Family, Reintegration & DDR

[Published in Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Initiative]

The measurement of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) outcomes and the evaluation of its success often pose serious challenges. The complexity of the third generation DDR approaches, typified by measures in countering violent extremism (CVE), lies in its shift of engagement from state centric actors to non-state actors, that include often Violent Extremist (VE) groups like Taliban as in the context of Afghanistan. How does one measure the success of DDR in such a setting? The conventional measurement parameters like the number of weapons collected, the funds utilized and the number of ex-combatants demobilized might present a useful scenario. But can a non-conventional measurement parameter like monitoring the number of days that the individual militant spent with his/her family after demobilization be a useful measure to guide DDR practitioners? How far can family be helpful in understanding an individual’s integration into the community at large?

The Integrated IDDR Standards, the key operational guidelines for implementing DDR on the ground does not pay much attention to the role of family in its reintegration efforts. The disarmament and demobilization phase is followed by ex-combatants eventually returning to their homes, often equipped with socio-economic reinsertion packages. But it is useful to think about of how ‘home’/ ‘family’ becomes a site of both confrontation and adaptation. Is the combatant’s family receptive and welcoming? Or are they hostile and condescending? This gets even more worse for women ex-combatants returning home as they are perceived to have defied their gender roles by taking up arms (The case of women ex-combatants in Sri Lanka’s LTTE illustrate this).

Can an ex- combatant’s family play a role in ensuring that he/she doesn’t take up arms again? Conversely, what role may a family play in willfully getting an ex-combatant to become a recidivist? The family members can turn out to be either positive or negative influencers i.e they can either play a role in “radicalization” of fighters or can play a reformatory role. The latter revealing fact can be leveraged for reintegration efforts, especially for engaging with VE groups. For instance, the family members of such groups can receive special training in terms of taking care of the psychological needs of these ex-combatants and also for aiding in their de-radicalization efforts, supported by the UN or other civil society organizations. Drawing upon the case of Iraq, Doug Stone (2015), the brain behind the ‘Rome Memorandum’ (a compendium of best practices for rehabilitation and reintegration of violent extremist offenders) argues that for addressing radicalization issues among the violent extremists, the receiving community should be involved along with the militants, either one-on-one or in groups.

[Photograph by Stephen Ferry]

Ex-combatants often end up being caught between their old extremist affiliations and the very society or community they sought to represent in their struggle. Usually, to the ex-combatant, the former extremist linkages have become unattractive and while the society they seek to integrate into has little need for them. Being caught in such a bind results in maladjustment and worse, an incentive to relapse into old ways of violence, criminal behavior, or extremism. This often results from a feeling of being unwanted in their old homes and an ongoing sense of drift. This is particularly true of non-ideological foot soldiers who, unlike ideological leaders, were conscripted into violent struggles to provide “muscle”. It is here that the families become very important in terms of actively participating in the ex-combatant’s ‘normalization’ process.

Instead of a homogenous rehabilitation package devised for treating individual combatants as an undifferentiated mass, a more effective approach is one that is tiered in how it is administered, is continuously engaged over time, and multi-pronged as far as interventions are concerned. To this end, this could include bringing families of those affected into community events together, to help them understand the pitfalls and potentialities ahead for themselves and the ex-combatants. This could also involve sensitizing the wives of men who have returned and helping them to cope with the returnee’s stress which may result in psycho-sexual anxieties as well. On an economic front, if packages for families are tied to the ex-fighters’ continued cooperation and non-violence, there is a collective pressure at work that forces the fighter to aid his family on one end, while simultaneously, it allows the family to see the fighter as one among them. Furthermore, the family members can be trusted sources for providing reliable information about the ex-combatants and their interactions once they are back home in terms of psychological profiles by a non-professional third party.

It is equally important to design DDR policies which address the psycho-social needs of such families who often face social stigma and alienation from the rest of the community. Developing policy guidelines in the IDDRS for family based integration as a component of ‘Reintegration’ can be a right step in this direction.

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