Justice and Security Dialogue: A New Tool for Peacebuilders

My institute posted yesterday a Q and A from me on work we have been doing in Nepal and are adapting for Iraq and other conflict-affected countries. I have seen firsthand the power and impact of bringing people together to bridge differences, build understanding and peace and counter crime and instability.


Justice and Security Dialogue: A New Tool for Peacebuilders

June 2011 | On the Issues by Colette Rausch

June 22, 2011

USIP’s Colette Rausch explains what Justice and Security Dialogue is and why it’s becoming a valuable tool to combat lawlessness and promote the rule of law.

What is Justice and Security Dialogue? How does it work?

Simply put, Justice and Security Dialogue (JSD) is a way of bringing together security forces and local communities to dispel mistrust and build cooperation in countries emerging from conflict. As its name suggests, JSD revolves around a series of facilitated dialogues at which police officers, civil society representatives and “ordinary” citizens (and sometimes a variety of other stakeholders) meet to overcome a legacy of suspicion, division, and fear by voicing apprehensions, fostering understanding, identifying shared concerns and building relationships.

But JSD extends far beyond these facilitated conversations, vital though they are. The trust established in these frank and revealing exchanges becomes the foundation for a variety of other activities. Sharing information and problem solving: Police officers and local residents exchange information about sources of crime and violence, brainstorm about the best ways to tackle them, and discuss how the police as an institution can best reform.

  • Coordinating efforts in the fight against crime: JSD participants work together in very concrete ways to curb crime and boost security.
  • Protecting human rights and promoting security: Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) cooperate with local government officials and members of the security forces to ensure greater respect for both human rights and law and order.
  • Influencing policymaking: Ideas for reforming outmoded laws and improving police performance are fed from the local level into the national policymaking process.
  • Turning rule of law from a concept into a practice: All JSD participants—from very senior to very junior officers and officials, from defense lawyers to prosecutors, from industrialists to farm laborers—learn what a society governed by the rule of law should look like and discover their own roles in making that vision a reality. All sides begin to see that stability, security, prosperity and democratic consolidation cannot be achieved without the development of a sufficiently robust system of security and justice that enforces the law, holds violators accountable, protects the legal rights of groups and individuals, and provides predictability and transparency in the treatment of all parties.

JSD works by emphasizing the three P’s of partnership, process, and pragmatism. A series of nested partnerships allows JSD to operate simultaneously at different levels: international-national, national-local, NP (Nepal Police)-civil society, and so forth. Ties between partners are strengthened by constant consultation and collaboration. The process of working together is seen as no less important than the accomplishment of specific goals; stakeholders learn how to set and prioritize goals, achieve results, and create sustainability. The content of JSD activities is shaped by the pragmatic concerns of participants—not by the agendas of international actors or the research interests of scholars—and the aim of those activities is to enable participants to take what they have learned and apply it in the field.

Why is JSD needed?

Maintaining law and order usually gets harder, not easier, when a peace agreement is signed. The combatants may stop fighting, but they can become a rootless, unemployed, and disaffected group, whose frustrations fuel political, criminal, and domestic violence. Wartime powerbrokers are often reluctant to relinquish the profitable fiefdoms they constructed during the conflict, and as peace approaches they shift gears into organized crime. Meanwhile, ethnic or religious extremists stoke sectarian or religious-based tensions and political stakeholders jostle for power, their rivalries spilling onto the streets in the form of demonstrations, rallies and general strikes, all of which can easily escalate into violence that endangers the peace process itself.

The job of combating this tide of crime and instability falls, naturally enough, to the country’s security forces. However, in the aftermath of conflict, their reputation has been tarnished by their conduct under the previous regime, their material and human resources have been badly eroded, and their morale is desperately low. Civilians want protection but they don’t trust or respect the security forces. And those forces can’t tackle crime without community support. It’s a Catch-22 situation, and one that threatens to stifle ambitions of building a stable, democratic, law-abiding and rights-respecting society.

The only way out of this dilemma is to help the security forces and the public they are meant to serve recognize that their interests are not contradictory but complementary—that justice, which the community wants, and security, which the police emphasize, are inextricably linked and mutually supportive. And this is where JSD comes in. JSD fosters the community and police partnership upon which the promotion of rule of law and the reduction of crime and violence relies.

What can JSD do that other peacebuilding techniques can’t?

JSD is certainly not the only peacebuilding tool designed to achieve community and police partnerships. Many other forms of dialogue focus on partnership and/or process and/or pragmatism—but not too many focus on all three. Some programs don’t try to move beyond the initial dialogue, leaving it to participants to decide if and how to translate enhanced understanding into practical action. Other programs do try to help their participants make that transition, but often the process of dialogue and its practical applications are kept separate. In the case of JSD, the progression from improved understanding to cooperating on joint proposals is built into the dialogue itself. And participants are encouraged not only to turn joint proposals into joint action but also to develop an ever-expanding variety of joint activities. One of the most distinctive aspects of JSD is that its structure enables cooperative relationships to be built on multiple levels simultaneously: geographically, at the local and the national levels; professionally, at junior as well as senior levels; socially, at the grassroots, among the middle strata of society and within the elite.

JSD’s emphasis on partnership is akin to efforts by other dialogues to create a sense of “joint ownership.” However, the closeness and the openness of the partnerships that characterize JSD are unusual. Also distinctive is JSD’s progression from a partnership initiated by international and national-level actors—but highly responsive to local-level concerns and highly committed to empowering local actors—to a partnership in which local stakeholders decide for themselves the content and structure of their dialogue while the national and international partners take a back seat and offer support only when requested. JSD multi-tiered partnerships allow the program to operate at different levels of society—grassroots, mid-level, and elite—and to serve as a conduit between them. One consequence of this is to create a cycle of mutually reinforcing activity: getting input from the public about their concerns and needs, developing active relationships between civil society and the police, feeding ideas into the policymaking process, enacting reforms that reshape the justice and security sector—thereby changing the public’s experience of policing and creating new feedback.

Where has JSD been used, and what impact has it had? Where will it be used next?

JSD started in Nepal, where a 2006 peace agreement brought an end to a very bloody ten-year conflict between Maoist rebels and an oppressive monarchy. The Maoists entered a coalition government and the monarchy lost its political power, but the country has since been roiled by a surge in crime and political turbulence that has threatened to derail the peace process. A lack of political will to impose the rule of law has been matched by a lack of the capacity to do so, with the Nepal Police (NP) struggling under the burden of inadequate resources and training, a reputation for incompetence and corruption, and a deeply mistrustful public.

A partnership between USIP, high-ranking NP officers, and human rights activists has sought to bridge the divide between the NP and the public. A series of facilitated dialogues at numerous locations throughout Nepal have brought together NP personnel and members of the local community, as well as representatives of the country’s political parties, local government officials, and a variety of other stakeholders. From the perspective of participants, the dialogues have been surprisingly open and constructive. The revelation that the NP and civil society have shared concerns and can jointly devise solutions has inspired a determination to maintain this process of dialogue. It has also generated a variety of tangible results, including joint initiatives to tackle drug abuse and discrimination, as well as cooperation to resolve potentially violent disputes. The NP has recorded a substantial drop in crime in a volatile district where JSD has been operating. Reports indicate a growing public awareness on issues of gender violence, child labor, police roles and responsibilities.

In the capital, through JSD, productive working ties with the government agencies and ministries that run Nepal’s security and justice systems have been developed. JSD also has close ties to the human rights community, women’s groups, minority rights groups, youth organizations, and members of the legal profession, whose concerns and ideas help shape JSD activities.

JSD has had to contend with a variety of challenges that have slowed its progress. Logistical challenges faced by all Nepalis—such as limited electricity supplies, monsoons, and street protests—disrupt schedules. Levels of knowledge and professional competency among some stakeholders have turned out to be lower than expected, causing delays. Frequent changes in government oblige JSD staff to start again in building relationships with key officials. Continuing political instability at local as well as national levels undermines the rule of law and can discourage participants in JSD programs.

Even so, a program that was initiated by a partnership between USIP staff based in Washington, D.C., and national-level actors has recruited numerous local partners and entrenched itself at the community level. Local self-sustainability may be achieved within the next few years.

JSD has been distilled into a framework that can be used in other countries emerging from conflict. The framework is flexible—indeed, it demands customization—but the essential elements of the Nepal program has been initiated and is about to expanded in Iraq, a pilot has already been launched in Sudan, and trials in Afghanistan are planned. USIP has also adapted the program for Guatemala, where military officers and human rights NGOs have met to discuss how to address past abuses by the military. A variety of United Nations and U.S. government agencies have monitored the JSD program in Nepal, sent delegations to learn from its experiences, and are actively considering developing JSD-inspired programs in other countries emerging from conflict.

(Here is the link to the report on JSD:  http://www.usip.org/publications/justice-and-security-dialogue-in-nepal)