those questions would be a good place to contextualise our discussions, because such fundamental decisions will likely to play a critical role on how the main parameters of reintegration assistance will shape up. Ultimately, the international community tends to go for the reintegration orthodoxy of one-man-one-weapon approach, but the question would be whether alternatives to this be realistically achievable in the realities of post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding?

Barriers to reintegration into the community

Reintegration of former combatants into communities is a context-specific process, which means the barriers to reintegrate ex-combatants back into communities depends on the nature of preceeding conflicts and socio-economic and political contexts in which ex-combatants return from the war. Generally, the barriers are related to personal cicrumstances of ex-combatants and the soceital and political factors in which reintegration programme takes place. Individually, some ex-combatants are reluctant to return to their origins due to stigma they face becuase of their past association with the war. Some ex-combatants are bettter able to rebuild relationships with familiies and communities while others find it difficult to find family roots. The soceital and political factors are many and diverse. However, one notable barrier is to help ex-combatants find employment and sustainable livelihood opportunities back in the communities which are often devasted by armed conflict therefore offer limited economic opportunity. In other places, such as in Nepal, although ex-combatants were generally accepted by local people, the lack of reconciliation and transitional justice process resulted in ex-comabatants being willing to return to villages where ex-comabatants and local communties lacked reconciliation mechanisms. So by way of summarising, the barriers exists at the micro level as well as macro levels and therefore these must be analysed taking into consideration individual combatant's personal circumstances  as well as social and cultural phenomenon and political economy of post-conflict societies.