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Protection Dilemmas Arising from the Reintegration of Former Combatants and the Impact of the Terrorist Designation

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Executive Summary

The concept and implementation of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) have evolved as DDR-related activities have increasingly occurred in environments where armed conflict is ongoing, no peace agreement has been signed, and armed groups designated as terrorist organizations (AGDTOs) are operating. In parallel, reintegration has increasingly been discussed in the UN counterterrorism architecture through the concept of prosecution, rehabilitation, and reintegration (PRR). The changing context has raised challenges related to reintegration, especially reintegration of former members of AGDTOs.

One of the main challenges of reintegration is related to the protection of former members of armed groups, and in many cases protection risks are exacerbated for former members of AGDTOs, as well as their relatives and community members. We separate protection risks during reintegration into three main categories: (1) physical risks, including re-mobilization and recruitment into armed groups; (2) lack of community acceptance due to stigma and distrust; and (3) broader socio - economic exclusion, including health risks. All of these protection risks are faced not only by ex-combatants but also by the broader community they reintegrate into. The UN has a responsibility to help governments address these risks.

Beyond these general protection risks, members of AGDTOs can face additional risks. These include increased stigma against individuals regarded as terrorists, as well as their families and even their victims. This stigma manifests itself differently for men and boys, who may inherently be seen as a security risk, than for women and girls, who may be treated as unimportant to security-related processes and thus excluded from reintegration programs. Another risk is the use of program beneficiaries, and sometimes of children, as assets in counterterrorism intelligence operations.
Former members of AGDTOs also often face prolonged detention and lack due process.

Ultimately, reintegration efforts should serve broader protection outcomes by reducing the threat posed by armed groups, stopping cycles of violence, developing reconciliation schemes, supporting victims, and reestablishing the social, economic, and political rights of former combatants. While these goals are ambitious, there are steps the UN could take to help ensure that reintegration processes address protection risks, especially for former members of AGDTOs:

  • Tailor reintegration programs to the context, not to whether a group is labeled as a terrorist organization;

  • Design reintegration programs to be gendersensitive and human rights–compliant;

  • Ensure that PRR and DDR programs are complementary and adopt the Integrated DDR Standards module on AGDTOs; and

  • Keep reintegration and counterterrorism goals distinct.